We recently connected with App in the Air user, Ian Bartolo, who is a pilot with VistaJet. In this feature, Ian tells us all about life on the private side of the aviation industry and how he got there.
Tell us about a little bit about yourself.
I’m from a very small island in the middle of the Mediterranean called Malta. I’ve been in the aviation industry for quite some time now, as I’ve always wanted to be a pilot. I started my flying licenses when I was quite young, at the age of fourteen. I actually got my first license when I was almost seventeen, so about an entire year before I could legally start even practicing my car license. I remember asking my mom to drive me to the airport so that I could build some hours up in the plane. So by now I’ve gained some experience in the aviation industry. I’ve been a flight instructor, I’ve worked with an air ambulance, and now I work for a corporate business jet called VistaJet.
So you got started quite early on! How did you know from a young age that this was the career you wanted to pursue?
Aviation is something that has always been in the family. No one else is a pilot or works in the industry, but my father has this soft spot for aviation, especially military planes. Since I was young, we have been to every air show on the island. We never missed one, it was like a yearly ritual. He kind of planted the seed into me at a very young age. As I got older, I became seriously interested. I always looked up how I could become a pilot. I became a fully qualified pilot by the age of twenty-one.
This past year of the pandemic was especially challenging for many within the aviation industry. How was your work impacted?
On the private aviation side, the plane I fly right now, for example, it can hold a maximum of nine passengers. We work as a kind of taxi service, so anyone can call the company and book the plane, and the price will be the same regardless of how many passengers are on board. Compared to the commercial airline side that relies on filling aircraft capacity, the private side was luckily not impacted as much. Also, we have seen trends in business aviation where some people want to avoid flying commercially.
What is your favorite part of being a pilot?
Generally, it’s the traveling side of it. It’s the sense of freedom. When you’re up there, it’s just you, the plane, and the sky — that’s it. And you just completely disconnect from everything. You get to see incredible views that, unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to be able to see and experience: things from the sunrise to sunset, to different shades of colors. The plane I fly can go up to 45,000 feet (compared to the standard 35,000) and you can actually barely see the curvature of the earth. At that altitude, when you’re at the break of dawn, you can see on one side, it’s completely pitch black and on the other, the sun is still setting. It’s things you can only see up there — it’s incredible. And of course in my line of work, it’s the thrill and enjoyment and excitement of living out of a suitcase. Today, I’m sleeping in Rome, tomorrow I’m in Moscow, and the next day, I’m in Dubai. You can never know where you end up.
Are there any down sides to the job?
One is that I have to spend seventeen day away from home. So that means seventeen days away from family and friends, away from a normal kind of lifestyle here. Also, it tends to be difficult as well because we’re constantly running around the world. Our bodies are constantly fighting different time zones. Nowadays, it’s even more difficult as every country has their own COVID restrictions. We kind of have to be like, “Okay, what country am I in? How many meters apart do we have to be socially distanced? What’s open? What’s closed?” It can be a very fragile and volatile job.
What is your favorite route to fly?
Any route that takes me to Dubai. Usually, we fly Moscow to Dubai, which can take us around five hours, and you usually fly over some interesting terrain. Also, any route that takes you over the Alps. It’s interesting—if you take a picture of the Alps in the summer and another in the winter, it’s a completely different picture. We actually go to a couple of airports that are situated in valleys in the Alps, and they have quite challenging and interesting approaches.