James Anthony Tan, wearing an Arab headdress, shaking hands with Malaysian Ambassador Jazri Mohamed Johar upon his arrival in Doha.
By Hamza Jilani/Staff Reporter
Malaysian pilot James Anthony Tan (21), who is attempting a Guinness World Record for being the youngest pilot to fly around the world, landed at the Doha International Airport yesterday afternoon. Qatar is the 17th country and 22nd stop during his record-breaking journey that started on March 26.
The campaign - 1Malaysia Around The World (1RTW) - has been preset to take a total of 50 days to complete. This means that Tan has only six more days to achieve the feat. He will leave Qatar in his Cessna 210 aircraft today.
“I chose to land in Qatar and not any other GCC state as the first Asian to fly around the world comes from this country,” Tan said, referring to Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, who achieved the feat twice - in 1985 and 1992, according to earthrounder.com. He is the only person from Qatar to fly around the world in a light aircraft and the first Asian to do so as well. “It is an inspiration to see a friend and brother do it first.”
Tan, who was born with dyslexia, was adjudged “The youngest Malaysian to fly a single-engine piston aircraft in an expedition” by the Malaysia Book of Records in 2012 after flying to Oxford and back. If he succeeds, he will become the first Malaysian, the first Southeast Asian and the 95th in human history to fly solo around the world. The current world record holder is Switzerland’s Carlo Schmid, who completed the task last year at the age of 22.
“The vision of this expedition is not the world record,” Tan underlined. “The world record is a means to an end. This is to inspire pioneering minds among the youth by leading with passion and humility. Passion is the willingness to suffer in order to achieve a dream and humility is the willingness to realise you may not know how to do this, but you’re determined to find out how.”
The pilot, who has been flying around the Australian, Asian, European and North American continents since the age of 18, said he got the idea to fly around the world after meeting a young man with Down Syndrome when he was 19. “I saw in his eyes what no man should ever have: he lacked dreams, passion... He lacked inspiration, he had nothing in him and was empty. I knew that if I was not so lucky to have lived a blessed childhood, I would have become like him because I have dyslexia, which didn’t allow me to attend conventional schooling. This message has nothing to do with aviation. Aviation is the medium I’m using to deliver it.”
After deciding to embark on the journey, Tan said it was a struggle from day one as he had to face countless rejections for sponsorship over a period of 18 months. At one point, Tan recalled, he lost 6kg in two weeks due to depression and stress.
Then, after he landed the sponsorship, other challenges awaited him. Tan not only had to fight his dyslexia alone but also linguistic and cultural barriers as well as the physical and mental stress of flying across time zones and in various weather conditions, including over a frozen Bering Strait - battling a temperature of -20 degrees Celsius and strong winds.
“I knew that if anything happened, I would have only three minutes of life due to the low temperature. When you’re out there, the lack of oxygen and the endless vastness of emptiness gets to you. You lose track of time. You forget what it is,” he said. “But there’s a saying by Martin Luther King - ‘if you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward’ - which I live by.”
Taking off from Qatar today at 8am, Tan will head to Karachi, Pakistan. He said this is only the beginning of his legacy and that one can expect to see him in more headlines.
Tan said his campaign could not have been realised without the support of Malaysia, the sponsors, and most importantly, his mother. “My mom used to drive three hours every day to take me for special educational training and then wait for me outside. Every single day. She waited there, worked hard, she’s amazing,” he said. “This isn’t just Malaysia seeing the world, this is the world seeing Malaysia and I encourage everyone to visit it. In 2014, we are launching a huge festival package with the aim of attracting 28mn tourists.”