On Wednesday, the reigning royal of the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander, revealed to a Dutch newspaper that he had been flying as a co-pilot for a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch Airlines, otherwise known as KLM, for more than 21 years. And before that, he’d been piloting aircraft for another Dutch carrier, Martinair.
Fifty-year-old King Willem-Alexander, the first male Dutch king in 123 years, ascended to the throne in 2013 when Queen Beatrix, his mother, decided to abdicate and retire at the age of 75.
The King told De Telegraaf that he had been flying at least twice a month when he took up the seat of the co-pilot on short-haul KLM flights within Europe. The aircraft he’s most familiar with, the Fokker 70, is being retired from KLM service, and so the king has been training to become a certified pilot for the Boeing 737 range that will be added to the KLM subsidiary fleet.
Most royals have incredibly busy schedules, filled with meetings, opening ceremonies, state banquets, hosting political leaders, and much more. But for King Willem-Alexander, these duties aren’t particularly cumbersome, as he manages to de-stress twice a month by taking to the skies as a KLM pilot.
“For me the most important thing is that I have a hobby for which I need to concentrate completely. You have an airplane, passengers and a crew. You carry responsibility for that. You cannot take your problems from the ground with you in the sky. You can for a brief moment disconnect and concentrate on something else. That is the biggest relaxation of flying to me.”
'This is your Royal Highness speaking' pic.twitter.com/koDBlHWqa8
— Royal Dutch Airlines (@KLM) May 17, 2017
After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, airline regulations became much stricter. As a result, the door to the cockpit on any commercial aircraft must be locked at all times. This means that King Willem-Alexander enjoys a great deal of anonymity as he carries his subjects — KLM passengers — from one destination to another.
“Before 11 September, the cockpit door was open. People regularly came to have a look and thought it was nice or surprising that I was sitting there.”
The king admits that he does make pilot announcements over the aircraft intercom, however, for obvious reasons, he never identifies himself.
“The advantage is that I can always say that I wish everyone a heartfelt welcome in the name of the captain and the crew. So I don’t have to say my own name. But most of the people don’t listen anyway.”
The king of the Netherlands isn’t the only royal that fancies himself a pilot.
The current heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, is also a qualified pilot and seems to have inspired his sons to follow in his footsteps. Prince Harry famously flew Apache helicopters while fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, describing his position as an Apache pilot as “the best experience ever.” However, this prince won’t be returning to the Army as a pilot, preferring to focus his attentions on helping wounded soldiers to recover on home soil instead.
Harry’s brother, Prince William Duke of Cambridge, spent more than seven years as an officer and pilot in the British military. The prince had lived and served in isolation on Anglesey Island off the coast of Wales. Like his brother, he mainly acted as a helicopter pilot on search-and-rescue missions.
The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, is also one of the few royals who is able to pilot an aircraft. However, Sultan Bolkiah prefers the bigger machines and often flies his very own royal Boeing 747 Jumbo jet to official meetings around the world.
[Featured Image by Peter Dejong/AP Images]