Reach for the sky, shoot for the stars, or aim for the moon; we’ve probably heard some variations of this saying when it comes to setting our goals and chasing our dreams. For Chinoys, aiming high might be equated to excelling academically, finding a good job, or starting a successful business, but for Captain Stanley Ng, he went beyond the borders of a traditional Chinoy occupation and chose a life in the sky.
Captain Stanley Ng is the President and COO of Philippines Airlines. He is also first and foremost a pilot, which wasn’t a popular choice for a Chinoy back then. Ng describes his family as traditional and conservative, so they didn’t exactly approve of his career path.
“My parents expected me to actually study hard, find a job, or at least do my own or continue with the family business, but that was never my intention, even as a kid. Growing up, I loved to play basketball, so that was initially my dream to become a basketball player. However, it didn’t happen then. I was playing a lot of video games as well, so my friends actually encouraged me. Since I have good psychomotor skills and analytical skills, they suggested to me that why don’t I just try to become a pilot? That’s how it all started.”
“[When] I told my parents, initially, of course, they weren’t supportive at all, but eventually they realized that I really love and have the passion to become a pilot.”
However, the challenges didn’t end once Ng secured the approval of his parents. Since aviation wasn’t a popular career choice for Chinoys, he didn’t know any pilots or anyone from the airline industry who could guide him.
Ng started out in Philippine Airlines as a customer relations assistant, which according to him was an enriching experience because it taught him to go above and beyond when it comes to serving passengers. “I’m a Chinoy, [so] I’m able to speak Mandarin, Fukien, [and] Cantonese quite well. So I was also the Chinese interpreter for the airport at that time, aside from doing check-ins and boardings.”
“I had one moment that there was a delayed flight. Passengers were furious, and [since] I was a customer relations assistant, my supervisor encouraged me to try to calm them down. But I did go the extra mile for them and even helped them book their hotels and wait for the transport that’s going to bring them to their hotel. They really appreciated that, and that was quite a memorable experience in my opinion, because I was quite new with the airline, but it’s very encouraging when you are able to solve problems for people,” Ng recalls.
After almost a year of serving as a ground staff, Ng applied for the PAL Flying School, and after he graduated, he started serving as the Second Officer, where he was mostly in charge of navigation and radios. He was then promoted as the First Officer for the Airbus 320, where he was finally able to do the take off and landings, and he eventually became the Captain.
“I actually learned quite a bit later in my career, when I was promoted to become a captain. It was way back in 2014, so before that, I didn’t realize the responsibility behind being a pilot is so big that you carry so many lives inside the cabin and you transport them to connect them with their families or even business travelers to make transactions happen, and even transporting goods all over the world or the supply chain. There’s a deeper purpose [to] becoming a pilot, which I really want the younger generations of pilots to realize earlier in their career.”
“When you realize the responsibility is really high, that’s the time that you prioritize, because in the past you might not think about your flight tomorrow. You might not be that disciplined to actually still have enough rest for your flight. But the moment I realized that, [it] immediately became my priority to make sure I’m always in good condition because I’m carrying so [many] lives behind me. And their families depend on us as pilots to deliver or to bring them to their destination safely.”
“When you’re a first officer, you look to the left [and] there’s your captain to guide you on what to do. But when you’re a captain, then you’re already seated on the left side. You look to the left and see yourself [on the window], so there’s no one to actually help you make decisions any more. You will be the ultimate decision maker of the flight,” Ng states.
Volunteerism Amidst Crisis
The airline industry was undoubtedly one of the hardest-hit industries since the pandemic began, but despite suffering a massive loss from the absence of tourists, it remained resilient and even played a vital role in combating COVID19.
“So with the pandemic, we saw that the airline industry is so important to transport medicine,vaccines, PPE’s, [and] face masks everywhere to save lives.”
“You’ll be surprised how much pilots and crew [were] willing to volunteer for flights just to bring our fellow Filipinos or balikbayans back home. We were able to mount so many repatriation flights even with the scare of the pandemic, so it was really [nice to] see that people care.”
Ng also adds that his father-in-law, Dr. Lucio Tan, the Chairman and CEO of Philippine Airlines, best demonstrated the importance of resiliency and compassion during the pandemic. “We’ve seen how resilient he has been as a person, especially during the pandemic. He single-handedly supported the airline [and] even funded [it] using his own money. That’s something the entire Philippine Airlines team is really proud of until today and very thankful for. So you can see a lot of compassion as well. He really cares for the employees of Philippine Airlines.”
As a captain, Ng might be the one who is making the decisions, but he still tries to include everyone in the decision-making process, whether they are board members, shareholders, or employees.
“So my brand of leadership is always encouraging a culture of transparency and engagement. I always encourage transparency because we are just humans. We all make mistakes, so I want them to be honest with their mistakes so that we can learn from them. Actually, it’s a good discovery for everyone, and that mistake should be shared with everyone to be able to not repeat the mistakes again in the future. So with that, you engage them more, [you] get suggestions from everyone, [and] if they’re part of the plan, they will surely believe in that plan and execute it well.”
“From my own perspective, [I lead] by example as well because the co-pilots and crew will move or act according to your leadership. I’m very serious about the job but I always try to understand where they are coming from because we all have problems outside work, right? So I always put myself in their shoes to understand each other and to understand each of them better. That’s why I don’t get mad easily,” Ng shares.
As for the future of Philippine Airlines, Ng says they will continue to be of service to the country even beyond the pandemic. “This is really a service for the country. We will make the Philippines proud through Philippine Airlines because it’s the first thing that people abroad can see when they want to travel to the Philippines.”
“We’ll promote tourism as well–one thing that is actually ongoing already. We’ll try to serve Filipino cuisine in flight to introduce Filipino cuisine to the world as well. And in terms of the direction, it’s really to differentiate [and] to show the entire world that Philippine Airlines is unique.”
“Digital transformation is also a big part of our plan because right now, as we know, the pandemic accelerated that. People have to learn new technology and innovations, [so] we’re currently improving a lot of our back end system, as well as our website and booking engines. Our promise to our passengers is really to make things easy for them, starting from when they book their flights all the way through their destination. by having a product that can serve them well, as well as the service of cabin crew and airport staff that will try to solve their problems, that will make their travel more seamless,” Ng says.
As a captain and as the COO of Philippine Airlines, Ng is a representative of the Philippines, so he considers himself more Filipino than Chinese. The same is true for many modern Chinoys. “It’s really diluted already, in my opinion, so even now I can see that a lot of Chinese can’t even speak Chinese anymore. They only speak English and Filipino. Even my kids can’t speak Chinese anymore. The more generations here in the Philippines, you actually add up to becoming more of a Filipino. When I ask my kids, what’s [their] citizenship, they would tell me they’re Filipino. [That’s] basically how I see it.”
“I think it’s really important to actually collaborate and build good relationships, like breaking a wall before in the past. However, today I can see that the wall [is] already broken, so we’re able to build culture together, the Chinese and the Filipino together,” Ng points out.
Tune in this Sunday, August 7, 8PM for Captain Stanley Ng’s full story on CNN Philippines (Free TV Channel 9, Sky Cable Channel 14, Cignal Channel 10). It will also simultaneously air on CNN Philippines’ webpage www.cnnphilippines.com. Find out more on Chinoy TV’s official website: www.chinoy.tv.