Brothers land a family first

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2005, 12:00am

Cathay pilots Simon, Stephen and Stuart Rattigan make aviation history in the cockpit

Three flying brothers earned a place in aviation history this weekend when they sat in the same cockpit to pilot a Cathay Pacific passenger flight to Australia and back.

Simon Rattigan, 34, captained the Airbus A330-300 flight from Hong Kong to Sydney on Friday night with brothers Stephen, 32, and Stuart, 29, as his senior first officer and first officer.

It is believed to be the first major commercial flight anywhere in the world to be piloted by three brothers.

Simon told the 234 passengers on board at the start of the nine-hour flight about the piece of aviation history and that he was sitting in the cockpit alongside his two brothers.

The Rattigans, from Christchurch, near Bournemouth in England, fly back together early this morning.

'This has always been in the back of my mind since the three of us began flying with the same airline,' said Simon, a father of two who joined Cathay in 1994, before take-off on Friday.

'We thought it would be a great thing to do, a unique thing to do. There have been father and son pilots, and fathers and daughters and cousins flying before, but I don't think there have ever been three brothers flying together on a commercial airline before.'

The opportunity for the Rattigan brothers to fly together only came about when Simon switched from flying Boeing 747 jumbo jets to the Airbus last year, putting him in the same fleet as his younger brothers.

Even then, they could fly together only while they had the correct descending order of ranks - captain, senior first officer and first officer. Stephen, who joined Cathay in 1995, is due to be upgraded to captain later this year.

After Simon switched to the Airbus fleet, the brothers asked Cathay to be scheduled to fly together. They found out a month ago that they would be piloting the same plane. Middle brother Stephen, who had shared the cockpit with Stuart previously, said: 'We started thinking about this at the beginning of June, and on June 16 when the roster came out we knew the flight was coming up.'

Simon said: 'It could be the last opportunity we will have to do this. It's a one-off special and we're very privileged to be able to do it.

'We're going to meet up with relatives when we get to Sydney and then we'll have a few days off when we get back to Hong Kong so I expect we'll celebrate then.'

Simon said that once they were airborne, there would be nothing out of the ordinary about the flight. 'That is the beauty of flying with Cathay,' he said. 'You can fly with anybody from any nationality and background whatsoever and we follow the same procedures. It's operations as normal.'

The first thing the brothers planned to do when they touched down in Sydney was phone their father Allan, 60, a British-based pilot with Virgin Atlantic, to tell him how the flight went.

'He thinks it's fantastic,' said Stuart, who said he realised from the age of 12 that he wanted to be a pilot and joined Cathay in 1998. 'Dad used to take us flying in a small Cessna so that may have been how we all got the flying bug early on.'

While passengers were told of their unique cockpit crew after take-off, they may not have realised it was a family affair in more ways than one. Stuart's girlfriend, Sammii Wong, was among the flight attendants.

The Rattigan brothers are third-generation pilots. Their grandfather, Graham Rattigan, who died two years ago, was also a pilot and served as a squadron leader in the second world war, flying Whitley and Halifax bombers in raids over Germany.

Simon said it was too early yet to tell if his children or Stephen's children would follow them into the cockpit. 'They like cars and trucks and things, but I don't know about planes yet,' he said. 'My daughter is six, though, and if she could go to school in a plane every day she would.'

A Cathay Pacific spokesman said: 'We were delighted to be able to make this achievement possible for the Rattigan brothers.'