Captain Ibrahim Rasheed, commonly known as Captain Iburey, is a name synonymous with the Maldivian aviation industry. Holding license no. 001, he was the first person to become a licensed pilot in the Maldives, and with 39 years under his wings, continues to serve the industry in various capacities.
It was an honour for the islandchief team to sit down with him, to understand the challenges he faced, the passion that drove him, and the dedicated work he has done to educate and train the next generation of aviation leaders.
Q1. You became a pilot at a time it was almost unheard of. What attracted you towards this path and how did you achieve this near-impossible feat?
When I was young, I used to visit pilot Naeem’s house with my parents. There was a picture of him beside an aircraft that piqued my curiosity. Pilot Naeem was the first Maldivian to become a pilot, and seeing that picture, I knew that was what I wanted to do! I did not come from a well-off family, but I always knew, with faith, determination, dedication and hard work, I could achieve the impossible.
When was I was in middle-school, Air Maldives commenced its operations with two aircrafts. Foreign pilots in smart white unforms flew the planes, and seeing them nudged me towards this direction, knowing the dream of becoming a pilot in Maldives was now a step closer. As I continued my education, I worked a number of jobs in hopes of earning myself to fund my pilot training. My step father was even arrested as worked instead of going to school, but these hardships only propelled me to work even harder to achieve my dreams.
I also wrote a letter to President Ibrahim Nasir, relaying my ambition to become a pilot. He generously invited me to his office and said, “keep studying”. I continued to write to him every year with my results, and upon completing my higher secondary education, the President’s Office offered me and 15 others to apply for scholarships. With God’s grace, I was awarded a scholarship to study Aeronautical Engineering with Pilot Training.
Our destination was Pakistan at a time where the country was at the height of civil unrest. Two years down the line, schools and universities were shut down and then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom decided to evacuate all Maldivian students fearing for their safety. The Ministry of Education was able to secure scholarships for all other students, but as pilot training wasn’t a popular scholarship program, I was given a job at the Ministry of Finance.
Call it divine intervention, one day I ran into of my schoolteachers - Hon Fathuhuhllah Jameel (former foreign minister), who inquired about my situation, and he pledged to help me complete my studies. Two weeks later I was transferred to a position at the foreign ministry where I was told that I could do all I want to secure pilot training for myself. I began writing letters to different donor countries highlighting the importance of pilot training for the development of the country. Most countries replied that their budgets did not include pilot training, however, Australia said that they were in the process of re-budgeting for the next five years and in its reviews they would include pilot training.
Minister Fathuhullah advised me to go Sri Lanka as Secretary of the Embassy, and work with the Australian Embassy and to expedite the process. When the scholarship was finally awarded to Maldives, I was selected among the top two candidates. It was myself and Captain Hussain Sham that left to Thailand in 1981 under the third country scholarship program offered by the Australian Government.
Sham and I completed our training together, but fortunately for me, my documents were submitted first. I got my licence as no.001 and Sham no.002, together making us the first licensed pilots in the Maldives.
Q2. With decades of service to the industry, what would you say is your proudest accomplishment and the biggest challenge in achieving it?
The proudest moment and the biggest challenge was to “dream big and make it a reality”. The many hurdles I crossed to become a pilot and finally get license no. 001 is the most notable achievement - one that set my career in stone.
In the 80s, the aviation industry was dominated by expatriates. It was just two Maldivian pilots and a few cabin crew, and my biggest motivation was to narrow this gap in favour of locals. With the extensive experience and assistance of Hon. Ambaree Abdul Sattar (former State Minister of Defense), I was able to work closely to get more international funding and aid to train local pilots. In the late 80s and early 90s three batches of pilots were trained under international and Maldivian funding, creating a larger community of local pilots, which in turn marked another milestone in my career.
Throughout the years, I have advocated for more opportunities for Maldivian aviation experts, to train and educate them. Today, I’m proud to say I have played a pivotal role in educating and training our locals as professionals in the aviation industry.
Very few people know that you can fly aircrafts with an instructor as early as you wish. You can fly solo flights by the age of 16 and earn a license by 17. We need to create more awareness on these opportunities, to find the right candidates that would one day have the discipline and ethics to take on the massive responsibility of flying passengers.
With new developments and increased opportunities in the industry, it is heartening to see more locals making their marks. Today the scales have tilted towards local experts, with some airlines like Villa Air that boast fully local crews. I firmly believe that with more local pilots and engineers, our economy too would reap its benefits.
Q3. Your career also marks 22 years of military service. How did your trainings as a military officer shape your experiences?
When I first started my job as a pilot for Air Maldives in 1983, the Ministry of Defence also operated several aircrafts. When the government decided to centralize these operations, all pilots and engineers were transferred to the defence ministry. During my military career, I underwent a lot of military trainings, a third of it abroad. I am very proud that starting my career as a Lance Corporal, I was a Lieutenant Colonel when I resigned - working as the Acting Commissioner of Police. These military experiences have shaped me to become who I am today, both personally and professionally.
Q4. The Maldives continues to face a lot of challenges in training pilots locally. What is your view on the government’s role and its contributions?
The government has a major role to play in the development of the aviation industry. Unfortunately, we still lack the expertise at a policy level, who has the right knowledge and training to regulate the sustainability of such ventures.
Continuous training and development for pilots is compulsory, but we still lack the opportunity to do so in Maldives. There might be an x number of factors resulting in this, thus the right kind of government intervention and management is necessary.
The demand is there, yes! But it also requires high investment, and sustainable management for the investment to yield returns. We are seeing more private investments being made towards establishing flying schools, but it needs the right management to sustain it long enough to make it a profitable, more importantly be a beneficial resource for the Maldivian aviation industry. The role of the government in facilitating and regulating to ensure stability for investors and students alike is crucial.
Q: 5 The airline industry’s cleaning standards saw a considerable ‘face-lift’ following the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is expected that more airlines will integrate and utilize more stringent clean protocols, how would you forecast investments across the industry, that ensure high levels of cleanliness?
There is no question about cleanliness – it is already implemented well. We know the air inside the aircraft can get contaminated easily, so protocols to ensure safe airflow within aircrafts was the major change during the pandemic. These new protocols are now followed and will be a standard practice going forward.
I am very thankful for the Maldivian Government; they enforced strict protocols during the pandemic and our Health Protection Agency did an amazing job. When we see other countries failing to regain trust, we see Maldives had done better, and we must congratulate the government for that.
I am happy that as airlines movements resumed, airlines continued to enforce their health protocols. We are now seeing the industry bounce back. So, Fantastic job! I must congratulate all airlines and their dedicated staff.
Despite Villa Air being a small airline, we too are operating continuous flights now. Our frequencies and routes have increased as well.
Q: 6 Based on your experience and as well as industry trends, how do you foresee the current year for the aviation industry?
With the pandemic easing and more travel restrictions lifted, I foresee an influx of passengers and limitations to move them. When the tourist season begins later this year, if the China opens for travel, there will be even more passenger movements and with the current limitations on aircrafts within Maldives, we may not be able to cater for the demand.
Looking at the airlines operating domestically, Island Aviation who is the biggest operator has limitations within their fleet to carry the influx of passengers. Manta Air is operating with no spares, and although Villa Air has several spare aircrafts, they are grounded. To help Island Aviation cater to this high demand, we will need to revalidate these grounded aircrafts and if Villa Air can make them available, that would be fantastic!
Q7. What were your biggest contributions towards the current aviation standards practiced in Maldives? Are you happy with your contributions to the industry?
I have been fortunate enough to not only work for Air Maldives/Island Aviation, but also at the Ministry of Defence, NSS/MNDF, police, and the Civil Aviation Authority as well. I have been working with the Civil Aviation Authority at various capacities for 38 years, with my last posting as Head of Operations. My biggest contribution is formulating the current rules and regulations on operations to ensure a safer environment for aviation operations in the Maldives.
I am also an instructor and examiner and hopefully will be till my last day. Being the only recognized ICAO inspector in Maldives, I hope to continue my services even when I retire from flying.
I have also helped the government in times of need when regional expertise is needed. Under bilateral understanding, when a other countries have required assistance from Maldives, I have also lent my expertise, in this capacity, including inspections for the Sri Lankan authority.
I am very happy with my contributions over the last four decades of service in all these fields. I owe my whole career to the government of Maldives, and that is the reason why I have dedicated my life towards public service. I am now a year away from formal retirement, but I hope to continue my services in any way I can.
Q8. What would be your advice to those aspiring to become pilots in Maldives?
Yes, aspiring pilots…Dream big and make it a reality! Don’t do it, if u don’t want to be responsible. People send their children to become pilots because it is a high paying job. Reality is, pilots get high pays, because a pilot is responsible for the safety of the passengers, carrying them in the air, and bringing them back safely back to ground. That person must be somebody who is very responsible and love flying. We are in the air, so high above, with forces acting on the aircraft that requires constant attention. Unfortunately, when you are that high, you don’t see anything but endless skies, and for long range pilots this may be upto 8, 10 or 11 hours. These are hours with the same scenery, so unless you love what you do, you get bored very fast – becoming a danger to yourself and the rest. So, love flying. If you love flying, and if you think you are a responsible person, you should fly. Otherwise, don’t become a pilot. There are better jobs. Be a lawyer or something.
Q9. In your long career as pilot and training pilots, have you had any incidents and how severe?
There have been very serious incidents, just like any other pilot would have faced during a long career. As pilots we train our brains to forget these incidents so that it does not impact our daily lives and be driven by fear. So, we do not discuss and delve on these incidents as every day, we are responsible to the lives of hundreds of passengers. The best we can do is embrace our failures and learn from it responsibly.
To give you some perspective of the kinds dangers we face, during the tragic capsizing of Enama boat, I had to carry an emergency response team of doctors, nurses and rescue divers from Male’ to Kaadehdhoo. It was the dead of night, and the airport had no functioning runway lights so I had to land the aircraft in complete darkness. That’s the kind of dangers we face from time to time. Other than that, there has been the occasional engine failure, or malfunctioning doors, or even complete aircraft failures. We are given the proper training to handle such situations, and Alhamdhulliah, I have been able to navigate my way out of such situations safely.
Q10. Many in the Maldivian aviation industry praise you as hero and idol for the services rendered to the country, and regard you as an inspiration for them. What is your philosophy that you upheld during your dedicated years of service?
My success lies in my sincere dedication to serve the country. As I said, my family had no means of providing me with the financial support to achieving my dreams, and it was the Maldivian government, in turn its citizens, who I owe my career to.
That is why I chose to serve MNDF and Police. That is why I worked with the Civil Aviation Authority for 38 years. I only left CAA as it was time for my retirement. Otherwise, I would have not given up service. I am very thankful to the people of the country - because the government gave me the choice to do this, to be who I am today!
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