A Maldivian Pilot's Life
June 9, 2014
Your dream vacation in the Maldives is just Andrew Farr's regular nine to five. Merritt Gurley talks to the seaplane pilot about flying atoll to atoll in this elite holiday spot.
Published on Jun 9, 2014
"Passengers, we'll have to postpone take-off because, as you may have noticed, a pod of dolphins has surrounded the plane." Sound familiar? No? Those of us bogged down in life on land may be more accustomed to dreary issues like idling for two hours on the tarmac, but dolphin greetings, avian stowaways and whale-shark sightings are all fairly standard for the fleet of seaplane pilots flying for Trans Maldivian Airways. Captain Andrew Farr says it is, predictably, amazing. "It is like going on an all-expense-paid vacation—I can't believe I get paid to do this."
Say hello to Farr's cockpit dashboard doll
While you may be thinking, "Sign me up!," landing this gig is no easy feat—Farr's journey to becoming a pilot in the Maldives was four decades in the making. His father, also a pilot, paid for his first flying lesson on a floatplane across a lake in Haliburton, Ontario, as a present for his seventh birthday, and just like that he was hooked. Around that same time, he came to another life-shaping realization when his parents took a trip to Florida during the dead of winter in Canada and came back with dark golden tans. "I couldn't believe that it could be summer somewhere else in the world," says Farr. "I made the decision then that someday I would live and work in a warm country."
The first flying lesson for Farr (on left)
Moving to a tropical locale was easier said than done. First Farr had to earn his stripes as a bush pilot in northern Canada, which meant severe terrain and facing his dread of the cold. "In the winter the floats are traded in for skis and we land on the ice on top of frozen lakes," says Farr. "I wasn't a big fan of the winter operations where the temperature was an average of minus 30 to minus 40 centigrade." So when a friend told Farr about Trans Maldivian Airways he heard the siren's call of the warm sea breeze and responded right away. And then again. And again. And again. "I sent my resume every year for many years until they finally decided I had the experience they were looking for," he says. And it was worth the wait: "My first impression was that I so made the right decision coming here. This job is so me!"
Andrew Farr, preparing for take off
Farr was a fast fit in a team of laid-back aviators that, despite running on a schedule as pressurized as a jetliner cabin, relishes the benefits. "We often get to see pods of whales, or dolphins or manta rays or whalesharks, and we can deviate our flight path to fly over them," Farr says, adding, "we get to stay in gorgeous guest rooms, eat in some of the most amazing restaurants in the world, swim in the crystal-clear water and walk on the most beautiful beaches anywhere." But for Farr, the biggest bonus of his work is a little more pedestrian. "We fly barefoot," he says with delight. "I'm sure the guys and girls flying the big metal don't get to kick their shoes off."
You need to hang a little loose on a job that starts just after sunrise and ends at sunset, with 10 to 15 flights of 14 to 15 people a day, shuttling between the airport in Malè and resorts on neighboring atolls. Though the islands are dotted across 764 kilometers of the Indian Ocean, most of Captain Farr's flights are just 30-minute hops, so he's off to Malè and back again in about an hour, sticking to a tight turn around. The plane lands, is tied up, passengers disembark, the engine is fueled, windshields are washed and the pilots down a coffee—all within 15 minutes. "With over 40 planes constantly coming and going, the organization of this little dance is amazing to see. It is almost like a Formula 1 pit stop sometimes," Farr says.
Jumping from sports to soaps—"You know the show Fantasy Island, where that little man in the white suit, Tattoo, would say 'Boss, boss! De plane… de plane!'? It is like that, but on steroids," Farr says. In addition to the stunning seascapes, another perk of the job is being the guy who zips travelers to their honeymoons and fantasy vacations. "The great thing about this industry is that we're dealing with people who are excited to see us," he says. "I couldn't imagine being a bill collector." Although the price tag of trips to the Maldives probably means he's shuttling a few their way too.
A typical view from the plane