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"9/11 persuades local pilot to quit flying Saudi Arabian royalty"

Sunday, November 3, 2002

Getting Around: 9/11 persuades local pilot to quit flying Saudi Arabian
By Joe Grata
The Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Carl Kobosky's wife, Kathleen, was
walking the family dog in their neighborhood 25 miles south of
Pittsburgh when she heard the news on her radio headphones -- a plane
had crashed into the World Trade Center.

She hurried home to tell her husband and switch on the TV in time to
watch as another plane struck the second of the twin towers in lower

Like everyone else, "We sat there in disbelief," Carl Kobosky said.

At the time, Kobosky's job was piloting a customized Boeing 727 that can
rival security-heavy, opulently furnished Air Force One in many ways.
Some of the richest and most powerful people in the world, the royal
family of Saudi Arabia, were his passengers, along with guests that
Kobosky isn't permitted to identify.

The day after the attacks, Kobosky called the Saudi Ministry of
Aviation, for whom he had been working for two years. He quit.

His daughter, Debra, a US Airways flight attendant, was getting married
in several days. His wife and his mother feared for his safety in the
aftermath of the unprecedented terrorism.

Although Kobosky never experienced a security problem during his time
working for the Saudis, he was aware of the possibilities.

"I flew to and stayed in many Arab cities around the world," he said.
"Americans clearly weren't welcome in some of them. Hotels where I
stayed were first class, but they were potential terrorist targets. I
resigned after 9/11 as much out of not taking a chance with my life as I
did as an act of patriotism."

Kobosky, 61, whose interest in flying was piqued by building model
planes as a kid, has logged more than 21,000 hours of international
commercial flying since 1965. That's equivalent to spending 2 1/2 years
of your life in Earth's atmosphere.

Some of his 13 original flight school classmates have been hijacked, one
of them twice. Although the skies have been mostly friendly to him,
Kobosky has flirted with danger, too, as a commercial pilot.

During the Six Day War in the Middle East, he flew classified cargo to
Tel Aviv, Israel, communicating with air traffic controllers in secret
codes and walking into a bullet-riddled terminal still fresh with blood.

After an uprising, he piloted the first civilian plane into El Salvador,
where rebel soldiers demanded bribes before workers were allowed to
unload CARE relief packages from his cargo hold.

"The worst people I had to deal with in all these years were kooks who
had too much to drink," Kobosky said. When he majored in wildlife
management at Penn State University, unruly airline passengers weren't
what he had in mind.

His career in air transportation has been fulfilling, including 25 years
with Trans World Airlines and four years with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines,
when he and his wife lived most of their time in Amsterdam. He has flown
up to 14 hours nonstop to destinations such as Taipei, Taiwan; Cairo,
Egypt; Jakarta, Indonesia; Tehran, Iran; Bangkok, Thailand; Tokyo; and
Islamabad, Pakistan.

But if you're like me, you are intrigued by the idea of flying oil
sheiks around the world.

I mean, how does one get such a job? What's it like? How do they treat

A national magazine wanted to know, but Kobosky turned down the
interview. My secret? I've known Kobosky for 40 years.

Anyhow, a pilot friend called the semi-retired Kobosky in 1999, asking
him for a favor by going to Paris for a month as standby for a pilot who
had a recent heart problem. "He couldn't give me information about the
job, but he said I would enjoy the flying."

After several more pleas from his friend, Kobosky took what he thought
would be a temporary assignment, based in Paris. Instead, he was
dispatched to Jidda, Saudi Arabia, for tests and interviews with the
Saudi Ministry of Aviation.

>From there, he went to Cairo, where he stayed not one month but three.
Then he was working permanently, two months on, one month off, flying to
capitals all over the world, and Las Vegas, too, where entire wings of
casinos are emptied when the royal family comes to gamble.

Kobosky spent summers on standby in either Nice, France, or Paris, where
the Saudis maintain special residences. 

He spent the most time in Riyadh or Jidda in Saudi Arabia, where he was
on 24-hour call. His wife had to stay at home; foreign women are not
usually welcome.

"The people I flew were very nice people," Kobosky said. "Not once in
two years did I have a problem with anyone."

As captain, protocol required him to stand at the bottom of the stairs
to welcome all people aboard. "To the highest member of the royal
family, each would shake my hand and say a greeting. Except for some
undersecretaries, none came into the cockpit or requested special

The Boeing 727, decorated with gold leaf on the outside, is lavished
with gold on the inside as well, from threads woven into the carpet and
linens to the gold sink, toilet and fixtures in the plush "royal
bathroom." Talk about a golden throne! 

The cost of a single, specially embossed water glass aboard his
excellency's plane would pay for one week's lodging for the first-class
hotels where Kobosky stayed on standby for weeks at a time. 

The aircraft is configured to carry up to 48 passengers, including a
special contingent of 30 bodyguards and security personnel in the rear,
two full-time physicians, a flight attendant and handmaidens who
accompany the royal family. 

When it comes to food, nothing but the best is served.

The Saudi plane is outfitted with equipment not found on your everyday
jet, such as multiple -- not just one -- world phone, global positioning
satellite and international navigation and flight management systems.

A vertical speed indicator once had a minor malfunction. Kobosky told
one of the king's undersecretaries not to be concerned; the cockpit
contained an extra one.

"He asked me, 'What does a new one cost?' and I told him about $40,000,"
Kobosky said. "He didn't hesitate. 'Get two.' "

When you have oil, money is not a problem.


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