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A Lifetime of Flying

A poor carpenter’s son who grew up to become a long-serving pilot talks about his colourful experiences as an aviator. That’s AirAsia’s own Captain Lim Khoy Hing! Read about his journey as a pilot thus far in this issue of Travel 3Sixty°.

Images: Adam Lee

45 Years In The Making

I started learning how to fly about 45 years ago with the Royal Air Force in the UK. Plucked from a poor family after passing my pilot selection assessment, my first overseas flight was on a four-propeller British Eagle Britannia plane from Singapore to London with stops at Colombo, Bahrain and Rome. It was simply amazing.


Unfortunately, when I started my pilot training on the Chipmunk plane, I was afflicted by motion (air) sickness because of the demanding nature of military aviation. My colleague also suffered the same. His affliction was more chronic and the doctors tried hard to cure him with ground-based desensitisation procedures. This is where trainees are gradually exposed to increasing levels of provocative motion on a rotation chair so that their sensitivity to such movement becomes progressively reduced.

     Sad to say, it didn’t work on my colleague. Not only was he affected by motion sickness, it was also discovered that his legs were too short to control the rudders effectively. As a result, he was sent home to become a ground air traffic controller, while I was fortunate enough to get over my motion sickness. I received my ‘wings’ and graduated as a pilot in 1968.


Capt. Lim and crew waiting to depart from the hotel to the airport at Incheon, Seoul.

High Up In The Sky

From then on, I flew many types of planes. I progressed from flying the Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneers to the super modern third generation Boeing 777 and the Airbus A320/330/340. How unbelievable is that!

     As a poor school boy, I enjoyed helping my father with his carpentry work, and I used to marvel at planes that flew over my attap (palm thatched roof) house. My father wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a carpenter. My wise mother decided otherwise and enrolled me into an English medium school that opened doors for me to eventually become a pilot. I am perpetually grateful to my late mother for what I have achieved today.

     There were many ups and downs in my life journey as a pilot. You would be surprised to learn that I graduated as a qualified pilot well before I even had my driving licence.

     I somehow felt that I was never a ‘born pilot’ and so, I had to struggle and persevere through some stages of my career. Relying on the adage ‘Dare to fail’, I believe that through hard work, I was able to overcome all the obstacles in front of me. It is for this reason that I have a soft spot for aspiring aviators.  Wanting to give back to society at large, I made use of my website www.askcaptainlim.com, which I had developed, to help guide, inspire and educate aspirants to succeed in becoming pilots.



(Left to Right) Capt. Sahari, Capt. Lim, Senior Flight Officer Chang and Senior Flight Officer Shara Azlin at Kuala Lumpur LCC Terminal after arriving from London in early 2012.

Lessons About Flying

Flying has taught me many lessons. As pilots, we are trained to handle and plan ahead for all unforeseen circumstances. For instance, pilots are always prepared to handle engine failures during takeoff and go-arounds at every landing.

     Despite always being well prepared for any possible engine failures during take-off, I have never in my lifetime of flying (25,500 flight hours!) experienced real engine failure except during the numerous Check Flights in a simulator. That is also the reason why I keep reiterating why flying is many, many times safer than driving.


Capt. Lim and crew waiting to take over the flight at New Delhi International Airport.

     Preparing for an engine failure at takeoff was precisely what Captain Sully did when he saved the lives of 155 people on his flight out of LaGuardia Airport in New York on January 15, 2009. In fact, he had two engine failures as a result of a collision with a flock of birds at 3,000 feet – a more difficult emergency than just one engine failure. Every Airbus pilot knows that one of the golden rules of flying is ‘Fly, Navigate and Communicate’. So, when faced with such an emergency, Capt. Sully had about three minutes to apply the principles of the rule and glided the A320 plane safely onto the river.

     With regards to go-around, I have experienced a few in the course of my flying. Of course the most memorable one was the aborted landing I performed at the Perth International Airport, Australia (see Exciting & Unusual – October 2012, Travel 3Sixty°). In this article, I related feedback from a guest who said “It was better to be late than to be DEAD on time” after finding out the reason for the go-around was bad weather, which forced the flight to be diverted to Adelaide.

     Another reader wrote, “After reading the article, I will never complain about delays or, landings being aborted ever again because now I know that there is always a reason why pilots make such decisions.” I feel happy, knowing that I have contributed in making air travellers more aware and knowledgeable about what pilots do and the decisions we make in ensuring passenger safety.


Capt. Lim with SFO Shara Azlin inside an Airbus 340 cockpit en route to London.

Decision Making

What I didn’t reveal in that article with regards to the aborted landing was the tremendous cost and ensuing inconvenience as a result of my action. An aircraft commander is trained to make wise decisions and to trust his judgement, especially if the situation poses danger to the passengers and aircraft. My decision cost the company expenses in transporting about 250 passengers for four additional hours (diversion to Adelaide and return to Perth) but the main concern was ensuring safety for all concerned. My passengers were further inconvenienced after the diversion when on the return leg, one of the engines of the Boeing 777 suffered a fuel leak. The plane was grounded and they had to be transferred to other flights.

The Backup Plan

The second lesson I learnt about flying was always to have a backup plan in life.

     Flying is a very unique job so much so that when a pilot is medically grounded and can no longer fly, he or she becomes quite ‘lost’ in the world out there. Whilst some pilots take up MBA or other part time degrees as ‘Plan B’, I took up Law as an external student with London University, going on to pass my LLB with Honours in 1992. I then went on to complete the Malaysian Certificate of Legal Practice (equivalent to the Bar Finals Exams). However, I never practised law as I love flying very much. But, on the flipside, I have a standby profession to fall back on in case the need arises.

     When I retired from Malaysia Airlines flying the Boeing 777 at the age of 60, AirAsia offered me another five years of flying the Airbus A320/A330/A340. The legal age limit for flying internationally is 65 years and that was when I stopped flying. However, I still continue to contribute to the aviation world as a simulator flight instructor and as a columnist for Travel 3Sixty°.


Capt. Lim receiving a farewell gift from his crew on arrival in Kuala Lumpur.

A Fairly Winding Road

I decided to share my life journey thus far as a result of the many requests I have received to write on the highs and lows of my experience as a pilot. My journey as an aviator right up to the day I hung up my uniform in March 2012, can be best described as a fairly winding road and thoroughly fulfilling experience. However, I know I still have lots to offer my readers and aspiring pilots, especially through this magazine and my website.

     Even though writing was never my forte, I am very happy that I‘ve been able to share some of my experiences and stories with readers who are not familiar with the aviation industry. Writing for my website started some 12 years ago when I started to learn how to develop websites for fun, with help and encouragement from my daughter. Since then, I have been writing articles to assist aspiring aviators, answer questions from fearful flyers, and educate the public about technical topics on flying by making them simpler to understand.

The Future

For now, I‘ll continue writing for AirAsia’s inflight magazine. A book covering all previous articles will hopefully be published soon too.

     Aside from being an aspiring author, I am enjoying my ‘retirement’ from active flying by spending precious time with my grandchildren. My life as a commercial pilot was certainly stimulating, interesting and exciting, but that’s nothing compared to the joy of being with my family. 


Captain Lim Khoy Hing is a former AirAsia Airbus A320 and AirAsia X A330/A340 pilot who also  used to fly the Boeing 777. He has logged a total of more than 25,500 flying hours and is now a Simulator Flight Instructor with Air Asia X. In his spare time, he shares his opinion on aviation issues with others. For more air travel and aviation stories, check out his website, ‘Just About Flying’ at www.askcaptainlim.com.