What was it like to spend your childhood at the airport?
My father was a pilot in the Yugoslav army, and he introduced me to the love of flying. Later, he continued his career in Zlatarna Celje but has always remained closely connected with aviation as a motor and gliding instructor at Aeroclub Celje, where I spent a large part of my childhood. When my father was flying, students and other club members were looking after me, and sometimes they even took me with them in the back seat of Cessna.
When did you start flying?
I started flying as soon as I fulfilled the age requirement to enroll in the theoretical course for a glider pilot. That was at the end of the 9th grade of primary school, and during the summer holidays, I finished the practical part of the training. The generation of glider pilots of 2007 was a great team, and because of them, I have very fond memories of my entire training.
You say that voluntary work was a prerequisite for schooling.
In the Aeroclub Celje, we were being trained “in the old way”. Before you were accepted to join the course you had to complete 100 hours of volunteer work. At that particular time, the construction work of the center hangar began, so we were never short of it. Among other things, we also mowed the grass, painted markings on the runway, swept the hangar, and cleaned the planes and the club premises, … At the same time, we got to know each other better and connected as a glider generation, which probably contributed to the smooth course of schooling. Such days full of work were often followed by a spontaneous picnic and socializing until late in the evening.
You were more interested in flying motorized planes.
I would say that happened more due to the fast pace of life as it became a little easier, but at the same time, it also coincided with my desire to make flying a profession. At the age of 16, immediately after finishing the gliding course, I passed the motor pilot theory, and at the age of 17, I obtained the PPL(A) license. To continue gliding is still my big wish, which I will fulfill as soon as time permits.
How did you balance flying with school and work?
In my first year of college, I started receiving my father’s pension and started working as a student, which enabled me to save some money for flying as well. If I say that I have spent every euro on flying, I would be lying. I used to travel quite a lot during my college years. Maybe that’s the difference between someone who at a given moment has the opportunity (and often also the support of their parents) to invest a lot of money at once and quickly accumulate the necessary flight hours and me, who has been accumulating them for a solid ten years. However, I have no regrets, during this time I gained many new experiences, which I believe will come in handy in my further career path.
You also worked at Slovenia Air traffic control, and you are currently planning flights for business jets.
During my studies, I started working as a pseudo-pilot on a simulator at the Slovenia Air Traffic Control. Later, I got a full-time job in an organization for training operational personnel – Flight School. I was taking care of the theoretical and practical training of all operational staff and the work on the simulator. I am glad that I was able to participate in the establishment of the new tower and later also the radar simulator because it is a top product. The search for new challenges led me to my current job, at the company Elitavia d.o.o., where I am performing the duties of FOO (Flight Operations Officer) or flight dispatcher – worldwide flight planning for business jets. I joined a team of experienced dispatchers from whom I have learned a lot, especially that nothing is impossible.
In addition to invaluable experience, working in the aviation industry gave me not only colleagues but also good friends on whom I know I can rely on.
If I can borrow my father’s thought: Flying is like taking drugs, once you start, it’s hard to stop. And I agree with that. When I’m up in the air I feel free, and my worries stay on the ground. Maybe it’s because I’ve never flown just to “fit into a uniform”. My flying was never just counting the hours and minutes needed to continue, but above all enjoying the moment. This year I also fulfilled a long-standing wish and obtained a rating to fly with seaplanes on Lake Como. In the future, I want to get an aerobatic rating as well. Right now, I can’t imagine my life not being connected to flying in a way.
Seaplanes, a new love?
Yes, definitely. In May, I obtained a rating to be able to land on water surfaces, and in November I will attend advanced seaplane training. Unfortunately, we currently do not have a registered water airstrip in Slovenia, but in the past, such flying already existed in our country. Ideas about reviving flying with seaplanes after more than 80 years are already in the progress, and I hope to be able to say more soon.
How is a seaplane different?
Flying and operating a seaplane is quite different from a land airplane. On the water, the same rules apply to a seaplane as to a boat. The difference is also that once you start the engine, the plane moves forward continuously, even when the engine is idling. For this purpose, there are special rudders on the floats (water rudder) that are used to steer the plane. A C172 aircraft with 160 horsepower is used for training, which is somewhat “underpowered” for this purpose. This requires more precision in flying. Especially when taking off, it’s important to find the right angle that causes the least amount of drag so that the plane can accelerate to a suitable take-off speed. In the air, the plane is quite stable, but the flight itself requires a great deal of precision due to the low landing speeds.
What is it like to land on the water?
The water landing was the biggest challenge and the best part of the whole training. It requires precise flying, especially in conditions when the atmosphere is calm, and the water surface is without waves. Such conditions require a special landing procedure (“glassy landing”) where the plane is brought into a controlled position at a known height (you compare your height with objects on land – say a house, a tree, etc.) with a certain horizontal speed and a constant rate of descent. You hold this position of the plane almost entirely by instruments until you touch the water’s surface. Such landings are one of the most demanding elements in obtaining authorization.
During training, we didn’t only land on the “water runway”, which is marked with buoys, but on the whole of Lake Como, on the Italian part of Lake Lugano, and a smaller wild lake near the city of Como. I am very much looking forward to the continuation of my training.
You spent the summer on the simulator in Portorož.
In the summer, I trained in Portorož to obtain an instrument rating. I did it alongside my regular job, an irregular schedule with day and night shifts, which was sometimes quite tiring. As part of the training, I flew 35 hours on the simulator and 15 on the Pipper Arrow PA28R. Since the prices for overnight stays at the coast were very high, I decided to go camping. In the evening I was studying theory and read maps in the tent, and in the morning, I was flying.
I finished my training in September, for which I owe a big thanks to my endlessly patient instructor Branko, and to my classmate Jan, with whom we often discussed exercises together and analyzed flights on the simulator.
What is it like to fly IFR in the cloud?
We flew through some clouds a few times during training. The sensation is very interesting and now I understand better why such flying can quickly lead to illusions. In such conditions, it is especially important to stay focused and trust the instruments.
You will soon become a professional pilot.
Yes, the “most difficult part” is behind me. Currently, I have a private pilot license, a night rating, instrument rating, and I have just completed training for a commercial flight license and am now waiting for my skill test. Later, I will have training on multi-engine aircraft and a course to fly in multi-crew operations.
You also have your plane, a Cessna.
The story and desire for my plane started early in my life. My father and I had an agreement to buy a plane together after I graduated. Unfortunately, he passed away before that could happen. With the money he was saving for this purpose, I bought a third share of the C172N aircraft three years ago. Together with the co-owners, who are very good friends of mine, we completely restored the plane and replaced the engine and most of the instruments.
I am very happy that we have found each other and that together we share a love for our “Urška”, as we call our airplane.
Urška and I also have something else in common. When one of the previous owners brought her from Florida to Slovenia in 1993, my father worked as an instructor, so I flew with her a few times even then.
Have you ever had a bird strike?
We’ve already come close, but luckily, I haven’t hit any yet. Instead, I recently had a very close encounter with mushroom pickers at the airport in Postojna. I had to land short and on the edge of the runway. When I mentioned to them that what they were doing was dangerous and it was better to get off the airfield, they ignored me and continued to pick their mushrooms.
Where do you prefer to fly?
Everywhere, most of the time I go to Bled, Triglav, or towards the sea. One of the most beautiful flight routes for me is above the Croatian islands down to South Dalmatia. Longest I flew was to Bratislava and Dubrovnik. In the future, I want to visit Elba and fly along the Italian coast to Sicily. My wish is to take at least three months off and travel with my plane. If I had the chance, I would also go around the world.
What is your favorite day to fly?
I prefer a nice “washed” day after the front, with good visibility and no turbulence.
Do you like taking other people on board with you?
Yes, especially children. I took along many of them. Recently, I had three little girls with me, ages five to twelve, and the oldest always wanted to fly. She told me that she had often dreamed of flying, but now she was finally going to experience it. That touched me. It seems to me that such experiences mean even more to children. Adults somehow don’t know how to enjoy the moments like that, as much.
In your opinion, what are the important qualities that a pilot should have?
If I have to point out any characteristic, I would say that one must be able to take a decision and take responsibility at a given moment in an often time-limited situation.
What are bad flying decisions?
First of all, the mentality that you have to get somewhere. Because you never have to. You can always wait, for example, for the weather to improve or land before your final destination if the weather worsens. It is necessary to be aware of the type of aircraft we are flying and what are its capabilities and ours. I am even more careful when I have passengers. I easily say “no” on a bad day and prefer going for a beer instead.
You also like old airplanes.
Yes, I want to experience flying in an open-cabin plane. I am making arrangements for a flight with the PO-2 airplane and I hope to make it happen soon. Among other things, I also want to fly a Spitfire plane, but everything happens in its own time.
Do you have any suggestions for aviation in Slovenia?
Slovenians have always been very connected to aviation. I highly compliment the books in which Borut Podgoršek collects the stories of Slovenian aviation legends. The biggest blow was the end of Adria Airways, which I think is an indescribable loss for Slovenia and I believe that Slovenia urgently needs its airline. I’m afraid that we also lost a lot of knowledge and experts that now continue their journey abroad. What I miss here is maybe more cooperation and less “spitting” on others. I call it the “local hero” syndrome. But of course, that’s just my opinion.
Do you have any advice for young people who want to become pilots?
Don’t listen to your surroundings and persevere, times will always be uncertain. If the reasons are right and you are persistent, the right path will always appear. Maybe not everything will be ideal right away, and maybe it will be difficult, but it will happen.
Your motto in life?
When I am facing a problem, I like to think of the book written by Gene Kranz: “Failure is not an option”. My ultimate goal is to combine flying with a quality personal life.