Rachelle Rogers

Winter Youth Olympian & Airline Pilot

First Steps to the Flight Deck Part 2

Continuing on from my last post…..again please note all views expressed here are my own personal ones, not those of any FTO and airline.

For Part 1, please click here.


6. Which Flight Training Organisation is right for me?

Another question which can be hard to find the answer to! Let me tell you why I chose FTE Jerez to help you see how just one pilot came to the decision. My whole search for a FTO began when I contacted an alumni of my senior school, she went to Oxford Aviation Academy (OAA) so naturally that was the first place I looked at. When I visited Oxford, I generally had no clue about anything. When you’re new, it’s easy to just jump straight into something without properly doing your research. Whilst I liked the look of OAA, I knew I couldn’t apply without having looked elsewhere first.

Soon after visiting OAA, I learnt about CTC through some fellow pilots at Air First flight school, Blackbushe and hence discovered the existence of airline schemes. My next step was attending a CTC Open Day where the Generation easyJet MPL scheme was advertised as opening up. I thoroughly enjoyed my day and the highlight was of course getting to land one of the simulators at London Gatwick. Following on from my visit, I decided to apply to the easyJet scheme and was disappointed to learn a few weeks later that my application didn’t even make it through the first stage! Having flown with easyJet on and off since about the age of 7, I thought it would be amazing to have the opportunity to fly for the airline, especially considering my year of birth being the same year easyJet was founded. However, me being me, I am not one to give up easily!

Not long after, if I remember correctly, Virgin Atlantic were speaking at a CTC Open Day to promote their FFP training scheme, so I decided to attend yet another Open Day. This gave me another opportunity to have a look at the facilities CTC have to offer and ask more questions. I ended up having quite a long chat with the Virgin Atlantic pilot and decided to apply to the scheme.

Meanwhile, I was continuing my training for my PPL at Blackbushe and was given the email address of one of their old students who had gone the self sponsored route at FTE Jerez. Before that day I had never heard of the place! Being the open-minded person I am, I decided to investigate by getting in contact with him. After some correspondence, I decided to have a ‘why not?’ approach and apply. The Flight Deck Event (assessment process) was free of charge, unlike other FTOs. Additionally, the experience gave you the opportunity to stay on campus and was in Southern Spain…who would say no to a-few-day-get-away to a warm, sunny country?

Shortly before flying out to Jerez at the end of November 2015, I went along to the Pilot Careers Live event at London Heathrow. My father found out about this online and we decided it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the industry. It was hear I had a long conversation with the Head of Training at FTE Jerez (not that I knew what that meant at the time, nor that one day he would be teaching me how to fly a Piper Warrior…) and a young lady pilot from FlyBe, who was there representing the airline. She was very lovely and a huge help, I cannot thank her enough for taking the time to talk to me like she did. Hearing the reasons why she chose FTE started to swing my choice of FTO towards them.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t until I made it to their Flight Deck Event that I finalised my decision. When the Head of Groundschool asked me in my interview “why do I want to go to FTE?”, I just sat there with this huge grin on my face, to which he said something along the lines of no need to give me a response, I can see you want to go here. I went to the Flight Deck Event to gain experience of pilot selection processes before hopefully undergoing an airline scheme one. I was successful in the FTE assessments and accepted a place there-and-then to start in January 2016, despite hearing from CTC that very day I had made it past the first round of the assessment process.

So why did I chose FTE? Well at Pilot Careers Live, what sold it to me was the fact all costs were included in the price (so course costs, accommodation, food, electricity, internet, etc all included), unlike other FTOs. Additionally, I liked the idea of everyone from all stages of training being on the same campus as I thought it would be a real benefit knowing the cadets ahead of you. As an extension to that point, even in the early days of groundschool you can backseat a cadet in the single engine and multi engine phase of flight training, should you wish to do so and see some of the concepts you’ve been learning about in the classroom in action. Another selling point was out of the main three integrated FTOs offering the UK CAA qualification, it was the only FTO using Piper Warriors for their single engine phase, an aircraft with which I love and am confident flying. However, what really finalised my decision was going to the campus itself and experiencing life at FTE…it just felt right!

7. Airline Schemes or Self Sponsored / Whitetail?

Generally, most prospective students will apply to an airline scheme of some sort and then go down the ‘self sponsored’ / ‘whitetail’ path if unsuccessful after several attempts. Although I applied to a few, personally it didn’t appeal to me. However I respect some people like the comfort of having a contract before starting training and the bonding schemes (where the airline cover your training but as a consequence you are tied to them for a certain period of time and on a reduced salary, not dissimilar to a salary sacrifice scheme).

Nonetheless, I am a firm supporter of the ‘self sponsored’ / ‘whitetail’ route. As a ‘self sponsored’ student (I’ll use that term as it is the one I am familiar with), you are in control of your own finances and your management of covering the costs. You also have your options kept open in terms of employment and when the industry is good with lots of jobs on offer, to some extent you can chose who you want to work for. In addition, you will generally start on a higher salary than those on a reduced salary and unlike theirs, yours will benefit from increments.

Returning to the airline schemes, it is important to remember it is merely a contract, you still have to work very hard in training to make sure you meet their minimum requirement in terms of performance at various stages of the course. Otherwise you may find the job at the end is no longer there. Also it is worth taking note of the recent increase in ‘mentored’ rather than ‘sponsored’ scheme, which is basically where you pay for it yourself like the self sponsored students do. The only difference is you have a job offer prior to commencing training and will have support from the airline, such as being able to liaise with a pilot currently working for them, which is very helpful.

In conclusion, consider all factors and be open minded! I think if there is an airline you really want to work for it is worth applying to the schemes. Additionally, by doing this you gain experience in the selection / interview process pilots have to undergo for most jobs, regardless of their experience. However, bear in mind these schemes are fiercely competitive and sometimes you need to apply several times before you are successful! If you chose the‘self sponsored route, you’ve got to make sure you achieve a standard on the course that puts you in the best possible position to be employed by an airline, as this will keep your options open.

8. What do airlines look for in a candidate?

This varies from airline to airline, nonetheless it is a more common trend for airlines to focus on ‘soft skills’ (aka non-technical skills). Due to the increasingly automated cockpit of a modern airliner, companies assess a candidate’s ability to work in a multi-crew environment as flying does not only require good piloting skills, but there are also the human factors to consider. In other words, they evaluate your competencies and whether you will fit into the company. Additionally, many airlines are looking for both the team player and the team leader when recruiting for First Officers because FOs are the captains of tomorrow! Here is a list of some of the key competencies:

  • Teamwork & Leadership – As mentioned above, a pilot needs to both act as a team player, but also be capable of taking the lead. Airlines tend to assess a pilot’s ability to work in a team by having a group exercise session where a candidate’s behaviour will be observed in a group environment.
  • Motivation & Determination – Training to become a pilot is very demanding and requires a lot of dedication to the course. It is intensive and I’m not exaggerating when I say my theoretical knowledge books / notes reached hip height by the time I had finished all of my exams! In addition, being an airline pilot is a continuous learning process. Throughout a pilot’s career, they will constantly undergo training and acquiring new knowledge as the industry evolves.
  • Decision Making & Problem Solving – The nature of the job means you will always be having to make choices when faced with certain situations and problems. In an ideal world, every flight would run smoothly from A to B, but in reality, you never know what will happen, and that’s all part of the excitement! I personally achieve a certain level of satisfaction when I have faced challenges and found an effective solution.
  • Flexible & Patient – Due to delays, schedule changes, diversions, extended duty, missing departure slots, etc. etc. a pilot needs to remain calm and not let such things bother them! Therefore, they must be flexible and patient. I’ll give you an example, on my IR exam, I was not cleared for the approach due to other traffic having priority. This was unexpected and caused my exam to overrun by about 30 minutes! It doesn’t sound a lot but when you are doing a phantom waypoint hold on raw data with asymmetric thrust, it’s a long time. However, I did not let it affect my flying, I stayed relaxed & unphased by a situation which was beyond my control anyway and maintained a high level of accuracy throughout, which was noticed by the examiner. Flexibility also relates to being able to work with everyone and anyone. With an airline, particularly at a large base, you will potentially be working with a new team every single day and must be able to work in a professional, friendly manner to help ensure a safe and efficient operation.

9. How do I apply to a course or airline scheme?

Self sponsored courses run by FTOs are generally open all year round as intake occurs at regular intervals throughout the year. For example at FTE, there is a Flight Deck Event and new course every month. Airline schemes are a bit different and as soon as they appear, you need to be quite quick on your feet as they tend to be open for a short period only. The best way to stay in the loop of schemes opening up is to follow the FTOs, Pilot Career News and airlines on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) as this is a good way of staying updated.

10. Where can I find out more?

The best way to figure out what is right for you is to network. Ask people who have been there and done that! This is the best way to find out about the options and which one you would like to go for. The benefit qualified pilots will have over you is hindsight and experience. Asking an ex-student why they chose the FTO they did and why they decided to go modular / integrated is by far the most beneficial way of gaining knowledge of the training process. A good place to do this is at any Pilot Careers Live event across Europe, as all the key players in the pilot training world are there with staff and students (past and present) available to answer any questions you have. Going to one of the events opened my eyes and really helped me. I cannot recommend it enough. Additionally, visiting the FTOs themselves is so helpful as it’s the only way to get a feel of the facilities and what’s on offer.

To all my readers, I hope you found this very thorough, honest and helpful. I know it’s a long one (hence why I split it in two!). The purpose is to provide an insight into how you decide what training to go for. Please feel free to share the link, like my tweet and provide me with any positive feedback.

Happy flying everyone!

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