Interesting People that Work in the Airlines

Interesting people in the airlines - an interview with Shashank NigamWelcome to APG Radio, Episode 22 – Interesting People that work in the airlines.

I’m Paula Williams.  Today, we get to listen in as Captain David Santo continues his conversation with Shashank Nigam about the most interesting people that work in the airlines.

David Santo: With all these fascinating, you clearly interviewed a lot of people. Who was the most interesting person you interviewed for the book?

Shashank Nigam For the book, that would have to be this guy by the name of Kugan. And since this is a part class that a lot of pilots listen, I think It’s one of the most interesting stories that I can share. Kugan was from Air Asia and he joined Air Asia in 2005 as a 17 year old dispatch boy in HR department.

His only role was to take any bills or bank notes or things like that, and then drive across town to deposit them, and come back and give the receipts. That was his main job. But the only reason he applied for a job at Air Asia was to become a pilot.

And this is interesting because this is a guy who has not graduated from high school. This is a guy who does not have a degree. And certainly doesn’t have advanced physics knowledge. But he wants to be a pilot and what he heard from someone was in Air Asia, once they join you can move departments and you might be able to become a pilot.

That was his ambition. But then, at that time Air Asia has a policy of not allowing new employees to change departments for the first two years. So as soon as his two years were up, he took the exam to qualify for being a pilot. And he failed. The exam was Math, English, and Physics, and his knowledge of physics at that time was not sufficient to get him through the test.

So, he tried the exam two more times and he failed again, twice more. [LAUGH] One of the most interesting things was flat structure so hierarchy is downplayed. And by 2009, he was working as a dispatch boy at the CEO’s office. So this is four years after he joined.

And he saw Tony Fernandez frequently, and he told the CEO about his aspirations and failures. And Tony Fernandez, the CEO of Air Asia, told him you know what, it would probably be a good idea for him to take Physics Tuition’s and repeatedly encouraged him not to give up.

In 2011, six years ago, he had still had not succeeded in getting into the Cadet Program and was still in his clerical job. And one of the bosses took pity on him and said Why do you still want to be a dispatch boy? I’ll give you a job as a flight attendant.

You don’t need to take a physics exam for that. What do you think will win big?

David Santo: Boy, I don’t know. I think he wanted to be a pilot. It sounds like to me he probably persevered.

Shashank Nigam Exactly, it’s six years old and he said no. [LAUGH] He said because he said the only time he’s gonna enter the cabin is to go to the cockpit not to do anything else.

He after 11 tries. Eleven tries Kugan passed the final exam, aced the subsequent interviews and was admitted to the pilot training. And in May of 2015, he made his first non-simulated flight, and in August of 2015 he piloted his first commercial flight with passengers onboard. Tony Fernandez himself came to Kugan’s graduation.

Beaming like a proud father he gave a speech making a special note of the new pilot’s extraordinary accomplishments. And I still remember him saying, he never gave up. He never gave up. I never allowed him to give up. And guess what? In so many years I’ve come across many stories, but I think this is a story of true perseverance.

11 tries over nine years to go from a clerk and an office boy to a pilot.

David Santo: You know that is such a great story, and I appreciate your sharing that because how many people in our lives have we met that didn’t persevere, and maybe it’s because they really didn’t have the passion but the ones that did that persevered and took their lumps no matter how hard it got.

No matter how bad it looked for the most part those are the ones that succeed I remember the story that says that successful people are the ones who do the things that unsuccessful people just aren’t willing to do. I mean he sacrificed 11 years of his life, but that was his dream, and he wasn’t going to let go of it.

And I think that’s a great story, and I certainly appreciate you sharing that. So, you know not to take too much of your time, but looking at the world from your perspective. What parts of the world are growing the fastest and have the best opportunities for aspiring pilots?

Shashank Nigam Asia pacific is growing at a tremendous step. Today we had spies set out of India, order of 80 million dollar worth-

Shashank Nigam And that’s where the growth is. It’s in Asia Pacific. Not just Southeast Asia which has been a critical center but also Middle East carriers have been hiring.

And even in China, I know of a number of Canadian pilots who have now. Moved to China with airlines like Spring Airlines. Because in China the airlines are growing very fast. There are good airports and they just don’t have enough trained pilots yet.

David Santo: Well, that’s great news.

So you would say then to our listeners that a good time to get into the aviation industry. It’s got a good future for men and women who are looking for careers in the airlines?

Shashank Nigam Absolutely. A great time. If you, like me, have jet fuel in your veins, then this is gonna be it, there is no choice.

You’re not going to give yourself a choice.

David Santo: Yeah, that and I’m with you there, right, if you have that bug, the jet fuel in your veins I like that. Nothing else is gonna satisfy it.

Shashank Nigam Exactly.

David Santo: So to make one more plug for your book It’s a shameless plug, but one more plug for your book.

What are some of the things that you discovered after the book was fully written as you kinda continued this adventure of promoting your book and running your business? What are some of the things you’ve learned since then?

Shashank Nigam Well, I’ll share one positive and one negative. On the positive side of things, sorry, on the negative side of things, I’ve discovered that publishing is extremely hard.

And publishing as an industry is possibly a bit more broken than aviation is. And that was my Learning because Amazon acts like one big monopoly that don’t share any data about who’s ordering my book, who’s reading it. They don’t allow me to get in touch with them. So authors often have to develop direct selling plus Amazon.

There’s a ton of stuff and this is despite me having a good publisher. So, that was a bit of a shock to me that the publishing can be so hard. But on the good side for Soar/gr we had the launch party back in September of 2016 in London.

And this was a closed door event. We invited journalists and industry executives for a private launch party. And one of them was a professor. All of these people got special preview copies of the book. One of them was a professor at an aviation school in the UK. And he went back to Reddit and he said you know what?

I think all this branding and marketing is all fluff. I don’t believe in it at all. So I want to put numbers behind it and he posted this message up on LinkedIn. And I was like okay I wonder what this is gonna turn up? And a week later he says okay I plugged in the numbers and it turns out that airlines features in Soar typically have double the profit margins on average than the rest of the industry.

And that was a very fascinating discovery because I had no selected these airlines based on the financial performance, I had selected them based on their global spread. And a good between legacy carriers and low cost airlines. But the realization at the end of it was guess what, if you as an airline, if an airline focuses on the brand and the culture and it stays true to it’s brand then the money will come, then the profits will come as well.

So, airlines features in Soar as a group outperformed the market by a lot, when it comes to profits, just because they focus on the brand. And that was a good interesting realization for me, after I wrote the book.

David Santo: Once the other airlines hear about that you’re going to be asked to write a lot more books.

Shashank Nigam [LAUGH] I’m not sure if I’m doing that very very soon, any time soon, given how much effort it took to get this one going.

David Santo: You know, I can’t thank you enough, Shashank, for your time today and letting us ask you these questions. CEO, Simply Flying, I also want to make a plug for your website, I like the quote that you have at the bottom of your email it says, people of accomplishment rarely set back and let things happen to them They went out and happened to things.

Which was a quote from Leonard da Vinci. So, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. I know that we will be putting out your contact information with your website address and email. Again, best of luck to you. I’m looking forward to Learning more and to see more books like Soar that help airlines and help people understand more about the airlines.

Shashank Nigam Thank you very much. And once again, if anyone is looking to get Soar they can get it on Amazon just by searching Soar and my name. Or there are bulk discount options available on, which is, just for the listeners of this podcast.

David Santo: Thank you very much.



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