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Teaching old dogs new tricks

September 23, 2010

Almost two weeks of class are winding down, here in Hanoi, and we are eagerly looking forward to the next step. Last week, Jonathan and the rest of the pilots were in class from 8-5 every day. They meet here at the hotel, which is convenient. This week they split into groups and beginning on Monday they began making the rounds of the embassy, the bank, and the medical clinic here in between classes.

The medical clinic seemed to be the least complicated place. The doctors spoke fluent English, and other than one of the pilots being “the tallest man ever” and one of the female pilots getting smirked at for weighing 60kg (132lb) it seemed like a routine physical.

After the visit to the embassy they came back complaining about what a fiasco it was with the pilot license. I was listening and trying to figure out what the problem was, but after I while I just stopped listening. They couldn’t figure out what happened, much less explain it to me.

We spent over an hour at the bank yesterday trying to set up an account so he can get paid. We have to have two accounts – one for Vietnamese Dong and one for US Dollars. For some reason they would only issue one debit card then. The other one will be mailed to the company office in 7 days. I guess we’ll have to figure out how to get it from there. They initially said they would only give us one, period. I thought I was going to have to learn to yell in Vietnamese right there. Even still, regardless of our joint account, all I can do is withdraw money. Any other transactions at the bank have to be done by Jonathan.

At least I can withdraw money :-).

Now we’re waiting to find out when we go to Saigon. There are thirty-two pilots here, and they’ll be divided evenly between Hanoi and Saigon. Some of them have already found houses and apartments here, but those of us in Saigon haven’t had a chance to look yet. We’ll be able to live wherever we want, but will probably stick to one or two general areas to make transportation to the airport easier. All sixteen of the captains have to do proving runs (a flight that proves that you can fly safely in accordance with the laws here), and they are hoping to use those flights to get to us Saigon.

I know they are all anxious to start flying. Training is never fun, and since aviation is so different here, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. Most of them are already familiar with the aircraft (Canadair Regional Jet 900), but it’s a different configuration (single class), and everything is metric (with no computers to do the math for you.) Add to that a whole different set of flying rules, no aircraft to company communication, no dispatchers, taking jets into islands that have only had props before, islands with beaches at each end of the runway, and knowing that nearly every decision is up to you. Then you have the cultural differences, a different relationship with the cabin crew, the expectations of the passengers, and knowing that image is everything. The learning curve is steep.

This is not for the faint hearted or for the lazy.

Tonight we’re going to celebrate the chief pilot’s birthday.

Two weeks down, and we’re having a great time.

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