He flew the A380 with one of the largest carriers – now he occupies a position as an assistant professor of aviation management at a well known Middle East business school. Here he lectures online courses in aviation strategy, human factors, research methodology and airline quality and safety.
Aviation professor Preven Naidoo spoke to World Airnews editor Heidi Gibson about his journey from sky to schoolroom.
WAN: Can you briefly tell us a bit about yourself and the current position you occupy?
PN: After matric, I studied a BSc in computer science at the University of the Witwatersrand. However, I put that on hold in the second year to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a pilot. My flying career began in the South African Air Force in January 1996.
After five years in the military, I began my first civilian flying job at Swazi Express Airways, based in Matsapha on a Caravan and Dornier 228. This move helped me gain sufficient experience to transition to South African Express Airways on to the Dash-8. I enjoyed a great two years there as a co-pilot on a wonderful machine. In the meantime, I continued with my tertiary studies at the University of Pretoria.
I was employed at South African Airways in March 2003 and began my airline career there as a second officer on the Boeing 747-400. It was an amazing experience flying around the world in the queen of the skies. After about two years on this fleet, I transitioned to the domestic operation, as a first officer on the Airbus A319. This gave me a great introduction to Airbus. I spent three years on this domestic/regional fleet until moving on to the longest widebody in the world, the A340. It was certainly a dream come true to fly this aircraft to amazing international destinations as a senior first officer with South African Airways. I would go on to spend another 12 years on the long-haul fleet operating A340-600/300/200.
During this time, I was very fortunate to complete my Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Pretoria. Here I met brilliant minds and mentors who I remain in contact with. These academic qualifications have assisted in me being appointed as the head of Crew Resource Management (CRM), as well as a pilot Instructor on the A340.
I spent five years in this pilot/managerial role until the opportunity to fly A380s with a large carrier based in the ME presented itself. I joined as a senior first officer in November 2018 and was operating on international flights up until the Covid-19 crisis happened.
I was unfortunate to be made redundant recently along with 1000s of other pilots across the world.
Fortuitously, I was offered a position at a local university where I hold my current position. It is definitely a change of environment from my regular life as a pilot for the last 25 years. Nonetheless, it’s an extremely fulfilling career, as my other passion in life has always been academia. As a bonus, this role still keeps me close to aviation, my favourite world.
WAN. What has been your experience of the Covid-19 crisis?
PN: The decision was taken by most governments around the world to close international borders and lock-down their respective countries, certainly came as a surprise to me and many others. The reality of not flying for a long time suddenly hit home, and airlines around the world may have had very little choice in terms of retrenching 1000s of employees. Due to this scenario, I was unable to return to South Africa for a long time, and in fact have not been back to South Africa since February this year.
WAN: I understand that Human Factors has been a particular area of focus? Please tell us more about this subject.
PN: My post-graduate studies (after my honours degree) focused on aviation psychology. Human Factors is a component of aviation psychology and is also a critical element in crew resource management. The concept of human factors in aviation deals with various aspects of human performance and the role of human beings within a very complex and technologically advanced environment.
The subject is now at a mature stage of development having been studied since the early 1970s after a number of noteworthy human factors related to aircraft accidents and incidents. The study of human factors has led to a significant reduction in the accident rate.
The rapid advancement in technology has created a new era in understanding the human-machine dyad, and therefore there is vast unchartered territory that would require further investigation. It is an exciting field of research in aviation psychology.
WAN: What would be your advice or guidance offered to pilots who find themselves retrenched, under huge financial strain and sitting without work?
PN: Pilots have always been a very close professional family. Specifically, in South Africa where the flying fraternity is not very large. With this in mind, many social media groups have popped up which enable pilots who find themselves in a difficult position to easily reach out to their colleagues. Thus far it has been a very positive experience, and in fact, has brought many of us closer to each other in solidarity. I have daily interaction with these social groups on a number of online platforms. I have personally witnessed immense support for pilots, cabin crew and technicians.
My advice has always been to keep a positive attitude and never forget the hard work that it took to get into the aviation industry. This makes people in this environment extremely resilient and innovative during times of crisis. We do not have an external locus of control and so that may at times become frustrating, however, for the things that we can control and change, we will; so as to strengthen ourselves and remain vigilant throughout this crisis.
I am very certain that the aviation industry will bounce back in an impressive demonstration of resilience. So right now, we need to keep our minds sharp and find alternative passions while we wait out the storm.