Large Abroad | Tasting the Skies: Jamaican pilot earns captaincy at Qatar Airways
Captain Handel Wellington remembers vividly the first time he took command of a Boeing 777. The route from Doha, Qatar, to Johannesburg, South Africa, was unknown to both him and his first officer and proved to be the most difficult of his assignments on one of the largest commercial aircraft in the fleet of Qatar Airways.
"What made it so challenging was that it was my very first flight as captain in charge, and I was flying over some very remote areas of Africa that the air-traffic control communication may not have been the best, having to apply various route procedures for different countries in Africa, flying to a high-elevation destination airport with a high workload and robust environment," he said in response to questions from The Gleaner.
That flight took place last month, a few weeks after Wellington was promoted to the position of captain with command of his own aircraft.
Having started out in aviation 15 years ago as a load master, he went on to become a flight instructor but was hungry for a taste of the skies.
In 2005, he got his first airline job as a first officer on the Embrear 145 Regional Jet, flying for Continental Express. He built up his experience there before moving on to Spirit Airlines, where he got the opportunity to be a first officer on the Airbus A320. When the recession hit in 2008, he was furloughed and it became a real struggle to find long-term employment, as most airlines were either closing or downsizing.
"This led me to evaluate all my available options, one of which was to explore the international aviation market. After having utilised the resources of the World Wide Web to search, and researching many of the different international airlines, Qatar Airways come up as one of the leaders in the aviation industry. This led to me apply here and gaining employment in 2009 as a first officer on the Airbus A320," he explained to The Gleaner.
Qatar Airways has proven to be the perfect fit, an experience which Wellington describes as fulfilling and rewarding. After almost three years with the airline, he was promoted to co-pilot the Boeing 777. Now six years with the Arabian airline, he has been elevated to captain one of the most revered aircraft in the aviation industry.
A committed Adventist, The 37-year-old says he has valued the opportunity to worship freely at the local Seventh-day Adventist Church and also his exposure to the cosmopolitan culture which typifies Qatar.
"The local Arabian hospitality has been a very enriching experience for me. We get to work and make friends with people from a very diverse expatriate community. The environment, in general, is very family oriented. My family and I are able to see and engage in several of the local activities, such as going to the shopping malls, restaurants, going to the Sandunes to do 'Sandune Bashing', visiting their local museums and strolling with the family around the corniche," he said.
A graduate of Willowdene High, Wellington says he owes the inspiration for his aviation career to Christopher Chinquee, a former Air Jamaica pilot who sat him down and exposed him to the life in the air. That life-changing conversation led him to enrol in the pre-engineering course at Northern Caribbean University before transferring overseas, where he continued his engineering degree and completed a bachelor's in aviation at the Walla Walla University in Washington State.
According to Wellington, there are many opportunities for Jamaicans in Qatar as there are schools seeking teachers, petroleum companies looking for engineers, and a newly built state-of-the-art hospital which is currently recruiting nurses from all over the world. He also noted that Qatar Airways has a number of positions open for cabin crew, pilots and management staff.
"Qatar is a rich country with a small population. Therefore, the majority of positions in the public and private sectors are filled by international personnel. If anyone is interested in working here, this is a great time, place and opportunity to build valuable experience. Here you can grow culturally, intellectually and professionally, and be properly rewarded for your hard work with their generous compensation packages," he said.