For every 16 that apply, though, only one gets in. The minimum criteria is SPM, with a B in Physics, English, Maths and Bahasa Malaysia. Other requirements include a height of at least 1.63m, proportionate weight, no colour blindness and, vision-wise, a power not exceeding 500 if wearing glasses.
“We have relaxed the perfect vision ruling because of the usage of computers nowadays,” says Zulhaimi Othman, assistant general manager of manpower resourcing.
Once the initial screening is done, candidates will proceed to the next step. At the preliminary level, applicants are tested in five stages, beginning with psycho-motor testing.
Using a computer monitor and a joystick, the tests measure your ability to interpret information and gauge your eye-hand-foot coordination. It is designed to assess whether you are capable of multi-tasking with the objective of determining your aptitude and flair for flying.
Then, it’s the psychometric tests to judge teamwork and reasoning ability, and whether you can withstand pressure. If candidates ace the first two sections, they will be called for an interview.
“The interview is to validate the findings in the psycho-motor and psychometric testing. There is a 60%-70% chance of candidates being selected for an interview. This is where we test their articulations skills, fluency in English, and from their conversation, we know if they have leadership ability,” says Zulhaimi.
Successful candidates are required to undergo a medical checkup at the MAS Medical Centre. Once you’re in, you’re subject to yearly medical checkups — every six months, if you’re above 40. Following the final selection, applicants have to sign a contract which bonds them for 15 years upon completion of training.
The candidates are then sent to various flying schools in Langkawi, Malacca or Kota Baru, Kelantan for two years. Here, the MAS cadets have to compete with other students.
“These aviation training schools might prefer to take in foreign students because the revenue is higher so we have to fight for slots,” says Zulhaimi.
Upon completion, the cadets are sent to Subang for the “conversion” process. Once pilots become familiar with the aircraft systems, they will make the transition to cockpit procedures training.
Isn’t 15 years a long time?
“Yes,” Zulhaimi says, smiling. “You must understand that they are our investment — our seedlings — so we monitor their progress closely.
“For each cadet, we spend between RM200,000 and RM250,000 on his training and another RM100,000 for his conversion. If they break the bond, they have to pay a hefty amount, but I’m not disclosing how much!”
Since only the cream of the crop are selected, the programme has less than a 1% dropout rate and usually these are due to disciplinary factors.
For cadet pilots Andrew Cherang and Johann Welch, nothing beats the excitement of pilot training. Cherang spent many school holidays flying to various destinations on MAS, and this led him to develop a passion for flying. He applied to MAS’ cadet pilot programme and was ecstatic to get in on his first attempt.
“My parents were probably more relieved that I got accepted because they don’t have to spend too much on my education now!” jokes the 22-year-old Sarawakian.
Cherang spent two years at a flying school in Langkawi and is currently continuing his training in Subang.
“Yes, the training is intensive,” he admits. “It can get tough on the brains, especially the technical aspects and learning about aircraft systems. But there is nothing I don’t like about it. Becoming a pilot is liberating because I don’t have to adhere to office hours.”
For Welch, 24, becoming a pilot has always been a career choice since he grew up in an air force base.
“My dad was with the RMAF, so I was surrounded by planes and pilots but Dad wasn’t keen on me joining the air force,” he reveals.
Welch gave up studying chemical engineering at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman after MAS offered him a place on his second attempt. He believes he has what it takes to succeed.
“The training here is a big jump from flying school. There’s no more spoon-feeding, and you’ve got to have a sense of responsibility. In flying, there’s no grey area — it’s either right or wrong. And you have to know your stuff whether there are exams or not.”
Both boys get a monthly allowance of RM800, and once they become co-pilots, they’ll be paid around RM3,000 to RM4,000 a month.
Cadet pilots are only operational after three years if they’re starting fresh and have to be at least 21 before they can fly. To captain the Boeing 737, pilots have to clock in at least 4,000 hours, which might take eight to 10 years.
Zulhaimi points out, “It’s a rewarding career and one that ensures you are not overworked. Pilots are not allowed to fly more than 850 hours a year or 80 hours a month because the safety of passengers is in their hands. We must give them ample time to relax although we don’t tell them how to do it.”
If you don’t get into the cadet programme, don’t despair. You can still enrol in an aviation school and eventually apply to MAS. To date, MAS has 1,200 pilots, 95% of whom are Malaysian.
“We hope to have all Malaysians by 2011. We plan to allow girls in soon but have currently slowed down our recruitment drive because of the global recession,” says Zulhaimi.