Question in the Air – Stanley Stewart, Retired BA 747 Captain and Aviation Author.

During the summer of 2007 in Geneva, my mother noticed an aviation charity displayed on a car and suggested to me that find out about them – and so i did. This investigation led me to speak with Stan. I knew very little of his backgroud in aviation but felt very connected with him and his Organization Aviation Without Borders. The primary purpose of Aviation Without Borders is to provide humanitarian services of an aviation nature to the needy, irrespective of politics, religion, race or nationality.A charity that i have become very fond of and am volunteering for. Stan has written many books on aviation – titles such as Emergency, i remember reading this during my pilot training days at the flying school club house.

Stanley Stewart is well known in the field of aircraft writing, and has written a number of books – all of which are to be recommended. The great thing about his books – and especially this one – is that he can take a subject, and make it into an interesting story which would be of interest to any reader, but he also comes at it from a technical background: he was a 747 captain for many years. You know you’re getting the facts from someone who knows what they’re talking about.

I never thought i would meet the author and Stan has given us a wonderful interview….

Who or what influenced you to become a pilot?
1. I was always interested in travelling and considered joining the Royal Navy. One day at school the career’s master said to me that since I was interested in travelling I should look at this. It was a brochure on the BEA/BOAC air training school at Hamble and from that moment I was hooked. I feel I have been very lucky to have been able to fulfil my ambition.

What was your work and role in aviation ?
2. I flew in long haul with BA as a pilot for almost 30 years which meant being away from home a lot and going to faraway places. It could be disruptive to one’s home life but I loved the travelling and the flying. I retired as a 747 captain from BA in 1999 and went on to fly with other companies over a further five years before finally retiring two years ago.

How long has your career been as a pilot before you became a business man and author?
3. It didn’t happen that way. In the old days they said that pilots were paid double for working half time. It wasn’t quite like that, of course, but in long haul we did get a lot of time at home to compensate for the time away. That gave time to write or, as many did, to start small businesses.

Should the age discrimination act apply to the aviation industry?
4. Good question. The checks on pilots are very thorough and there is a good argument for claiming that if you can pass the checks and the medicals you should be allowed to fly to any age. However, there is bound to be a diminishing return with age as infirmity increases. My personal opinion is that the present ICAO regulations are fair whereby captains retire at 65 and they are presently considering raising the age of retirement for co-pilots to 70.

Do you fly for fun or just for work these days?
5. I don’t fly at all these days but I miss flying and am considering starting some light aircraft flying again.

What are you thoughts to people with disability becoming pilots?
6. Disabled people have successfully driven adapted vehicles for many years. Whether disabled or able bodied, a certain innate ability is required to fly well. If that ability is there and learning to fly is the ambition of a disabled person then they should be no barriers to them becoming a qualified pilot.

What have been your most memorable flight in any part of the world and why?
7. I have had many memorable flights but one of the most spectacular was witnessing a space shuttle launch. We had just taken off from Miami Airport and, since the shuttle was to be launched out over the sea, the airway northbound passed only about twenty miles inland from the launch pad. It was not quite dusk as we climbed on the airway, with the launch site clearly visible, when suddenly there was chatter on the radio saying the launch was commencing. As the shuttle engines ignited the entire area lit up and we had a spectacular grandstand view of the lift off and climb. Unforgettable.

You are involved with some special charities, in particular Aviation without Borders ( – why are you involved with them and what do you get from your input?
8. I got involved in Aviation Without Borders more by accident then intention. The opportunity came at the right time, however, for I have always had the feeling that I have been very fortunate in life and, like many others, that one day I would like to give something back. At the moment it is hard work setting up the charity but I can take heart from the knowledge that the future will bring some good to others. It may only be a drop in the ocean but we will do what we can.

Where is general aviation going? How accessible is it for people with disabilities?
9. General aviation, I believe, will follow in the path of the US in that flying as a means of personal transport will become more common. It is not as accessible to disabled people as it should be but I also believe that will change with time.

You have written many book to do with Aviation and Aviation safety – how did you get into writing from being a pilot?
10. I had always wanted to write and remembered reading that many authors, including such as Charles Dickens, began by writing about what they knew. Sine I knew about aviation that seemed a good start. I reckoned I had spotted a niche in the market whereby there was nothing for the layman interested in aviation other than books that were highly technical or for school children. Out of that came ‘Flying the Big Jets’, but the problem that was bigger than writing the book was finding a publisher. Fortunately I got lucky and my writing ‘career’ began.

What will your next book be about or do you know have different ambitions?
11. I have had an idea for a book for some time about aircraft that went missing and have managed to gather together about 10 good stories. On TV there have been some programs on the subject but not as many as there have been on accidents and incidents, so please don’t tell anyone! Believe it or not the title was going to be ‘Lost’, but someone pinched that for a TV show. The problem, now that I am retired, is finding the time to write!

Which one of your own books are you most proud of and why?
12. I felt that the book that was written best was ‘Air Disasters’, but the one that pleased me most was ‘Emergency: Crisis on the flight Deck’. Both books were written with both the professional and layman in mind but the latter was a better subject as all incidents ended safely and well. Many profession pilots told me how much they had enjoyed it and airlines used the stories as studies for flight safety lectures. That was very satisfying.

Do you like working in the voluntary sector as it is very different from the commercial sector?
13. I do like working in the voluntary sector but it does have its problems. No-one who is there is forced to be there and they are not obliged to do anything. It is not a company with a board and a director. All work is voluntary so progress can be slow and frustrating. Having said that it does attract a lot of very nice people and, although there is a serious side to the work, we do laugh a lot.

What has been your greatest achievement to date?
14. Being promoted to captain, but a close second is getting my first book published. It is every professional pilot’s ambition to gain command and I was very lucky to be promoted to captain on the 747. I enjoyed my years as captain very much.

What does humanitarian work mean for you?
15. Giving back. There are so many people in need in the world and the suffering never seems to end.

What would you do if you could?
16. Eradicate poverty everywhere.

What can we all do to help change peoples lives for the better?
17. Think more of others and less of ourselves.

Finally Mr. Ninja Pilot, what is your top tip for any pilot?
18. As a pilot, whoever you are or whatever you fly, enjoy your flying but, above all, fly safe.

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