Everybody has a dream, but whether it can be realised depends on courage and determination. Kuok U Kei, a PhD student at the University of Macau (UM), recently received civil pilot training to pursue his dream of flying. ‘We only live once, so we must be brave to try new things and seize the opportunity to go for our dreams,’ says Kuok.

Self-taught Aviation Knowledge

As a high school student, Kuok was already very interested in airplanes. ‘I would go to the Hong Kong International Airport from time to time and lean on the railings to watch the planes take off and land,’ says Kuok. He also spent a lot of time after school reading aviation-related magazines and literature, and taught himself about aircraft construction and other aviation knowledge.

When Kuok graduated from high school, he did not choose to study aviation, but came to UM to pursue a bachelor’s degree in economics. After graduating with flying colours from the Department of Economics and the Honours College in 2013, he stayed on to pursue a Master of Social Sciences (Economics), and then a PhD degree in business administration, with plans to join the academic profession as a professor of economics.

At that time, Kuok knew that the entry requirements for pilots were very high, and he did not have the courage to grasp his future.

Daring to Try

When Air Macau launched its first pilot training course in 2016, the news instantly awakened Kuok’s dream.

Having just started his doctoral degree, he did not act immediately and continued to keep the fire of his dream buried in his heart. However, when Air Macau offered a second course the following year, he could not hold back any longer, thinking that if he could grab this opportunity, his dream would have a chance to come true. After much deliberation, the aircraft enthusiast decided to take the plunge: ‘I’m still young. If I don’t give it a try, I’ll definitely regret it in the future!’

Therefore, he decided to suspend his studies and enrol in the pilot course, rather than let the opportunity pass him by again. The moment he made this decision, it was as if he grabbed the controls of the plane and moved on to another route of his life.

Pilot Training in France

When it comes to the aviation industry, many people will recall the glamorous pilots and flight attendants in the Hong Kong drama Triumph in the Skies. In fact, behind the shiny appearance, industry employees pay a lot of sweat for their careers, and also bear a great deal of pressure.

Kuok showed us a photo of a pile of books that covered all 14 subjects he had to study during the seven-month course. The subjects included meteorology, aircraft mechanics, flight principles, flight performance, and aviation regulations. ‘At that time, I had to read all these books in seven months to be prepared for the examination,’ says Kuok. ‘It reminds me of my master’s studies as I had to spend eight hours a day studying for the exam,’ says Kuok.

During pilot training in France, Kuok, without an aviation-related background, made a lot of effort mastering his piloting skills. According to him, the most difficult part was to control the landing of the aircraft. Looking back on his first training session flying a plane alone, he admits that he was very anxious and had no desire to enjoy the scenery. ‘Before we were allowed to fly solo, each of us could only receive 18 hours of training and no extra time was allowed, so we had to learn to land within the time limit,’ says Kuok. ‘We were always counting the number of remaining flight hours, and the less we had, the more nervous we became.’

Keep Trying to Find Your Strengths

As an undergraduate, Kuok often worked with his classmates to organise activities in the Henry Fok Pearl Jubilee College (HFPJC) and the Honours College (HC). He was also a tutor of economics in the HC, helping students overcome their fear of mathematics and science.

Kuok believes that his study experience at UM has a strong connection to his dream, as it has given him many opportunities to train in emergency response, teamwork, and leadership skills, which are all essential for a pilot.

In his comments in a book published to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the HC, Kuok wrote about what it is like to be a civil pilot: ‘In a career with so many responsibilities, I feel that modern civil pilots need to have both the hard and soft skills and the maturity of character that UM and the HC have always aimed for in their students.’

As an alumnus of UM, Kuok encourages students to participate in different activities to explore their interests and aspirations. ‘I decided to pursue a PhD degree because I love research and education, but I don’t see being a professor as my only path. I still participate in different activities to build a wide range of interests,’ says Kuok. ‘For example, I enjoy running. I have participated in many running competitions in college, and was the captain of the track and field team. I also like to play the piano, which I often did at high-table dinners in my residential college.’ At UM, there are many opportunities for students to showcase their talents, and he believes that only by trying will students know their strengths and weaknesses. ‘These interests of mine eventually helped realise my dream,’ says Kuok.

Scaling New Heights

After completing two years of rigorous training for civil pilots, Kuok returned to Macao in late 2019 to continue his PhD studies, specialising in the field of aviation economics, while working. ‘With the development of the aviation industry, the requirements for civil pilots are getting higher and higher. I need to keep updating my knowledge in order to scale new heights in my professional field,’ says Kuok.

In late 2020, Kuok was invited to be a speaker in an alumni seminar celebrating the tenth anniversary of the HFPJC. During his talk, he encouraged the students to enrich their knowledge while studying, and to participate in different activities to develop their talents and broaden their horizons.

Source: My UM Issue 101