Philip Donlay InterView

Valkor: Greetings Mr. Donlay and welcome to The Other View, let’s start things off for the readers at home by letting them get to know you who you are, where you are from, how long have you been a pilot?

Philip: Hello. I guess the proper introduction would be that I’m originally from Wichita Kansas, though I’ve lived in many places over my career. Colorado, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Saudi Arabia and now I live in Minnesota. I’ve been a licensed pilot for nearly 34 years and have been flying professionally for 32 of those years.


Valkor: What got you started writing?

Philip: When I was a junior in high school, I signed up for a journalism class that published the school newspaper. I’d heard that a lot of girls took that particular class, so I decided that it might be a good way to hang out with them. I loved the class and I’ve been writing ever since.


Valkor: How long did it take you to write the first book, Category Five? Code Black?

Philip: My first book is in a drawer somewhere. It took three years to write and it’s dreadful. Category Five was the first book to be published and it took perhaps a year. Code Black took slightly less. Hopefully that’s a sign that I’m getting better.


Valkor: How did the release of Category Five go? I’m assuming it went well enough for you to release Code Black but your feelings on the event of your first novel?

Philip: Seeing my first novel on the shelf of a bookstore was an amazing experience. My aviation success came rather early in my life, and I’d expected the same sort of immediate results with my writing. (Patience is not one of my virtues.) But it took nearly eight years from when I decided to write a novel, to actually see it on the shelf. Relief, mixed with a huge sense of accomplishment is what I remember most.


Valkor: What prompted you to write Code Black?

Philip: I grew up reading The High and the Mighty, and Fate is the Hunter. Both books were written by Ernest K. Gann. He fueled the fires for both of my passions: Flying and writing. Code Black is a tip of my hat to his legacy.


Valkor: Since both books are related, where did you get your ideas/inspirations about the characters and stories? Have you gotten ideas from other pilots, flight attendants, or other airline employees?

Philip: Like most writers I’m always in the “what if?” frame of mind. I read about aviation disasters and near-disasters, and then that, what if part starts mixing it up and pretty soon I have a thriller that’s screaming to be written. The plots of my books all have a firm basis in reality, which I think serves the overall storyline very well.


Valkor: How are your family and friends handling your new found success?

Philip: My family and close friends know that I haven’t changed. I still have the same job I’ve had for 27 years—I’m the same guy I was before my books came out. The only difference is that my hobby is now a second career and I have new demands on my time, but overall everyone has been great, very supportive.


Valkor: Have you thought about or have you been approached for a film version for either Category Five or Code Black?

Philip: Hollywood passed on Category Five, but I did option the film rights to Code Black and I was given the opportunity to write the first screenplay. I’m hoping that the release of the book will perhaps move that process forward from the initial development stage.


Valkor: Is there a third book and how far along are you to completion?

Philip: Yes, there is a third book, as yet untitled. It’s nearly complete and we’re looking at a fall 2008 release. I have plans for at least four more Donovan Nash thrillers.


Valkor: As a pilot I am sure that when you’re delayed for a flight, you sometimes wait by the gate, do people approach you for info. What is the strangest, scariest, and or nicest compliment or complaint you have received?

Philip: Since I fly a private jet for a fortune 500 company, I’m not at the main terminal with the general flying public. But the strangest experience concerning my flying/writing career took place a couple of years ago after surgery. I was in the recovery room just waking up from the anesthesia, and a nurse was leaning over me and the first thing she said was: “Are you the guy who wrote Category Five?” That blew my mind. (Hey isn’t that how Misery Started??)


Valkor: I find it funny when I fly and I’m delayed my only source of information comes from websites or CNN, do you think the airline industry should do more to keep folks informed of delays and exactly why it is delayed?

Philip: The airline industry is a mess, though I will admit that they’re the reason I have a flying job in the private sector. Of course they should do far more to keep people in the loop, instead they hold passengers hostage, flat out lie to them at times, and it’s not getting any better. I challenge anyone to show me another industry that has as much ambivalence, if not straight out contempt, for its employees and customers. There was a recent consumer survey published by a University and the IRS scored higher that the airlines.


Valkor: Recently President Bush released his plan to handle air traffic albeit just for the holiday season, do you think his plan will hold up and what should be done in the long run?

Philip: The long run solutions will sort themselves out as a matter of economics. There are going to be a surge of airline mergers that will hopefully stop the madness of scheduling 150 departures an hour from an airport that can only handle 80.


Valkor: Code Black discusses an air collision, how close to reality is your story and have you ever been involved in any close calls?

Philip: Years ago, I had a near miss at 37,000 feet. We saw the Boeing 727 at the last second and climbed over the top of him. We missed him by less than 200 feet. It was ruled an error by the air traffic controller. That event shaped Code Black.


Valkor: Do you also think that a similar issue, one that caused the whole mess in Code Black, the guy getting electrocuted that caused the power outage, which then caused the two planes to scrape can happen in reality.


Philip: It’s not only possible, it’s happened. A few months ago a communications breakdown at Memphis Center left 100,000 square miles of airspace without proper radio coverage. The controllers on duty resorted to cell phones to try and talk to neighboring Centers to establish contact with the aircraft. In Code Black I invented an accident, but in reality it took far less to end up with the same result.


Valkor: A midair collision is a scary thought, what can the airlines, the FAA, DOT, or even Congress do to ensure that such incidents don’t happen?

Philip: First and foremost, people need to understand that the system works. We have sophisticated onboard systems that will keep two airplanes from colliding. The skies are safer now than ever before—as long as everything works.


Valkor: Could you take a guess or quote actual numbers just how many near misses have there been in within this year alone. (I recall a few myself that was shown on the local news and CNN).

Philip: As I mentioned, the system is designed to keep all the airplanes apart. Air traffic control is required to keep airplanes separated by a thousand feet vertically and five miles horizontally. The media will report a near-miss as two planes passing at anything less that that, say within four miles—so the actual danger is far less than one might be led to believe.


Valkor: Believe it or not there are many a folks out there who do not believe the skies are as crowded as they are which I’ve seen first hand. Even with the media showing maps and graphs is there anything more that can be done to teach people, especially those who are flying on the day just how crowded the skies are and that it isn’t worth the risk to try to rush to get into the skies.

Philips: There are parts of the airspace system that are certainly crowded. Picture the flight corridor from Miami to Boston—not unlike the interstate highway between two major cities, there is a lot of traffic. But volume doesn’t equate to danger. There is a lot of sky out there and the men and women who separate all of those planes each and every day do a fantastic job. It’s usually events like bad weather that slow the system down. If the pilot doesn’t want to go—YOU don’t want to go. Relax and read a book. (*cough*codeblack*cough*)


Valkor: I’m gonna lighten things up a bit with my final few questions; I know this is your second book but do you have ritual that you do when you complete your books?

Philip: Yeah, I’m what would be described as a binge writer. I’ll get four or five days where I can write and I completely immerse myself in the story. I’ll write 12-14 hours a day only stopping to eat and sleep. At the end I emerge unshaven with what’s been called a thousand yard stare. I’m exhausted afterwards, but it works.


Valkor: I know you must have been to quite a few cities on this great big Earth of ours, is there one spot you enjoy going back to consistently, basically do you have a favorite spot?

Philip: It’s been the same two places for the last twenty five years. Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Monterrey, California. If I’m lucky I’ll get to live in one of those places someday.


Valkor: In all your travels what has to be the weirdest, strangest, thing you’ve ever laid eyes on?

Philip: I was standing in the terminal in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. I was in my twenties, not long after leaving home to go fly for a Sheik. The prayer horns sounded and the people around me pulled out their prayer rugs and bowed toward Mecca. I was the only Westerner that I could see, surrounded by a sea of genuflecting Muslims. I certainly wasn’t in Kansas anymore.


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