Paris, France – In the cockpit of an Air France Airbus 330, about an hour after takeoff, on a flight from Paris to Senegal, with the plane safely on auto-pilot, the pilot finishes studying the two daily portions of Chumash and Tanya. He then keys his mike: “Good morning! This is your Captain speaking. I hope you are enjoying your flight . . .”
Meet David Price, 47, who has the distinction of being the only Chabad commercial pilot in the world.
A native of Paris, Price’s initiation into the world of aviation began when he was just a child. Late one night, his father woke the six-year-old David to watch the first manned lunar landing. For years, the boy dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
Price’s initiation into the world of traditional Judaism happened later. He was eleven years old the first time he set foot in a synagogue. The year was 1974, and the Yom Kippur War was raging in the Middle East. The chilling news reports inspired Jews around the world, like Price’s mother, to show their solidarity with the Jewish people in Israel. Soon enough, the boy’s mother (his parents had divorced some years prior) began taking on an observant lifestyle, and decided to give her son a Jewish education, which she did, with the help of Chabad of Paris.
Price visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe twice as a young boy, first with his mother, and later as part of a group of teenagers traveling to the Rebbe. The visits were both memorable experiences, and made deep impressions on the young Price.
After graduating high school, David enrolled in flight school in Toulouse. Five years later he became a co-pilot, and ten years later – with two thousand hours of flying time under his belt – he earned his pilot’s wings.
For the last ten years Price has been a transatlantic commercial pilot, flying long routes, which give him, in his own words, “plenty of time to marvel at Hashem’s creation.”
A father of three, Price often takes his wife and daughters on trips to the U.S., and his family enjoys seeing him seated at the controls.
It’s not always easy to be an observant pilot, says Price, who admits he must constantly struggle for his religious rights. French law gives pilots many days off and Price uses to them all for Shabbos and Jewish holidays. Even so, he is always careful to check and make sure his isn’t mistakenly assigned a flight that runs into Shabbos. He also takes care to avoid flight assignments that are scheduled for take-off before ten o’clock in the morning, freeing him up to conduct his morning prayers on the ground.
His is not a practical, or ideal choice of a career for an observant Jew, he concedes. But spending much of his time in the skies, he has plenty of opportunity to ponder matters spiritual and existential.
Interviewed during the worst travel disruptions when the volcanic ash cloud recently paralyzed European air travel, the Chasidic pilot says the situation served as a useful reminder to him:
“An eruption of this magnitude has not occurred for many tens of years,” he said.“I have no doubt that this is a sign from Heaven, to teach us not to take the fact that the skies are open to us for granted.”
“Besides, an amazing thing happened as a result of the volcano,” the Shabbos-observant pilot says, unable to resist the thought. “Thousands of Jews did not fly on Shabbos . . .”