Pilot Matthew David Smith
Since he was a young student, Matthew David Smith knew he had to act on his irrepressible passion for flying, which meant a whole lot of work and studying.
The 28-year-old Australian learned the relevant topics in high school and then juggled university, flight school and 30-hour weekends as a lost baggage handler to pay off his debts.
In his last year of university, he landed a job as a load controller, ensuring the cargo’s weight in the plane was balanced, and eventually made his first solo flight in 2007.
Fittingly, a jet coasts past in the blue sky behind the Jetstar Pacific pilot as he sits in his high-rise apartment in Binh Thanh District.
“There are two different shifts,” he says. “An afternoon and a morning one, which sign on at 5am to 6am. I have to get up about an hour before sign on time.
“You find out pretty quickly how much minimum rest you need to do your job. Mine’s about seven to eight hours of sleep, so I need to work back from that.”
Smith rides his motorbike to work, changing into his uniform at the airport to avoid attracting attention.
As a first officer, he sits on the captain’s right hand side and both pilots fly the plane, although the captain takes ultimate responsibility for the safety of the flight.
He meets the captain, receives the relevant weather and flight information for the journey, and greets the cabin crew before they all board a bus to the departure area.
A busy day involves four trips, accumulating seven hours of flying and another five hours of ‘duty time’ that doesn’t happen in the air. This may mean soaring from Saigon to Singapore and back, then to Bangkok and back, with each journey taking a maximum of two hours.
Smith turns the aircraft around once he arrives; no time to disembark for a quick browse in duty-free, although some shifts need overnight stays such as Macao where he’s flying to today. All in all he spends about a week and a half away from home each month.
Smith says there are three different routes to becoming a pilot in Australia: a cadetship with an airline, through the air force, or by flying a variety of aircrafts in the Outback.
With the first two options closed for him, Smith cut his teeth in the Australian wilderness, acting as cabin crew and pilot to doctors, aboriginal people and miners on small planes.
It was a far cry from the procedural doctrines of commercial airlines. He recalls the door ripping off on a test flight over Alice Springs. The engineer jumped toward the potentially fatal hole and held the door tight while Smith calmly landed the plane.
He joined Jetstar Australia at the start of 2014 and began work for Jetstar Pacific in Vietnam last March.
Random aircraft failures are thrown at him and his colleagues in a simulator every six months. Between these tests he constantly studies and brushes up on emergency procedures.
On being responsible for the lives of his passengers, he says, “We are concerned about our own arses as well so if something does go wrong we’ll make sure we’re safe and if we’re safe then definitely the passengers are safe.”
Smith loves his job for the travelling opportunities and challenges that it brings. Jetstar Australia also offers its pilots big passenger discounts.
“When I’m a passenger I close my eyes and try to go to sleep,” he says. “Most pilots are control freaks. We all want to know what’s going on.
“I know when you go into Singapore sometimes there’s a bit of a sharp turn to get onto the approach and I can always tell if the pilot hasn’t made the correct intercept on the turn. There’s little things like that I can pick up on.”