The Old Diocesan Issue5 Mar2020 - Page 34



On a flight from
Johannesburg a
few years ago, after
getting the necessary
security clearances,
Grant was able to
invite Sir Richard
Branson into the
cockpit for a landing
into Cape Town.
Grant Back (1977 Bramley)
Senior Captain Grant Back remembers
the first time he stepped foot on
a Boeing 727: the flying springbok
on the interior wallpaper; the racy
shape of the aircraft with its sweptback wings and three rear-mounted
engines. Today he is chairman of the
South African Pilots Association
– and still has some flying goals
left to accomplish.
“Flying was my dream for as long
as I can remember. My first flight
was on a Boeing 727 in 1973 from
Cape Town to Johannesburg.
Knowing what I wanted to do for a
living at a young age was a blessing.
“I was a boarder in Bramley house
for two years until 1977; I remember
them fondly. Of all the schools
I attended – there were six in total;
three in SA, two in Canada and one
in the US – Bishops had the biggest
impact on me. It is one of the reasons
why I send my son to Bishops today.
“In 1977, my family emigrated
to Canada. I started flying while
at university. By the time I got to
third year, I was prepping for my
commercial licence, which I obtained
in 1991, before getting an instructor’s
32 | THE OLD DIOCESAN
licence in 1992. In 1995 I joined SA
Airlink as a first officer to fly the J41
or Jetstream. It was the perfect plane
to start an airline career on, flying up
to six legs a day in the challenging
Highveld summer thunderstorms.
“In 1996 I joined SAA, and was sent
straight onto the Boeing 737-200
series – a fun and challenging aircraft.
In 1997, I became co-pilot on the
Boeing 747-200, 300 and SP (Special
Performance). In those days, we flew
to places like Bangkok, Hong Kong,
Perth, Sydney, São Paulo, Buenos
Aires, London, Zurich, Frankfurt,
Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Mumbai,
New York and Miami, and spent four
to eight days – or an entire month!
– away from home. Sadly, we only fly
to a few of these destinations today.
“After six years on Boeing, I moved
to the longest commercial airplane in
the world: the Airbus A340-600. This
was the way of the future, a move
to what is known as a glass cockpit
from the BRT (“big round things”,
the term to describe the analogue
pressure instruments). The Airbus
and its fly-by-wire systems presented
an exciting change, and a move
towards a different type of flying.
I spent nine years flying long-haul
on the A340 family, before getting a
Cape Town-based position as a captain.
“Last year I was awarded the position
of Captain on the Airbus A330 series.
The training, known as cross-crew
qualification, was short, because the
similarities in Airbus cockpits make
the transition from one aircraft type to
another faster and easier. This results
in significant cost savings to airlines,
and is certainly one of the reasons
behind Airbus’s success.
“People often ask how easy it is
to have a family life as an airline pilot,
especially flying long-haul and being
away from home for up to 18 days a
month. I’ve been married for 19 years
and have two children – and I have
thoroughly enjoyed my career, both
long-haul and domestic.
“If I had to play it all over again,
I’d choose the same career with the
same airline. SAA has had bad press
of late, but I’m hopeful that proper
management and shareholder
participation will enable it to grow. The
airline has a proud history and a sound
safety record, and its pilots are rated
as some of the best in the industry.
The world – including South Africa –
needs pilots now more than ever, so
if you’re an aspiring aviator, go for it!”





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