By Aney Mathew
‘Any excuse to fly’, is how Barry Sloane describes his favourite past time. As a matter of fact, Barry who is a Lead Engineer at Qatargas, is one of the few expatriates who owns and flies his own plane in Qatar.
“Flying is in my blood; we have eight pilots in my family; my father being one of them. The airport in my hometown in Canada — Nelson Field — is named after my grandfather’s family. My flying experiences would normally fall under the category of — trying to use my plane as one would use their cars.
“When I lived in Canada if I had to travel any significant distance, I would first of all try to use my aircraft. Aside from the obvious time saving benefits, I never needed to worry about traffic police giving me speeding tickets for travelling too fast. There are no real speed limits in the air”, says Barry, describing his enthusiasm for flying.
“I only had a passing interest in cars and planes as a young boy. It wasn’t until I flew with a relative when I was 15 that I realised my passion for flying planes. Soon I went on to take flying lessons. I remember how I would spend many late evenings and weekends at the airport, listening to exciting stories from pilots and dreaming about how I would soon experience them myself”, he says, of his introduction to flying.
So how does Barry actually pursue this unusual hobby, whilst in Qatar?
“Here in the Gulf, I mostly do local trips during weekends. I enjoy golf and scuba diving. There are numerous golf courses in the UAE as well as Oman and Bahrain. When I am in the mood for golf, I normally load up the plane with a couple of friends on a Thursday afternoon and fly to any place that is within a 45 minutes to 2-1/2 hours flying-time radius. We normally arrive early in the evening so as to have sufficient time to check into a hotel and find a good restaurant.
“After spending Friday on the Golf course, we either head back to Qatar the same evening or relax overnight and return on Saturday morning. The same would apply to scuba diving”, he explains.
Flying is such a part of Barry’s life, that the red and white Cessna Sky master — a fixed wing aircraft that he currently owns, is his fourth plane. What’s more? He flew it solo, all the way from Canada to Qatar seven years ago.
Recalling his decision to buy the Cessna, Barry says, “It was ‘like’ at first sight. Then a moment of reality set in and I thought, ‘my goodness Barry, what are you doing??? You are 52 years old; you’ve had a bypass surgery, live in the Middle East and plan to fly this plane across the Atlantic, when you really don’t even know if you will be allowed to have a plane with you in Qatar. ARE YOU CRAZY?”
“Then I thought, ‘Well maybe it is a mistake to buy this plane, but I’d rather do it and have it turn out to be a mistake, than not do it and then in 20 or 30 years time (when I’m failing in health), wish I had done it.’ So I went ahead and made the payment. But once I sat in the pilot’s seat I immediately knew I had made the right decision. In spite of the care and attention this plane requires, I continue to believe my decision was right.”
Narrating the experiences of some of his long flight trips, Barry recounts, “In 2008, my company posted me in Paris for about 10 months. I was very fortunate to be able to fly through the Mediterranean area, Southern Europe and into Paris. During that 10-month period, I stationed my plane at a small airport near Versailles and was able to do a few weekend trips to places like Cherbourg, Brest, Cannes and Geneva.
“During late December of 2009, I made a trip to Aqaba and spent a week travelling through Jordan and scuba diving in the Gulf of Aqaba. About a year ago, I flew along with five other members of the flying club to Athens. The entire trip took us 10 days and we had some great experiences.”
Barry’s longest solo flight was flying across the Atlantic when he decided to fly his plane from Canada to Qatar. “The trip took about 45 flight hours and 12 flight days. I departed from a small airport just north of Brandon in Manitoba, Canada and flew through Greenland, Iceland, the UK, France, Italy, Greece, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, I could not spend much time in these places, although I would have liked to. I would definitely like to spend time in Greenland and Iceland someday. It was certainly my most adventurous flight and I must say it went very well with the exception of one “Aw darn!” moment in Northern France, when I had problems with one of the engines”, he details.
Whatever motivated him to take such a trip, flying his plane from Canada, over the North Atlantic and through Europe to Qatar? Barry simply responds with a smile, “Well, I had to be back at work on Sunday morning.”
When asked about his most scary flight experience, Barry reports, “Thankfully, I cannot recall any scary moments. This is probably because I am a fairly risk averse-person and like to take aviation very seriously. That having been said, I have had a few ‘Aw darn!’ moments. These are usually when something goes wrong, such as an irregularity or malfunction. My first response is ‘What???’ and my second response is “Oh No!! How much is this going to cost me?”
So how does Barry manage to maintain such an expensive hobby? “Growing up with resourceful individuals in my family, I have gained skills to maintain and operate the plane very economically. Then of course, being single, I can manage it at the moment.”
“My love for flying has never abated. I have been flying for over 24 years and have flown to about 22 countries. I realise one day I will need to retire from flying. Then I will take up sailing. Until then, I plan to spend as much of my spare time as I possibly can, in the air over this region”, says Barry in conclusion as he hops into his plane and heads back to Doha.