17-year-old pilot raising funds for education through world voyage

Published July 2, 2014
Seventeen-year-old American-born Pakistani Haris Suleman is on a tour of the world, that, too, in 30 days. — Shazia Hasan
Seventeen-year-old American-born Pakistani Haris Suleman is on a tour of the world, that, too, in 30 days. — Shazia Hasan

KARACHI: As the overcast skies over Karachi cleared somewhat, a tiny particle in the air started getting bigger and bigger. Soon it took the shape of a small single-engine plane that landed here at Karachi airport on Tuesday afternoon.

The pilot of the plane was no ordinary person. Seventeen-year-old American-born Pakistani Haris Suleman is on a tour of the world, that, too, in 30 days. He is flying with his father, Babar Suleman. After starting their journey from Plainfield, Indiana, the US, on June 19, the duo visited Canada, Iceland, England, Greece, Egypt and the UAE before reaching Pakistan.

Capts Haris and Babar Suleman pose with TCF children. -Photo by Shazia Hasan
Capts Haris and Babar Suleman pose with TCF children. -Photo by Shazia Hasan

“Only one-third of the journey is covered,” said Haris as they still have on their list Bangladesh, Indonesia, Australia, Fiji, American Samoa, Kiribati, Hawaii and California, which they intend to cover by July 20.

The Sulemans, who migrated to the US in the 1980s, have undertaken the challenge in a bid to raise money to help educate Pakistan’s poor children.

They are supporting The Citizen’s Foundation (TCF) which is celebrating opening its 1,000th school in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, they took off from Al Ain, the UAE, in the morning to reach Karachi in the afternoon.

The pilots said that so far they hadn’t faced many issues except for their stop in Egypt. “All airports in Egypt close after 8pm. We also wanted to see the pyramids for which we made changes to our schedule to stay there another day. But the pyramids were a bit of disappointment, as the city touches them,” said Babar, the father.

Another thing they did was to avoid Saudi Arabia. “I had heard many stories about the technical team at the airports there,” he added.

Happy to be in Pakistan. -Photo by Shazia Hasan
Happy to be in Pakistan. -Photo by Shazia Hasan

Haris who got his private pilot’s licence recently said he had been flying with his father since his childhood. “Dad has been showing me the ropes since I was eight years old but I got my private pilot’s licence only one-and-a-half months ago,” he said.

Since it is not recommended for single-engine planes to make ocean voyages, and since 60 per cent of the trip was over the oceans, including the Atlantic, Pacific and parts of the Indian Ocean, Haris and his father took a sea survival course to know what to do in the event of a mishap.

Still, Haris said he was a bit nervous when flying over the sea.

They have another major challenge coming up at the end of their tour when they will be flying their longest 13-hour journey from Hawaii to California. In order to be able to make the long voyage possible, the senior Suleman also had to fix an extra fuel tank in the plane.

About the plane, the young pilot said it was “a very good machine”. “Of course, some problems are expected with the hours of use but nothing that cannot be fixed,” he said.

Last year, 19-year-old pilot Ryan Campbell from Australia became the youngest person to fly a single-engine plane around the world in 70 days. But Ryan flew solo.

Haris has with him his dad, Babar Suleman, therefore he comes under a different category.

Haris said he was not very much interested in creating a record rather “we intend to raise US$1 million for TCF, half of which we already have done”.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2014

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