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My Two Cents Worth - Characters at Abu Dhabi Aviation

Posted 11 years 107 days ago ago by Admin

Abu Dhabi Aviation

When I took a job with Abu Dhabi Aviation (ADA) I felt I’d come full circle in my aviation career. As if returning to the womb where it all began at 21-years-old when I flew helicopters in Vietnam in October 1968 and lived in a 16’ x 32’ plywood hootch with a tin roof, surrounded by indelibly memorable characters.

Colorful personalities abounded, giving a familiar ‘feel’ to the place.  The only difference I could see between Vietnam and ADA was that no one was shooting at us, except, of course, by management at times.  The characters were an international mix. Mostly airline transport pilots hailing from twenty countries with the average flight time being well over 10,000 hours.

There were guys like “Trackless,” a fiery little Australian who’d flown helicopters in Vietnam.  Trackless earned his name because his legs were so short his butt dragged on the ground erasing his tracks.

There was ‘Too-Tall-McCall’, an American ex-Vietnam helicopter pilot whose short stature earned him his name.  There was “Hollywood”, his name garnered from his un-Hollywood charisma.  If ADA were a suit of clothes, he would be the brown shoes.

There was “Bananas,” so named because apparently in Vietnam he could be a bit nuts.  There was “Captain Bipolar,”  because when you flew with him you never knew if he was going to be manic or depressive.  And of course there was the ever-colorful Phil Lee.

Phil Lee had been working at ADA longer than anyone, for over 30 years.  He’d logged in excess of 20,000 hours by the time I flew with him.  None of the pilots could imagine Phil working anywhere else.  Phil had done seven tours --- yes, seven tours ---flying helicopters in the Vietnam War. (This explained a lot, at least to me.)  He flew one tour in Vietnam and six tours in Thailand, supporting the war from there.  He never left Thailand and currently lives there today when not doing his eight-week tours in Abu Dhabi.
It is universally agreed by all the pilots that Phil Lee is an incredibly smart guy with a degree in chemistry.  It is also universally agreed that to Phil, everything is a conspiracy.  He will change his point-of-view in an argument just to keep it going, or in my case, just to wind me up. He can bait me big-time, for example when he argues that there is no such health risk in second-hand smoke, a position he will argue till death, most probably caused by, you guessed it, second-hand smoke.

Phil is an excellent pilot who is more than just a little bit askance in his views on life. For example, he’s told me he’s seen “the other side, “ you know, life after death, but he refuses to tell me what he’s seen. All he will say is, “You’ll find out.”

Phil possesses one of the biggest hearts of any human being I know.  When I first arrived at the company he briefed me as to how I should act to survive not being fired.  I can happily report Abu Dhabi Aviation is a completely changed company from the company I joined nine years ago. Back then the pilots used to say the motto for management was, “No good deed goes unpunished,” or  “We’re not happy unless you’re unhappy,” or  “The whippings will continue until moral improves.”

During one of my first flights offshore with Phil, while flying a Bell 412EP, he looked over at me from the captain’s seat, keyed the mic and said, “You have to learn plausible deniability to survive here you know?”


“Plausible deniability.”

“How do you mean?”

“Whenever you’re called in front of management, give them a story that could have an element of deniability that could be plausible.”

“You mean tell a lie?”

“No, no, no, no, no, never lie.  Tell your story in such a way that they can’t quite pin it on you.”

“Pin what on you?”

“What you’ve done.”

“Like what?”

“Anything.  There are a hundred ways to get fired you know?”

“No I didn’t.’

“A few months back the safety officer came out with a ‘Matrix of Punishments’ you know?”

“Matrix of Punishments?”

“Yep.  It’s a matrix he devised that any pilot can refer to so they know what punishment they can expect to receive for any infringement of the SOPs.  That’s why, to survive here, you need to master the art of Plausible Deniability.”

I felt like Yossarian, the main character out of Joseph Heller’s book, Catch-22 having a conversation with Milo Minderbinder.  Because I never really felt I fully understood anything Phil told me, to make sure that I ‘got it’ I always repeated what he’d just told me to determine if I’d understood him correctly.  So I repeated back to him what I’d just heard.  After I did Phil said, “Now I didn’t say that.”

My jaw dropped.  Phil was plausibly denying what he’d just told me.  I looked over at him.  He was nodding his head as if reaffirming in his own mind what he’d just said. 

“Got it, Phil. Thanks for that,” I decided not to press it, taking his advice for what it was.  Confusing.