Asad Omer Cheema started his career from Pakistan Air Force. Today he is a captain in Air Blue. He remains passionate to travel around the world. We had a special chit chat with Cheema recently to know about his life, his work, his interests as well as the Air Blue plane crash. Here are excerpts from the interview:
The News Tribe: How was your childhood?
Asad Omar Cheema: Well this is a question most people presume is a must to ask any professional to find out if a childhood dream was fulfilled or not. It might come as a surprise to you that for me it was not a childhood dream nor a profession I craved for in my adolescence. My mother wanted me to become a doctor, but I was impressed by the life style of an uncle of mine who was a chartered accountant. I thought this kind of life style one can only have if one is a CA. I had heard from my elder siblings that this uncle earned in a month what my father, as an air force officer, earned in a full year. I found very early in life that money does have something to do in living a comfortable life. Secondly I hated frog dissection, which was a mandatory item for the biology students. You may laugh at it but just for the dislike of that I did not want to become a doctor as I detested this criminal act of knocking a healthy poor frog to sacrifice for some intermediate students. I topped the Peshawar board in two subjects in matriculation, English and Technical Drawing, and obtained a high first class position. To my hard luck my mother got my subjects changed back to biology by telling the principal that it was a mistake when I wrote down pre-engineering subjects in my application form for intermediate.
I thought that if I continued with pre-medical subjects and passed my intermediate with biology I would be done for and Dr Asad Omar Cheema, MBBS, would be just five years down the road and my hopes of being a CA would be dashed. I was in Government College, Lahore. One day I went to the PAF selection center along with some friends who were deeply impressed by our fighter aircraft which always turned up on the 7th of September at the air force bases. To tell you the truth I had just gone to give them company when they told me to also fill up the forms because my English was good and they did not want to falter anywhere in the application forms and asked me to fill my own and they kept copying what I filled. On their insistence I filled my forms too thinking that if I got selected it would be end of studies for me and I would be just like my elder brother who was now already a graduated fighter pilot and was very much on his own earning at age 22.
A week after that a call came up to all four of us to come to the selection center for some written tests and initial medical exams. We skipped our college classes for the tests. The tests were not that difficult and I was out in half the time. The result of the tests was announced within two hours and two of us had passed. Then we underwent the medical test. We had to strip in front of the doctor, literally, to my height of embarrassment and I within my heart, cursed the friends who had asked me to come with them. When I joined my friends at the hostel, I congratulated them that they did not go through the medical tests.
A month later a call letter came to both of us. We were to proceed to Kohat for ISSB. A total of 147 boys were in our course and after four days of intelligence, physical and perseverance tests, results were declared. To my utter surprise I had passed along with only seven more boys out of the whole 147. I remember going back to Lahore from Kohat sitting on the roof of the bus because of holiday rush. I felt I had conquered the Mount Everest. I can go on and on telling you how it went from there, but I think it’s already been too long an answer.
The News Tribe: Tell us something about your early life within your family?
Asad Omar Cheema: I was the youngest of four siblings. Our two eldest were sisters, eight and five years older than me, and then my brother, four years my senior. I was the baby of the house. We had a great family life Alhamdulillah. Very religious indeed practising all Muslim rituals. Even though I was a bit of a scrounger, growling at times when it was time for getting up for Fajar prayers which we went to offer everyday to the mosque after doing a good kilometer of early morning walk. I do realize now that it was the key to my physical fitness which was a key to my success later at the air force academy. I used to love pets. When I was seven or eight I had a cute little chick which later turned out to be a big ferocious and hefty rooster. It played with me endlessly.
The News Tribe: When did you start your career as a pilot?
Asad Omar Cheema: I graduated from the Pakistan Air Force Academy on Dec 6, 1979, the date I can never forget. Wearing the flying badge was the biggest achievement of my life. Later I developed interest in fighter flying due to the sheer excitement of high speed. It was a real tough job. I left the air force after completing the fifteen-year contract I signed for. I took retirement in 1993 and joined PIA to fulfill my passion for travel. During the ten years I stayed in PIA, I took my family every year to different locations in the world and by the time my daughter turned fifteen, she had seen sixteen countries.
The News Tribe: What are your views about the political situation of the country?
Asad Omar Cheema: As far as the politics of the country is concerned, the lesser said the better. Our leaders have been imposed upon us as a saying in the holy book says, “Tum par musallat kar diyay jaain gay”. As you sow so shall you reap goes an English saying. Another saying goes, “All the bad leaders of a good nation are elected by those citizens who do not care to vote on the election day”.
The News Tribe: How do you see the role of media in our country and also the social media?
Asad Omar Cheema: The media is vibrant and is indeed playing a positive role, bringing about awareness to the masses. Social networking on the other hand is one aspect where people need to understand the virtues and the drawbacks of internet access to the people. Time will tell how much advantage we can grasp from this wonderful device which has come as a revolution.
The News Tribe: What was the reason behind the Air Blue plane crash last year?
Asad Omar Cheema: There is no mystery in the crash any more. The accident inquiry has been completed and has found pilot error as the reason for the crash. It was one of those things which had to happen and it did. It could have been avoided by better judgment on the part of the pilot in command. May ALLAH rest his soul in peace.
The News Tribe: Is there any flight training center in Air Blue Pakistan?
Asad Omar Cheema: The training of all pilots is done abroad in Civil Aviation recognized simulators.
The News Tribe: Do you think airline pilots are well trained?
Asad Omar Cheema: Training of pilots is done in a very professional manner as is done by all other airlines.
The News Tribe: Can you tell what are the basic requirements for joining Air Blue?
Asad Omar Cheema: There is a minimum flying hour experience requirement set for induction into the airline.
The News Tribe: Can you recall any moment when you started feeling cut off from the normal life? When did the quality of your life change?
Asad Omar Cheema: Life of an airline pilot is quite different from that of the people who work nine to five jobs. The main difference is in flight duty times which are always varying and hits hard on your married and family life. The children and wives of airline pilots have to adjust with the absence of the father and husband for long periods of time during the month.
The News Tribe: What is your most treasured possession?
Asad Omar Cheema: The most treasured possession of any human being should be his or her peace of mind. I for one ALHAMDULILLAH am a very content person and thank Allah for all what HE has given me. The happiness of any person is solely dependent on one self. No other person can give you happiness. One should expect less from those around one and learn to live within the means given by the Almighty.
The News Tribe: What are your activities on social networks like face book or twitter?
Asad Omar Cheema: I am a regular user of networking sites and have a vast number of friends from around the globe and remain connected with them for a useful interaction in life.
The News Tribe: Do you think social networking is helpful to bring a revolution in a country?
Asad Omar Cheema: Revolutions are brought not by social networking alone. The rules of the game and our attitudes need to be changed. In our country problems are many. We do not deserve to have a country run by democracy. If Democracy was so good, then why don’t companies select their employees by voting, why don’t corporations select their heads by voting and why don’t nations select their Chief Justices, Army Chiefs, Police Chiefs and other Government Officials by voting? If a doctor and an economist vote for one candidate, but three uneducated men vote for another one, the uneducated men’s candidate wins. That is why after the demise of Prophet PBUH, caliphs were not elected by general public rather they were selected by a group of learned Muslims. For Pakistan the solution is selection of learned and respected patriotic leaders not election by general public.
I feel democracy is not the solution. Military and judiciary should force the politicians to form a technocrat government, which defines all policies for the nation. A man who spends millions to become a minster cannot be expected to be honest because he on the first instance is going to try to recover that money. PPP lost two elections and now is the time for its leaders to make recoveries. So the first step towards betterment is to reject democracy.
The News Tribe: Any life time achievement award in your whole career?
Asad Omar Cheema: My life’s achievement is a wonderful son Saad, who is 26 now and a lovely daughter, 24, who recently got married.
The News Tribe: Any words of wisdom for new comers in the field?
Asad Omar Cheema: Listen to your heart and do in life what you want to do rather than what you have to do. A happy heart with a balanced mind is what goes a long way.