Pilot benefits from 'Xinjiang classes' program that helps poor students attend top schools in other regions
Abuduerxiti Abulaiti prepares for a flight at the Urumqi Diwopu International Airport in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on April 17. (WANG FEI / XINHUA)
URUMQI－When he was a boy, every time Abuduerxiti Abulaiti caught glimpses of eagles soaring high in the sky over the pastures of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, he always wondered what it would be like to fly.
Decades later, that child has grown up to become an airplane pilot. Abuduerxiti wonders whether there's a child looking up at his plane, dreaming about flying just as he once did.
When I was a child, I only had a dream of flying over the Tianshan Mountains. ... My reality has surpassed my dreams and the sky’s the limit
Abuduerxiti Abulaiti, Urumqi Air pilot
"Becoming a pilot was an unrealistic childhood dream. Now it's a dream come true," said the 34-year-old.
Abuduerxiti was born into an ordinary family in Yining, Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture. His father was a road maintenance worker and his mother a housewife.
Like many children in the remote region, Abuduerxiti did not travel from his hometown, let alone on a plane. "I had never seen a plane before high school, and I had never sat on a plane before graduating from college," he said.
Things changed drastically for him in 2000. China launched the "Xinjiang classes" program that enabled students from the region to study for free at top schools in more economically developed areas.
Abuduerxiti and his colleagues walk to their plane. (WANG FEI / XINHUA)
Abuduerxiti was one of the lucky ones chosen to attend school in Ningbo, Zhejiang province.
As one of the first graduates of the program, Abuduerxiti went on to study at a university in Beijing. After graduation, he applied for Hainan Airlines' pilot recruitment program.
Abuduerxiti passed the rigorous physical examination, and was accepted as a student pilot and sent to the United States for further studies.
He said that student pilots like him had to work harder than pilots who were aviation major graduates.
In the US he worked hard and tried to get ahead by recording all his lectures and listening to them again at night. He later went on to obtain a private pilot's license, an instrument rating license and a commercial pilot's license.
The captain prepares for an Urumqi Air flight from the airport. (WANG FEI / XINHUA)
His career took off in 2010 when he became a co-pilot of a Boeing 737 plane. Abuduerxiti moved up the ranks and became a captain six years later.
But to this day, he treats every flight as if it was his first, remembering what one instructor once told him－"It's not just the controls you are holding in your hands, but also the lives of many others."
Yet, there is one frightening experience he is unable to forget, a flight from Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, to Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, on Dec 15, 2016. His plane climbed to an altitude of about 9,000 meters, and all of a sudden the flight instruments failed. He had never encountered anything like it before.
"It was like when you drive a car very, very fast, and suddenly everything stops working," he said.
He felt a rush of panic go through his body but thankfully it didn't last long. Abuduerxiti managed to calm himself in a matter of seconds. He went through the checklist with his co-pilot and landed the aircraft safely. Even though his clothes were drenched with sweat, the passengers didn't realize what had happened.
"As a captain, it's my responsibility to transport every passenger safely to their destination," he said.
Abuduerxiti gives a briefing to members of his flight team at the Urumqi airport on April 17. (WANG FEI / XINHUA)
In 2014, Urumqi Air was launched to meet the increasing demand for air travel in Xinjiang, a core area of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Abuduerxiti joined the company and began to fly over the land where his dreams of flying started. He was assigned the company's first flight and coincidentally, the destination was to his hometown, Yining. "That's where my dream began. Today, I'm flying home," he said to himself at the time.
During the memorable trip, he flew over the Tianshan Mountains and Sayram Lake, circled over the Ili River, and finally landed at Yining Airport.
As a captain and instructor, Abuduerxiti works four or five days a week and often flies over the Tianshan Mountains, a symbol of Xinjiang. The region's aviation industry has come a long way, just like he has. The once-remote area had flights to Singapore, Japan, Russia and many other countries before the novel coronavirus outbreak.
"When I was a child, I only had a dream of flying over the Tianshan Mountains. But since then I have also crossed the oceans. My reality has surpassed my dreams and the sky's the limit," he said.
HONG KONG NEWS