Vilmantas Mažonas is doing his dream job and has helped many other people to fulfil their dreams of flying commercial aircraft. Always with a smile on his face, but simultaneously serious and professional as an instructor. Level-headed, smart and with an analytical mind, say his former students. Although he is a man of few words, Mažonas can speak four languages and admires the universal language of music and art. In this interview he plays down the glorification of pilots, shares his passions and reveals his visions of the future.

What drew you to aviation?

I was six years old when my parents went to work in Africa for some time and left me with my uncle, who was a flying instructor. He took me with him when he was training new pilots and I sat there observing everything that he did. We would fly someplace, have lunch and then head back home. Many other ideas popped up about what I should do when I grow up, but nothing as serious as flying. Aviation was something major in my life starting already from a very early age.

How long have you been working in aviation?

I have been flying Boeing aircraft for 23 years. I started in 1992, when Lithuanian Airlines received its first Boeing airplanes. Eight years ago, I began working as a pilot for airBaltic in Vilnius. Later, I moved to work in Riga. I have also been involved in the business aspect of the Training Centre and now for the last five years I have been training pilots.

Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I get a lot of positive emotions out of flying. That is the most beautiful part of my work. I like challenges that turn into success stories. I can say that my job is my hobby.

Confucius once said: “Choose a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

That is absolutely true! I enjoy flying from beginning to end and I have the most beautiful view outside of my “office” window. Of course, I am not only a captain, but also an instructor and vice president of crew training at airBaltic. I enjoy sharing my knowledge, I like teaching and coaching. Plus there is the Training Centre managing part, where I have a great team that helps me to “push the rock loads ahead”.

As a flight instructor, what kind of qualities do you think are necessary for becoming a pilot?

I have a motto, which is that everyone can fly! But while just about anyone can be taught to fly, not everyone can do it nicely. Or similarly, anyone can drive a car, but not everyone can drive it perfectly. Some qualities you acquire during your lifetime, while others are built-in. Of course, there are limits that can’t be exceeded, but most people are trainable. This is not a popular opinion, because pilots are seen almost as superheroes, but actually they are not. Everyone can fly as long as they receive good training and have the motivation to learn. Pilots need to have a high level of intelligence, strong nerves and the ability to observe and analyse information very quickly. There is a lot of information to remember and process.

Are there many pilots from the Baltic countries at airBaltic?

I would say it is about 50/50. The Baltic States, and particularly Latvia and Lithuania, are quite advanced in pilot training. We have a very sophisticated selection process and not everybody can squeeze through. The pilots whom we recently have hired are very good, capable and well-trained. They are bringing a new vibe and a positive influence to the organisation. About two and a half years ago, we started a new project and co-financed the training of eight pilots. They are now operating our Dash Q400 aircraft. Recently ten new captains completed their training and started to fly with our airline. There are also about 60 new cabin crew members. The volume of people training at the Training Centre is about 1,000 for airBaltic alone and another 500 for other companies.

How has aviation changed and what could the future hold?

I wouldn’t say that it has changed that much, but I think that it will in the near future as technologies continue to advance. Now driverless cars are being tested and, who knows, maybe after 20 years there will be pilotless planes! We have seen a lot of safety improvements for planes during the past two decades. However, during the last ten years, the hottest topic has been efficiency. There have been a lot of improvements in this sphere as well. You can’t make a plane or its fuselage dramatically different from its predecessors, but you can invent new, more efficient and nature-friendly ways and materials. Engines now are 20 to 50 percent more efficient than they were 20 years ago. Hopefully, this percentage will continue to grow.

How do you evaluate the AMBER project?

We started the Arrival Modernisation for Better Efficiency in Riga project some years ago to improve Riga’s airspace by making it more efficient and less noisy. With shorter travel routes, less pollution is also produced. The results have been very encouraging and we are very proud of the project’s success. Now we will no longer fly over the heads of those who live in Jūrmala or Riga’s Mārupe district and disturb their good night’s sleep or Sunday barbeques!

Sounds like airBaltic is placing quite a bit of emphasis on going “green”!

airBaltic is always trying to invent something new and implement improvements. We are a very modern and organised company that is open to innovations.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy cycling, cross-country skiing and golf, as sporting activities recharge me. Sometimes I play tennis, but I am not very good at it yet. I really enjoy music – jazz, hard rock and everything else in between, including classical music (Chopin’s works sound so majestic!) and going to the opera. I have finished a musical school myself, played the clarinet and even had a band, but that was a long time ago. When you are travelling around, you can’t learn every language, but music is a universal language that doesn’t need a vocabulary. The same applies when you go to art exhibitions; you can observe the art in any country without knowing the local language.

Do you like to travel in your free time and what is your favourite destination?

Yes, though I would like to do it more. My favourite destinations still are in Old Europe. I don’t like travelling far away because my time is always limited, and jet lag places an added burden on you. However, it is quite easy to go on weekend getaways in Europe. Any travel is good travel. After this interview, for example, I will travel back home to Vilnius for a weekend.

Are you still living in Vilnius?

Yes, for weekends and holidays I go back to Vilnius. Some might say: “Oh, you are living in Vilnius and working in Riga; that is so far!” But it is not far at all! It takes more time to get from one end of Vilnius to the other than it does to fly from Riga to Vilnius. Riga is a perfect location for me. It has a similar culture to my own and it makes me feel like I really belong here.