An industry that many strive to work in. An industry that few get a chance to be a part of.
If the pandemic has taught me anything, it is the fact that the love for this industry is enormous - from the professionals that dedicate their lives to it, to the enthusiasts who use their free time to wave us at through our aircraft windows.
I have also learned how different every person’s journey to the industry we so dearly love has been, and what I hope to achieve through this blog is to showcase all those stories. I want to share my story today, and I hope to inspire you to share your stories too.
I am an Airbus A320 Pilot, who flew his first commercial passengers at age 22 years and 98 days old, flying between Belfast International and Lanzarote. You could be forgiven for thinking that being in that position at that age must mean that I had always wanted to be a pilot and did everything I could to get there from an age as early as I can remember.
That is highly incorrect.
I have lived in the south of England my whole life, and for 20 years I lived in a house less than 200 metres from the Great Western Railway mainline. Now, living close to a railway line and having the name ‘Thomas’, I was naturally drawn to trains for most of my infant and junior years. I learned to read by reading Railway manuals and encyclopaedias: I was totally obsessed.
At seven years old I flew to Faro for a family holiday, aboard a JMC aircraft (later to become Thomas Cook). I remember the most exciting part of the trip for me was seeing the trains as we landed back on 26L at Gatwick after 2 weeks on holiday.
Alongside my love of trains, I was a child with a lot of energy. My parents had become bored of running around entertaining me so I began playing sport from an early age, starting with football when I was 5 and then moving on to tennis and cricket at 7 years old.
I was not naturally gifted at any sport I turned my hand to, but I always worked hard to try and get better. After years of working on my skills, at 12 years old I was invited to join a cricket academy that was doing a 10-day tour of Mumbai. Flying with Kingfisher airlines, it was the very first time I was visiting a country outside Europe (at least, at an age that I would remember it).
I remember stepping off the aeroplane, smelling the unique Mumbai air and looking across the tarmac to see the famous slums surrounding the airport perimeter. This was going to be an experience that I would never forget.
During the trip, we trained every morning and afternoon in the humid Mumbai climate, played against 4 very advanced junior cricket teams, and visited an orphanage. Each experience left me inspired to return to India and similar countries as soon as possible. My eyes were opened to life beyond western culture.
Sitting in seat 32D onboard the Kingfisher A330-200 back to Heathrow, I began to wonder how I could get back to this incredible place and how I could best explore the wider world.
On that 9-hour flight, I decided I needed to find a job that would allow me to travel to as many destinations as possible.
After a few days, I went to my parents Dell PC and started researching what it took to become a pilot. Suddenly, dreams of becoming the opening bowler for England or a Great Western Railway train driver disappeared. I could not tell you what aircraft cockpit I saw online that day, but I do know that my 12-year-old brain instantly decided that it wanted to know what everything did, and it wanted to get there as soon as possible.
The disappointment of my cricket coaches that I wouldn’t be the next Andrew Flintoff after all was obvious, but I knew then where I wanted my life to go: the interest in flying had begun.
The next day I went to the newsagent, found a magazine called ‘Airliner World’, and asked my Mum to buy it for me. Little did she know that I would ask her to buy it for me every month for the next four years (until I started earning my own money and buying it for myself).
At 15, I met my personal pilot mentor; a family friend who was an Airline Head of Training, a former Airbus delivery captain and pilot who had been involved in the set-up of multiple successful airlines. He took me flying in a 4-seater SEP aircraft, and I was hooked.
It was a few months later that I went from being hooked to having ‘the bug’ implanted in me for life.
One miserable day in early spring, I was asked if I fancied sitting on the jump-seat of the aircraft he flew during an empty sector. During those 25 airborne minutes, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. What was this language they were speaking on the radio? What was that white light on the overhead panel? How did they know where they were going? My interest was piqued; aviation had just found its next pilot.
If I’m honest, that day is probably where my love of flying [an Airbus] came from.
At 16 I was still in full-time education, but I also began working in a golf and country club as a ‘General Assistant’ - which is a posh way of saying I would do all the jobs that no-one else wanted to do. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my life so far as I gained an understanding of what hard work looked like in an industry totally different to my dream.
One night, the club manager asked me: ‘would you be interested in working your way up the ranks in this company and one day maybe getting into head office?’
For a 16-year-old who was just discovering what a strong work ethic was, this was a big question. I replied: ‘I want to see how far I can go, but I dream of something far better.’
In hindsight, I probably should not have said that. But it was the truth.
Fast forward nearly 4 years, 3 promotions and 2 employee-of-the-month awards, and it was time for me to start the journey into my dream career.
On Thursday 15th September 2016, a 19-year-old Tom walked into the CTC Aviation’s Coventry training centre to begin my Ground School. That was day one of my career. The rest is history.
I do consider myself very lucky. My family always supported me through my various dream careers as I grew up; from train driver to cricket player to pilot, they have always backed me. I recognise that many people don’t have the same experience, and I’m incredibly grateful that I have. I have also been incredibly lucky with people outside of my family who have supported me throughout my journey to the flight deck.
So, that’s my story. But everyone has a unique story that is begging to be told; how did you get to the position you’re in today?
Why did I tell you this story then?
Well, a few weeks ago I hosted a ‘Crew Room Chat’ with the topic of ‘Aviation Inspiration’. This is my story and every event that inspired me into the flight deck. At Resilient Pilot, we host fortnightly ‘Crew Room Chats’ with topics changing each time. Come and join us for our next one.
Tom is an A320-rated first officer and one of our Resilient Pilot mentors. He is also at the forefront of our Resilient Crew initiative. With a passion in Wellbeing, Pilot Competencies and Transferable skills, he can provide a great mentoring service. Visit our ‘Supported’ page to read about Tom and all our other fantastic Mentors to discover just how much support is on offer for our aviation family.