Fariq Abdul Hamid, the 27-year-old co-pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, was on his first flight aboard a Boeing 777 as a fully-approved pilot, it emerged on Monday.
Malaysia Airlines has revealed that Fariq, who joined the airline seven years ago, was just starting to pilot the Boeing 777 and that the ill-fated flight to Beijing on March 8 was only his sixth in the cockpit of a 777 – and his first without a check pilot overseeing him.
"The first five flights, the co-pilot normally flies with what we call the check co-pilot,” said Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, the airline’s head at a press briefing.
“He actually passed the first five flights. We do not see any problem with him.”
Fariq, a flying enthusiast who was planning to marry his pilot girlfriend, had 2763 hours of flying experience. It was already known that he was transitioning to the Boeing 777.
Stephen Buzdygan, a former British Airways pilot who flew Boeing 777s, told The Telegraph that the co-pilot’s inexperience in the Boeing 777 would probably not have posed any risk to the flight.
“He will have been trained within an inch of his life before they let him near a plane with passengers,” he said. “The Malaysians are very thorough… I don’t think it is significant at all.”
A "check pilot" is not an additional cockpit member but a pilot who is approved to act as a training pilot and can oversee the transitioning pilot's conduct and ensure the trainee understands the limitations and capabilities of the aircraft.
Investigators believe the plane was deliberately sabotaged by the pilot or co-pilot or both and that its communications were deliberately disabled before it flew off course and continued flying for about seven hours. But police have so far found nothing suspicious about Fariq or Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the 53-year-old pilot.
Mr Buzdygan said Fariq, flying his first flight on the 777 without a check pilot, would be “a little more apprehensive” and that “it is down to the pilot to make him feel relaxed”. But, he said, Fariq had considerable experience for a junior first officer and would have passed a conversion course and simulator testing before being allowed to fly a different aircraft.
"The planes that operate are pretty much the same to fly these days,” he said. “The conversion course is not demanding… He would be totally suitable to be on that aeroplane.”
The airline noted that Zaharie, a veteran pilot with 18,365 hours experience, was a “777 examiner” even though he would not have been operating on the flight as a check pilot.
"You must realise that he [Fariq] is flying with an examiner,” said Mr Ahmad Jauhari. “The captain is a 777 examiner.”
It is understood that investigators have not been focusing on Fariq’s inexperience as a factor in the plane’s disappearance, though they still believe it was sabotaged.
“He was a relative novice,” a source told The Telegraph, adding that this had not been singled out as a possible cause of the plane’s disappearance.