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Hotseat - Ashneil Sakhrani

826_Hotseat~ Ambitious, young St. Maarten pilot ~

Meet Ashneil Sakhrani who reaches for the skies almost daily!

Where did you grow up?

I lived in Saunders with my dad, mom and younger brother. Apart from going to school at St. Dominic and Learning Unlimited, I spent most of my time on the basketball court or on Maho Beach plane spotting.

When did your love for airplanes start?

As early as I can remember! I loved watching planes take off and land. Growing up, I often went on vacation to India with my family. My favourite part was the plane ride there. After I saw Jurassic Park, I did want to be a palaeontologist for a quick second; but besides that, I have always wanted to become a pilot.

How did you achieve your dream of becoming a pilot?

After high school, I researched a lot of schools in the United States and the Netherlands. I wasn't sure which university to pick until a neighbour friend of mine mentioned that he was going to Purdue University in Indiana and that they had a flight program. It turned out that Purdue was rated as a great school, so I applied for the bachelor in science professional flight technology program.

Within the first week, you are sitting in the cockpit of an airplane, which was pretty shocking. After four weeks, you do your first solo flight. I remember it very well. First, you fly with your instructor to go over everything; and then you land and have to go back up alone. I was nervous, of course, but I completed the flight successfully. There was a huge sweat mark on my white T-shirt and my hands were black from gripping the control stick so hard. It felt like a dream. I thought to myself: "Did I really just do that?"

During the study, you first become a private pilot, which means you may fly airplanes only for personal use, not commercial. You then receive your instrument rating, being able to fly only with your instruments, flying at night and in the clouds. Then you receive your multiengine license, to be able to fly planes with multiple engines. Last, you work towards your commercial license. I am now allowed to fly an aircraft up to 12,500 pounds for pay. After university, I moved back to St. Maarten and got a job as a flight instructor initially. Now I am a pilot for the Caribbean airline company – Winair.

What is the most difficult thing about being a pilot?

The most difficult thing during the learning process was the repetition in our exercises and getting used to the odd-working hours. Now that I am flying, I guess the most difficult thing is bad weather, which makes the flight a bit harder, but I enjoy the challenge. If you love doing something, it is easy and fun.

What is the best thing about being a pilot?

You have the best views of the sunset and sunrise. You get the clearest views of the stars and the ocean. I have seen whales and dolphins during flights! I love that I see everything from a different perspective. One of my favourite memories of St. Maarten is when I did my first flight around the island. I saw it from a different angle and, noticing how beautiful St. Maarten was, I felt lucky to be from here.

What do you enjoy doing besides aviation?

I am heavily invested in health and fitness, and love doing research on nutrition, going to the gym and playing basketball or beach volleyball. As a pilot, I obviously also really enjoy travelling; visiting new places, you learn a lot about yourself, experience different cultures and connect with many different people.

What is your next step?

In January, I am going to go for my ATP license, which allows me to fly aircrafts weighing more than 12,500 pounds. Afterwards, I will start studying for the European ATP license, to open more doors for myself. I will then be able to work for both American and European airline companies. Some 10 years down the road, I would like to be able to work, live and fly anywhere I'd want. Travelling is one of the benefits of flying; it is great to have that much freedom. Flying around the world would be best in a Boeing 737 or an Airbus 320!

If you could invite three people (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you serve them?

1. Peyton Manning; because he is someone who has mastered what he does to a point where it is unbelievable; it shows dedication to his work and I admire that. I also love football.

2. Johnny Bravo; he is the definition of persistence and not giving up. I need to find out what keeps him going.

3. Neil deGrasse Tyson; he is an interesting guy that could share insight on many subjects.

I would serve them a tasty and healthy dish I recently made – mustard glazed chicken stuffed with broccoli and cheese.