Blade runner

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am

Cody Wong Yiu-hong has worked with the Government Flying Service for 13 years, serving the community and helping the police and emergency services

The routine for me is never the same, as I work shifts. The first thing I do when I get to work is get changed and then check the weather and other things I need to be aware of before the other pilots and I go to the aircraft. Then we get together to talk about what we need to be aware of for that day's programme.

On average, every pilot gets about two to three flights each day. Scheduled flights, which have already been planned when we get to work, might include working for the police, various government departments or training flights. We may get more flights in one day because of emergency work, recreation or even police jobs, such as law enforcement flights. In between flights, we do some paperwork, for example dealing with other Hong Kong government requests.

I need to stay in the office for nine hours. It's basically divided into three shifts: the early shift runs from 7am to 4pm; the afternoon from 1pm to 10pm and overnight from 10pm to 7am the next day so that we can have guys on shift 24/7. We have 26 guys working here, including 21 helicopter pilots, and another 11 in the aircraft section. We have five pilots on each shift and four or five air crewmen who go down from the helicopter to do the rescue. This ensures coverage so that we can get an immediate response in different parts of Hong Kong.

As the area of responsibilities for Hong Kong can be up to 400 nautical miles south of Hong Kong, our service demand is to provide emergency services 24 hours a day and 365 days a year to the Hong Kong community and to people in distress in the South China Sea.

Our clients range from Hong Kong government officials and honoured visiting guests to Hong Kong to all those in distress within and outside Hong Kong waters. In that, it also includes [those from] various government departments such as police officers, fire fighters and even civil engineers for site access.

To be a helicopter pilot, you need to be outgoing and a good leader. If we recruit a cadet pilot, we want him or her to be a captain one day. We don't waste too much time on qualifications to start with, because we recruit cadets who know nothing about aviation and provide them with their training afterwards.

You also don't have a certain number of hours of flying behind you. In fact, the younger we take people the better, as they learn faster. In Hong Kong, however, there is also the Hong Kong Air Cadet Corps, which provides some aviation knowledge for youngsters.

I like the flexibility of my job as we work on Saturdays and Sundays and have a day off during the week. The nature of the job means that you provide not only a service to Hong Kong citizens but also an emergency response across the region.

The training itself is the hardest thing. We are a unique unit in terms of helicopter flying. You need to learn about every aspect of flying a helicopter and undergo a very long training period. It takes five to six years before someone can actually operate. Apart from one year's basic training, you still need to spend lots of time in Hong Kong or overseas before you can be a co-pilot and share some of the workload.