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Reaching for the skies

by Dale Mudie First Officer, Flybe

The route to becoming a pilot is not easy and for me there were some real challenges. But with determination and a lot of hard work, I’ve made it. Throughout my training I was supported by BALPA and I became involved in the nextGen project.

When BALPA asked me to share my experience of getting in to the industry, I agreed. My story was published on the BALPA website and Facebook in a case study you can read. I hope it was food for thought for any aspiring pilot. It certainly inspired some questions that I have tried to answer here:

1.    Have you undergone any further training since you completed your modular training?

Yes, as is normal for all commercial flying jobs, I have undertaken a type rating course for the aircraft I am employed to operate – the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.

This was a six-week course at my employer’s training academy which was split into two three-week blocks. The first block was ground school, learning about all the different systems on the Q400. The second block was the simulator phase, so actually learning how to fly the aircraft.

At the end of this training I then completed a Licence Skills Test (LST) and base training – which is six take-offs and 6 landings in the real aircraft. I had to pass both before I could have the type rating added to my licence.
After the type rating, I completed line training. This involved flying 40 sectors with a training captain (and passengers!) learning how to operate the aircraft on a daily basis to company Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). At the end of this I had to complete a line check to ensure I had met the company standard.

2.    What have you found to be the best way to network with airlines and other pilots?

For me it was being active within BALPA and making connections at my local flying club. It can be quite hard to make connections with commercial airlines, so being proactive and seizing opportunities is really the only way. Like I said in my original article, don’t be scared to contact an airline and make that initial contact, the worst they can do is not respond or say no, but you may be pleasantly surprised. There are a couple of independent organisations out there who offer networking opportunities on a regular basis. The two main ones are the Honourable Company of Air Pilots and The Air League.

3.    I’ve heard Integrated students have a better chance at finding a role once completing training.  Is that true in your experience?

In the past, this may have been true, however, I can see a change in the market. I’m not saying that modular students now have a better chance than integrated, however, I would say that from my experience it is a 50/50 split. If you have a specific airline you want to work for then I would suggest researching if they have a preference for modular or integrated students. But don’t get tunnel vision on one airline as they may not be recruiting when you finish your training.

4.    Whilst working with Flybe, have you found it easier to network with others?

I continue to remain active in my role as the chairman of the BALPA nextGen steering group, so as a natural aspect of this role I get to network with people from all areas of commercial aviation. Working within Flybe, I have been fortunate to meet people from different areas of the airline who I would not have had contact with. This has been great as it has allowed me to begin to develop a much wider understanding of how the business and industry work.

Flybe is a fantastic company to work for in this respect as the people they employ tend to be very approachable and as such are happy to discuss the role they do. Flybe also regularly creates opportunities to network with other business partners. For example, my line manager has just arranged a visit to my local air traffic control unit for a colleague and myself. This is a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of the job the controllers do and find out what I can do to make their job easier.

5.    How difficult was it to forward plan your timeline? Do you have any tips to completing my own?

The difficult part wasn’t developing the timeline, it was being disciplined or selfish enough to stick to it. The motivation came from having the confidence that I had my timings correct and that ultimately came from doing proper research into what was happening in the industry and when.

6.    I’ve just completed my training. Do you have any suggestions on where to start? For example, would it be an idea to gain some CV or interview advice? Or where can I find jobs for newly qualified pilots like myself?

If you have never had a job before, other than the odd part time job, then I would suggest getting some advice on how to create a CV. Advice on how to prepare for an airline assessment is also a good idea as they tend to follow a very specific format which is very different from any other ‘normal’ job assessment process. There are a few companies out there that offer courses on how to prepare for airline assessments which can easily be found with a simple google search. The best place to find jobs is the individual airline’s websites. I also found an independent website called aviationjobs.me to be a very useful website.

7.    Do you find being part of the nextGen steering group gives you a voice in the industry and BALPA? Has this helped you in your role as a pilot?

Yes, definitely. The nextGen programme aims to work with the industry rather than against it and that is something I am wholeheartedly in support of. Raising awareness of issues at the bottom end of the industry and then working with those in a position to be able to change it is exactly why I got involved in the first place. It is very easy to get frustrated at certain processes or situations. Instead of letting this frustration build and nothing changing, the nextGen programme creates a platform to voice concerns and issues in a professional and mature manner. This means that the policy makers are more likely to listen, take notice and hopefully do something about it.

If you have any more questions about the route to becoming a pilot or about the BALPA nextGen scheme, get in touch: nextgen@balpa.org