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View from the cockpit

Release date:
February 2023
Mali Air and Austrian Aviation Training’s pilot and executive assistant to CEO, Aref Shabanpoor, on juggling multiple roles, his love of flying and the skills required to make a good pilot. 


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in aviation?


I have always loved flying and the ability it gives me to travel around the world and connect with different people and cultures. My first job was as a flight instructor and since then I have worked in Canada, New Zealand, Dubai and Austria, where I am currently based. Whether I’m working at Mali Air’s headquarters overlooking the runway or in the cockpit I will never tire of the view from my office. 


When did you become a pilot?


I knew as soon as I left high school that I wanted to train as a professional pilot. Rather than go to university I decided to focus on my private pilot’s licence (PPL), which I achieved in 2000. It still blows my mind that I learnt to fly before I could drive. 


When did you join Mali Air?


I started working at Mali Air in 2020. The business offers flight rental and VIP charter as well as cargo services, and a pilot training academy - Austrian Aviation Training, which Mali Air acquired in 2017. I currently hold multiple roles across all areas of the business. My responsibilities range from chief commercial officer to deputy accountable manager, deputy head of training, deputy chief flight instructor (CFI), and deputy chief theoretical knowledge instructor (CTKI). 


How big is the team at Mali Air and how many aircraft are in your fleet?


We have 20 pilots and a further ten administrational staff, so 30 in total. Mali Air currently has a fleet of six aircraft (five jets and one turboprop) for its private aviation and charter operations. Austrian Aviation Training operates a separate fleet of seven aircraft and one flight simulator. 


What does a typical Mali Air customer look like?


Mali Air has been operating for more than 25 years and many of our clients have been with us throughout that time. Our clientele is primarily comprised of high-net-worth-individuals and their families travelling for both business and leisure. We also have plenty of corporate clients from the automotive industry and medical sectors as well as tech companies for whom we mostly offer cargo services. 


Which airports does Mali Air operate out of?


We have three bases – the main one is at Graz Airport (GRZ/ LOWG) in Austria, but we also operate out of Vienna Schwechat International Airport (VIE/ LOWW) which is open 24/7 and as of this year (2023) we are expanding our operations and will also have a base at Hannover Airport (HAJ/ EDDV) in Germany. 


What was the driver behind taking over the Austrian Aviation Training academy?


Mali Air recognised the importance of training the next generation of pilots. It also gives us a competitive edge in terms of having our pick of pilots once they’ve completed training. Looking at the bigger picture however, we offer a complete range of pilot training from PPL to Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) and EASA type rating, so we have a vital role to play in the wider aviation ecosystem. Pilots that have trained with us end up working across the sector with private operators, commercial airlines and even the Austrian Air Force. We have certainly seen an increase in demand for new pilots as well as those who need to update their training as aviation continues to recover following the pandemic. 


What kind of skills make a good pilot?


The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is a key skill for any pilot, as is confidence, self-discipline, situational awareness and the ability to remain calm under pressure. Leadership skills are also key, but so too is the ability to work as part of a team. Being able to understand and process technical information is also an important skill as aviation technology is constantly evolving. 


What is your message to young people wanting to pursue a career in aviation?


If you love flying don’t let anyone discourage you, this is an exciting and dynamic sector to work in. All industries have their ups and downs and aviation is no exception. However, despite the challenges of the last couple of years, aviation is showing strong signs of recovery. There are plenty of emerging aerospace markets (in India, Africa and China) where there is a shortage of pilots and skilled personnel across the aviation workforce, so the opportunity is there. 


How does Mali Air benefit from its relationship with Air bp?


We’ve been working with Air bp as our main fuel supplier for a while now. One of the biggest ways we benefit from our relationship is access to Air bp’s worldwide network of fuelling locations. Having access to the Sterling card makes refuelling even easier and provides our pilots with the confidence that they can rely on safe refuelling operations and a friendly expert team when refuelling at an Air bp location. 


What’s in the pipeline for Mali Air and Austrian Aviation Training?


Our strategy is based on organic growth. We managed to retain all our staff throughout the global pandemic, which we’re extremely proud of and now we can focus on growing the business. This year will see the opening of our base in Hannover. Plus, we plan on adding three or four aircraft to our fleet during the course of 2023. 


What gets you motivated about getting up and going to work every day?


I am lucky I work in a hugely rewarding profession. I juggle so many different roles from professional pilot to managing personnel and overseeing flight operations, so there is never a dull moment in my day. Whether I’m flying and looking out on the world down below, or managing operations, helping people connect and working closely with the team on the ground I get the best of both worlds. 


For more customer interviews click here

For more information on Graz Airport click here, Vienna Wien-Schwechat Airport click here and Hannover click here