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Chasing the dream: my pilot training journey

by Fabio Abagnale BALPA nextGen member

My name is Fabio Abagnale. I’m 22 years old and I come from northern Italy. I love football, music and travel, but most of all, I love flying.

I have just completed my modular pilot training at Flight Training Europe (FTE) in Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain. It’s been a long journey to reach my dream, and there is still a way to go as I search for a job. But it is a fantastic experience that I would personally recommend to everyone who is in love with aviation.

“Being a pilot was my dream”

I became interested in aviation and planes when I was a child. My father used to travel around the world and when he came back home he always had a small model plane for me. I started to love those shiny planes, I told everyone that being a pilot was my dream job.

After middle school I decided to join an aviation-related high school in Como, where I could learn more about becoming a pilot. At every opportunity, I studied the subjects that would be the basis of my aviation knowledge.

I discovered new aspects about pilots and planes, including the positive and negative sides of this lifestyle. I never lost my motivation and, in 2012 when I was 16, I started training at my local flight school in Como, Aeroclub Como, where I fell in love with seaplanes and flying from the most beautiful lake in Europe.


Choosing a training route:

As I already had a PPL and some flight experience I wasn’t sure whether to join the modular or integrated route. I spent hours on the internet looking for schools, prices, cadet schemes and reading opinions on forums. I convinced myself that integrated training would give me the best chance of finding a job.

In 2015 I went to visit a flight training organisation in the UK. After this trip I still wasn’t sure that spending such a large amount of money, in addition to my PPL expenses, would be a good idea. That summer I decided to join an integrated flight school in northern Italy, which was much cheaper than the bigger schools, but it didn’t have the same strong airline connection as the others.

After some time in ground school I reassessed my choices. I found out about a school that was offering a really interesting modular training scheme. I decided the best way forward for me would be to complete my ground school in Italy and then join that school (Pilot Training Network) in 2017.

“I felt lost, but I didn’t lose my motivation…”

But I was unlucky, and in autumn 2016 I received mail from the school telling me that from that moment onwards they were no longer training modular students. I felt lost, but I didn’t lose my motivation. I started to look again for a school that would give me the best package.

Finally, in April 2017, I signed my contract with Flight Training Europe (FTE), with the aim of starting my training in September. I had just completed my ground school, with first time passes and a good average, so I was ready to get back flying and complete my hour building in time.

The hour building has been the hardest part of my training in my opinion, because I still had 85 hours of PIC (Pilot In Command) time to build and only five months ahead of me. It was more than all the hours I had flown until that time. I did my hour building mostly in Italy on Cessna 172 seaplanes and the conventional, Diamond 20 Katana.

I also added 20 hours in Jerez, flying in Spain to get used to the area and for my 300 Nm Qualification Cross Country. For my Qualification Cross Country, I planned a trip from northern Italy to the Greek island of Corfu. It has been the most adventurous flight ever, and an incredible journey that lasted 16 hours and 1400 Nm in total.

“You need to be disciplined…”

In September 2017 I finally started my training at FTE and in less than two months I passed my instrument rating, and just two weeks later my CPL skills test. Now I have almost completed my MCC/JOC on the 737.

Living on-site in Jerez has been awesome: I have met people from all over the world and it’s an incredible community of young aspiring pilots. The school is well-organised, and our modular training has been intense, and I don’t feel any difference in the standards between us and the integrated students. Our training routes are different, but the basic skills that we build are strong and if the modular training route is followed with discipline and motivation you can reach the same level as an integrated student, who has to follow a tight schedule from day one of their training.

If you are a modular student, YOU need to be disciplined and set timetables and deadlines. That’s the core skill needed as a modular student.

Funding my dream

I was lucky to have the financial support of my parents. I was in charge of deciding how I’d spend the money in the most cost-effective way, ensuring I did my best to use these funds to cover all areas of my training, without compromising on quality.

I had to deal with the cost of my PPL training, hour building, night rating and commercial training independently, by funding this through money I earned through working, which was a real challenge for me, as trying to keep the prices low without compromising on safety and quality was my main focus.

You always need to set a budget and try to follow this, but it was difficult to consider everything that could go wrong. It has been stressful, and you really struggle with motivation when you need to invest thousands of euros in your training.

The best thing I could do to keep the cost of training low was to put the highest effort I could into my training flights, to successfully pass them at the first attempt, in order to avoid doing extra flights and spending additional money.

The next big challenge

I think that finding a job as an airline pilot will be the hardest challenge of 2018. I already have an assessment booked with an Italian regional carrier and hopefully I will be ready and successful. At the moment the market for low hour pilots is really good but the competition is strong, and requirements vary from airline to airline. I only speak Italian and English, so I won’t be able to apply to every job I find, but hopefully the right job for me is out there. I also trust my flight school and their strong connection with some airlines, so hopefully this is going to be a big help.

My advice to an aspiring pilot:

Never lose your motivation, because this is the energy that pushes you during the hardest moments of your training.

I would recommend the modular training route to everybody who feels confident with their discipline and skills. Some airlines may not consider you because you are a modular trained pilot, others will hire you mostly for this reason.

Those airlines hiring only integrated students from selected providers are doing it as a commercial strategy, rather than a real concern about the quality of the cadet. I hope this will change in the future and we will all have the same opportunities.

A final thank-you

I would not have been able to achieve my dreams if it wasn’t for the help I’ve had from my biggest supporters: my parents. I must also thank the instructors and great people that I met during my journey. And BALPA, thank you. You are always supporting pilots and defending their rights, which is so important for the future of the profession and the next generation of pilots. Thank you for sharing my story.

Do you have a question for Fabio?

If anyone has any specific questions about Fabio’s story, then please get in touch with the nextGen team at: nextGen@balpa.org.