Monday, 9 September 2013


“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. My name is Alan Carter your Captain today. I would like to welcome you all on-board our fabulous Boeing 747-400 Jumbo Jet for your flight to San Francisco..............blah-blah-blah!”

I should imagine that an awful lot of aspiring pilots would one day hope to be able to recite a similar, welcome on-board Passenger Address before departure. I am very lucky to have been a Captain and in that position on over a thousand flights on the Boeing 747, as well as another thousand on the Boeing 737. Though my last  ‘customers’ were no longer interested in what I had to say, as I operated the freighter version of the Boeing 747-400 to destinations as diverse as those in China, Afghanistan and Europe!

However, for those pilots who have just completed their training, this could unfortunately be sometime away. With a shiny mint condition Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL) in their possession, finding that first position in the Right Hand Seat (RHS) of any aircraft type can be both a daunting and frustrating experience; especially if you don’t yet have a type rating on an aircraft operated or recognised by the airlines.

A lot of co-pilot positions these days seem to initially be found by word of mouth or advertised on-line by various recruitment agencies, with very little other options available except possibly contacts which their flight training schools might have. Though there are a few ways to try and place your foot as the first one in the door. This takes a little research, a little knowledge and a lot of luck. Sometimes you have to push without being pushy!

There are very few companies these days who recruit low time and relatively inexperienced pilots, those who are new to the profession are finding it more and more difficult in this intensely fraught job market. Primarily because there are so many qualified pilots and often type rated pilots, who are also looking to move to their next position.

There are also some pilots who unfortunately falsify their logbooks and licences, obtaining employment with those ‘third world’ airlines who accept on face value obscure qualifications just to have ‘pilots’ in their cockpits. This is often born out of desperation but is simply pure criminality. I am finding that with the more reputable airlines, personal recommendations are the only way to achieve employment……..but these are tales for another time, though you might be surprised as to who some of these might be and where they are flying…….

I am frequently asked for advice from genuine pilots and those candidates who are just embarking out on the long road of their training, so I would like to offer my suggestions to these highly enthusiastic people. Well you must be enthusiastic and dedicated to spend the amount of money which is required these days to gain your initial licences, but again financial ‘hardship’ seems to now be the only viable option.

So, I suggest that you register with all of the aircrew recruitment companies which you can find, either by internet searches, or the back page of Flight Global magazine; as well as by consulting your peers for their own personal feedback. It doesn't matter if you do not meet their current requirements, but at least you are in their database and on their mailing list. Update your profile regularly, just to keep it fresh.

Spend some time searching for every airline that you can think of, find their websites and look for the ‘join us’ or careers pages, often these are not obvious but if you scroll down to the bottom of the home page and click on the ‘site map’ link, often this will reveal what you are looking for.

Again just my opinion, but I can’t see the point of spending any money to ‘join’ an on-line subscription pilot job site; these are often just ‘cut and paste’ websites trying to screw the last Pound, Euro, Dollar out of those desperately seeking employment. The information which they offer can be easily found elsewhere with the simplest of searches…….so save your remaining pennies for more worthwhile purchases.

Trawling through magazines like Airways, Airliner World and Flight Global can give you a valuable insight into which airlines are placing orders for new aircraft or expanding their route network, both factors which could importantly require them to employ more pilots, and so possibly you. I used to spend hours in WH Smith exploring these magazines, but now the editors of these are getting wise and enclosing them in sealed polythene bags……like those found on the ‘top shelf’…… I am told!

Using websites such as Pprune, but here I’d like to add a not believe everything you read as some of the posts can be, shall we say a wee bit biased, lop-sided and from those with an axe to grind......however, they can assist you in finding out which companies might be recruiting. Use them primarily as a tool, by you to find out whom to contact, Chief Pilots, Fleet Managers, training managers and human resource departments.  I would suggest badgering all of these departments, sending e-mails, updating your CV with them, and if it at all possible a personal visit to the airline’s offices could do no harm.

Have a look at flight training organisation websites, such as OAA, CTC, Flight Safety, CAE and any others which you can find on Google, see which airlines they are training pilots for and again contact them all. It never hurts to ask, you just might be in the right place when they are looking for someone to fill an immediate position; I have been lucky to have been in just the right place and at just the right time on four occasions, once with Virgin Atlantic as well as Thomsonfly, then with Viking and again with Silkways… there is no reason why you too can’t be lucky too.

Now, Pay To Fly schemes, known as P2F…… lies a highly heated debate as to the pros and cons. I am going to put my tin hat on and comment.

“Pay To Fly schemes, in my opinion are morally WRONG. Paying to fly say, for 500 hours as a co-pilot after paying said company for a type rating is WRONG. This is just legalised slavery and exploitation and is WRONG. However, I would never knock anyone for doing this if they can afford it. If I was interviewing two pilots with the same qualifications and experience, the fact that one of them had embarked on a P2F scheme would not bias my judgement either way…….I know that this, in certain circles would be considered incorrect, personality and attitude would play a huge part in my decision instead………again this is just my opinion based on 30 years of experience in this fabulous industry, though one where safety and professionalism is being seriously degraded by politics and economics, again tales for another time.”

However, it is very true, you only have one opportunity of making a good first impression, so make the most of it. Your initial e-mails need to be polite, not pushy and asserting your complete flexibility. Don’t ask about an airline’s specific type or a particular base which might interest you. Give the impression that you would be happy to fly anything anywhere. If they have a hot air balloon, then agree that you would be happy to spend six months in the wicker basket…..this doesn't mean that you yourself are a basket case, just that you are committed……..and not that you should be ‘committed’ either! This might sound obvious, but I was stupid enough not to realise this, as the following paragraph will explain!

‘Many years ago whilst employed as a co-pilot on the Boeing 727 with Dan Air, sadly a fabulous airline which is no longer with us, I was invited to attend a British Airways selection course. After jumping through all their hoops, I made it through to the final interview, where it was suggested that I would be offered a position flying a turboprop, one which I used to fly in Dan Air. However, my answer to my interviewees remained the same.......I don’t want to go back to turbo-props; I want to keep flying jets! But they said this would be a way of you becoming a British Airways pilot! I again said no!’

Well, the upshot is.......I never worked for British Airways, and yes at the time I was probably a naive fool, but looking back, I don’t regret missing out due to all the fabulous experiences which I have had since; not to mention all the wonderful characters whom I have met!

I have since learnt never to turn anything down which is offered to you!

Preparation is the key and in aviation it is very true to say that ‘failing to prepare, is preparing to fail’; whether it is for a simulator check or an interview. There are some obvious facts which need to be addressed, from your CV to interview technique, to make yourself stand out.

In my opinion a CV needs to be clear and concise, ideally one page will suffice, highlighting personal details, education background, aviation qualifications and experience. I have seen many CVs which go on for pages explaining how some candidates spent time working in pubs and restaurants, which although commendable can certainly be ‘abbreviated’. Human Resource departments and those pilots involved in recruitment receive dozens if not hundreds of CVs, both clarity and brevity is appreciated when reviewing them. A photo of you in a pilot’s shirt with a black tie will put a face to a name quite literally……don’t include a photo of yourself toned whilst on the beach…..yes I have seen one and I can promise you that it didn't help this guy’s application………though his girlfriend in her bikini, she was offered a job and she didn't even have a pilot’s licence! Joking…….aren't I?

Now I know this is obvious but wear a suit to an interview. I can almost hear the sighs as you read this…….but when I went for my interview simulator ride with Thomsonfly there were four of us; one of whom wore jeans and trainers, I never saw him again! You might be the ace of the base, but that sort of attitude will immediately send your application to the waste paper basket, again first impressions only get one chance of working.

These days a lot of airlines use ‘convoluted’ tests, be they mathematics, English reasoning or psychological. Do your research of these and if possible practice them, obvious yes. But one interview I went for I was presented with one of these so called English reasoning tests, now I had been a Boeing 747 Captain for many years and wondered what the heck this had to do with flying. Some of my fellow interviewees raised sarcastic comments to the invigilator, a company pilot…..I never saw them again either! They failed not necessarily the English test, but the attitude test. I simply said later in my interview with the Chief Pilot that I either had achieved 100% or 0% as I had no idea what I had just done! I was offered the job and spent two fabulous years flying the Boeing 737 whilst working for this company.

You might laugh but it does help to practice for a simulator ride, using a computer flight simulator game, this does not make you a geek………..just more prepared. In Virgin Atlantic I would often practice scenarios on my PC, this will build up your situational awareness of where the navigation aids are, diversion airports and the length of time a particular route takes. Again anything to give you the edge, more thinking time and a slicker session will elevate your chances of employment.

Back to the interview simulator check, often you will be asked obscure questions, such as your telephone number which your examiner will write down and then ask you to repeat it backwards……..all the time whilst you are flying a non-precision approach. Or you’ll be flying along at say 10,000 feet and you’ll be asked ‘what is currently the speed of sound’ a simple question as you probably have indications of TAS (True AirSpeed) and Mach Number on the displays in-front of you. So the more thinking time and spare mental capacity which you can develop will greatly assist you.

There are several companies which offer pre-interview courses for new pilots, now do your research on these carefully. They can be either a standard one day course or a bespoke course tailored to an individual’s requirements. Now they may not be necessary for everyone, but again anything that you can do to bolster your chances of securing that interview and then subsequently succeeding at it, can do no harm. Again though, do your research and try and find recommendations from those who have been and done it before you.

My Facebook page has in excess of 4,000 members, many of these are either aspiring or newly qualified pilots, often asking me for advice, or advice from my other ‘friends’, a less faceless method of networking than say LinkedIn. I try to answer all questions….eventually, though at times it can take me an hour or so a day to do this, but I try! All are welcome, so just send me a friend request and I’ll try to help where I can.
So, yes it is difficult to secure that first interview, but as I have said over the last thirty years that I have so far been involved in this fabulous industry, and yes it is still fabulous even though I know many pilots moan and whinge……part of our nature I imagine, but I wouldn't have done anything else. Probably couldn't!

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