What an awful time to be a qualified Commercial Pilot, hey?

I thought I had it pretty bad when my airline sponsor went bust. Being forced from the Flybe MPL to a whitetail ATPL (and from the B737 simulator back to the Piper Warrior), felt pretty rough at the time. Little did I know just how slim the flying opportunities would be – a whole different type of heartbreak! Sweat. Blood. Tears.  Nearly 2 whole years of intensive training and not an airline job in sight. Our poor little industry was hit extremely hard by the Covid19 Pandemic, leaving myself, and hundreds of other newly qualified pilots in a bit of a predicament. Retrain or wait it out?

Firstly, I have had many reality checks since qualifying; the product of plenty of contemplation sessions and meltdowns. Working my little butt off for a sponsored airline programme with a job ‘guaranteed’ at the end of it, all felt for nothing when I was pushed right back to the single engine training, and graduated into the most competitive and stagnant industry at the time. I sent hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of emails with covering letters and CVs to every single flying school, private jet company, air survey groups and airlines I could find a contact for. Like every other twenty-something year old with a license, I was desperate to get flying. No luck, but so fortunate and very grateful to have been mortgage free, no car loans, and a roof over my head during these troubling times. I began the Indeed job search; anything to get me working again. 139 applications later and still firmly in a global pandemic, I accepted a position at a university working in event management and student recruitment, with my heart still firmly set on flying, but safely enjoying time with family and friends at home

They say that everyone knows everyone in the aviation industry. It really is one of the most supportive, well connected sectors I have ever experienced. The sheer amount of helpful and encouraging messages, emails, calls I have received over the last year or so is overwhelming. We really do look after our own, and I’m so proud to be a part of such a kind family that is aviation. Speaking about my journey into aviation and out the other side during the biggest downturn the industry has known, has been a really positive experience for me. A definite highlight would be speaking with Ben and Dave on The Pilot Base podcast; being featured amongst a Blue Angel and Red Arrow, the founder of Project Wingman, and Saddam Hussein’s Presidential  Pilot. Another would be the opportunity to write for Joanna at Base, and the Opus publication were also great platforms to tell my tale. I also loved speaking with Vic Minnet on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio, and creating an hour long show Ellie at Crew Radio, with some of my life stories and my top 6 songs. Working alongside Aviation Insider as their Crew Services Manager allowed me to explore the realm of aviators’ side hustles, by showcasing the small businesses of Cabin Crew and Pilots with exclusive discount codes.

I’ve heard so many warming stories about airline pilots retraining and gaining new skills during the pandemic. Seeing my close friends become qualified accountants, mega yacht stewardesses and project managers on engineering works makes me feel so proud – we’re such an employable bunch! My history is mostly PR, events and administration, and led me to my lucky position I am in now.

After 6 months at the university, I was so, so blessed to be offered the role of Flight Operations Manager at a flying School just north of London. Ferry trips, PIC flying Flight Experiences as well as a foot in the scheduling, maintenance and tech log world is the perfect role to keep me current and hour building whilst the recovery ramps up. Or at least it was, until the UK CAA decided my EASA Frozen ATPL with SEP rating would no longer allow me to fly UK/G-registered aircraft. It pushed me down the UK PPL route with a heck of a lot of paperwork and wishful thinking.

A tale for another post perhaps…

There are signs of improvement! We’re early 2022 now, and some airlines are hiring. For any cadets currently in training or due to start their flying programmes; don’t rush! The recovery is slow, and the competition is still tough, so take your sweet time in the safe haven that is training. And for others in my position – keep current! I even popped back out to Spain to revalidate my MEIR on the DA42. Trying not to fall for crazy expensive ‘airline prep courses’ is also a good idea, but do keep an eye on flying scholarships.

There are still hundreds of type rated and qualified pilots with valid and current licenses without jobs. I won’t be selling my soul to a certain Irish airline for a role on less than minimum wage and no real contract, but I am glad to see colleagues training and flying again. Flybe have even been resurrected! Shame my license isn’t desired by them, but I also have a few opportunities on the horizon. Fingers crossed.

I just can’t get over how lucky I am to have fallen into a job that keeps my hand in the aviation industry. The big move North wasn’t so fun, but I am learning to love my new area, making lots of new friends, and trying new and old hobbies. Having a boss who is your biggest supporter is a bonus, and the most thoughtful, knowledgable and reassuring colleagues who are always fighting your corner is such a blessing. Not to mention all of the opportunities! Taking my Dad flying as my first solo passenger was one of the best days of my life. I loooove being able to help and guide new students in their journeys towards a pilot’s license, and show just how fabulous our industry is and the fantastic opportunities within it.

Here’s to the 2022 recovery!