My Job at SATS: I do the next best thing to flying a plane
If you dreamt of flying aeroplanes but have poor eyesight, what would you do? For Mohamed Shahreel Mohamed Ismail, the answer is simple: You do the next best thing – work at the airport.
Shahreel aspired to be a pilot, just like every one of us perhaps did. He even signed up for flying clubs, but unfortunately, his eyesight is not 20/20. His dream remained a dream... until he started working for SATS in 1997 as a customer service officer, left and explored other opportunities within the aviation industry, and returned to work for SATS in 2019.
Today, you’ll see Shahreel as a Ground Commander at Changi Airport. He gets to see aeroplanes every day. While he doesn't drive a plane himself, he makes sure a flight is handled efficiently and safely on the ground.
The airport is one of the busiest workplaces one can ever work at. Flight preparations, arrivals, and takeoffs happen simultaneously. Ground operations must be carried out in a short period.
Despite knowing all about the busyness, the time pressure, and the buzz, Shahreel finds his passion for aviation unruffled. His eagerness to work alongside pilots and aeroplanes outweighs any fears that come with such a career.
He, of course, knows about the risks that come with an airport job, especially a role performed just a few feet from a real aircraft. But Shahreel is more than happy to accept the challenge.
Safety at every corner
Shahreel’s job as a Ground Commander at SATS revolves around one thing – safety.
When his shift starts, Shahreel first checks which flights he’s rostered to handle. In a day, he is usually assigned four to five flights.
If a flight is scheduled to depart at 1600H from C11 at Changi Terminal 3, he goes to the bay and prepares to work at 1445H. He proceeds to conduct a few checks such as the aircraft registration and the cargo list.
Subsequently, Shahreel does a quick but succinct pre-flight briefing to the ground personnel, which consists of ramp service men, ramp loading officers, and equipment operators. Shahreel reminds everyone to practise safety at all times. “It has to be second nature to everyone who works at the airside,” he says bluntly.
He works as a reminder to the ground personnel that safety remains of paramount importance at SATS, even though some of them might have been doing the exact job for ten years or so.
Zero workplace injuries
Not only is safety a core part of SATS, but it is also a principle that Shahreel personally embraces. “We work for our families; how can we continue working for them if we aren’t working safely,” he explains.
It can be as simple as reminding the crew to wear their personal protective equipment (PPE), checking if the cargo is properly wrapped and tied, or making sure the safety cones are correctly placed. All these are crucial checkpoints to always ensure safety during ground handling.
If there’s any hazard while the operations are underway and Shahreel feels that it can be detrimental to everyone’s safety, he can issue an order to stop all work to fix the issue.
It’s also part of his job to report any non-compliance he observes and to give feedback to the ground personnel on what can be done better next time. These all boil down to being safer each time they work at the airside.
“There are no compromises,” Shahreel emphasises. That also means he himself must always uphold safety. One thing is clear for this Ground Commander, he practises what he preaches. Shahreel applies this in ways as simple as making sure his positioning in the work area is ideal, i.e., he’s out of the way of any equipment or any busy workstation and he wears the proper PPE.
A Ground Commander’s job is physically demanding. Because his flight assignments might be in various locations, Shahreel’s day at work consists of a lot of walking. Someone with his role can clock in more than 10,000 steps a day!
At times, when the flight schedules are tight, Shahreel would rush to the next location after conducting the briefing on another. The bays can be located at different terminals in Changi, so he needs to be on the move every time.
But you won’t hear Shahreel complaining. In fact, he likes that he’s required to move around while working. He thinks of it as his daily workout, something to force him to be healthy and fit.
All this said, Shahreel affirms one thing: “When I come to work, I feel happy.” He does not drag himself to work even though the Ground Commander job is a shift job and can be physically taxing.
It’s not just because he has always wanted to work in the airport. It’s also because he strongly believes “the aviation industry, despite all that has happened, is still the best place for learning.”
As a member of the SATS Team, Shahreel is proud to play his role in feeding and connecting communities globally. He doesn’t get to fly aeroplanes, but he’s able to support the flight crew in creating a seamless flight experience for passengers – and it is equally fulfilling.
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