AS Proflight Zambia prepares to launch its latest route – connecting Ndola and Johannesburg – one of its longest-serving pilots has been reflecting on the airline’s strong connections with the Copperbelt.
The airline took delivery of its first 18-seat Jetstream 32 turboprop aircraft in June 2005 and started scheduled flights to the Copperbelt a month later.
Captain Preller Kopolo was one of just three pilots flying the aircraft in the early days, along with Captain Ken Kabungo and First Officer Mark Barrett. All three are still with Proflight and Capt. Preller is now a Captain on the airline’s CRJ jet as well as and Bombardier Fleet Manager.
Since then, Proflight has been servicing the Copperbelt with at least six daily flights and the route has grown from using an 18-seat Jetstream 32, which is no longer in service, to the 29-seat Jetstream 41, 50-seat CRJ, and the 56-seat Dash 8.
Shortly after commencing schedule flights to Ndola Proflight commenced three-times-weekly scheduled flights between Ndola and Solwezi, and these flights will be timed to connect with the Johannesburg flights.
It is an exciting time for Capt. Kopolo, who is one of Zambia’s most experienced pilots, with 40 years of flying time under his belt, having flown around the world with Zambia Airways’ Boeing 737 to New York, London, Bombay, Rome ad Cairo in the 1980s.
“Johannesburg is such a route that has been conveniently timed for flyers not only to reach Johannesburg early but to be able to connect and catch many other flights to the globe by mid-day,” says Capt. Kopolo.
“The local schedules to Ndola are also very convenient for business people, family or those flying there for a day and vice versa. The first take-off is 06:30 into Ndola from Lusaka, so by 07:15 am the passenger is already in the Copperbelt carry out their business. We actually have lawyers who fly in the morning and go to work in Ndola and then fly back to Lusaka with the last flight around 7 pm in the evening.”
The new route, which begins on September 2, 2019, will link the Copperbelt mining and industry hub with South Africa’s main business centre with three-times-a-week service on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Return fares will start from K4,800, subject to exchange rate fluctuations.
P0040 will depart from Ndola’s Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport at 08:05hrs and arrive at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport at 10:35hrs. The return flight will depart from Johannesburg at 11:40hrs and arrive back in Ndola at 14:10hrs.
Capt. Kopolo was born on October 26, 1960, in Lusaka. During his childhood, he moved a lot with his family as his father was a civil servant – predominantly a teacher.
He started his primary education at Sesheke primary in Western Province when his father was posted there between 1967 and 1970 and later moved to Lusaka after his father was transferred to become the head Teacher at Kamwala Secondary before completing his secondary education at Hill Crest in Livingstone.
After compulsory army training in Ndola, his interest in aviation developed because of his cousin who was a pilot with Zambia Airways.
“My parents could not afford to sponsor him to study aviation. Luckily, I trained under a comprehensive programme with the then Zambia Airways in the 1970s, sponsored by the government.”
Coming straight from six months of army training at the age of 19, Capt. Kopolo got his big break that secured his future in aviation: “In October 1979 I was sent for training by the Zambian government to England at the British Airways-owned flying school in Southampton called Hamble College of Air Training. I still remember the day because it was my birthday on 26th October.”
“In our time the government had programmes to train and sponsor Zambians in aviation. I am very happy that Proflight as a privately-owned Zambian airline has been investing on training more aviators through its training and skills upgrade programs.”
On 8th April 1981, Capt. Kopolo graduated with his commercial pilot’s licence.
Work as an aviator
“I came back from training and joined Zambia Airways as an engineer on the Boeing 707. This is when I meet Capt. Tony Irwin – now Proflight CEO – flying as the First Officer on the Boeing 707.”
From being the Boeing 707 engineer, Capt. Kopolo moved on to fly on the Twin Otter Canadian aircraft as First Officer. He then moved to the ATR 42 aircraft after completing a 10-month course in Ethiopia, and later flew the Boeing 737 aircraft as First Officer until the airline’s closure.
Capt. Kopolo reflected: “At some point, Zambia was actually the leading country in aviation in Southern Africa. We used to fly to New York, Rome, London, Bombay; we were all over the world. We actually used to out-perform British Airways on the London routes.”
After the closure of Zambia Airways, he spent four years at Aero Zambia, then went to Kenya Airways and lived in Nairobi, leaving his family back in Zambia. He joined Proflight in 2005 while flying with Executive Airlines, and from 2006 he continued to do freelance flying with Proflight while he worked for Executive Airlines. He subsequently resumed full-time flying duties with Proflight in April 2016.
“I have enjoyed my years of flying in my career despite missing some of the great milestones in my wife, children and family.”
“I am married; I have been married for 33 years now with three children. From the aviation point of view especially in the time back when I used to fly on very long flights, I would be away from home for days. I missed out a lot of milestones in my family’s life: anniversaries, birthdays, ceremonies and so forth.”
Working with Proflight
Today, Capt. Kopolo continues to fly with Proflight.
“Proflight started off as a charter company, then into domestic operations and into regional destinations. The airline has been growing and working steadily over the years.”
“One of the things I love is the company’s consistency in its vision and plan. Currently, it’s the leading company in training and grooming the next generation of aviators in Zambia.”
The future of Zambian Aviation
“Since our group graduated in the 1980s, there has been no government programme sponsoring aviation,” he said.
“With the few young people who have come through, I have been able to impart my knowledge and experience. I encourage the youngsters hoping to secure their career, as I did during my teenage days, to be disciplined, focused and healthy. Because I listened, learned, and focused 40 years past, I have achieved great milestones and flown far in my career.”