A320/21 First Officer
Current location/base: Ex. Abu Dhabi, UAE. Now London
Most Recent Airline: Etihad Airways
Previous role: Operations and Crewing Assistant, eventually being promoted to Crew Controller.
Uni degree: Geology and Physical Geography at The University of Edinburgh.
Do you speak any other languages? Basic French.
Airline training route: Integrated ATPL/MPL - both. I initially completed my Integrated fATPL and then retrained under the MPL route after being accepted onto Etihad Airways’ cadet scheme.
ATOs attended: Cabair International, Cranfield and Etihad Aviation Training, Al Ain, UAE.
Why did you want to become a pilot?
I have a very vivid memory of returning from a holiday in the former Yugoslavia during the late ‘80s. My dad always made an effort to ask if I could visit the cockpit. I remember being led to the front and a curtain being pulled back where three crew were seated. One lifted me up to look out of the cockpit window and proceeded to point at the mountains below. I was young at the time but the image stayed with me. After that I always maintained an interest in aviation, but the idea of it as a career choice didn’t really resurface until Secondary school. A later opportunity to fly with a University Air Squadron really cemented the idea of becoming a pilot and with it the challenges of willing an ambition into reality.
How did you fund your training?
Generous assistance from my parents combined with the savings I had accumulated from working in a restaurant. After completing my training with Cabair, I used my degree knowledge as a basis to learn about investing in mining companies to try and pay back my loans a little quicker.
Was training a breeze or did you find it a challenge?
For me the challenge was overcoming pre-exam nerves. In an industry where constant checks and assessments are commonplace, it was something I’d have to learn to conquer and become more resilient to. Like most people I accept that I’m likely to feel additional stress in the run-up to assessments. Learning to reflect internally on previous performance, manage and share my anxieties with others and channel that energy into something productive are all techniques I’ve used to overcome this as my career has progressed.
What was most challenging?
I found some elements of the instrument flying phase particularly challenging. Visualising holds, calculating drift, wind corrections and understanding where the ‘gate’ was didn’t come naturally and required me to spend additional time at home on a flight sim before I finally had my ‘eureka’ moment.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The people and the places. My experience as an expat working for a Middle Eastern airline has exposed me to a diverse range of people from varied backgrounds, all with a common interest in aviation. Our industry is quite unique in that you frequently work with different people every day and whilst you certainly won’t share interests with all of them, the conversations you have often broaden the mind. Working in a profession where you can ‘drop in’ to a place for sometimes little more than 23hrs gives you a very different and privileged perspective on the world. Being exposed to the different sights, sounds and smells of a place in such a short period of time sometimes makes it hard for your mind to comprehend you’ve actually been there by the time you return home the following day.
What is most challenging about your job?
Sleep management. The job can require a very disciplined approach to managing rest around other life commitments and achieving the work-life balance often spoken about.
Which Pilot Competencies are of most interest to you?
Communication, Leadership and Teamwork. Most competencies are interlinked but the importance of these two stood out for me in my previous employment where we had crew comprising of 154 different nationalities. The most memorable days were not dependent on the destination, but rather the team of people you spent them with. Establishing a rapport with your crew early on meant any unforeseen events were resolved quicker and the day smoother. Often the tone set within the briefing room would be the one carried through the trip. Working abroad also highlighted to me the importance of communication, particularly language accommodation. Most people speak English but not always to the same level and adapting your language outside the realms of ICAO phraseology to ensure your message is transmitted, received and understood without ambiguity is imperative in our industry.
The path into aviation is not predefined, nor is it predictable. My initial flight school went into administration twice during training and it took me several years to get my first flying job, working in Operations for Flybe in the interim. It taught me the value of persistence and having likeminded people around to talk to and seek advice from; one of the strengths of the Resilient Pilot mentoring programme. Previous member of a RAF University Air Squadron where I was given the opportunity to sample military life, achieve my first solo in a light aircraft as well as learn valuable leadership and teamwork skills; later transferable to my commercial career. It also taught me the importance of having a Plan B as the Strategic Defence and Security Review came soon after my graduation and pilot intake for the RAF was significantly curtailed.