Clipped-wings not an obstacle for former captain to move forward

By Iylia Marsya Iskandar

Imagine waking up with uncertainty.

You get out of bed to find a heap of clothes in front of you and you thought to yourself this is not as bad, the heaps of debt that you have is way worse.

You turned to the right to realise that you forgot to close your windows and your favourite scarf were almost blown away by the wind but that is still fine, at least your favourite job is still intact though you are barely grasping it.

And you go about your day on a bicycle, anxiously not knowing what tomorrow holds, will you be able to pay your debts or will you get blacklisted? Will you be able to keep your job tomorrow? Will you still be healthy tomorrow?

Indeed, this pandemic is a time of uncertainty.

For the past two decades, commercial pilot Captain Azrin Mohamad Zawawi puts on his white uniform and black captain hat before heading to work soaring high in the sky.

Azrin is a veteran of 20 years capping over more than 13,000 flying hours with three airlines and the latest being with Malindo Air.

However, the pandemic has set forth an unpredicted twist of events by keeping him bound to the ground as the captain was among the 2,200 crew and staff of Malindo Air who received retrenchment letters at the end of last month.

With worldwide border restrictions to curb the pandemic followed by serious economic recession, the aviation sector was forced to slash down its workforce.

Captain Azrin, however, was not disheartened with his wings being clipped.

Instead, the former captain decided to put on his white uniform and black captain hat once again, pacing on the ground with starting a food business, selling Malaysian dishes such as a hereditary recipe of curry noodle dish, laksa, mee hoon soup and rojak.

Teaming up with his wife Latun Noralyani Meor Aminudin and mother-in-law Rohime Abdul Rahman at the BoomTown Cafe at USJ11, Subang Jaya, Azrin decided to remain true to his identity and named his stall “Kapten Corner.”

His business received a surge of unexpected publicity when a photograph of Azrin wearing his captain’s uniform with a red apron while serving dishes on social media went viral.

His father, Mr. Zawawi is supportive of the former captain’s venture and encouraged family and friends to visit his stall.

On his Facebook account, Zawawi said: “Azrin doesn’t know when he will be donning the uniform again as a pilot as nobody knows the future of the aviation industry. To all friends, please visit his stall for a sumptuous meal.”

On the first few days of business, Azrin said, “I never imagined grossing up to RM1,500 daily in the first few days, my petty hawker business has boomed to rake in more than double the amount now.”

His food stall business is more than just the talk of town, Azrin also received a surge of loyal customers and demand over his tasty hereditary dishes.

“There is an overwhelming demand for our signature dishes. In fact, we had to turn down offers from food delivery companies to have their motorcycle riders pick up orders as we cannot even manage to cater for our daily steady stream of walk-in customers, who make a beeline as soon as we open at 2.00 pm.”

Azrin’s decision puts his customer’s best interest at heart as the majority are frequent customers and he does not want to disappoint by not serving them.

“Everything is sold out within four hours and we have to turn down customers,” said Azrin. 

His daily routine starts at 8.00 a.m, where the family prepares and cooks at home before taking the journey to the stall, about ten minutes away at around lunchtime.

Upon closing up by 6.00 p.m, Azrin headed on to Seri Kembangan with his wife to purchase daily supplies, and they would go home and prepare for the upcoming day.

The Kelantan born former-captain’s venture in the aviation industry departed in 1994 after he secured a 30-year MARA loan to pursue cadet pilot training at the Mofaz Flying Academy in Langkawi which amounted to RM113,000.

“I am still servicing my loan with monthly payments of about RM600. There is an outstanding loan amount of some RM17,000,” he said.

Azrin has manned the sky since 2000 by being a co-pilot with the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and proceeded to being a pilot of Firefly in 2012 and in the same year joined Lion Air, the latest one being with Malindo Air for the past five years.

To add salt to the wound after the retrenchment, there were criticisms by people in the aviation industry on him degrading the pilot’s uniform.

Commenting on this, Azrin explained that it was never his intention to don the captain’s attire to man the stall.

He said: “When my wife opened the stall on the first day, I was out sorting my retrenchment documentation at my airline office and drove straight from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang to meet her.

When I arrived at the stall in uniform, I told her that it will probably be the last time I will wear it.”

On the day, there were many curious onlookers and patrons took the opportunity to take photographs of the captain and it quickly went viral.

Explaining further, he said, “I only realised its impact the following day and called my previous employer to explain the situation that I had no intention to mar the airline or profession’s image.”

“From then on, the uniform had become a brand for our business stall. I plan to design a similar uniform for my entire stall crew and those involved, to keep the business attractive,” said Azrin.

At 44, he believes he has much more to contribute.

Without a doubt, Azrin said he will return to the aviation industry when the pandemic settles down.

He is adamant on keeping his options open on being an entrepreneur and a pilot. 

He added that ever since he lost his job, he was bent on flying forward like an aircraft and embracing the challenge while creating a rewarding lifestyle.  

“Likewise, I want to extend whatsoever assistance to my fellow cockpit and cabin crew members so that they, too, can continue to survive independently by thriving on their own with alternate jobs, no matter how small or big it is,” said Azrin.

As a man full of dedication and inspiration, Azrin dreamt of establishing an airline village of food and beverage run entirely by retrenched aircrew.

He added that his priority was to purchase a small piece of land to kick-start his airline village dream with a central kitchen concept.

“For starters, several officials of a state government agency, Yayasan Hijrah Selangor, approached me to gather 15 former commercial pilots and 15 former flight attendants who had recently lost their jobs, to discuss plans on a project for a business startup.

They are convinced of such an idea after observing my progress and the enormous news publicity gained thus far.

Should the plan succeed, they want me to spearhead the project and invite other pilots and flight attendants who had lost their jobs to participate,” Azrin said.

He also received an abundance of calls and visits by entrepreneurs, investors and politicians keen to invest on his brilliant branding.

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on economies around the world, unemployment and retrenchments continue to rise in the second quarter of this year, especially in sectors hard-hit by the pandemic, such as aviation, hospitality and food and beverage.

In this unprecedented time, even though you will wake up with frequent uncertainty, if opportunity does not knock on your doorstep, build a door to certainty and that is where you will find victory.

Captain Azrin might have lost his job but his dedication and responsibility has strengthened his wings to go against the wings of change.***

(This feature story is written as part of an individual assignment for Feature Writing class)

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