Case study

Airline pilot — Liam

Liam explains how his degree and investment in aviation training has paid off as he flies a Boeing 737 for a short-haul airline

What degree did you study and where?

I studied Aviation Technology with Pilot Studies at Leeds University, graduating in 2009.

I then enrolled in Oxford Aviation Academy (OAA), where I undertook theoretical and practical training resulting in a multi-engine commercial pilot's licence, as well as jet orientation simulator training and a multi-crew cooperation course.

This course lasted one-and-a-half years and cost £80,000. This was self-funded, although OAA had agreements with a bank to lend the money on a secured basis.

I am now a Captain flying a Boeing 737 aircraft for a low-cost airline on short-haul operations around Europe.

How did you get your job?

I applied to European airlines for a job as a First Officer. The selection process is highly competitive and consists of psychometric, verbal reasoning and maths tests, hand-eye coordination and multitasking tests, a group interview, a one-to-one technical/HR interview and a simulator assessment.

Upon joining the airline I trained to fly the 737 using company-standard operating procedures. This consisted of more theory exams and simulator training before flying with passengers.

What's a typical day like?

As a First Officer for a modern, low-cost airline, a typical early shift might be 12 hours long and begin by briefing with the Captain and cabin crew in the airport crew room at 5am in preparation for a 6am flight.

During the briefing and throughout the day, the crew assess the route, weather, fuel requirements and any technical defects. They also liaise with cabin crew, ground crew, air traffic control and passengers.

The Captain and First Officer share control of the aircraft, taking it in turns to fly alternating sectors throughout a typical four-sector day.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Life as a pilot is very rewarding. I love flying a plane and the sunrises, sunsets and aerial views from the cockpit are stunning.

What are the challenges?

We safely operate multi-million pound aircraft approaching the speed of sound in some of the busiest airspace and airports in the world. Airlines are critically judged by their 'on time' performance so punctuality is an important trait of any pilot.

The initial financial investment required to train is high and working long, unsocial hours puts pressure on your personal life.

In what way was your degree relevant?

Studying for my degree gave me a head start and a deeper theoretical background to the subjects and skills required to become a commercial pilot.

How has your role developed?

My role has changed from First Officer to Captain. I have been based in England, America and Sweden, but I am currently based in Morocco, where we have routes to France, Spain, Italy and The Netherlands.

The airline is expanding and there are exciting opportunities to train cadet pilots and/or manage one of our bases across Europe.

What advice can you give to aspiring pilots?

Aviation is an expanding industry with international opportunities flying civil, military, passenger, cargo, air taxi and medical air services.

To succeed as a pilot you must be:

  • professional in your attitude and appearance
  • positive with regard to rules and standard procedures
  • punctual and prepared to work long hours.

It can take ten years from having no qualifications and paying for training to a comfortable living. Don't give up.

If you want it badly enough and are prepared to put in the work, this is an exciting and unique way of life.

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