Pilot's long journey to academic success

By Sidah Russell

Jeffery Ang overcame personal tragedy to get his Bachelor of Aviation Management.

International student Jeffery Ang’s perseverance in studying towards a Bachelor of Aviation Management proved a bumpy ride. He talks to Sidah Russell.

Embarking on an academic qualification after decades of working takes courage.

There are concerns about finding the time to study, and fears that tertiary-level learning will prove too difficult.

Singapore Airlines Captain Jeffery Ang took on the challenge 27 years after last studying at high school. He had spent 12 years in the Republic of Singapore Air Force, including numerous overseas deployments, followed by 15 years as a commercial airline pilot. In 2013, at the age of 46, he enrolled in Massey’s Bachelor of Aviation Management.

“Trying to read books and journals again was like trying to start an old engine that has stalled and been discarded for many years,” he says.

Captain Ang says he was driven by a desire to enhance his aviation knowledge and to share his flying experiences with others in a more constructive way.

“After some research, I found the aviation management degree course with Massey University through the Singapore Aviation Academy. The flexibility of the distance learning mode and course modules suited me.”

He soon began to enjoy writing academic assignments and developing structured arguments. He also realised the critical role that pilots play in strategic management, including in incident prevention, flight training and managing human factors.

“The knowledge I acquired enabled me to share and discuss my views with my fellow pilots, the union and management to contribute to our competitive advantage against rival airlines,” he says.

Travelling to New Zealand from Singapore for his graduation ceremony was a huge personal milestone for Captain Ang, but reaching that point was not easy. He was struck by two family tragedies in the final stages of his degree that nearly derailed his studies.

His father had a severe stroke with a long recovery time.

“The frequent visits to hospital and follow-up therapy took a toll. I had little time for study, writing assignments and preparing for examinations amid a tight flying roster.

“I read my books and wrote my assignments in the hospital next to my dad’s bed when he was asleep. The thought of giving up my degree did cross my mind, but I knew my dad would have advised me otherwise.”

Then his father-in-law passed away unexpectedly just before his final exams. At the time, Captain Ang was flying overseas. “The flight back home was the most dreadful I have ever done in my 30 years of flying,” he says.

He spent the next few days keeping vigil at his father-in-law’s wake and studying late into the night, only to realise the funeral was scheduled on the same day as his final examination. His family encouraged him to sit the exam, but it was a difficult decision to miss the funeral.

“The emotional sadness was overwhelming at times. I had to remind myself on numerous occasions during the three-hour exam to stay focused. Afterwards I rushed off to attend the prayer session after the cremation. It was emotionally and physically draining, but I did it and attained an ‘A’ for that final module.”

Looking back now, Captain Ang says it was sheer determination that got him through, along with the overwhelming support of his wife and family and the assistance given by Massey’s academic and administrative staff.

“I feel proud that I have finally attained my Bachelor of Aviation Management with good academic standing,” he says. “This has become one of the best achievements in my life.”