Karim Nafatni has more than just a view of the sky from his desk chair.
The Air Arabia captain from Tunisia literally spends his days soaring through the clouds at 10,000 metres, and now he's sharing his commuter views with an audience of thousands.
Called “Dub-eye in the sky”, the 37-year-old’s photography project sees him take photos around the UAE while off duty, but also offers a window into his jet-setting life through a gallery of otherworldly images taken from the cockpit, which he shares with his 136,000 (and counting) Instagram followers.
His dazzling panoramas include clouds from the cockpit, as well as photos of the Palm Jumeirah, Burj Khalifa, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and more. Each picture racks up thousands of likes on the social networking site via his account @karimthecaptain.
And not only do his snapshots depict flight paths from all over the world – they also extend to selfies of Nafatni and his co-pilot wife Sabrina Hasni, 28, who he met while working for the airline.
"The beauty of this office is that the view is always unique, from one flight to the other, and boredom is something we do not know as pilots," Nafatni tells The National. "Flying runs in my veins and I am very passionate about it."
Aviation is a family business for the Nafatnis, and the captain, who lives in Dubai, aspired to take his place behind the controls from an early age. "My father used to work for the airlines as well, but not as a pilot," says the Airbus A320 training captain. His father was a manager in charge of airline outstations across Europe. "My younger brother is a first officer on an A320, my wife is a senior first officer on Airbus and my father-in-law is a training captain and examiner, so we do indeed have a strong aviation community within the family."
His enthusiasm for photography grew alongside his career. It began with an interest in cityscapes, and he would search for rooftops around Dubai from which to take his snaps. But he soon realised these images could never compare with the breathtaking sights he encounters daily from aircraft while jetting around the planet. "This is when I mainly focused on flight-deck shots and in-flight photography," he says. "I always wanted to share those gorgeous views with everyone who wasn't lucky enough to witness them from a flight deck."
One he's called Sunrise in the Office is his favourite. "[It is] the very first picture I shared from the flight deck and my very last flight as a first officer before I was promoted to captain. That picture is my all-time favourite as it holds lots of memories."
What doesn't register as much of a memory, however, is Nafatni's first flight as a pilot 18 years ago. "Surprisingly, I did not feel anything special," he says with a laugh. "Travelling in the flight deck from a very young age got me used to how things go and that feeling was very familiar to me. Therefore, being in command the very first time wasn't much more emotional. I was very proud, of course, but very much focused and concentrated on my job and not thinking about anything else."
In the nearly two decades that have followed, there have been plenty of memorable flights, though – not least of which were the ones he shared with his then-future wife, who also works for Air Arabia. "We had the chance to share the flight deck a few times before we got married and it was a great experience," he says.
While some couples couldn’t imagine working with their other half – let alone in a tiny cockpit – Nafatni says being with another pilot has its advantages. “It is extremely difficult for someone who does not have any idea about our job to understand how mentally and physically exhausting it can be.
“We totally understand each other. It is true that sometimes spending some time off together is challenging, as we might have opposite flying schedules, but this is still manageable.”
Any such challenges he faces he overcomes by throwing himself into his hobby. Mid-flight, Nafatni takes the same picture several times at different exposure rates using a Sony a7R III before digitally blending them to provide the best dynamic range and exposure.
"I used a Nikon D300s DSLR camera for many years and my favourite lens was a 10-millimetre fisheye glass that had a very wide frame and was perfect to shoot the entire cockpit at once," he says. "I switched to something more compact, versatile and convenient for frequent travellers like us pilots and I carry a GoPro Hero 7 with me as well."
These days, every flight is not only a journey from A to B, but a quest to capture beautiful scenery along the way. "Combining my two passions makes every day at work feel remarkable," he says. For Nafatni, mountain peaks, sprawling desert-scapes and glorious sunrises are merely another day at the office.