Duncan John MacDonald is an accomplished pilot who holds a B.S in Aviation Studies from the College of Aviation and Aeronautical Science at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.
After completing his aeronautical studies at VT AAA Flight School in New Braunfels, Duncan achieved his lifelong dream of obtaining his commercial pilot’s license. He’s been flying around the world ever since, spending the last decade as a commercial pilot and loving every minute of it.
In this interview, Duncan John MacDonald shares some of the details of his routine, lists his favorite golf destinations on the planet, and discusses the impact of COVID-19 on the airline industry.
How does someone get started becoming a pilot? What schooling or training should they pursue?
It is a long process, but there is some flexibility in how you can obtain the proper qualifications. The most important aspect is of course your flight training and getting the requisite number of hours in the sky. You can fulfill that training through flight schools, airline training, college programs, or even by joining the military.
On the education side, a four-year college or university degree is great and will improve your chances of being hired on by a major airline. What you choose to study is really up to you. I went the difficult route and studied aviation because I wanted to fully immerse myself in the industry and learn everything there was to learn about flying. However, I have met other pilots with business degrees or no degree at all.
What is the routine during a typical flight? What are you controlling and watching out for?
A lot of the flight activity is handled by autopilot systems now, but we are constantly overseeing them and monitoring everything else going on around us. We are checking the weather ahead of us and at our destination and flying around bad weather systems when possible to avoid bumpy rides. When not watching for weather or other aircraft, we are monitoring our instruments and communicating with air traffic control.
What is one skill that pilots absolutely must have?
You have to be able to multitask; it is most definitely not a position where you can focus in on one thing and kind of lose yourself in it. You must maintain full and constant awareness of your surroundings and of the many instruments, conditions and variables affecting the flight.
Do you prefer taking off or landing?
I have to go with landing. They are both incredible and special experiences in their own right, but bringing that plane down safely represents so much more for me than just the action or thrill of it, and believe me, it is a thrill, and also the moment when our flying ability is most heavily tested.
More than any of that though, it means the flight has been a success and I have safely delivered my passengers to their destination. I am a little tense throughout the flight, which keeps me focused and not taking anything for granted, least of all my responsibility to those aboard. After landing, that tension gets released and I can relax and let my guard down.
Would you recommend being a pilot to others?
Absolutely, I could not imagine doing anything else. The joy and sheer wonder of flying has not left me even after all these years. There is such an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment after every flight and having the ability to explore the world in such an incredible fashion while also making a great living is unmatched.
How has COVID-19 affected air travel and what long-term ramifications do you anticipate?
The number of flights has dropped quite a bit over the past few weeks, with many countries instituting various forms of travel bans. We are hoping that the situation improves heading into the summer and more people can safely travel, but it is up in the air if you will excuse the pun.
In the meantime, we are taking every precaution to protect our passengers and crew by aggressively sanitizing everything and carefully spreading out our passengers, so they have as much space from each other as possible. The one benefit of fewer people flying is that it does make those social distancing efforts possible.
Do you think the tourism industry will eventually recover?
I sure hope so. I know people are scared right now and there has been some backlash against globalization coming out of this, but we would be wrong to retreat back into our domestic shells and grow fearful of the world outside our borders.
Ignorance makes us fearful of one another and only by openly interacting with the rest of the world can we break that cycle. I have been all over the world and met people from countless countries, ethnicities and cultures, and the main thing I have learned is that we are far more alike than we are different. We are all humans, filled with the same emotions, desires, and dreams as any other.
Are there any under-the-radar cities that you would recommend to travelers?
I have been to thousands of different cities by now, so I really enjoy places that have their own unique look and culture. A few favorites that immediately come to mind are Porto, Portugal with its colorful, tightly packed houses, Kyoto, Japan with its glorious mix of modern living, Buddhist temples, and Shinto shrines, and Cape Town, South Africa’s incredible natural geography.
You are an avid golfer. Give us three of the best courses on the planet.
I cannot provide a definitive top 3, but a few of my favorites are the Lighthouse Golf Resort in Bulgaria, the Costa Navarino in Greece, and the Jack Nicklaus course in South Korea. Whether it was how the courses were laid out or just how beautiful they appeared in that moment, I remember being entranced by all of them. I have so many courses yet to play and cannot wait to keep scratching more off my bucket list.
Our thanks to Duncan John MacDonald for taking the time to share a little insight into his life and the life of a pilot with us.