Uğur Cebeci

Uğur Cebeci has been aviation editor of the daily Hürriyet for twelve years. Cebeci, who has taken his trademark ‘Cockpit’ column on television as well, is one of the first names that springs to mind at the mention of aviation in Turkey.

Uğur Cebeci was a chemical engineering student when he saw an ad in a newspaper. “If you want to be a reporter,” said the ad, “write to this post office box.” He applied without even knowing which paper it was and was one of four selected from among three thousand applicants. He started working at Hürriyet, one of Turkey’s highest circulation dailies, and has been there for the last twelve years. Says Cebeci of journalism: “To my mind, journalism, being a correspondent especially, is one of the best professions in the world. It makes a good person even better. It’s an extraordinary job. It develops you at a speed you wouldn’t know was there in your chromosomes. You strive for perfection. It shapes your personal life. It makes you resourceful. It beats you down and makes you stronger. It makes you indomitable.”

When did you first get interested in aviation? How did what started out as a hobby become a job?
I spent my childhood in Samsun. There was an airport which is no longer used today. Propeller Fokker F-27’s used to land there. I used to stand on the shore and watch them approach, landing and taking off. It was great fun. But it set a bad example because around that time I also started jumping from the second story of the house my Dad built by spreading my arms out and throwing myself down on a sand dune. I can’t tell you how great it felt when my feet left the ground. My interest in aviation started with that crazy desire to fly and then spread to aeronautical engineering and aircraft design. It was at the beginning of the 1980’s, I think, that I wrote a letter to Boeing. Three or four weeks later they invited me.

I went Seattle and saw how an airplane is manufactured from start to finish. I was interested in every phase of the production process. Flying at last, so to speak!

You’ve flown in everything that can fly. You were one of the first passengers on the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane.
Yes, I’ve flown on everything that can become airborne, from hang gliders and single-engine planes to the Concorde and business jets. I’ve put in hundreds of thousands of miles. When I go up, I feel more at peace than when I’m on the ground. You know, when they announce, “We’re descending to land in New York City”, well, that’s the saddest moment of all for me. I want it never to end.

You were going to tell us about flying on the Airbus A 380.
I started following the A380 when it was just entering the project phase. I don’t know how many times I went to the company headquarters in Toulouse to monitor this project which started out as the ‘A3XX'. I’ve never been put off by the idea of an air ship. I’ve always believed in the power of technology. My first flight on the A380 was from Toulouse. The second time, I flew Frankfurt-Washington, D.C. Becoming airborne in a plane with a maximum takeoff weight of  560 tons is both fun and scary. Gravity is one of nature’s most powerful forces. We boarded the A380 at Frankfurt. The plane became airborne after a long run. In the cockpit the test pilot was maneuvering it with a huge ‘mouse'. He had the plane’s whole enormous size and strength under the palm of his hand. The A380 cockpit is equipped with the most advanced aviation technology of the last thirty years. Even in turbulence the plane had a proud sway. It had perfect maneuverability out of keeping with its giant body, powerful engines and ungainly appearance. I would have liked it to keep going forever and never to land.

You have invented a trademark: Cockpit. A first in Turkey. How did this come about?
My interest overlapped with that of Ertuğrul Özkök, the editor of Hürriyet. The proposal to do an aviation page came from Özkök. At the end of the first week everybody was saying, “What’s he going to find to write next week?” But the Cockpit page has appeared in Hürriyet every Sunday for exactly twelve years now. And the Cockpit program has been broadcast on Channel D every two weeks for eleven years.

Your hobby has brought you recognition.
Yes. I’m currently General Manager of Doğan News Agency, and I derive incredible pleasure from that. I was just saying to the Human Resources department, “When we hire a reporter, let’s not work with anybody who doesn’t have a hobby.”  Hobbies nurture people. They expand their horizons and elevate them. They make him a better person. Cockpit is not a job that keeps me solvent. It’s an enthusiasm I share with others. A hobby. But also a way of life...

You’ve also followed the development of Turkish Airlines very closely. Where do you see it today?
I’ve always said that “Turkish Airlines is Turkey’s number  one trademark”. I believe this and I say it with pride. We’ve had a large number of international firms in Turkey, but Turkish Airlines has always been number one. It has brought us in contact with every part of the world and introduced advanced technologies in Turkey. It has become an incredible manpower center training flawless technicians. Building an A340 cabin is a routine job nowadays. But taking one apart and putting it back together again, and doing it flawlessly outside the factory -  Turkish Technic Inc. has achieved that capability in my opinion. Turkish Airlines is now training bright and shining young persons at its own school that it set up itself. These pilots are Turkey’s greatest asset. Our cabin supervisors are past masters at combining traditional Turkish hospitality with the training they receive. People of different nationalities work for Turkish Airlines at different times all over the world. This alone is reason for excitement.

You have experienced all of Turkish Airlines’ ‘firsts'. Which one thrilled you the most?
Naturally, when the first Airbus A310 was purchased, I was the only civilian in the whole cabin on the test flight that was made from Hamburg MBB to Toulouse. I spent two days with the test pilots, even sharing the same food. I saw how they took the plane up to 41,000 feet and
de-pressurized the cabin. When it was over we landed on a runway and I went to my hotel. In the morning the French police came and found me at breakfast. “Welcome to France!” they said. It seems I had crossed the border without going through passport control! I handed over my passport and they stamped it between the breakfast plates. We all had a good laugh.