How a “unique experiment” led to private jet flying in a Covid world
Life could have turned out very differently for pilot Janek Sarapu. If he had followed his original plan, he would be a truck driver. Instead, he is a captain in his native Estonia and loving the chance to share his flying experience with others.
It was Janek’s father and brother who wanted to become pilots but they didn’t meet the medical requirements, so they encouraged Janek to try for it. Another piece of the puzzle happened when the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving Estonia without a flying school of its own. In what Janek describes as a “unique experiment”, Estonia established its own flight school, which was joint with one of the best mathematics and physics high schools in Estonia. However, the high school week was cut to four days, leaving the fifth day for boys and girls to study aviation. Janek was 16 when he obtained his private pilot’s licence and 18 when he got his commercial pilot’s licence. It wasn’t until he was 21 that he even got a driving licence.
“It was the best decision ever, I guess. And thank you for my father and my brother for pushing me this way,” he says.
Janek is currently flying for KlasJet, a private and corporate jet charter company, where life can be somewhat different to the commercial airlines he has previously flown for.
Recently all Klasjet employees took part in the ‘Lithuania Goes Yellow’ initiative – a collective campaign calling on the entire country to get behind ‘THE ROOP’ – a band representing Lithuania in the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest taking place in Rotterdam. The original video is taking social media by storm and was created in support of Lithuania‘s Eurovision favourites.
“There’s a lot more things that you have to do as the pilot compared to the airlines where everything is handed to you. Every day is different, every passenger is different. It's challenging. And emotionally it is very rewarding.”
For example, on one flight, a passenger asked if KlasJet could transport a large painting that he had just received as a birthday gift. Armed with a tape measure, Janek hopped in a taxi and headed to the airport to measure up the plane to ensure the painting could be safely loaded, secured and transported without coming loose during the flight.
Janek is one of the lucky pilots still flying during the pandemic. His current job means he is away from home more than in previous roles, so like many others he has become very familiar with Zoom, although to chat with his family when he is away. It’s because of wanting to be close to his family that he has never felt tempted to move abroad permanently or seek out a long-haul job.
Janek has also worked as a line training captain and type rating instructor during his career, and he loves to see how his trainees are doing in their own careers. The varied training flights have also proven rewarding, he explains.
“It's fun, and it keeps you on top of your game, because they ask questions all the time,” Janek says of the many line training flights he has done. He often shares his own experiences to help others, including the time he failed his first line check.
An experience Janek likes to remember, like so many pilots, is his first solo in a Cessna 152. “We could hear the radio most of the time on VHF frequencies back then. The instructor left and closed the door. I turned on the radio, and I unfortunately don't remember what the song was, but I was singing and flying. It was fantastic.”
Janek is hopeful the European aviation industry will recover within a couple of years. He highlights how there is already a scramble for pilots in the United States as airlines there ramp up flying again.
“Aviation is like an ocean wave. It's going up and down. And right now we are in a really deep downward spiral. But it will go up again.”
Janek may have been a reluctant entrant to aviation but he advises anyone thinking about joining the industry to go for it.
“Believe me, if you start aviation, 20 years later, you're still here. You never want to leave,”
But what about truck driving? “No, but you never know in this situation,” he laughs.
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