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Pinoy pilot flies Airbus A380, world’s biggest jet

January 5, 2009 12:19am
MANILA, Philippines – The Airbus A380, launched almost four years ago, is every inch a marketing tool as it is an advantage to airlines that own the world’s biggest commercial aircraft.

After all, only a handful of carriers have the 525-seater plane in their fleets given the Super jumbo jet’s premium $320-million price tag. The next biggest plane, the Boeing 747-400 from rival Boeing, costs $50 million to $100 million less.

Equally few and far between are the men than call themselves A380 pilots. But while no Philippine carrier can afford the jet, and no local airport can fully accommodate it, Filipinos can take pride in the fact that behind the wheel of one of the biggest man-made objects in the sky is one of their own.

"I guess you can say God smiled upon me and blessed me It’s the proverbial being at the right place at the right time," Nathaniel Jordan S. Calvo, the first and only Filipino A380 pilot in the world, said. "It’s like living a dream," he told BusinessWorld via e-mail.

The A380’s upper deck extends along almost the entire length of the fuselage, and its width is equivalent to that of a wide-body aircraft. This allows for a cabin with 50% more floor space than the Boeing 747-400 and provides seating for 525 people in a standard three-class configuration, or up to 853 passengers in an all-economy class configuration.

Nathaniel Jordan S. Calvo, the first and only Filipino A380 pilot in the world.

On Sept. 15, in the culmination of what he described as a "very intense and thorough training program," Mr. Calvo received his temporary license to fly the Super jumbo. For him, its was a dream come true.

"This is like the cherry on top of a cake. Not only do I get to fly the biggest and most modern airplane, but I am also very glad to have made some sort of history as being the first Filipino qualified to fly it," said Mr. Calvo, who works for Emirates Airline.

The 37-year-old Filipino-American pilot has childhood roots that are unmistakably Filipino. He studied at O.B. Montessori in Greenhills for his elementary education before moving to Manila Science for high school.

Upon graduation, Mr. Calvo took up mechanical engineering at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, before leaving for the US to continue his studies at Parks College of Saint Louis University. There, he earned a degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering.

After college, he entered the Flight Safety Academy in Florida, this time, not just to learn flying as a hobby, but as a trained professional. By 1995, less than five years after attending Saint Louis, Mr. Calvo was already flying as a professional.

"I can’t remember wanting to be anything else than a pilot," he said. With roots linked to a country that has more than eight million people, or roughly a tenth of its population working abroad to contribute more than $15 billion to the country’s economy yearly, Mr. Calvo is proud that he, along with other Filipino pilots, have risen above the usual profiling by foreigners.

"I am always proud to meet other Filipino pilots whenever I am flying around. It reaffirms my belief that we as Filipinos can always live up and even go beyond the typical stereotypes we usually face in other countries," he said.

While being able to fly the A380 is a feat in itself, he said knowing that jaws are dropping when people see the plane he flies is a bonus. "I like the fact than when flying, air traffic control designates our airplane type as Super jumbo to let air traffic know what a big airplane they are seeing on their radar screens," Mr. Calvo said.

Hearing other more experienced pilots over the radio say how big the A380 is, and calling it names like "a building with wings" does not fail to thrill him.

Happily married and raising his three-year-old son with his wife of eight years, Cecilia, Mr. Calvo does not have plans to have his wings clipped any time soon.

"For as long as God allows me to be a pilot" was how Mr. Calvo described his retirement plan. "Besides, when the day comes that I quit being a professional aviator, I still see myself flying around in my own little four-seater airplane," he added.

And his advice to other Filipinos working abroad? "Keep your head high and never let anyone put you down no matter what. Don’t be bothered by the type of work you may be in, as long as it’s honest living, you can and always should be proud." - Paolo Luis G. Montecillo
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