AMELIA Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, once said, “I have often said the lure of flying is the lure of beauty.”
This is true for Miri-born Sunnie Kam Chung Pei. She fell in love with the beauty of flying and let her dream take flight. She is now Sarawak’s first female General Aviation (GA) pilot.
Flying as first officer for the last four years, she has logged her Pilot-In-Command (PIC) hours this month and been promoted by her company, Layang Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd, to be a captain of the fixed-wing Nomad aircraft.
GA is the term to describe all civil aviation operations other than scheduled air services and non-scheduled air transport operations — for remuneration or hire.
Essential public services provided by the GA for various private and government agencies, emergency medical services and search and rescue operations make lives more productive and safe.
“I believe pilots are aiming for airline jobs but I can say besides the airlines, GA is the best place to start. Our main job is aerial photography and survey, medical evacuation (Medevac), body evacuation (Bodevac) and private charters.
“Most of the time, we carry out aerial photography assignments like mapping for both private and government agencies, and Medevac flights to transfer patients from hospital to hospital for better treatment and the fastest way is by air.
“This gives me a lot satisfaction as I can save lives,” she said, adding that her job as a PIC is not only about having more stripes on her epaulets as it is also a job that entails great responsibility.
“As they say, with great power, comes great responsibility and safety of an aircraft and the crew is always the PIC’s chief responsibility.”
According to the 27-year-old, flying to Ba Kelalan is one of her most memorable and challenging experiences in the cockpit so far.
Unlike most others, the Ba Kelalan airfield is one way in, one way out.
Kam said the crew of an aircraft is always waiting for the captain’s decision and recently, she had an eventful Medevac flight from Miri to Kuching and Sibu.
“The weather was not really good flying into Kuching that afternoon but we got in. Then on the flight to Sibu, it was raining heavily but we touched down safely. We were supposed to return to Miri that night but Miri was having thunderstorms as well.
“So I had to decide whether to make a night stop in Sibu or continue to Miri. I decided to stay back. Safety always comes first,” said Kam, currently with 1,100 flying hours under her belt.
To make an overnight stop, she needs to consider things like having access to early “tasking” in the morning.
“Should anything happen to the aircraft in Sibu, were there any engineers around to sort things out? Would it interfere with all the scheduling the following day? Moreover, I also have to consider my duty-time limitations.”
How it started
Kam, the daughter of Datuk Kam Pau Siong and Datin Shirley Thou of Miri, said flying has always been her dream.
“People say the only way to do great work is to love what you do and when you have the chance to fly an aircraft and that’s what you love to do, I believe everyone will go for it.”
She took her pilot course at Malaysian Flying Academy (MFA) in Melaka in 2008, completing it within 18 months. She graduated with the CPL/IR (Commercial Pilot Licence/Instrument Rating) licence in 2010, logging a total of 200 flying hours.
She started as a flight operation executive at LLA, monitoring aircraft movements and helping with the paperwork. At that time, there were no pilot vacancies at the company.
However, in 2013, LLA gave her the opportunity to fly their fixed-wing aircraft — Nomad N22C — as first officer.
“I can still recall my first tasking after I was endorsed on the aircraft. It was an election committee charter and the flight was under my chief pilot, Capt Irwin Menezes.
“In five days, he helped me fly to the most interior STOLport (short take-off and landing) airfields such as at Marudi, Bario, Long Akah, Ba Kelalan and Lawas — something I never experienced at the academy. It was an exciting exercise that boosted my passion for flying,” she recalled.
Kam said she is lucky to have her supportive husband Alvin Loh and parents.
“I cannot thank them enough for supporting and loving me and believing in what I do. I’m also thankful to LLA for giving me the opportunity to realise my dream, especially my ‘sifu’ Capt Irwin M Menezes and Capt Mitchell Schaeffer, who guided and taught to be who I am today.
“My advice is if you really have a dream to achieve your ambition, go for it. If you are afraid or hesitant, you will never achieve your dream.”
LLA was incorporated in 1994 by managing director Johan Poong Abdullah @ Albert Poong, a DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) and UKCAA (United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority) qualified aircraft engineer.
His ambition is to develop an aviation company to become the leading player in Malaysia’s home-grown aviation industry.
LLA was first located in Miri where there was a demand for GA services to cater to the communities of the interior where road accessibility was often not possible.
Now, with 18 pilots, two fixed-wing aircraft, 14 helicopters at its main bases in Sabah and Sarawak and an exemplary safety record, the company is committed to carrying out a variety of tasks for both public and private sectors.