By Dr. Frank C. Smigura
This is a real story of a young girl from Muscat. Her name is Alexandra, or as we call her, Sasha. She is a very determined and accomplished young lady, and her achievements should inspire many young people of her generation. They exemplify many virtues and show that most dreams of young people can come true with enough determination, discipline, and the desire to succeed and excel.
Even though Sasha is in the early stages of her career, she stands out sharply from the crowd, because at the age of 25, she has already achieved what will remain a lifelong dream for many.
About a year and a half ago, Sasha completed her MBA studies at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) in London, a city in Ontario, Canada, with flying colours.
The subject of her study was the management of the aeronautical industry. In addition to the technical aspects, Sasha wanted to learn more about and get closer to the practical aspects of the field she was studying. In other words, she wanted to explore real aviation or the craft of flying.
Shortly after enrolling with the UWO at nineteen years of age, Sasha began devoting a large part of her free time and energies to pursuing her new passion, while simultaneously attending classes. Five years elapsed since the humble beginning, but the devotion and hard work paid off, and her accomplishments are notable.
At present, Sasha holds a pilot's licence for multi engine aircraft with instrument rating and has more than 1,000 hours of flying under her belt. This means that, technically, she can fly any aircraft.
Now, 1,000 hours at the age of 25 is an admirable achievement by any standard. To top it all, few months ago, she moved 3,000 km away from London, Ontario, to Calgary in Alberta, where she became an assistant chief flight instructor at the local airport.
This story tells of Sasha's many achievements before her 26th birthday. How did it all happen? The following is a brief account of the secret behind how Sasha managed to reach where she is now.
Sasha was born in Al Ain, UAE, and when she was 2 years old, in 1989, her family moved to Muscat. Here, she was raised and schooled at the local America British Academy (ABA). After graduating from ABA, at the age of eighteen, Sasha decided to study for an MBA and enrolled in a British University with a branch in Dubai.
She did not stay in Dubai for a long time. In about a year, after obtaining her bachelor's degree, she decided to move to and carry on with her studies in London, Ontario, in Canada. London is my hometown, and Sasha's sister Michele was already there, enrolled in a psychology course at the University of Western Ontario. Naturally, the two sisters stayed together.
While attending the MBA courses at Western, Sasha wanted to explore the practical aspects of her field of study — the art of flying. She found an opportunity at the airport in London, Ontario and joined the existing flying club. After the compulsory ground classes, she started to fly with the instructor. The turning point in her career came in a few months, in November 2006.
On a crisp Canadian autumn morning, after one of the routine flying lessons, the instructor handed over the aircraft keys to Sasha and asked her to fly her first solo. This was the moment when Sasha really fell in love with the art and the profession of flying. She was nineteen.
Her first solo was a major step forward, and within a year or so, Sasha accumulated around 200 flying hours. Why is this important? In the business of pilot apprenticeship, that is while learning to fly, keeping the score or assessing the progress of the student pilot is quite simple. What counts is the number of hours in the air — the unambiguous yardstick of achievement. The more the number of hours the student has flown, the higher his or her rating.
The first one or two hundred hours are usually accumulated relatively quickly — they are an integral part of the basic training. Later on, the rate of accumulation of hours varies widely from pilot to pilot and can be quite an expensive proposition. Sasha managed to overcome this hurdle by putting in extra effort.
Her flying proficiency had grown to such an extent that she was able to apply for and get a job as a flying instructor at her club in London, Ontario. She started at the bottom, but quickly moved up the hierarchy and soon become a respected instructor at the club. Such progress was obviously satisfying, but what is not so obvious is that Sasha had "killed two birds with one stone". How so?
To perform her duties as a flying instructor, Sasha had to keep flying, and this meant that, while teaching, she was also accumulating flying hours. This was the first obvious "bonus" of the arrangement. The second important (but less obvious) aspect of the set-up was that instead of paying for every hour of flight (the usual scenario), Sasha was being paid, because flying was an integral part of her teaching job.
With her flying experience growing, Sasha's proficiency improved considerably. So much so that, in late 2011, her rating moved up two notches, and she became one of the top instructors in the club. As a reward for her effort, Sasha was assigned to instruct a group of young Canadian air-force cadets. Another very important milestone she crossed around the same time was to advance her rating to multi engine aircraft and instrument flying.
Opportunity in Calgary
In February 2012, Sasha heard about an opportunity in Calgary, an attractive city located in a beautiful region right at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains in the western Canadian province of Alberta. There, in a flying club at one of the city's airports, was an opening for a flying instructor. Sasha applied for the job. Shortly thereafter, she was interviewed (over the phone) by a lady, the chief flying instructor at the club, and the good news was that she was offered a job on the spot.
Naturally, Sasha was happy and accepted the offer and the new challenge. Probably because of the significance and excitement of the moment, she did not realise that the next big hurdle to conquer would be moving from London in Ontario to Calgary in Alberta.
Canada is an enormous country, the second largest in the world, and the distance between London and Calgary is more than 3,000 km. It may be of interest that the distance between the east and the west coasts of Canada (from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast) is much greater than the distance between the east Canadian coast (province of Nova Scotia) and the United Kingdom in Europe, even though the latter spans the entire Atlantic.
After making her moving arrangements Sasha travelled to Calgary by car via USA, passing through Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and finally Alberta. Travelling through the US was supposed to be a "short cut", but as it turned out, it took three days to get to her destination of Calgary.
On the new job, Sasha settled in quickly, but once more, she had to start at the bottom of the instructors' hierarchy. However, she did not mind; she knew her strength and was determined to work hard to prove her worth and move up the ladder of ranks. As it turned out, and perhaps with a bit of luck, she did not have to work at the bottom for a very long time.
Six months after she joined the club, the chief instructor —the lady who hired her— was given a new assignment, and her position became vacant. Sasha was surprised when, a few days later, she was called to the club's director's office and was offered the position of the assistant chief instructor with the prospect of becoming the chief flying instructor in a few months. Once again, she was happy to accept the new position and responsibilities.
During the last few months of 2012, Sasha has enjoyed herself tremendously. In spite of some administrative duties, she kept flying daily, concentrating on the core of her assignment of teaching hopeful future pilots how to fly.
Amongst other routes and destinations, she often flies from Calgary, over the Rocky Mountains, to Vancouver on the Canadian west coast, and back. It is an exhilarating and unforgettable experience. The economic aspect of her pursuit is also interesting. News spreads fast in the aviation fraternity, and lately Sasha has been getting offers from local companies and businesses to fly their executives to different destinations in western Canada — a very rewarding engagement.
By now, Sasha has accumulated more than 1,100 flying hours, and her plan is to look out for opportunities and perhaps to apply for a pilot's job at one of the major airlines. Last month, in December 2012, Sasha and her sister Michelle came home to Muscat, and we spent time together with the family for nearly a month. We had a grand time, and amongst other things, we talked about her past and future adventures. Sasha is our daughter and she is an ornament to the family.