Chat with a professional pilot
Flying is a very responsible profession, even a mission for some. It requires a lot of sacrifices
and hard work. From an early age on, Primož Jovanović surrendered to it completely.
1.) Ernest K. Gann stated that flying is hypnotic and that all pilots are victims of its spell. How would you describe the feeling that called you and you are committed to?
Flying for me is the biggest approximation of absolute freedom on this planet that you can experience as a human being.
2.) When was the first time you felt an urge to fly?
In my family, we are all connected to aviation. I was born in it. My brother started flying before me, first with a glider and later he trained in the army. My father was in the Air Force department, my aunt was a flight attendant, etc. Aviation was always somewhere around me. Among other things, I admired my brother when he was explaining how he experienced aviation and I wanted to try it too.
3.) You have a lot, more than 9000 hours of flying on different airplanes. Do you still experience flying the same way you once did?
To be fair, no. Flying is now my profession. In the beginning, when I was just entering the world of flying, it was different. I went flying when I wanted to. I chose destinations and goals myself. It’s one thing to fly as a hobby, which I’ve been doing less in recent years, and the other is professional flying.
In professional flying, I still try to look for new challenges and pleasures so that it doesn’t become a routine in the sense of “I have to go to work now”. Of course, there are times when I just don’t feel like sitting on a plane, but that’s the path I’ve chosen and I’m not sorry.
If it becomes coercion, you lose that feeling you had twenty years ago and it’s not the same.
4.) A lot of people perceive flying as something special. What is your view?
It’s understandable to me that many people see it as something special, and in a way it is. But mastering an airplane is nothing “magical”. Once you get to know and learn the basics, you find it all extremely easy.
Yet, by the time you board a passenger plane for the first time, you need to have a particular kind of experience and long-term training in both a classroom and a simulator.
5.) Yet still, it gives you a feeling of the greatest freedom?
Yeah, but again, it depends. There is a difference if you are flying with a Galeb G-2 in an acrobatic zone, flying with a glider, jumping with a parachute, or flying to Portorož with a Cessna. That is incomparable.
6.) What type of flying is the one you yearn for?
If I limit myself to flying only, then it is safe to say that flying with a high-speed military aircraft. Not because I am a militarist at heart. Because this type of flying both from my head and my experience gives, what I would define as the maximum feeling of freedom.
7.) Is that the reason you bought the Galeb G-2?
Yes. I didn’t buy it to play “Top Gun”. I wanted to experience the thrill of it. I’ve flown almost everything. From gliders, and ultralight aircraft to big airlines, except for a helicopter – and Galeb G-2 is the ultimate pleasure I can afford. That classic acrobatic flight with an acrobatic plane doesn’t appeal to me much. While this may give somebody ”that feeling” it doesn’t give it to me. I prefer a nice elegant “looping” to “bouncing in a washing machine” if you understand me.
8.) What is that ultimate feeling with which the Galeb G-2 won you over?
That you are at one moment with a speed of 700,800 km/h at 5 m above ground and ten seconds later 3000 to 4000 m higher. Only this type of aircraft can give you that experience.
9.) Do you also enjoy flying a passenger plane or do you perceive it as “work”?
Of course, I enjoy it. I would not trade this profession for anything in the world. I graduated as a Mechanical Engineer. I can’t imagine working in an office and drawing e.g. gears. When you compare the two, flying an airliner is the maximum you can achieve in Slovenia. In addition, in this way, I experience aviation the way I want to.
10.) When Adria Airways went bankrupt, you decided to embark on a new type of journey, why?
I wanted to experience so-called “long-range” flying. I consciously applied for a co-pilot tender on a Boeing 787 (Dreamliner) at LOT airlines, even though I was a captain-instructor on CRJ and therefore stepped down two steps for that purpose. It was a challenge for me, to prove myself again.
When I was still flying for Adria, I was asked a lot: “Where are you flying to? You see so much!” It was funny to me because the truth was the opposite. We flew around Europe. The workday looked like taking off at the home airport and returning in an hour.
With “long-range” flying you take off and see the world … It’s nice. It’s new, everything is new. You are no longer at the same airport a hundred times. In airline aviation, this is the only type of flying that truly gives you a little special feeling. Like it used to be, many years ago, when everyone was watching flight attendants and pilots “going somewhere”. Nowadays, short or medium-range flying is more and more like driving a local bus. Always in a hurry, short turnarounds, 2 or even 4 rotations per day.
I experienced “long-range” only for a short time because the COVID-19 lockdown grounded all of us who were at LOT for training until further notice and there is a real question if I will ever fly 787 again.
11.) Has the way of thinking you use when flying, help you in any way in life ” on the ground”?
Yes. In aviation, you always have to weigh. Ninety percent of flights are monotonous, you know exactly what everything is going to look like. About ten percent of flights require to think more and prepare.
You can implement the aviation way of thinking into practice in life on the ground. “FORDEC” is a process we use, that guides us to make a good decision. You get used to this thought process on simulators. You learn not to panic and to calm down, to think soberly, make a decision and stand behind it. I don´t have such a calm personality, but I learned to calm down, think calmly, and make decisions in things that I define as important. I still do a lot of things spontaneously, without too much thinking, but these are the things that are not life-decisive.
12.) You often mention that you want to bring flying closer to people and take away its mythological overtone, but not everyone can be a pilot. Why not?
Not everyone can be a professional pilot just like not everyone can be a chef. There must be certain predispositions. Almost everyone can be a pilot of sports, an ultralight plane, or a glider. The requirements are not so strict, flying and systems are simpler. However, when flying military or passenger planes, you must have some psychophysical predispositions.
13.) Probably even getting to the point where you can apply for such a job, is already a selection?
That is true. That means a few years of giving up everything else that is not flying before you can even apply for this kind of job. Not everyone has the desire or ability to give up so much for it for so long. By that, I don´t mean being hungry. But I have certainly invested every euro I have earned for ten years towards flying training. I didn’t buy a car, I didn’t spend on partying. Everything was strictly subordinated to that. I spent a part of my youth training and flying. But I enjoyed it. And that’s the point. You have to enjoy the process. Everything you do in this direction must be pure enjoyment. Not the “I’m giving something up” sort of attitude.
I didn’t wake up and say, “I want to be an airline pilot”. I started with gliding and then I was so drawn to it that I wished I could do it professionally as well. So I went to the US where I trained to be a professional pilot and afterward to the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Ljubljana because it was a requirement to get a job in Adria. Everything grew naturally.
Before, the path was such that you started with airplane models, continued to learn to fly a glider first, then piston engine airplane… that’s how you grew. Now, however, the path is something completely different. And this is also reflected in the quality of young, new pilots.
14.) As the head of the Adria Airways flight school and later the “line training commander”, you trained many students. What kind of person does it take to be a great pilot?
Depends on what a “great pilot” is. You have to fly because you like it. For me, a great pilot is modest, calm and one who is willing to share with you knowledge that he has acquired in some difficult way, without acting as being above you. Usually, the more pilots have achieved, the more humble they are in the sense that they don’t feel the need to show themselves off. I know many pilots. I do have some role models who have many experiences and lots of knowledge. You have to dig for them to tell you anything and to show you what interests you.
15.) How would you describe the myth of the aviator through time? Who were the real pilots for you? Does it still exist today?
Not so much. I divide people who fly into pilots and aviators. Pilots are those who operate an airplane as a machine and have no emotional component to it. Aviators, however, are the ones who live for flying and it is a way of life for them. You can feel the energy of joy and also the way they are willing to share their experience with you, is different.
16.) Why do you think there is such a strong ego in aviation?
There is less of it in professional pilots where modesty is much more present and expressed. Because the more experienced you are, the more you realize how “clueless” you are, haha. The more you delve into some new knowledge, the more you realize how little you know. A certain amount of ego is good to be had because it has to be. To get a license you constantly fight with yourself, with exams, and selections and you constantly have to believe in yourself and that you are the best. Because if you don’t believe, you’re not going to get anywhere. And this positive ego that you need to have, in the sense that you’re capable of being good enough to succeed, sometimes hits on the wrong side.
You have different characters in aviation. From an aviation point of view, I like glider pilots who race and do cross-country flights, the most. They only fly for their pleasure and their goal is to complete a flight in a certain period.
17.) Has any aviator from history impressed you with his way or achievements?
I liked pilots after the Second World War. Chuck Yeager. Not because he achieved many things, but because mentally he was truly amazing. The various aircraft they flew, the way they tested new planes with a high chance that they wouldn’t survive. What character do you have to be like, to be able to pave a way for others with such an attitude? I love the story of how he was chosen to be the first to break through the sound barrier. Back then, people were offered huge sums of money to get someone to do it first with that plane. He said, however, that he was already being paid his basic salary and did not need any more money – and he did it.
18.) How is it different to be a professional pilot today than 20 years ago?
Until the independence of Slovenia, when Adria Airways was still a “charterer”, crews saw the world. Much emphasis had been placed on optimization. Airline administrations then knew the pilots needed to be rested and satisfied. Back then, they were living like “fighting cocks”. With the approach of capitalism and “low-cost” airlines, everything began to shrink. More work, taking advantage of employees, maximization of pilots whether it is safe or not. Sometimes the pilot had reduced service years for retirement for a reason.
19.) The pilot needs continuity to stay in good flying shape. What is the period when “not working” starts to become problematic in terms of readiness?
A colleague, with whom we were together in LOT until February 2020, did not fly for almost two years and still made two selections for a large company, where a couple of thousand people applied. After so many months, based on his experience, he still showed that he is among the best. This proves, once again, what a standard we had at Adria both in terms of training and flying.
In the period between LOT and the new job, there had been a gap of half a year. When I went to train for a new license, it took me some time to regain my skills. Just a couple of months can pass and they can quickly slip.
20.) What is it that slips away so fast, given all the training you have?
Cockpit familiarization. To subconsciously know exactly where all the instruments and levers are and not think about it. This is similar to when you buy a new phone. It takes some time to get used to what you have to press to get to something. After a while, the fingers automatically know where something is and the same is on the plane.
Landing is a typical phase of the flight, that reveals most about how you fly and how you feel about the plane. These are the feelings you get from the continuity of flying and you lose them relatively quickly.
21.) They say the sky does not forgive mistakes. Many people are afraid of flying and therefore see pilots as particularly brave individuals. Do you think this admiration is justified or is it just because most people don’t know the rigorous training that is needed to stay safe in the air?
It’s not just training. Flying is very safe. But again, a distinction needs to be made between professional and sports flying. There is a lot of emphasis on safety in professional flying. You are trained on simulators for various emergency procedures. We are trained, so we are not afraid if something would happen in real life. Most accidents happen due to the human factor. Wantonness, too much self-confidence, too little internal brakes.
People are afraid of flying mainly because they do not understand, which is logical, how an airplane is made and how many systems are duplicated, and tripled in the plane. Such an airplane cannot just fall from the sky by itself.
22.) Chuck Yeager said that he was always afraid of death and that it was fear that forced him to learn everything about the plane, and emergency procedures so that he maintained a respectful attitude towards flying and was always fully present. How do you cope with the fear of death? Do you have it?
Of course, I have it. Nobody wants to die. Just like he said, to gain this feeling that nothing can happen to you, even though it can, the answer is that you know the plane. In your mind, you always know what you will do if something happens.
Even after thirty years of flying, I’m still thinking about what I’m going to do if something goes wrong on every takeoff. When we fly at night, I think about where I will go if the engine fails, where I will land, and which airports are open at that time.
You must always have a solution in advance, how you will react if something happens. That’s the key. And not to get into trouble when you don’t have to. Everyone has a certain limit, which is increased by experience. I may, in my experience, go take off in particular weather, which would be too risky for someone else. The difference between safe flying is that you know how to properly assess your limits and follow them.
23.) Have you ever deliberately challenged fate while flying or have you always followed the rules?
As for flying, I don´t like to walk into unfamiliar areas. I don’t force myself into trouble if I don’t have to. If you do, you get nervous, you start to panic, and with it come bad decisions. I never challenged fate. I’ve been in trouble on a plane before, not because of my fault, and it is not a “nice” feeling.
24.) Flying through a storm is sometimes very dangerous and a pilot can earn his year-round salary in less than two minutes, Gann wrote. Has anything ever happened to you that you wanted to give up flying forever?
I had such a flight. I was returning home from Zurich and right here, a storm broke out over Ljubljana airport. All the alternations were in a storm and it didn’t want to end. We circled for two hours and the options of what we were going to do were shrinking. I remember I said to myself, “What do I need this for? Instead of being at home on the couch, calm, I was slowly pushed into a corner because I knew I was going to have to decide on something that wouldn’t be optimal.
When you calm down and put your fears and emotions aside, you start thinking rationally. When you get to the point that pushes you that far, you realize that panic will only push you into even bigger trouble.
When you sober up, you say to yourself, “Okay, if we have to, we’re going to land in a storm, because there’s no other solution,” because there’s no more fuel and because you have to land. You will grit your teeth and put all the experience and knowledge and energy you have into landing safely. There was always a good solution in the end. Either the storm had passed, we had a landing window, and so on.
25.) In what conditions do you find it most uncomfortable to land?
On snowy trails, because we trained for it so little. And with a landing like that, I feel like I’m a test pilot because I don’t know how the plane is going to behave. In theory, you know what to do, but in practice, you still don’t know if the plane will skid and if you will calm it down so that it doesn’t slip off the runway. Every flight is a new situation.
26.) What gives a professional pilot that real fulfillment in his career? The number of stripes, the number of flying hours, different planes that offer different challenges and require different sets of skills or simply to be able to fly and enjoy it no matter what you fly?
I am now at a stage in my life where it is not so important to me how big the plane is and what I am flying, but it is more important to me that I have enough free time and that flying is interesting to me. For me, advancing has always been a positive challenge. Not the number of stripes, but a path from co-pilot to captain and from a captain to the instructor. This was my biggest goal – not because I could say “I am an instructor now” but because I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience. To know you have reached the maximum in traffic aviation.
27.) For some pilots, smaller planes are a bigger challenge, others see their fulfillment in the largest. What is your attitude toward different sizes of aircraft?
My dream has always been to fly “long-range”, big planes. Not because of the size, though I would be lying if I said being in a big plane doesn’t feel good, but because of the whole operation. The feeling is a little different, a little special. When we flew at Adria every day, one no longer felt like a pilot, but more like a bus driver because you drove up and down under the pressure of time.
That is also why I wanted to change the type of aircraft. “Dreamliner” is a modern airplane and from the pilot’s point of view, it is a pleasure to fly, enjoy how it behaves physically and how many systems it has. Interestingly enough, if you fly in a small business plane or a “Dreamliner”, you don’t feel the difference. I was most disappointed when I realized it wasn’t much different from sitting in a CRJ. I had no difference in feeling whether there were ten or three hundred passengers in the back. The Jumbo Jet has a cockpit as big as the CRJ. You sit a little higher, and that’s it.
28.) Different parts of flight require different procedures. Which part do you like the most and do you ever get bored during the flight?
Landings and takeoffs, because I work the most. Long flights can be boring.
29.) When you fly for a few hours- what do you do?
You read a book and listen to music. If it’s cloudy, it can be boring. If it is clear, you look at the landscape and read the manual. You can’t stare at instruments for five hours and stay focused. I like listening to music.
30.) How does a night flight differ from a day flight for you? Which do you prefer?
The night flight is calmer. Less traffic. It is nicer. Less talking on the station.
31.) How does an autopilot define the flight experience?
The autopilot flies a certain phase of flight better and keeps certain parameters like altitude and direction. There is no point in investing your resources to fly a plane straight and level manually. Using it, you don’t feel any less of a pilot. You still do everything else. Engine power, configuration, decisions- it’s all up to you.
32.) What is the essence of the instruction, that it is necessary to turn off mobile devices during the flight?
It has already happened that the mobile phone turned on in the cargo compartment and the fire alarm went off. The answer is because in aviation everything needs to be certified. Otherwise, a test should be done for each type of mobile device to ensure that it does not damage or affect the systems. So, rather than doing a test for each mobile device, they issued the instruction that electronic devices should not be turned on during the take-off and landing phase.
33.) What advice would you give to those who are now deciding to embark on a professional path?
Be persistent and follow your dreams and don´t give up in the face of the first obstacle, because there will be many obstacles along the way, but the goal will only be achieved if there is enough perseverance.
34.) Why did you decide to make furniture from aircraft parts?
For a long while, I have been interested in making something similar. Throughout the years, I collected various aircraft parts, with the thought that one day I will start making them. But I never found the time. Then, for purely pragmatic reasons, I was somehow forced into it. In March 2020, I was grounded due to the COVID19 crisis and was left with no income. I didn’t have a permanent job and I felt it was the right time to start with that. I had enough time, the bills had to be paid and I made the first product. It was a mirror made from the frame of a passenger plane engine and the same day I posted my product on LinkedIn, I already got a buyer. This gave me some impetus that there is a market ready to buy such products. Then came the second and the third product, and before I knew it, I was so drawn to planning and design that I decided to make a serious business out of it. Now that I’m flying again, I´m realizing that thinking about it, looking for parts, and making it, offers me a kind of a meditative pleasure I can no longer be without. The most beautiful thing is when you make something useful out of a part and someone sees a beautiful product and is willing to pay for it, not exactly a small amount of money. The process from start to finish takes a lot of engagement and work, so every product´s story is unique.