Alumni Insights: From Baggage Handler to Captain
Oscar Soi always knew he wanted to become a pilot from when he was just a toddler. After researching tertiary options to begin his dream career, Oscar chose to study a Bachelor of Aviation degree at Griffith which ultimately led him to achieve his goal of becoming a commercial airline pilot. Oscar now works as a Captain of the Embraer 190 for Kenya Airlines in his hometown in Africa. Read more of Oscar’s story below.
What have been some of your career highlights or achievements since graduating?
My first job in the aviation industry was as a baggage handler at Brisbane Airport in 2010. I came to Kenya and got a job as a ground school instructor at a flight school in 2011. In 2012 had a brief stint in general aviation.
It was quite challenging at first, but I finally got my first job on a Cessna 182 doing hops from Nairobi to and from the Masaai Mara and Serengeti game reserves.
“I would carry everything from passengers to food supplies and medicine and even got to see the wildebeest migration from the air. I have lots of fond memories of chasing zebras and giraffes off the landing strips so that I could land safely.”
Eventually, I got the chance to fly a Cessna Caravan (my first turbine engine!) with the Kenya Wildlife Service into some of the most remote areas on the continent. It was some of the best real life experience getting to fly game wardens into national parks to fight off poachers. My time on the caravan even took me into the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic just as the civil war was breaking out.
I got my big break joining Kenya Airways as a First Officer on the Embraer 190 in 2012. I got to fly regionally around the African continent for four years before being promoted to the B737-700/800. My regular route network now includes Africa at large, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East.
In June 2019 I took the next step forward in my career. I was given the chance to upgrade to Captain. I accepted the opportunity and went through what has been the most challenging training program I have ever experienced. Thankfully on November 1, 2019 I passed my final command check and I got my very own set of 4 bar epaulettes. I officially became an Embraer 190 captain at Kenya Airways! It has been a truly humbling experience and I learn more and more each day on the job.
How has Griffith prepared you for your career now?
The Griffith course content really helped me in my jet conversion training when I joined the airline. Having courses taught by actual airline pilots gives invaluable experience and lots of tips on aircraft systems and crew resource management that I still use to this day. The different social events that allow students to meet and get to know industry professionals is also very important.
“I am eternally grateful to Griffith University for the strong foundation it gave me. The teaching from the real world pilot lecturers and industry professionals in several fields cannot be overstated. I definitely feel I got the edge I needed to be able to succeed in getting my dream job.”
What knowledge and skills gained in your degree have been valuable to you in your career?
The degree encompassed quite a few skills essential to the industry. The introduction to different kinds of operation from bush flying to operating within an airline was a very accurate indication of what to expect once you are employed. The group work is also a very accurate indicator of what life is like within a multi-crew environment and the skills you learn last with you throughout your career.
What are the job prospects like in the aviation industry?
Right now during the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn the world doesn’t look like a very friendly place for aviators. However, the aviation industry has historically always been cyclical and has survived several shocks to the system. In recent history it has survived The Gulf War, the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Each one has changed travel as we know it and the industry found a way to bounce back. I believe that this too will turn around in the next couple of years.
What can students do to get the most of their degree?
Research! We live in the electronic age and there is so much information available through the internet. There is always more material to find and more stories on people who have had similar experiences and want to share their journey.
Challenge yourself. Growth happens when you are in unfamiliar territory and you need to adapt to new circumstances.
Participate in university social events. You never know who you’ll meet or how they may benefit you or your career but the net result will be positive. I actually remember in my first year Peter Bryant was our lecturer and his words of wisdom were, “if you describe the aviation industry in one word, the word would be small!” Those words ring true till today.
How can students best set themselves up for gaining a role within industry?
While the number of opportunities has reduced, this crisis has exposed other areas in which the world was lacking. From cargo crews, to domestic charters, to corporate pilots, to people doing medevacs there are still lots of opportunities. It just takes a bit more time and effort to find them. The best thing an aviator right now is to try and position themselves to be employable for when the industry bounces back.
“Don’t underestimate the value of networking in this industry. Your first job in this career is going to come from a very competitive field with a pool of people with similar qualifications. What sets you apart is having a name for yourself which you can only get if you have been networking and advertising yourself.”
Have you got any further advice for students thinking of an aviation career?
The aviation career is a truly rewarding and fulfilling one, but it does take a lot of discipline and self-motivation to get there. Attitude is everything in this career. You’ll meet lots of interesting people along the way and be exposed to very many new things. Try to keep yourself open to new experiences to allow yourself to keep growing.
Learn more about studying a Bachelor of Aviation.