Case study

Senior first officer — Dale Mudie

Dale is a senior first officer at TUI Airways and chairman of the nextGen Steering Group at the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA). Learn about his route into the profession and the skills you'll need

What do people need to consider before deciding on a career as a pilot?

If you dream of becoming a professional pilot it's worth spending some time reflecting on what it takes, academically and personally, to achieve your goal before committing significant amounts of time and money.

A surprisingly broad range of skills are needed, and it's vitally important not to concentrate solely on the academic and technical side, but to consider the personal attributes required in the flight deck environment.

What qualifications do you need to become a pilot in the UK?

There are plenty of documents in the public domain detailing the academic or technical requirements you need before embarking on flight training.

It helps to have an idea of how things work mechanically and to have a sense of what engineering and physics are, but it is not the be-all and end-all. You can succeed as a pilot without achieving top-class honours in these fields. I recommend good GCSE passes in mathematics, English, science and preferably a second language.

Additionally, good A-level qualifications are normally required, but a solid grounding in the 'university of life' is equally valuable, as it usually adds commercial awareness and people skills to your CV.

Always keep in mind that professional qualifications can be an insurance policy in the event of a redundancy or loss of licence for medical reasons. Academically, pilot training is not as technically demanding as is generally perceived. However, what poses the biggest challenge is the volume and breadth of material to be assimilated in a short time.

Which training route did you choose and where did you study?

I studied at Bristol Groundschool and Diamond Flight Academy in Sweden.

I chose the modular route because of cost and flexibility. Neither my family nor I were able to fund my training via the integrated route. This meant I had to establish myself in another full-time career first, to fund my training.

How did you fund your training?

I initially saved up enough money for my PPL (private pilot licence) and then realised to complete all my commercial training within a realistic timescale, I needed all the money up front. I approached my parents and together we re-mortgaged their house, for which I am now liable.

What's a typical working day like for a pilot?

A historical preconception is that the lifestyle of a pilot is glamorous and exciting. Unfortunately, this can be far from the truth. There is often little, if any, glamour in the life of a pilot.

A pilot works long, irregular, anti-social hours often at short notice. Unless the crew is provided with a roster well in advance, it is often impossible to plan any form of social/private life.

The overall lifestyle does largely depend on the type of flying career, but the number of permitted duty hours are strictly controlled by the Flight Time Limitations (FTL) regulations. A pilot is only allowed to do a certain amount of hours duty time in a twenty-four hour period and this varies depending upon certain factors such as the pilot's start time, how many sectors the pilot has to fly and their relative acclimatisation to the time zone they find themselves in.

Generally, you can break down the type of operations into four categories: long haul, short haul, regional and charter, and all come with a differing lifestyle attached to them.

  • Long haul - can provide an attractive lifestyle if you don't mind being away from home and can cope with the numerous time zone changes that can be experienced.
  • Short haul/regional - the upside to short haul is that you will mostly be at home by the end of the working day and it is good for building experience with short sectors to a range of airports. However, although you might be scheduled to fly to great cities such as Budapest or Barcelona, which might sound glamorous and exciting, the reality is that all you will see is the airport.
  • Charter - often involves many night sectors operating in and out of challenging airfields, and mid-range flights, which can be very tiring during the summer months but usually quieter during the winter.

What skills are needed for a career as a pilot?

  • Resilience and determination to succeed - From initial flight training to retirement, a flying career will be punctuated by significant highs and lows. Passing flying tests, securing your first job and promotion, failing flying or ground tests, potential redundancies, personal financial difficulties, company bankruptcies, fleet changes, relocation - the unfortunate reality is that most pilots may experience some of these difficulties during their careers.
  • Decision making and management skills - While it pays to have good basic flying skills, on the modern flight deck you need so much more. It is essential to have mature decision-making, communication and management skills. A healthy level of common sense is also vital. You must be able to make the correct decision quickly and accurately, to communicate effectively and to follow a plan logically.

Tell us about three issues affecting the aviation sector today…

  • recruitment in aviation
  • recovery from the pandemic
  • retaining staff due to other skills learnt throughout the pandemic.

What advice can you give to other aspiring pilots?

You must be 110% committed to wanting the lifestyle and have the passion and the resilience to keep moving forward. Do lots of research into the role of a professional pilot. Make your CV stand out because after training, everyone ends up with the same licence.

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