Simon

SFO SAAB 2000


Most recent base: Norwich                
Airline (most recent): Eastern Airways  
Previous roles: Deputy CFI, Norwich School of Flying; FI and FE posts at numerous GA organisations
Uni degree?  BSc. (Hons) Geography; MBA Aviation Management; MSc. Human Factors in Aviation
Do you speak any other languages? A little French, but not fluently
Airline training route:  Modular ATPL
ATOs attended: SFT Aviation; TG Aviation; Numerous other ATOs for GA-related courses

Why did you want to become a pilot?


I was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong. My maternal Granddad had been a bomber pilot with the RAF in WW2, having started out as a navigator. 

After the war had ended, Granddad left the RAF and went to Hong Kong, taking my young Mum and Granny with him; he went out there to become SATCO at Kai Tak, from Autumn 1947 until his retirement in November 1963. He was also an air accident investigator, and was involved in investigating the accident to “Miss Macao”, a Cathay Pacific Catalina whose hijacking and subsequent crash into the Pearl River Delta was the first known act of air piracy in South-East Asia; some accounts have claimed that it was the first known act of air piracy in commercial aviation history, although some have disputed that claim. I grew up with airliners flying past our block of flats every few minutes as they took off from, or made their approach to, Kai Tak; as a result of this, my first word was “feigei” - Cantonese word for aeroplane. When I started at primary school, the airliners would stream low and relatively slow over my school, making playtime a plane-spotter’s paradise. As a family, we were fortunate enough to travel a lot during the first 8 years of my life. My sixth birthday present was a trial lesson in a Beechcraft Sundowner, from Kai Tak, with a Chinese flying instructor showing me the ropes and my Mum and Auntie sat screaming in the back!

We moved to the UK in October 1981 where we lived with my Grandparents. I’d often get Granddad to talk about aeroplanes. He told me nothing about his wartime experiences; he told me nothing about his personal experiences of the accidents that he investigated. However, he was always keen to talk about how flying was fun, and he did talk about air accident investigations from elsewhere, especially the saga of the D.H. 106 De Havilland Comet 1. It was perhaps inevitable that I fly myself, and am lucky enough to do so for a living. In 1999, I passed the U.K. Armed Forces’ pilot aptitude tests at R.A.F. Cranwell, and then – by a miracle – passed the Royal Navy’s Admiralty Interview Board at H.M.S. Sultan in Gosport; this is the Senior Service’s officer selection procedure. I hoped to fly Sea Harriers for the Royal Navy, but a cruel twist of fate conspired against me on that one; as a result, I found myself entering frozen ATPL training at the very end of 1999, and I found that my classmates and I were guinea pigs for the new J.A.A. A.T.P.L theory exams, unfortunately.The early hours of September 1st 2001 saw me walk out of a Tristar simulator with my brand new C.R.M. certificate in my hands. 10 days later, the world was turned upside down by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and what became the worst downturn in civil aviation history up to that point then ensued.

A few months later, I started my flying instructor course at Manston, and found myself a full-time instructor post within a few months of qualifying. 2 years later, I discovered that most of my contemporaries at flight school hadn’t flown since they’d graduated, although most of them did fall on their feet once the post-9/11 downturn picked up.

After 3.5 years of full-time instructing, I found myself starting a Jetstream 41 type rating course with Eastern Airways. 

A year later, I found myself in Basle/Bâle, starting my type rating for the mighty SAAB 2000. I spent 13 years flying this fantastic aeroplane on scheduled, charter, wet lease/ACMI and Oil and Gas Producers contractual routes; work took me all around the UK, Western Europe, Scandinavia, and the Northern Mediterranean. I never stopped my GA activities, continuing to instruct, and I became an examiner in October 2010; I’m now on the list for the next CAA/LAA Light Aircraft Test Pilot course, whenever that will be. On top of that, I’ve been asked to attend the HCAP and CAA Pilot Peer Supporter course, which will then allow me to be the first port of call for pilots with mental health issues. 

Like so many others, I’ve found myself laid off thanks to Covid, with my last day at Eastern (after 7 months of furlough) coming in November 2020. Job hunting awaits!

 

How did you fund your training? 
Upon graduating from university in 1996, I secured a job as a labourer at a grain seed factory for 6 weeks during the harvest, hauling bags of grain around and loading them onto pallets or into containers. This was a 6-day-a-week job, starting at 0600 in the morning and then finishing at 1900 in the evening; although I have always been a fitness fanatic, such a working week left me in no physical state to go out and spend money partying. During the 6 weeks of this job, I was living with my parents, and, therefore, had no outgoings related to food and accommodation. 
I went immediately into a two-year-long position as an assistant schoolmaster at my old school; being a boarding school, I was on duty 7 days a week; accommodation and food were provided, so, again, I had no outgoings.

I then spent 6 months working as receptionist, barman and waiter in a country hotel and restaurant. I was back living with my parents again, and had no outgoings; it was all hands on deck; my social life was non-existent, so, again, all pay went into the flying fund.

I was, therefore, able to save a lot of money to put towards my flight training. I also had savings from an inheritance. 

 

Was training a breeze or did you find it a challenge?
A challenge. I don’t believe anybody who claims to have either breezed or aced it.

 

What was most challenging?
Being a guinea pig for the introduction of the JAA ATPL exams, which were introduced in the UK 2 years earlier than the rest of the JAA member states planned on doing. It was a disaster. 

I found that the worst subject was ATPL Air Law; I found it to be incredibly boring, and, therefore, not easy to make it stick in the memory.

 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

  • Travel, and visiting new airports/countries

  • My colleagues

  • The view from the window while flying never bores me

 

What is most challenging about your job?

·         Roster instability

·         Depending on who you fly for, you may be away from home a great deal;

·         Unscheduled night stops;

·         Keeping current if you’re not in full-time flying.

 

 

Which Pilot Competencies are of most interest to you?

Stick-and-rudder skills, firstly. The myth that “pilots are just managers of automated systems these days” is incredibly annoying; it has to be remembered that pilots are still pilots who have to take-off and land the thing, and also hand fly when the autopilot fails.

 

I’m also very interested in soft skills of which I favour the following definition:

“Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s relationships with other people…Soft skills have more to do with how people are, rather than what they know. As such, they encompass the character traits that decide how well one interacts with others…”  (From Investopedia)

 

With this definition in mind, I feel that flying careers require the following soft skills:

·         The ability to communicate, and to context-set when explaining things. Leaders, in particular, are sense-makers-in-chief;

·         Empathy for others;

·         Patience, and the ability to keep one’s temper;

ALL OF THE ABOVE IN BUCKET LOADS IF YOU’RE INVOLVED IN ANY SORT OF TRAINING ROLE

 

·         Mentoring your co-workers, if needs be (and it doesn’t always need to be; the hard part can be knowing when to mentor and when not to);

·         The ability to listen, not to try to provide answers or explanations, but to understand 

·         Leading a team, or taking your place willingly and happily within a chain of command;

·         Punctuality;

·         Preparation;

·         The willingness and ability to get jobs done well and on time with no fuss or dramas, wherever possible.

 

What else?

I was an aviation skills ambassador for the Aviation Skills Foundation from Feb 2019 until Feb 2020. One of the many activities in which I was involved in this role was the writing and distribution (for free) of my Pilot Information Pack, which is a guide written for aspiring pilots, giving an overview of what’s involved and  how to go about it, especially the funding.

I’ve also acted as a de facto mentor for aspiring pilots who I’ve met in my roles as a flying instructor/examiner, and when out and about in the world at large.

I’ve continued the aviation skills ambassador/mentor role with HCAP, Inspiring the Future (allied with the UK DfT’s Reach For The Sky scheme), the Royal Aeronautical Society, and Resilient Pilot. Let me know if I can help!

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