Working Wonders: After 20 years and 110 cities, Etihad pilot is always ready for take-off

Captain Mimmo Catalano on meeting his wife and watching New Year's Eve fireworks at 40,000ft

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Our Working Wonders of the UAE series takes you to some of the country's most recognisable destinations to uncover the daily duties of the talented employees working there

Mimmo Catalano has more than just a view of the clouds from his desk.

The 40-year-old Etihad Airways captain has spent 23 years flying through them, notching up more than 11,000 hours in the cockpit and ticking off more than 110 destinations around the world.

From meeting his wife to witnessing the Northern Lights, nothing compares to life in a Boeing-777 for the Italian father of one.

He invited The National along for the day in the airline's simulator to recreate a typical day at 40,000ft.

Why did you decide to become a pilot?

When I was a child, my father used to take me to the airport near our home in Sicily.

These were the days when you could go out on the apron and meet the crew.

I knew back then I wanted to be a pilot.

I made my first ever solo flight when I was 17 and later started my career as an air ambulance pilot in 1996.

Then I moved over to commercial flights before eventually joining Etihad in June 2005.

Now I fly a Boeing-777 and a Boeing-778 to all four corners of the globe.

As a pilot, you get to see things nobody else gets to see. It's extremely exciting.

The sky is the limit: Etihad pilot shows off airline's simulator

The sky is the limit: Etihad pilot shows off airline's simulator

What does your job involve?

My day-to-day role is very diverse. One day I'll be in the office in Abu Dhabi and the next I'll be flying all over the world to places like New York, Manila, Japan, the Maldives or Mexico.

A lot of the flights are medium to long haul, which involves a layover and gives us the opportunity to explore new destinations all over the world.

When I'm not flying, I work in the flight operation office as an instructor for junior pilots at Etihad Aviation Training, which has state-of-the-art simulators.

What are some of the most exciting aspects?

I love travelling but it's not just about the places. It's about meeting new people, experiencing different climates, foods and ways of life. I'm very lucky.

The cockpit has some of the best perks too. As a place of work, you don't get much better.

Some of the views are just incredible and I'll never tire of them. You look outside and you'll see amazing scenes like the Northern Lights in Greenland or the expanse of China's Mongolian Desert.

I was lucky enough to fly on New Year's Eve and we saw so many fireworks as different countries celebrated the New Year. It was amazing.

What are the most challenging parts?

The working hours for long haul flights can be a challenge. We don't work from nine to five on an airplane, and jetlag is also another factor.

You need to be able to adapt your body to different time zones and that's not always easy at 3am when you want to sleep.

We do medical and simulator checks every six months to make sure we're fit and able to do our jobs.

The work-life balance as a pilot can also take some juggling, especially when it comes to aligning with friends and family.

Sometimes I'll land in the evening and when I get home my family are sleeping, and the next morning when you wake up, they're out at work or school.

The time away from them can be challenging.

What might surprise people about your role?

The training is extensive and learning to fly a plane is not like learning to drive a car.

Not only do you need to know how to operate the aircraft, you also need to learn about methodology, aerodynamics and physics. You need to know the aircraft inside out.

I spent three years training to be a pilot and have worked my way up the ranks at Etihad.

I joined not long after the airline launched, but it's been a very rewarding journey.

A lot has changed in that time and I love being part of it.

What was your most memorable day at work?

I met my wife working at Etihad. She's a cabin manager and one of the funniest moments I've had was our first flight together after we were married.

Usually during a flight, the cabin crew take care of us pilots and often they'll ask if we want any refreshments.

The day when I asked for a coffee she refused and said she was too busy.

I had to remind her that although she's the boss at home when we're at work I'm the captain.

We still laugh about it now.

If you weren’t a pilot, what would you be doing?

I love restoring old cars. I have about seven of them at the moment.

At my house in Italy, I have a Fiat 500 on display in my living room, which doesn't best please my wife.

I think if I wasn't a pilot, I'd make a pretty good car mechanic.

Updated: November 10, 2023, 11:59 AM