Retrenched airline Captain now dreams of setting up “Airline Village”

Picture via Facebook/Latun Noralyani

By John Isaac

HE has hardly gotten a full grip with his new food stall business in Petaling Jaya, Selangor – yet, former commercial pilot, Capt Azrin Mohamad Zawawi dreams of establishing an airline village for food and beverage, run entirely by retrenched aircrew.

Azrin, who turned 44 on Nov 4, told The New Straits Times that the idea came about after he received a deluge of calls and visits by entrepreneurs, investors and politicians keen to cash-in on his brilliant branding of running an eatery in full pilot attire!

This, he said, occurred after an article on his stall published by the NST went viral on Nov 3, just a couple of days after he teamed up with his wife Latun Noralyani Meor Aminudin and mother-in-law Rohime Abdul Rahman to establish the “Kapten Corner” stall at the Boom Town Cafe at USJ 11, Subang Jaya.

They are assisted by Azrin’s father Mohamad Zawawi Ahmad, Latun Noralyani’s brother Meor Mohammad Noor Fariq and Azrin’s sons Razeen Irsyad 15, and Razeen Ilham, 10, and daughters Latun Syazreen, 14, and Latun Syakirah, 13.

The stall was set up after Azrin, a veteran of 20 years capping 13,000-plus flying hours with three airlines, was retrenched from Malindo Air as a Boeing 737NG type-rating examiner recently, following the economic downturn brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Azrin was among the 2,200 crew and staff of Malindo Air who were served with retrenchment letters on Oct 30.

“I never imagined that from grossing up to RM1,500 daily in the first few days, my petty hawker business has boomed to rake in more than double the amount now (although a far cry from his hefty pilot’s income).

“There is overwhelming demand for our signature dishes of curry mee, bee hoon sup daging, laksa utara and rojak buah – each bowl reasonably priced at just RM7.

“In fact, we had to turn down offers from food delivery companies to have their motorcycle riders pick up orders as we cannot even manage to cater for our daily steady stream of walk-in customers, who make a beeline as soon as we open at 2pm.

“A majority of them are repeat customers and we do not want to disappoint by not serving them.

“Everything is sold out within four hours and we have to turn down customers,” said Azrin, whose stall is closed on Mondays.

He added that his priority was to purchase a small piece of land to kick-start his airline village dream via a central kitchen concept.

“I am in talks with various parties but nothing has materialised yet.

“For starters, several officials of a state government agency – Yayasan Hijrah Selangor – approached me a few days ago to gather 15 former commercial pilots and 15 former flight attendants who had recently lost their jobs, to discuss plans on a project for a business startup.

“They are convinced of such an idea after observing my progress and the enormous news publicity gained thus far.

“Should the plan succeed, they want me to spearhead the project and invite other pilots and flight attendants who had lost their jobs to participate,” Azrin said.

He added that ever since he lost his job, he was bent on making a comeback with a rewarding lifestyle, no matter what the task demanded.

“Likewise, I want to extend whatsoever assistance to my fellow cockpit and cabin crew members so that they, too, can continue to survive independently by thriving on their own with alternate jobs, no matter how small or big it is,” said Azrin, who rents his stall from the main landlord who also runs the Boom Town Restaurant in an adjacent shophouse row.

His daily routine starts at 8am, where his family prepares and cooks the meals at their home in Alam Megah, Shah Alam, before driving the fare to the stall, about ten minutes away, by lunchtime.

After closing up by 6pm, he would head to Seri Kembangan with his wife to purchase daily groceries and supplies, after which they would go home and prepare for the next day.

“We hit the sack just after midnight,” said Azrin.

To minimise labour and conform with health regulations, Azrin uses disposable bowls and cutlery for dining-in and take-away at the stall.

Asked on selecting his stall’s location, he said that he and his family were regulars at Boom Town Cafe that offered a variety of food stalls.

“The place is very popular with USJ and Subang Jaya residents.

“After I lost my job, my wife coaxed me to negotiate with the landlord to offer us some space for our stall,” he said.

Azrin, who hails from Pasir Mas in Kelantan, added that his venture into aviation took off in 1994 after he managed to secure a 30-year RM113,000 Mara loan to pursue cadet pilot training at the Mofaz Flying Academy in Langkawi.

“I am still servicing my loan with monthly payments of about RM600. There is an outstanding loan amount of some RM17,000,” he said.

Picture from Reuters

Azrin began his flying career with MAS in 2000 as a co-pilot – first on the de Havilland Twin Otter, then the Fokker 50, Boeing B737-400 and B777-200.

He then moved to Firefly in 2012 for six months as a captain on the B737NG.

Later the same year, he joined Lion Air and was based in Jakarta, Indonesia for three years, before flying for Malindo Air for five years and six months.

On criticisms by some in the airline industry of him degrading the pilot’s uniform, Azrin explained that it was never his intention to don the captain’s attire to man a food stall.

“When my wife opened the stall on the first day, I was out sorting my retrenchment documentation at my airline office and drove straight from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang to meet her.

“When I arrived at the stall in uniform, I told her that it will probably be the last time I will wear it.

“Many curious onlookers and patrons took the opportunity to take photographs with me, and somehow it went viral on social media.

“I only realised its impact the following day and called my previous employer to explain the situation that I had no intention to mar the airline or profession’s image.

“From then on, the uniform had became a brand for our business stall.

“I plan to design a similar uniform for my entire stall crew and those involved in the airline village, to keep the business attractive,” said Azrin.

The devastating Covid-19 pandemic has cost the jobs of millions across varied industries.

Those in the aviation and airline businesses are perhaps among the most affected, with thousands of cockpit and cabin crew having their “wings” clipped, by being laid off or had to accept huge pay cuts and loss of perks.

Many of them have turned to alternative jobs like driving Grab cars and taxis, venturing into the food and beverage industry, online vocations, or direct-selling to make ends meet.

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