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, sometimes company bankruptcies, fleet changes, relocation – the unfortunate reality is that most pilots may experience some of these difficulties during their careers. You must be prepared and able to deal with such challenges if your ambitions are not to be derailed.
Securing your first professional position will probably be the most challenging part of your career and will require considerable tenacity and determination. Your licence is not a guarantee of a job – far from it. Rejection is all too common in this very competitive environment, so be prepared.
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 actually are, but it is not essential and you can succeed as a pilot without achieving top class honours in these fields.
We recommend good GCSE passes in mathematics, English, science and preferably a second language. Even though English is the language of aviation it would be advisable to gain a working knowledge of a second language, preferably that of the country in which the airline you would like to work for is based. While this is not essential, it would be a distinct advantage and would set you above the many expatriate pilots seeking work outside the UK, and make you eligible for jobs that would be closed to English-only speakers.
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 transferable skills to the 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. We wholeheartedly recommend that individuals gain qualifications that will provide fall-back employment opportunities. Aviation is historically volatile, and there is much peace of mind in having alternative options, especially when significant debts may have been incurred during training.
In terms of degree qualifications, there are some positive arguments for going into higher education. However, if you add the cost of a degree to the cost of pilot training, the undertaking is even more daunting. We recommend that you should be cautious about doing a training programme that offers degrees and flying training in one. Focus on one at a time, our experience is that it will serve you better in the long run.
Academically, pilot training is not as demanding technically as is generally perceived. However, what poses the biggest challenge is the volume and breadth of material to be assimilated in a short time. This is often where people fall down, particularly those who have been out of education for a while. It is especially true during type rating training, where the intensity and pace of the course can be overwhelming.
Certain personality types are better suited to the role of pilot. People skills are a key requirement, and a lot rests on how you interact with others socially or deal with people in a working environment. On the flight deck you will be working closely with one person for long periods of time, and if you find it hard to interact it will make for an uncomfortable experience. You should therefore feel at ease working with a range of people from diverse backgrounds. Respect for others and a commitment to equality is key. The aviation sector is a rule-based environment where adherence to procedures and routines are vital.
Security and vetting
You will also need to pass the Department of Transport’s security vetting process in order to obtain an identity card which enables you to enter the security restricted or critical areas of an airport. To do this you will need to pass a five-year background check and will have to provide details of your previous employment history. You will also need a clean criminal record however not all crimes will prevent you from clearing this hurdle.
A flexible approach is imperative in the modern airline industry. Throughout your career you will face the unpredictable, whether it be multiple roster changes, air traffic delays or changes in financial circumstances. Your ability to deal with constant changes to your routine and lifestyle will be tested.
Depending on the industry landscape, you may find that there are more job opportunities overseas. You may have to consider relocating with the possibility of spending several years in a another country.
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 sound and mature decision-making, communication and management skills, and common sense is vital. You must be able to make the correct decision quickly and accurately, to communicate effectively and to follow a plan logically.
This is the key to an efficient and safe flight deck.
The management of systems, tasks, and checklists is a major part of the pilot’s job. Monitoring yourself, the other pilot and the aircraft, it could be argued, is perhaps even
more important than the stick and rudder skills you may have considered to be all that was
Back up qualifications and skills
The skills highlighted above are only likely to be developed over time and with experience of life, both socially and at work. If you are entering this career later in life, it would be safe to assume you have back-up skills and life experience.
But if you are a school or sixth form college leaver, it may be prudent to think twice about entering flight training straight away. Do not rush into it, or make ‘pilot’ your only career choice. It is a big commitment that may affect those
around you emotionally and financially.
Before making that decision, consider a long-term plan that gives you some options along the way. If aviation is your only career choice, try to think beyond just being a pilot – gain extra qualifications in related areas that will not only bolster your chances of getting your first job but will give you a plan B if things don’t quite go according to plan. Thinking like this demonstrates a proactive nature and shows that you have structured an overall plan with options which will stand you in good stead if things don’t pan out as you had planned.
Consider undertaking a period of on-the-job vocational training, maybe gaining a trade, before embarking on your flying career. This will give you the opportunity to understand the working environment and the commercial
pressures that exist in most jobs today.
Having another option or trade is highly useful and adds to your personal development of life and work skills. Keep in mind that the aviation industry is volatile and job security isn’t guaranteed any more, so you must have a plan B. Starting off with a strong platform will allow you to build a secure future, so be considered in your decision making, have a plan and don’t be hasty; you may not think it but you have plenty of time.
During the Covid-19 crisis, we supported 2,000 members who were made redundant and thousands more who had to take part-time contracts. It was a difficult period for all, but those who had an existing skill set in another industry
were able to adapt and find alternative income streams much more quickly than those who had only ever worked in aviation.