Former Advanced Flight Training student and instructor Brian Cattle explains a little about how he became an Airline Pilot in a major UK airline.
When I was in my teens, somewhere, somehow I decided I wanted to be an airline pilot. I can’t quite remember how I came to this conclusion. I often believe that it had a lot to do with my parents taking me to the Church Fenton Airshow as a child and the occasional visit to the flight deck on our annual holidays.
Of course as I grew up, and the reality of the costs of airline pilot training became known to me I realised that a lot of hard work would be needed if I was to ever achieve my ambition.
The plan I came up with after talking to a lot of people about the venture, was that flying would be my second career. I found myself studying a Maths degree at Leeds University and then taking various jobs in Safety Management and Academia to earn the money I would need. When I decided I had enough money to start a Private Pilot Licence (PPL), I started my training at Caernarfon Airport where I found many friends. It took me a year working during the week and studying or flying at weekends to earn my PPL, which I did in the minimum allowable 45 hours flying time. Shortly after receiving my licence from the CAA came a change of job, which took me to work back in Leeds.
I was lucky enough to meet some people who were at a similar stage of their training at Sherburn-In-Elmet airfield, and I flew many of my hour building hours from there. Most of the friends I met at this stage of my training I’m still in touch with today. At the same time I was studying my ATPL theory distance learning course with CATS, and after my last written exam I found myself with the necessary hours to start my Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL).
At this point the training got more serious. The CPL is a full time course and not wishing to give up my job I was able to arrange a summer sabbatical by using all of my leave entitlement plus some unpaid leave to do the course. I was very fortunate to choose to do the CPL at Advanced Flight Training at Sherburn where my training was through, challenging but most importantly enjoyable. Kevin and the team of instructors at AFT recognised my needs a student and tailored the course to work for my individual circumstances.
Because my annual leave entitlement was used up I had to return to work and content myself with flying occasionally to keep current. However, the following summer I used the same tactic with my leave and returned to Advanced Flight Training to add a Flight Instructor Rating to my licence. When I completed the course I was offered employment as a Flying Instructor for the rest of the summer season teaching Leeds University students their PPL as part of the Aviation Technology with Pilot Studies degree. This was truly a milestone as it was the first time I was earning money to fly: the fulfillment of a long held ambition.
Having had the summer instructing, I returned to work to the news that there might be redundancies. Having done some calculations as to what sort of payment I would get if I accepted voluntary redundancy I concluded that would be able to take the money and use it to get my Instrument Rating. This was something of a leap of faith as I had no guarantee I would find another job after the course. It was about this time that I became involved with Mickey Kaye’s endeavour to set up York Flying School at Breighton, which itself was a leap of faith on Mickey’s part. Setting up a flying school at an unlicensed airfield, albeit one with a good catchment area and a long aviation heritage, was a relative unknown at the time since the requirement for training to be conducted at licensed airfields had only recently been removed. Through Mickey’s determination, York Flying School proved to be viable and continues to be very successful.
Fortunately after my Instrument Rating Course I found work instructing at Multiflight and York Flying School, both of who I worked for on a part-time basis for about two years, while also freelancing in my old job and teaching ATPL ground courses for Advanced Flight Training, to keep the rent coming in.
Then in summer 2014 I got my first airline break. After returning from teaching a flying lesson I found a voicemail on my phone inviting me to an interview at Atlantic Airlines to fly as a copilot on the Advanced Turboprop (ATP) carrying cargo in the UK, Europe and Scandinavia. While I was sad to leave behind my instructing role it wasn’t long, less than a week in fact, before I found myself in Denmark studying my new aeroplane and undergoing some gruelling training in the simulator. Two months later I received my official sign off as a First Officer on the ATP.
I flew the ATP mainly at night on mail routes for Royal Mail and DHL working four or five nights with two or three days off between. Quite often starting a duty in the early evening and finishing work the next morning I saw both sunset and the following sunrise from the flight deck many times. In the summer flying Northbound in the UK, even at 2am, the sunlight stays just barely visible on the horizon and darkness never truly falls.
After I had been with the company just over a year, I volunteered or was persuaded (I can’t quite remember which) to be one of the first copilots to transfer to Atlantic’s sister company Westair Sweden as part of a merger with the Swedish group. I operated on Swedish and Norwegian mail routes for a number of months flying to Oslo, Trondheim, Stavanger and Bergen in Norway and Lulea, Umea, Orebro, Gothenburg, Sundsvall and Malmo in Sweden. I also found myself as far south as Marseille and Tunis occasionally on mail and express parcel service routes. The temperature difference between Tunis, the furthest South I worked, and Lulea, the furthest North, was some 40 degrees Celsius!
During the time I was working for Westair Sweden I learned that a major UK Airbus operator was recruiting First Officers and felt that the trend to more time away from home and longer night duties in my present job was not going to be sustainable forever. You have to take the opportunities as they come along and I had just reached the experience level the company were looking for and so I applied, probably more in hope than expectation. As summer turned to autumn I attended the interview and a week later I found myself sitting in an Airbus simulator doing a proficiency check.
Somewhat nervous, my flying wasn’t quite as polished as I would normally like and after the session I felt it could have gone either way. I gained a little bit of confidence when the Training Captain asked me which base I would be interested in, and since I now lived in the South of England I was gunning for Gatwick. There wasn’t much delay, because his next statement sealed the deal; ‘Congratulations Brian, if you wish to take the job you will start on the 4th of January. We will give you some time to think it over and let us know by the end of next week’. It didn’t take me until the end of the next week, we agreed there and then that I would accept.
As January came, once again I was undergoing a demanding eight week conversion course to be ready to start line operations on the Airbus. Now I am flying from Gatwick to the Canary Islands, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Cyprus and Italy to name a few.
I am very fortunate to do what I do, and to love it thoroughly, but none of it would have been possible without the support of a great number of people, family, mentors and instructors who have all combined to make me into the person and pilot I am today.
Of course, the key ingredient as with any endeavour of significant undertaking is determination. The resolve to overcome the issues and problems one by one during the course of the journey. The willingness to sacrifice both time and money and to learn from those around you in an effort to constantly improve.
I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the staff at Advanced Flight Training for their dedication and first-class teaching during all of my professional courses. Not only are the instructors outstanding at passing on their knowledge but they all have a genuine love and passion for what they do which is infectious and its value is enormous in producing a really positive training environment. I can honestly say that my experiences at Advanced Flight Training have prepared me extremely well for my career.