Living the dream

Living the dream

We talk to two recently qualified airline pilots about their training experience

Paul Hodgetts

Integrated ATPL student |  Leading Edge Aviation

Paul’s story: I’m in the foundation flying phase currently, still dazzled by the first stripe! I completed my first solo in January, since then I’ve completed circuit lessons, first navigation flight, first instrument flight and several solo general handling flights. Currently I’m preparing for my first solo navigation. After that I’ll be starting building hours on more complex navigations and starting night flying.

I initially started a PPL several years ago, however, owing to financial and life commitments I had at the time – mortgage and full-time career – I paused the idea of a flight-deck career.

Once I could resume my flight training I thought hard about maximising my potential. I recognised that I needed to immerse myself with no distractions. Once I was set on an Integrated course, Leading Edge’s training guarantee was a key factor – that additional training would be covered if required.

I researched all the large well-known flight schools. Back then, I’d never heard of Leading Edge – it was still quite new – but I arranged a visit. I was guided around its academy, introduced to instructors and staff, as well as given an aircraft tour. I was immediately impressed with its people, the warmth, and the family feel that it has.

Coming to this a little later in life, I had savings and assets to sell, specifically my house! The equity from selling my home and my savings took care of most of it, and luckily my parents were able to top up the rest.

The toughest part of the course was definitely the ATPL Groundschool! By far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! It’s gruelling hard work. The academic level of some of these subjects is tough enough, but the sheer volume is incredible, 13 subjects in six months.

The flying has been the most fun and rewarding. I remember my first flight after passing ground school was such an amazing feeling, as was my first solo flight! These milestones are unforgettable, fun and things you’ll remember forever!

Have I started looking for a job? Absolutely! I actively engage wherever I can, talk to pilots, look at recruitment sites and forums, check out what airlines are doing and attend any events that are on such as Pilot Careers Live. I also talk regularly with the team at Leading Edge about the market and how it’s recovering.

The one piece of advice I’d offer is, know yourself. Sit down with a cuppa and have a very honest conversation with yourself! What are you good at? What do you think you’ll find difficult? How are you going to mitigate that? Know your reason why! You have to have the desire that can sustain you for the long road of hard work ahead.

Cherry Charters

Modular ATPL graduate  |  Bristol Groundschool and Stapleford Flight Centre

Cherry’s story: I was backpacking around Africa when I was 19 and saw a Cessna Caravan flying over Victoria Falls, was smitten and kept thinking about it. When I got to Malawi, I found an internet café and googled local flying schools near my home in Kent, and booked a trial lesson for my return to England… and went from there on the self-funded modular route.

I did some gliding at Challock, and my PPL with Skytrek at Rochester Airport. I did my ATPL written exams with Bristol Groundschool (BGS), and my commercial, Instrument and MEP training at Stapleford. I also did aerobatics and tailwheel flying with the Tiger Club. It was all either self-funded or scholarships ­– the Air League Bristol Ground School scholarship, a night rating from the Air League and a Gliding scholarship.

BGS’s online question bank was fantastic and I would just take it travelling with me. I remember going to Hong Kong from London by train for two months along the Trans Siberian express route and taking my whizz wheel and material to continue studying on the long journey across Russia and Mongolia. Sometimes, the train didn’t stop for four consecutive days! 

The classes in Bristol were very good and there was a good support system. I would always recommend the distance learning and modular route if you are a self-motivated individual, as you can build your hours and you will save a lot of money. 

I had the initial interview with Susi Air in Indonesia in November 2019 and was put in the holding pool due to start March 2020, but this was postponed due to coronavirus. I got a job as a delivery driver for Tesco and maintained my skill by flying the SuperCub every few weeks. In February 2021 Susi Air invited me out to Indonesia. By June 2021 I was in Indonesia completing training on the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan – and I’ve been here ever since.

The best part about my job is the views from the cockpit. Flying at 11,000ft and seeing volcanoes and mountains beside and above you. Gorgeous cloud formations and endless jungle, and island hopping in the Mentawai Islands or the Riau Archipelago. 

Medical evacuations are very rewarding as you feel like you are helping people who would otherwise have to go by road which would take all day, or by boat if they live on one of the remote islands. There’s never a dull moment flying for Susi Air!

The one piece of advice I’d give to women looking to become a pilot? Believe in yourself.

Cherry Charters Susi Air
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