Once the Covid-19 crisis started, not all parts of general aviation saw a devastating slump. Business aviation was on the rise at the beginning of the turmoil for aviation, making pilots busier than ever. Kristupas Sulija, a Lithuanian pilot of an entirely different segment of the aviation world, has shared his story with us and explained why he would have chosen to walk the same path again if he could turn back time.
1. When and how did you decide to become a pilot?
Aviation attracted me from my early childhood. I think I am a standard example of a pilot who caught the aviation virus and never got rid of it from that point on. When I was a child, I used to take time before school to follow and admire the aircraft departing and descending at Vilnius airport. Then, when I got older, I started attending extracurricular classes where I was constructing aircraft models. I also subscribed to a journal called “Aviacijos pasaulis,” which stands for “The world of aviation,” and my passion for it was constantly growing. I have to admit there were moments when I doubted whether I’d made the right decision to become a pilot. However, I clearly remember where I was when the thought “I’ll become a pilot for sure” hit me. It happened in the 11th grade during a painting lesson when I gave preference to the pilot career over the architect’s profession that I also considered back then. Now I am confident it was the right choice.
2. What type of aircraft and how long have you been flying? What do you like most about it?
I’m flying “Hawker850xp”. It’s a relatively small business class jet designed to fly no more than nine people who can afford to spend round sounds of money on the trip. During the four years I’ve been flying, I’ve also tried similar aircraft versions, such as Hawker800xp and Hawker 900xp. I spent a certain amount of time „holidaying“ on the ground due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but I don’t feel upset about it at all.
What I like most about my aircraft type is probably its flight characteristics and performance or, in other words, its capability to safely and efficiently operate under various conditions. Regardless of the number of passengers and the luggage weight it carries, even with the full fuel tank, 20 min after the departure, you’re already on Flight level 410, which stands for around 12,5 km. In addition, I like the nature of work with this aircraft. I get to try a multitude of airports and learn something new from each flight.
3. Are some airports more challenging to land than others? Why? Which ones were tricky for you to handle?
That’s true – some airports are for sure more complex to land and depart from than others. A perfect example could be Moscow’s airports. Air traffic there is very heavy, and controllers and local pilots often communicate in Russian only. Therefore, if you don’t speak the language, it all might seem a little complicated. Also, departure procedures require a lot of attention and concentration.
Another example is an airport in Cannes, not far from Nice. The runway there is not so long, while the arrival procedure is not the easiest. In general, all airports have nuances that might make it a little challenging to arrive and depart from. My advice is always to be attentive, access and evaluate each situation separately and never get too relaxed about any of the airports, even those you feel you’ve learned by heart already.
4. Have you counted how many countries and towns you’ve visited so far?
Definitely yes! Over the years, it’s almost become a hobby. I also like showing my flight map to those who find it interesting. In total, I’ve visited 34 countries and 110 cities so far. Most of them are in Europe, but it’s impressive to find out how many beautiful and unique places we have within a short distance from where we live.
5. What is one thing you haven’t done as a pilot so far but would really love to try?
As a pilot, I would like to expand my flights’ geography a bit. However, with my current aircraft, it is hardly possible. But again, I’d like to emphasize that I’m more than happy to be at the stage I am today.
6. How busy was your schedule just after the Covid-19 outbreak, and how busy is it now? Has the Covid-19 impact ever made you regret choosing the aviation career?
Once the Covid-19 started and hit all corners of the aviation industry, we were flying like crazy (in a good way). We were having countless flights – even more than before the virus. Since most regular airlines stopped their services, passengers who had flown first or business class switched to the previously undiscovered business aviation market. Due to the fierce competition, the prices went down, so flying with business class jets became affordable for this customer segment. After the boom, a short break followed before we started flying again.
All in all, business aviation did not face as many restrictions as the biggest aviation companies did. Regarding my choice of profession, I’ve never regretted it. I knew the quarantine wouldn’t last forever, and the aviation recovery would inevitably happen. I remained optimistic and spent the time I was temporarily away from flying on doing things I could not do during the flying madness (again, in a good way).
7. What would you advise for a temporarily not flying pilot to maintain their level of professional knowledge?
In my opinion, if you’re in a situation when you’re not flying for quite a long time, it’s essential to ensure you don’t fall behind in terms of theoretical knowledge. Also, it’s a good idea to install a simulator on your computer and, at the very least, revise the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) related to your aircraft type. Of course, it’s not an ideal recipe for keeping your knowledge and skills up to date, but it would not harm you for sure. On a different note, booking hours in a full flight simulator would be another clever decision of yours if your financial situation allows.
Most important is to find ways to keep motivating yourself. If it is feasible, you can go to a local airfield to fly with a small aircraft. You would then regain motivation and reassurance that flying is what is meant for you, and waiting until the storm passes is worth it (while at the same time actively maintaining your skillset).
8. What would you tell yourself if you could get back to the first day of your pilot training?
I would tell myself “a pilot” is not a profession but a lifestyle. I would also advise getting prepared for some tough moments along the way and that achieving a goal to fly will require a lot of effort. On the other hand, I’d mention it’s the most beautiful path one could choose, rewarding you with lots of memorable moments, fun and adventures. Would I choose to walk this path again? Definitely yes.
The stories like this one are very exhilarating, indeed. If you, just like Kristupas, can’t resist the pilot career, you’re welcome to join one of the Ab Initio (which translates as “from the beginning”) courses at BAA Training. Become a cadet of SmartLynx or LOT Polish Airlines programs, or enroll in ATPL Integrated or CPL Modular. A group of ATPL Integrated is planned for November 2021 and another one for February 2022. By the way, in February, you will have a unique opportunity to opt for theory training to be held online via a specially dedicated virtual platform. The virtual training bears the same quality as classroom-based courses, except that digital tools provide more interactivity, enhance collaboration with peers and instructors and, finally, allow you to save on traveling and accommodation expenses!