Meet the pilots on leave from Dubai considering a temporary career as a butcher
A group of airline pilots in the United Arab Emirates traded in their gamepads for meat cleavers as they navigated professional life as butchers.
The pilots, currently on leave due to the Covid-19 pandemic, have taken over the new temporary job to help fill their free time.
Dressed in white butcher’s coats, the four Emirates Airline Captains wear a set of iconic epaulettes, making them hard to miss when passing the meat counters of several branches of Organic Foods and Cafe in Dubai.
I think initially what I found difficult was being up eight or nine hours a day. As pilots we are used to sitting still so for the first few weeks I would come home with really sore feet
Michiel Smit, Captain
After 24 years flying planes around the world, Michiel Smit, 43, traded his cockpit yoke for a set of kitchen knives after being put on leave in November.
“There is no doubt that this has been a difficult year for many and travel has been one of the hardest hit, from an industry perspective,” he said. The National.
“I think initially what I found difficult was being up eight or nine hours a day.
“As pilots we are used to sitting still, so for the first few weeks I would come home with really sore feet.
“I like the challenge of doing something different. It was hard not to fly at first, but I hope to get back to the cockpit soon.
A chance to learn new skills
The pilots-turned-butchers, from South Africa, Italy and the UK, have been working in their new roles on temporary work permits since March.
In November, the airline put some pilots on 12-month unpaid leave, with the possibility of early recall, and said it would continue to provide “accommodation, medical coverage and other benefits.”
Under the agreement with Organic Foods and Cafe, the four pilots work five days a week, including some weekends, and can be returned to their airline at any time.
Throughout his decades-long career, Mr. Smit, a native of South Africa, has transported medical aid and agency workers to and from countries torn by war with the United Nations.
He came to Dubai in 2008 to work for Emirates on its long haul fleet and has been with the company since.
The father-of-two said it was a devastating blow when the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted flights around the world, but said he was fortunate to still be employed by the airline and have their rent, medical and educational benefits covered.
“The Organic Foods and Cafe team approached me to take on the role and I was immediately excited, but I had to make sure we were doing it the right way,” he said.
“After getting a no-objection certificate from my employer, I started working in March.
“Being South African, I love braai [barbecue], so it’s good to work with meat and make biltong [dried meat], it’s a must-have at home. It is certainly quite difficult to present a cut of meat in a way that makes it look beautiful.
While waiting to enter the cockpit
Alongside Mr. Smit, Jerome Stubbs, 50, also captain.
While the past few months have been hard not to steal, his new adventure in all things meat is something different.
“Pilots usually have Type A personalities and have to do something all the time so it was really hard to have the motivation to do things at the start when I wasn’t flying,” he said.
“Michiel approached me about the butcher’s job and I thought ‘why not?’ I miss flying, and it’s not something I could make a career of, but I love learning new things.
“The big challenge is to try to keep pace with the master butchers. I even did additional studies at home.
“The part I love is talking to customers. They’re always intrigued by our uniforms, so it’s a great topic of conversation.
The father of one started his pilot training later than most, at the age of 27.
At that time, he had his own restaurant but wanted to save enough money to go to flight school and follow in his father’s footsteps, who was a commercial pilot.
Living in Dubai for 14 years, he said he hopes to be back in the skies soon as he is “at the peak of his piloting career” and has a lot more to give.
Jan Pretorius, director of operations for Organic Foods and Cafe, said the bond with the pilots has been fruitful for the company as the men came up with ideas to help manage food waste and portion sizes.
“We approached the pilots because we had mutual friends who didn’t have jobs and a lot of those people were regular customers of ours,” he said.
“Over the past year, people around the world have come under great pressure with job losses and pay cuts, so this was just something we thought we were doing to help them while waiting to resume. the plane.”