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Executive Interviews: Captain Christopher Giblin

As a child, I occasionally accompanied my father on trips to Labasa or Savusavu on Fiji Airways’ old De Havilland Herons. It was a thrilling experience for a young fellow especially if he got to sit just behind the flight deck. I wanted to be one of those Heron pilots when I grew up. - Captain Christopher Giblin, Former Fiji Airways senior pilot
04 Feb 2020 15:29
Executive Interviews: Captain Christopher Giblin
Captain Christopher Giblin

Former Fiji Airways senior pilot, Captain Christopher Giblin, worked at a meat factory in New Zealand to pay for his flying lessons.

These were the hard yards put in by Captain Giblin as he worked towards making his dream of becoming a pilot come true.

He flew his last flight for the national airline and was fortunate enough to have his wife, Christine and daughter Rebecca accompanying him to Singapore in December.

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Captain Giblin:

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born in Hamilton, New Zealand, my mother’s home town.

My mother, Joy, was a Kiwi while my father, Fred Giblin, was a kai loma born in Levuka.

They brought me to Fiji when I was about six-months-old.

I have four siblings scattered all over the world. I’m the only one fortunate enough to remain in Fiji.

Where did you attend primary, secondary schools and further in tertiary education?

Started my education during the colonial era at a school called “Korovou European School” down Deep Water Road, Korovou, Tailevu.

My parents were teaching at Ratu Kadavulevu School at that time.

I completed my education at Suva Grammar School, University of the South Pacific and University of Waikato, NZ where I eventually completed a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree.

Why did you decide for a career of a pilot?

I had dreamed of being a pilot flying around Fiji since childhood but never had the opportunity or confidence to realise it.

As a child I occasionally accompanied my father on trips to Labasa or Savusavu on Fiji Airways’ old De Havilland Herons.

It was a thrilling experience for a young fellow especially if he got to sit just behind the flight deck.

I wanted to be one of those Heron pilots when I grew up.

I used to read aviation books when I was supposed to be studying for my degree.

One day I saw in the newspaper that Waikato Aero Club was offering a trial flight at half price so I had a go and that was it, I was hooked.

Did you work anywhere previously before becoming a pilot?

Knife-hand/ labourer at a meat works in NZ for 2.5 years.

It was dirty work but it paid for my flying lessons.

Where did you attend flying school and what was your biggest motivator?

Waikato Flying School and Air Hamilton, in NZ. I was self-motivated.

Just wanted to return to Fiji and get a job flying.

Got my Commercial Pilot Licence and Multi-engine Instrument Rating in 1982.

Did charter work in small Cessna aircraft for one year then returned to Fiji in 1983 and got a job with the then domestic airline Fiji Air.

I was there barely six months when I got accepted by Air Pacific.

I joined Air Pacific on  February 13, 1984.

Started on the Twin Otter and Bandeirante small turbo-props then progressed to the ATR-42.

The first jet aircraft was the B737-200 followed by the B747-200, B767, B747-400 and finally the Airbus A330.

Please explain some memorable moments as a pilot with Fiji Airways?

Getting trained to fly the B747 by Qantas in Sydney was a memorable moment.

We local pilots trained with Qantas for over 6 months and even flew on Qantas international flights with Qantas crews. We received excellent training.

The big B747s were my favourite aircraft.

Truly the “Queen of The Skies”. But the 747s belonged to an era when fuel was relatively cheap and airfares relatively expensive.

So they had to be retired if the airline was to survive and that brings me to my next most memorable moment; the introduction of the high tech Airbus A330s together with the re-branding of the airline into Fiji Airways.

This was a challenging time.

The A330 is a very different airplane to the old B747 and the transition was initially a challenge for the senior local pilots aged 50+.

But we all mastered it very well which is something I feel quite proud about.

Just goes to show that you are never too old to learn something new.

Very recently I had two memorable moments and they were the farewells given to me by my cabin crew.

One was after my last flight from the USA (SFO) and the other on the occasion of my very last flight ever.

They were truly heartfelt farewells and I had to struggle to keep my emotions under control.

Explain, if possible the scariest moment you had as a pilot?

I’m fortunate to have never found myself in a situation that really scared me.

Have had some anxious moments. One time departing Sydney in an old B767-200, we had had an engine failure on initial climb.

My First Officer (co-pilot) was Varea Susau.

We shut down the malfunctioning engine and returned safely to Sydney on one engine.

We train for that type of emergency all the time in the simulator so it all went very smoothly.

What are your plans now that you have retired?

Nothing major.

Christine and I look forward to living a quiet normal life without me being frequently absent on long flights. I have lots of little jobs to do around my old house to keep me busy.

Hope to catch a few fish too.

What is your advice to young men and women training to become pilots?

Make sure before you commit to training that this is what YOU really really want to do and not something someone else thought was a good idea. You have to be passionate about it.If the answer is yes then go for it.

Put your heart and soul into it. Learn to control your ego.

There is no place for big egos in airline flying.

Accept constructive criticism for what it is and move on.

Don’t take it personally. Be resilient. Never stop learning or think you know it all. You won’t.

It’s a constantly evolving industry so keep an open mind.

Above all have fun.

It’s still the greatest job on earth!

Anyone special you would like to thank?

My wife is Christine Betham from Nananu-i-Ra Island in Ra. She was the “girl next door” my parents had built a house on land next to her family’s land on Nananu-i-Ra.

We were married in July 1984. It is not easy being married to an airline pilot because they are away from home so much.

Christine has dealt with cyclones and family crisis all on her own while I was away flying. I wasn’t even there for the birth of our daughter.

And then when we are home we are often tired and cranky from flying all night or sleeping through the day in preparation for the next flight.

Forget about weekends and public holidays, they don’t exist for airline crew.

Fortunately for me, my wife is a very resilient person who has provided me with a rock-solid foundation at home.

We have one daughter, Rebecca, currently living and working in Auckland.

She is an independent thinker pursuing her own dreams which have nothing to do with aviation.

If you had not chosen to be a pilot, what do you think you would have become?

No idea!

A brief explanation of Nananu-i-ra and why the place is so dear to your heart?

Nananu-i-Ra is a very special place for me.

It’s where I can get my feet firmly back on the ground after all those years of flying.

I love the simple life there and it’s where I expect to spend most of my golden years.l

Feedback: charles.chambers@fijisun.com.fj

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