Senior First Officer and Cadet Liaison Pilot
Virgin Atlantic Airways
I first got into flying when I was 17 and started gliding. I was bitten by the bug.
I went on to win the Breitling PPL scholarship from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots when I completed my university degree. From there I searched for airline sponsorship.
I was very fortunate to be sponsored by an airline for my training. I applied for several schemes and won a sponsorship that involved me becoming a flying instructor for 2 years as part of the scheme. Becoming an instructor had not been in my original plan and I couldn’t imagine knowing enough to be good at it, but as with all things, you break it down, the training was excellent and almost by stealth, you arrive at the exact point you need to be.
Looking back on flying highlights, nothing beats your first solo. Mine was in a glider at Portmoak airfield near Perth in Scotland. It was the last flight, at dusk, after having helped out all day, hoping to get airborne.
Now is going to be a difficult time to break into the industry but there will come a time when the airlines have to start recruiting again. My best advice would be to ask a lot of questions. Go to all the career road shows you can, visit all the commercial schools you are able on their open days and join aviation organisations so you can start networking as early as possible. Remain flexible and keep updating your plan.
Aviation is not without its challenges. When I had very low experience, I often was rostered to fly with some challenging captains. I used to dread these days out, as I worked hard all day to try to please them and still follow SOPs, our standard operating procedures. Once I shared this with trusted colleagues, we were relieved to discover that we were all having the same experiences resulting in unnecessarily high workloads. Communication between us as a group translated into stronger flight deck communication with a positive focus on workload management which made the job totally enjoyable again every day.
Flying is about teamwork. When I report for duty, I can find myself working with two pilots and ten cabin crew who I’ve never met before. Despite this, we quickly form the sensation of togetherness – a team. We are going to be together on a trip for days – and while we don’t have to spend time with each other once we are off the aircraft, we often choose to do activities as a group, or groups, down-route. When we meet in the briefing room as strangers at the beginning, we’ve been formed into a particular team that no one chose to be in. By the end we’ll be hugging each other goodbye and feel a bit sad that this team will be unlikely to come together again in this exact same way. The energy that is generated by working together in this albeit temporary group, both on and off the aircraft, gives us more strength, ability and an incredible buzz that makes you itch to come back after a few days off and do it all again.
I find flying skills can be brought into my day to day life. Being able to prioritise and “chunk” tasks is very helpful, especially when faced with something complicated.