set toga: the journey to the airbus

Airbus 320

I suppose the start of my flying career made a false start when I was in my early 20s, still at university, I applied for the, what was then, new integrated training course at CTC (now L3 Aviation). Several trips down to Southampton and back and after lots of tests and interviews, building bridges (literall), and staring at some scary finance numbers, it just didn’t quite work out back then.

So, driving back to Liverpool I wondered what I would do instead. I knew I had to work in aviation and resigned myself to the fact that a working class kid from Liverpool wasn’t meant to be a pilot. So, I finished the degree in Mathematics with Management and started working at Liverpool Airport, in the management offices as an analyst. And my management career took off instead of my flying one.

Almost 10 years later, I’m 31 and spending Christmas house sitting for a friend in France. Now running a food school (which is another story) and wondering what 2012 would bring, I realized my passion for aviation hadn’t gone anywhere, and that really I still wanted to fly. In a curious twist of fate a few years earlier I’d left a management role at a regional airport in the UK to set up a food school, but it was time to make a long term decision.

Walking along the Canal de Midi in Agen, France I made the decision to go back and have a look at flying once again, with the mindset it’s now or never.

Early 2012 I found myself at a flying club at Biggin Hill Airport in South London, talking to a fabulous instructor, John, about options and how to go about getting my commercial pilots license, how to get medicals etc. A day I won’t forget, I’d called in for a coffee and a chat, but it was a glorious late January afternoon, crisp clear blue skies, little wind. John pushed back in his chair and said ‘well, how about a quick flight, see if you like it’ he said. He’d obviously done this before and was almost as good a salesman as he was flight instructor, and half an hour later we’re rolling down runway 21 at Biggin Hill and off for my first ever time at the controls of an aircraft.

Beware anyone reading this who is thinking of becoming a pilot, it’s addictive! I was hooked, signed up for my PPL and set off home to book my medical and work out how on earth I was going to pay for it all. It took a few weeks to get everything sorted, and my medical – probably a great piece of advice, if you do want to get your CPL, then get the medical first because if you can’t get that, then you don’t want to spend any money.

By mid 2012, I had my PPL. The week before the London Olympics to be exact. I then went to the US, did some hour building in Arizona, came back did the ATPL exams, and then started to think about my CPL/IR. In a slightly ironic twist, I ended up back talking to CTC and in spring 2013, with my PPL, hours, night rating and ATPL exams all done, I set off to Bournemouth and did multi engine CPL and IR. By October 2013, I had a frozen ATPL and set out to find a job.

So, I thought the training was hard … that first job is as much about luck as it is skill and hard work, but eventually after a lot of emails, letters, visits to jobs fairs I was offered a job with Stobart Air flying the ATR family of aircraft.

This is when I learnt to fly, the ATR is fun but challenging aircraft. Landing on the Isle of Man with a 32 knott crosswind with a cloub base overcast at 200 feet … I called it fun, I’m not sure the passengers agreed!

Having been settled in the job, I applied for a training role and became a theoretical knowledge instructor (TKI) and CRM instructor, training new crew and recurrent training for the airline, and working on various projects. I also travelled around the bases and spent time at Southend, Dublin and the Isle of Man and generally had a great time.

Then in 2018 the dream job came along and I was offered a position on the A320 family at Aer Lingus. The Airbus, certainly compared to the ATR, is a dream aircraft. It’s lovely to hand fly and took me all over Europe. I was very lucky to be able to get back into training and now I am a type rating instructor (TRI) with Aer Lingus and spend some time in the simulator training new crew and recurrent training and some time on the line.

That brings us to where I am now, almost. I guess the latest milestone came with the delivery of the new A321neo LR aircraft to our fleet in 2019. The new A321 can fly trans Atlantic and the first flight over the Atlantic was certainly a highlight so far.

It’s a great job, it was a huge amount of hard work, and a mix of highs and lows to get to this point. But what is amazing is the journey is far from over, the career ahead, even in these uncertain times, still feels exciting and full of opportunity. Of course where will be a whole load more hard work ahead, and there will be highs and lows still to come, and I am not sure I’ll ever enjoy the alarm going off at 3:30AM for an early report, but those days when you arrive at the airport, and it’s drizzly and foggy and cold, but you line up, set TOGA and then break the clouds and see the sun, the hard work becomes totally worth it.

A320 family FO and TRI

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