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From playing the violin to flying planes

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First Officer Jan Liebich steers SWISS’s A330/A340 aircraft to pulsating metropolises around the globe. In this interview, he reveals why he decided to become a pilot and what his other passions are.

Why did you become a pilot?
When I was eleven years old, I had the opportunity to take a seat in the cockpit of a Boeing 747. From that moment on, I was hooked. Three years later, I landed my first Airbus A320 – in the simulator, I might add. But that experience made me realise that one day, I would be a pilot.

What fascinates you about the pilot profession?
There are few jobs as multifaceted as this one. The interplay between human, machine and environment is fascinating to me. Every flight comes with a newly arranged crew. To navigate an aircraft punctually and economically from A to B in the framework of a highly complex space is both exciting and rewarding. Every day, one is faced with new challenges, such as changing weather conditions, different airports, routes and topological flight characteristics. In my opinion, the breath-taking views from the cockpit, paired with layovers at exotic destinations, make this a real dream job.

Why did you decide to become a pilot for SWISS?
I consider working for SWISS a privilege, and I’ve always had close ties to Switzerland. When SWISS was heavily recruiting new pilots in 2009 (as they are now), the decision was an easy one to make.

When you are not somewhere above the clouds, you can often be found on the stage. How important is music to you?
My parents are both professional musicians, and I have been playing the violin since I was six. After graduating from high school, I initially enrolled and completed my studies at the conservatory of music. However, my thoughts kept drifting back to my first love of aviation. So I took the plunge and applied at what is now known as the European Flight Academy to become a pilot. In retrospect, this is the best decision I have ever made. Still, I couldn’t imagine a life without classical music. That is one of the reasons why I’m active in the Lufthansa Group orchestra where employees from all divisions get together to play music. It’s a great place of exchange between musical and aviation topics.

Which lesson from music facilitated your entry into the world of aviation?
The success of a concert depends on various people working together as a team. The same applies to flying. During the assessments on the road to becoming a pilot, much emphasis is placed on coordination and sensori­ motor skills. Parallels also exist with regards to communication: Chamber music, in particular, relies on people communicating their intentions clearly and factually; but, at the same time, they need to show empathy. One of the most important skills to have, however, which I have identified between music and aviation is the ability to continually be aware of what’s coming up next. It doesn’t matter if you’ve experienced a setback or if you’ve made a mistake: Giving up is not an option. I think that this attitude has helped me greatly during the assessment.

Is a passion like that compatible with your job?
It works reasonably well. Of course, at times I don’t get to rehearse as much as I’d like, but this can be offset with some extra practice, which is especially true during my holidays or when a concert is coming up.

And you take your violin with you wherever you go, right?
My silent violin allows me to practice in my hotel room without disturbing my neighbours. It doesn’t have a “body”; instead it absorbs the vibrations of the strings, which are then converted into an audible tune, which I can listen to with my headphones. This way of playing comes very close to that of a genuine violin, which makes it an excellent alternative to one made of wood. The violin bow consists of Mongolian horsehair, renowned for maintaining its elasticity – even in situations of changing humidity. That’s important, especially when switching from a dry environment of roughly 7 to 9 percent humidity on board to nearly 100 percent humidity, like in Delhi.

Aviation spirit: Jan Liebich already knew at the age of eleven that he wanted to become a pilot.

What would you tell an adolescent who wants to become a pilot?
Being a pilot is not a nine-to-five job and requires many skills. The process from starting the assessment to taking a seat in the cockpit is challenging, but with the right mindset and careful preparation, it’s definitely feasible. If a young person is determined to turn their dream of becoming a pilot into a reality, then all I can say is: Go for it and apply.

Interview: Wido Kuhlemeier / Photos: Andreas Leemann