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Industry Spotlight: Becoming an Airline Pilot

18656563_mFor many, becoming a Pilot is a dream job. At first glance a job flying all over the world to a variety of destinations does sound very glamorous – but what is a career as a Pilot like? And what does the job actually involve?

In this latest Industry Spotlight Jobulo speaks to Simon Cowdell, a Pilot for British Airways, to find out more about the industry and to gain some career advice for those wanting to become a Pilot.

How Did You Become a Pilot?

I think I was quite lucky. I started out as a Cadet for BA and occasionally companies will look to hire cadets to protect themselves against future retirement figures. This is what happened with me. I did my A levels and then went to university and gained a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I then decided I wanted to become a Pilot so applied for the Cadet training program. After completing the application process I was accepted, went to flying school at the Oxford Aviation Academy and 18 months later emerged with my qualifications and European licence. I am now a Senior First Officer and have been in the industry for 13 years.

How Can Someone Become a Pilot?

There are a variety of routes into the industry. If you are not doing it through a particular airline then you can approach an aviation academy or flying school and apply directly. There are large fees involved to start the training. At first you will undertake an aptitude test which tests things like your hand-eye coordination. You have to pass this initial stage before you can progress and start training. If you pass the initial phase you then complete training and at the end of the course you will have a commercial pilot licence and after you receive your qualifications you can start applying for jobs.

What Does the Training Involve?

There are a combination of ground exams and flying exams. You spend about four months on the ground learning subjects like air law and navigation which you have to pass before you can start flying. You’ll then sit a series of exams set by the regulator before you progress to start your basic flying. When you first fly you’ll be learning about basic navigation, how to use the radio and how to speak to air traffic control. For this stage of flying you’ll usually be sent to train somewhere with better weather. The UK is notoriously cloudy and as you need to learn to navigate visually you may be sent to somewhere like Arizona or Florida to complete your flying training. This training will usually last about three months and then you’ll go back into the classroom to study aircraft performance, flight planning and radio navigation. After passing the second half of the exams you’ll start your advanced flying which includes instrument flying. By the end of the course you will be flying a fair distance around the UK. After you have completed your training you usually have to complete one more course before you can gain employment. The training is very insular and in most instances on the job you’ll be flying with other people so you need to learn to fly with others, task share and communicate. It’s usually a multi crew cooperation course that you have to complete. Then you are ready to start applying for work.

How Do You Apply for Jobs in this Industry?

It’s like most other industries. Some airlines hire on a perm basis, some on a temporary basis and some hire through an agency. I would say if you are looking for jobs you should visit websites like pprune which is a good place to network and to get an idea of who is hiring and firing. The pilot jobs network is also another resource you can use to give you an idea of salaries in the industry.

What is an Average Working Week Like?

It depends on how far you are into your career. Most Pilots will start out flying short haul flights, so flying around the UK and Europe and you’ll usually have between one and six flights a day. Obviously as your career progresses and you fly further afield that changes. Sometimes you can do a day at work and end up at home for the night but others you may have to stop for an overnight stay. Starting out as a First Officer you’ll work alongside the Captain and your duties will include checking the flying conditions and weather, researching the airfield and finding out about any problems before you fly and deciding how much fuel to take. You would then go to the aircraft and do an exterior inspection, make sure all the wheels are in the right place and that the plane is ready to go. You then carry out safety checks, make sure the route is loaded into the guidance computer and you ensure the passengers are on board. Throughout a flight you’ll take it in turns to fly with the Captain and on long-haul flights there may be three or four of you sharing the work load. If you are on a long-haul flight you will have longer breaks where you can relax in the flight deck, watch a film or sleep before taking your next shift.

What is the Career Progression Like in this Industry?

If you want to become a Captain you can progress to this and it all depends on the company you are working for. If you are working for a small company it can take you three years to become a Captain but in much bigger organisations it could take 20 years. Every time you change aircraft you need to complete a course and if you want to be a Captain you would need to complete a command course. You generally do it with the company that you work for and after you are qualified they release you to work.

What is the Best Part of the Job?

I like variety of challenges and there are so many aspects to the job it’s hard to get bored. It’s also fantastic to see so much of the world. If I am flying somewhere like LA I will sometimes have up to 72 hours to stop and enjoy the break. It is a great way to see the world.

What Is the Hardest Part of the Job?

It’s like many other jobs that involve shift work. You do miss family events which can be difficult.

What Qualities Does Someone Need to Become a Pilot?

To be a good First Officer you need to be a chameleon. You need to be able to fit in, adapt and interact with a variety of people. You need to be good with numeracy and know your three times table too! You also need to be self motivated. Dealing with shift patterns and getting up at 5am and finishing at 3am isn’t for everybody.

What Career Advice and CV Tips Can You Share?

If you have got the determination to do it, then do it. The cost of getting involved in the industry can be high but the earlier you are in the industry, the more you will earn and the quicker it will pay you back. Experience is essential in this industry. When you first start out and you have a minimum amount of experience, the airlines might have hundreds of people to choose from with similar experience as you. But as soon as you gain work experience you become more valuable. So if you get offered a job at an airline (in the early stages of your career) and it isn’t your dream job, don’t turn it down. Gaining work experience and persevering will help you to achieve your dream job eventually. When writing a CV, employers will really care about your experience and examples of how you have dealt with situations. A CV can be great for showing your work history but it’s more important to show how you are a team player and to show an employer how you have completed tasks with other people around you.