Wee Toon pilot’s wings over Africa

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BY John McCallum

A Campbeltown pilot who spread his wings and headed for Africa is preparing to chart new skies – and a little closer to home.

Malcolm McFadyen, a former Campbeltown Grammar pupil, developed a passion for piloting after going to the 2006 Mull of Kintyre air show, and earning some unexpected flying time through a competition win.

Malcolm said: ‘Mary Turner of Kildalloaig had a stall to promote her new flying club, and I won the competition she was running to guess the weight of her aircraft.

‘The prize was a free flying lesson on the plane itself, a Robin HR-200, and it all came from that really.’

Malcolm, who graduated in geography from the University of St. Andrews, began to consider flying as a career.

He said: ‘I applied to different flying schools and was keen to join a new cadet scheme with NetJets, which at the time was the largest private aircraft operator in the world with more than 1,000 jets.

‘I was the youngest who made it to the final stage of selection and was told go and get some other life experience first, so to remain within the aviation industry, I got a job as cabin crew with Silverjet, a long-haul, business-class-only airline that operated Boeing 767s.

‘A year later, I was invited back to NetJets’ European HQ in Lisbon and was offered the chance to join the cadet scheme and train to be a pilot.’

However smooth his transition from cabin crew to qualified pilot, there was some drama for McFadyen on his flight home from a six-month training stint in Arizona.

The 32-year old said: ‘The same day I qualified as a commercial pilot, my British Airways flight back from Phoenix had smoke and fire in the cabin and we ended up sliding out of the emergency evacuation chutes!

‘Along with myself, a number of my flight training classmates had cabin crew experience, so we helped the cabin crew evacuate the passengers and in the end everyone was fine.’

With flying opportunities proving difficult, even after a year and a half long training scheme, Malcolm decided to take a big gamble and head to Botswana in Southern Africa, in search of work.

He told the Courier: ‘I always liked the idea of working in Africa, so I packed a bag, took my tent and headed out to look for work with one of the charter companies operating there.

‘I ended up living on a campsite with other pilots in the same situation, so there was a strange dynamic to my first weeks spent there, making close friendships but at the same time competing with them for scarce work.’

During two months living in a tent in Maun, Botswana, Malcolm also landed another role – which saw him reach yet more new heights – as an inadvertent star of a British TV programme.

Malcolm explained: ‘While I was job hunting, the series Bush Pilots was being filmed and I ended up being featured as one of the job seekers, which was another new experience.

‘Thankfully I was one of the lucky ones and got a job with Wilderness Air, but the job offer turned out to be the easy part as I still had to apply for a Botswanan commercial pilot licence, as well as work and residence permits, which was the real challenge.’

After a struggle, which Malcolm described as ‘incredibly bureaucratic’, he was eventually able to start working for the company, over a year and a half after setting foot in the country.

Malcolm said: ‘Wilderness Air Botswana transfer safari clients, staff and supplies from international airports to safari lodges around Botswana. They are very high end lodges – some as much as $3,000 per person per night – and very exclusive.

‘When I finally flew I saw some spectacular sights, cruising over the famous Okavango Delta, huge grassland plains and forests, spotting incredible wildlife every day. Sometimes lions, who are very stubborn animals, could be on the runway and even a low ‘flyover’ wouldn’t make them move.

‘In Botswana it was an unusual day at work if I didn’t see elephants and memories like those made my time there very special.’

After a spell working in the vast desert expanse of neighbouring Namibia, Malcolm decided to make the move closer to home this summer, accepting a job on the Channel Islands.

He said: ‘I loved working in Africa and spent almost six brilliant years there. I loved being close to nature every day and flying passengers around a truly beautiful part of the world, but the time was right for a fresh challenge.’

Malcolm has joined Guernsey-based Waves, an on-demand ‘air taxi’ service which will initially fly paying passengers between the islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney.

He explained: ‘The company is trying to make air travel more flexible and hassle-free for the people of the Channel Islands, flying where and when people want to fly.’

Malcolm has been involved with the firm since the early stages, working on aircraft manuals, procedures and testing, and the company has now started flying commercially, with their full launch planned for early November.

He added: ‘Currently, Waves are focusing on flying between the Channel Islands, but there is potential for on-demand routes to England and France in the future.’

Malcolm McFadyen in the cockpit on Christmas Day last year at Doro Nawas airstrip, Namibia. NO_c43pilot01_Malcolm_McFadyen

Malcolm’s 30th birthday on Jao Airstrip, Botswana. NO_c43pilot02_Malcolm_McFadyen

Malcom became adept at wildlife photography and snapped this lioness and her cubs. NO_c43pilot03_Malcolm_McFadyen

Hippopotamus at Linyant, Botswana. NO_c43pilot04_Hippo_Linyant_Botswana