When did you know you wanted to be an airline pilot?
It’s a cliche, but on a family holiday to Mauritius, when I was 6 or 7, we got the opportunity to visit the flight deck mid flight. It was a 737-200 classic, and I remember just thinking how cool that was.
When and where did you first learn to fly?
My access to flying first began through the Air Cadets at secondary school. I was in my early teens, perhaps 14 or 15, and it was through air experience flights hosted at RAF Wyton. A few times each year we would get the opportunity to have 30 minutes in the Grob 115 tutor, at the time the primary RAF training aircraft for basic flight training. Subsequently to that, gliding scholarships through the Air Cadets and finally 12 hrs of powered flying through the RAF cadet flying scholarship. Again all completely free.
What is your favourite thing about being an airline pilot?
Setting take off thrust!
What challenges did you overcome on your journey to becoming an airline pilot?
So many of them, it is impossible to state all of them. I guess, being open minded and being flexible to an ever changing plan or circumstances is key. Funnily enough, some of the biggest lessons I learned that helped me land my first airline job were gained very far away from flying or the airline industry. To give you an idea, this is my journey.
After studying Aerospace Engineering at university in 2008, the airline industry was not in a good place and jobs were very scarce. I could not afford an integrated program, but at the same time I was immensely lucky to land an internship and subsequently a graduate engineering position with a top oil and gas company. Just before the end of university I was also lucky enough to win a PPL scholarship with the Guild of Airline Pilots (now The Honorary Company of Air Pilots). I knew I wanted to be an airline pilot eventually, so with my PPL in hand, I had in mind that whilst working I could hopefully start building my hours and go from there. I flew whenever I could but some times a few years would go by without any flying - life takes over, buying a house, etc…
Fast forward to 2016 and the collapse of the oil price is in full swing. My very good job was at risk of redundancy. Thankfully I survived the cut but many of my colleagues and close friends did not. That played a key part in giving me the kick I needed to get going. I was not sure what to do next, but knew I needed to come up with a different plan, so I started saving aggressively for a year or so with the hope of opening up some options. Then one evening, I was browsing online and an old friend from university (now a captain on the A320) said his company was recruiting for their MPL program and crucially, the company would assist with ‘guaranteeing’ the finance for good candidates. This I felt addressed two of the earlier barriers for me; huge financial outlay and no guarantee of a job, so it was nice to see the airline industry was addressing these issues.
I applied and did really well in the assessment but ultimately I wasn’t successful, but I came away feeling really buoyed by the application and assessment process as I had gone really far, and although I wasn’t successful, I know I was not far away and with some prep I could do it. That gave me a lot of confidence. I also realised that although I didn’t get onto the MPL program, I was not a great distance away from doing it myself for much less cost. I had a PPL & 86hrs so I calculated that I could probably get myself to CPL/IR + MCC at a fraction of what the MPL would have cost (and could do it much quicker from the comfort of my own home, not fly half way across the world to New Zealand or USA).
Soon after, I enrolled with CATS aviation for my ground school distance learning. Working full time, I had to do my studying and flying around my job. Being modular and working 9-5, it was important to get into a rhythm and stick to it, particularly for the ground school. Everyone is different and works differently but for me I found I’m at my best in the early hours of the morning and would typically start my day at 5ish (sometime slightly earlier, sometimes later!) but managed to get a good 3 hours of solid study in each day before work. If I could muster the energy, I would do another hour or so in the evening after work, then early night for bed. At weekends I would build my hours and subsequently progress my CPL and IR courses on a part time basis. All in, ground school took me 8 months to get all the passes first time, and I completed my CPL & IR about 2 months after that in June 2018.
I then did the APS MCC at VA, completing the course in August 2018 and landed the job less than 2 months after, and that even included a wait of around 4 weeks for my licence to be issued.
There were so many ups and downs along the way: The big ones were balancing time and money, relationships with friends and family. Funnily enough a lot of the experience from the various positions I had whilst in the oil and gas industry really helped. Communication, teamwork, resilience, patience and perhaps the most important one was being able to work well with others. I realise that to get a frozen ATPL one relies very heavily on many people along the way; instructors, flying schools, your boss if you work, family, friends and the bank!
There are many challenges you meet along the way, but if you get on with others that’s a good start.
What advice would you give yourself at the start of your airline journey if you could?
Keep an eye on where and what is needed for you to do to make the link to an airline job. For me, I spoke to as many people as I could who were both successful (hired and some now captains) and unsuccessful (great pilots but never managed to get the first airline job) and one of the common themes I found was the relevance their MCC course played in their job outcomes. I considered a number of options and I found there were, in essence, 3 tiers all offering different pros and cons. There was the group that offered airline placement but one had to pass an assessment to get onto the course. There was another group that offered and enhanced MCC product (typically on a 737-800 platform anywhere from 40-80hrs) and the final group was the bare minimum 25hrs product on a generic device. I had received mixed reviews on the organisations offering placement – and the main issue I had was potentially paying a premium and being sat in a hold pool with many other candidates for months on end.
The airline industry has been changing over the last few years and airlines are advertising much more openly for cadets, as such, it has become less important to be linked to certain ATOs. You just have to look at my current company, Ryanair, as an example. Other great examples are Easyjet’s Amy Johnson initiative or the announcement recently that British Airways cadet recruitment is open to all. I had been watching VA Airline Training, as one of my targets was Ryanair and many of their graduates had landed jobs there. Towards the end of 2018, I knew Ryanair were working to a new Airline Pilot Standard MCC aimed at addressing the issue of candidates going through all the necessary training (i.e. frozen ATPL with MCC), but not being suitable for type rating courses or airline employment. When VA got the APS course approved by the CAA, it was a no brainer.
I felt the benefit of significantly increasing my chances of getting a job, and more importantly, the brilliant preparation for the type rating the course provides was well worth it. I am currently base training and I can say the VAs APS MCC not only helped me land the job, but has made the type rating curve less steep and I have definitely felt more prepared during my type rating because of it.
If you weren’t an airline pilot what would you be?
I’d be doing something in the oil and gas industry!
When did you land your first airline job?
What aircraft are you currently flying for your airline?
For those thinking about becoming an airline pilot, would you recommend it, and why?
Definitely! Don’t take the commitment lightly though, it requires a lot of sacrifice and dedication. Everyone is different. Motivation wise for me, a self-confessed plane geek, getting up each day and knowing that all I have to do is aeroplanes is pretty amazing!