Did You Know The Dutch King Is A KLM Pilot?

Everybody needs a hobby, a way to relax and unwind. For the King of the Netherlands, this means taking to the skies. He may be busy being a monarch for over 17 million Dutch citizens and father to 3 children, but when he needs a time-out, King Willem-Alexander is a guest pilot for commercial airline KLM and has been for over 20 years.

KLM Boeing 737 over Dutch coast
When he’s not busy being king, Willem-Alexander flies planes for KLM. Photo: KLM

Qualifications

It is well-known that King Willem-Alexander was presented with his military pilot’s license as a member of the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1994. However, many do not know that the king also has his Private Pilot’s Licence, Second Class, and his Commercial Pilot’s Licence (with an Instrument Rating).

The Dutch king qualified for his private flying license in 1985 and followed it two years later with his commercial license. In 1989 he obtained an additional license to fly multi-engine jet aircraft and earned his Airline Transport Pilot Licence in 2001.

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Before flying commercial flights with KLM, the King flew cargo flights for Dutch airline Martinair.

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A guest pilot for KLM

The official website for the Dutch monarchy explains that “In order to keep in practice, he occasionally flies as a guest pilot for KLM Cityhopper.” His majesty initially trained to fly Fokker 70 aircraft. When the airline began to phase out the Fokkers, the king retrained to pilot the newer Boeing 737 aircraft. He qualified in June 2017 and continues to fly the 737 as a guest pilot and co-pilot with the airline.

Dutch airline KLM flies its last Fokker aircraft
All the KLM Fokker aircraft have now been retired. Photo: KLM

Why flying?

According to the king, his hobby is a perfect escape from royal duties, in an interview reported by the Guardian newspaper the king said,

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“You have an aircraft, passengers and crew. You have responsibility for them, you can’t take your problems from the ground into the skies. You can completely disengage and concentrate on something else. That, for me, is the most relaxing part of flying.”

Have you been on one of his flights?

Is it possible that the king has captained one of the KLM flights you’ve been on? Well, perhaps! Until last year the King flew regularly for the airline, at least twice a month. His hobby had become more like a second job (as if being king was not enough).

As cockpits are no longer open to passengers since the tragic 9/11 events, it is very unlikely that the king would be recognized. On flights before 2001, the King said that anyone who did come into the cockpit didn’t recognize him anyway and those who did were “surprised that I was sitting there”.

King Willem-Alexander at his coronation in 2013
King Willem-Alexander at his coronation in 2013. Photo: Henk Monster via Wikimedia

In an interview reported by the Washington Post, the king made it clear that he did not mention his name when giving announcements; “I can always say that I wish everyone a heartfelt welcome in the name of the captain and the crew,” he said. “I don’t have to say my own name. But most of the people don’t listen anyway.”

So few people recognize him when he is in KLM uniform and cap that he also rarely gets recognized as he walks to the aircraft through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Time to retire

Although the king announced he was retiring from his regular flights in 2017, there is a chance he is still flying. The new official government aircraft, a Boeing 737-700 business jet with the wings of a 737-800, was delivered in July of this year. The king is trained to fly the aircraft so perhaps he may be flying himself to his next state visit.

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Peter

Unfortunately, the fact that the King is a 737 NG pilot — and that he has to regularly fly a certain number of hours in order to maintain his pilot’s license — limited the choice of airframe when the government/royal jet was recently replaced (it was previously a Fokker). One would think that a European plane would have been more appropriate for a European head of state…but, instead, it would appear that the choice was guided by the King’s hobby…

Frank

Someone has been watching Half as Interesting on Youtube, I see. Sam does a good job over there, along with Wendover

JM1951

He piloted a journey of mine CWL-AMS a few years ago in an F-70

Anton

One of my old flight instructors was also an instructor at KLM who did the king’s check rides on the Fokker 70 with him. Apparently the king is/was not a natural and needed a lot of extra flying to come up to standard. All paid for by the Dutch tax payer of course. The story of him not being recognized walking through the airport before the flight is nonsense. This is just some PR propaganda to give the people the idea he is “a normal guy”. IN real life he is is always brought to the aircraft separated from the… Read more »