Prince Philipfamously gave up a promising naval career to be at the Queen’s side – but the Dutch King Willem-Alexander has carried on co-piloting KLM passenger planes as often as twice a month.
According to an interview he gave to the Dutch Telegraaf paper, to celebrate his wife Queen Máxima’s birthday on Wednesday, flying through the clouds leaves worldly cares behind, so he has quietly carried on.
He welcomes customers on board “on behalf of the captain and crew” – rather than revealing his true identity – and said he is rarely recognised in pilot’s uniform anyway.
Willem-Alexander became Europe’s youngest king when Dutch Queen Beatrix abdicated in 2013, in a ceremony attended by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
It was known that he had been a “guest pilot” before being crowned to keep up his pilot’s licence on the Fokker 70 aircraft, and the Dutch public information service announced in 2013 that he planned to maintain this status “for as long as possible”.
But it was big news for the Netherland’s popular paper, the tabloid Telegraaf, that their king was co-piloting KLM planes twice a month – most recently flying to Norway earlier this week with Captain Maarten Putman.
“I think flying is just amazing,” the king told the Dutch paper, on his boyhood dream. “You can’t take your day-to-day problems with you into the air. You can completely switch off and focus on something else. That, for me, is the most relaxing thing about flying.”
He added that before the 9/11 attacks in 2001, when the cockpit door was open, people would sometimes spot him and snap a picture, while even now “some people recognise my voice on the call in flight”.
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But, he said, after 21 years of piloting for Martinair and then KLM Cityhopper’s service, he is retraining to fly the KLM Boeing 737 as the Fokker 70 is being retired.
Captain Putman, who flies with the king frequently, told the Telegraaf: “When we put on our KLM uniform, I’m in command and the King is the co-pilot. For the relatively few hours he flies, he is always very sharp.”
And, come the summer – assuming he passes his exams with flying colours – this king hopes to carry on serving his people from behind the joystick.