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Monday, 17 September 2018

WHAT INSPIRED ME TO BECOME A PILOT?

The first question people ask me when they find out that I’m about to start my pilot training is “Have you always wanted to be a pilot?” and the honest answer to that is “No”. I’ve spent so much time attempting to convince myself that flying has been a lifelong passion of mine, feeling guilty that I didn’t attend air shows every weekend as a kid or visit the cockpit after every flight I went on, but truthfully it wasn’t a career I even considered until I was about 15. As a child I always thought I’d be a vet or an actress or (God forbid) a singer and being a pilot wasn’t even really on my radar. We had a few family friends that were pilots but none that were women, so I naïvely perceived it to be a male profession and wrote it off as a potential career for myself.

I remember going to Dubai on holiday when I was about 12 and staying with a friend whose dad is a captain for Emirates. At dinner I would sit listening to his stories in awe and imagine how amazing his job must be; astounded that it was a job normal people, including women, could do (somewhere in my brain I think I’d always thought of it a bit like being an astronaut – a job that everyone dreams of but few actually achieve)! Those visits to Dubai were the first time I became aware of flying planes for a career and that’s probably where my initial interest was sparked. Of course I’d had my fair share of contact with the industry before this; most of my family has worked in aviation in some aspect and growing up, my best friend and I would play with my cabin crew Sindy dolls and pretend that we worked at the airport together (something that’s about to become reality because she too has just got a job in the industry as ground staff for the same airline as me); I’d just never considered becoming a pilot!


When I was about 15 I attended a careers event at my school, aimed at inspiring students to think about what we wanted to do with our futures. I was very fortunate to go to a school that gave us these amazing opportunities to shape our career paths from a young age and supported us with mock job interviews and contacts within the career fields that we wanted to go into. It was at this careers fair where I met the father of one of my peers, who worked as a British Airways Captain. I spent about an hour grilling him on every aspect of his job – why he became a pilot, how he trained for the role, what his job involved – and left at the end of the night feeling so so excited, rushing home to tell my mum all about the career that I had decided to pursue. After the initial questioning as to where this sudden epiphany had come from, my mum and I started to look into what it really took to become a pilot and if it would even be possible for me to follow this newly discovered dream of mine.

At the start of sixth form we began to discuss UCAS, uni and future careers, which is when I first mentioned my desire to become a commercial pilot to my head of year, Mr Budd, who I owe so much to; it was him who recommended that I attend my first open day at CTC Aviation (now known as L3 Airline Academy – the school I’ll be doing my training with!). 


The open day was in March 2016 at CTC’s Bournemouth training school and was a drop in session where we could have one on one chats with some of the trainers and cadets about the training. I left very enthusiastic but with a huge long list of suggestions of things to do in order to make my application stand out amongst the crowd, which included getting some work experience in the industry before I was old enough to apply for the course. So, in the summer of 2016 I went to my local airfield, Fairoaks, for a week and worked with Synergy Aviation (one of the companies based out of the airport) in their ops department and up in the ATC tower. It was such an interesting week and on the last day I was even lucky enough to sit in the right hand seat of a King Air B200 on a flight to Southend on Sea where it was going in for some engineering work.


Later that same year I attended another open day at CTC, this time at their base in Nursling, Southampton. This day was more formal than the previous one I had attended and included a PowerPoint presentation about training costs and a guest speaker from Virgin Atlantic who talked about the Virgin MPL scheme that was due to open up; I later applied for this scheme but was unsuccessful with my application, failing to even get past the online stage (not surprising considering I was still only 17 and had very little industry experience). Even though I was very disappointed, I was determined not to see this as a setback and instead used it as a learning tool for future applications. I visited CTC another three times in total after that (eager I know but I wanted to attend the open days for the easyJet and British Airways schemes) and made as many contacts as possible – literally taking anyone and everyone’s email addresses so that I could gather any information that would help me in my future applications.


In December 2016 I was lucky enough to get some work experience in the Virgin Atlantic traffic department at Heathrow thanks to my step-mum who works for Virgin. I spent the entire night shift watching how the aircraft are assigned to particular routes and how things such as the weather affect a pilot’s flight plan. I was allowed onto the apron, clad in my hi-vis, to take a look around some of the aircraft and was even granted a couple of flight deck visits where I got to watch the pilots go through their pre-flight checks. It was the best day of work experience and I loved getting to see how the whole process works; I was so glad to have something so unique and exciting to add to my applications in the future.

For Christmas that year I was gifted the most amazing present ever – my first flying lesson! I cried with happiness when I opened the card and read the voucher and I spent the next few weeks dreaming about my first time flying a plane. When the day in February finally arrived I couldn’t control my excitement; I bought my first ever logbook, met with my instructor and then went on my first ever walk around. Getting into that PA28 I was a bundle of nerves but as soon as I started going through the pre-flight checklist with my instructor I started to relax slightly. Before long I was ready to go; I contacted ATC, taxied out, and before I knew it I was above the clouds (see what I did there?) and experiencing a feeling like no other. I will never forget my first flight for as long as I live; it’s a huge day in any pilot’s life and no matter how many I do in my career, that flight will always be one of my most memorable.


With some work experience in the industry, several open day visits and a couple of flying hours under my belt, in May 2017 I finally felt ready to reapply to CTC (who by this point were now known as L3). Applications for the Generation easyJet programme were open and I took my chance and sent in my application – I was keen on applying to airline schemes rather than L3’s whitetail programme as I wanted the security of having a guaranteed job at the end of training. It was also around this time that I applied for my job as British Airways cabin crew; I was due to finish my A Levels at the end of June and because I’d decided not to go to university, I wanted to find a job to do whilst I waited to start a pilot training course (and what better job than being a flight attendant!). After passing all my interviews for cabin crew I centred my focus onto my application for the pilot programme.  

To my amazement I was successful with the initial application stage and was invited to attend an assessment day on June 1st at L3’s selection centre at Dibden Manor in Southampton. The day was made up of two parts: a multi-choice maths test and PILAPT (Pilot Aptitude) testing. The testing was difficult but I enjoyed it nonetheless and left the assessment centre wishing I could fast forward time until I knew the outcome. I found out the following day that I had been unsuccessful and had failed part of the PILAPT testing and would not be continuing the process. I was absolutely devastated but had expected a knock back due to it being my first time attempting the assessment day. I was happy to have at least been given the opportunity to do the testing so that I would know what to expect for my next assessment day when I next applied.


4 months later, in October 2017, training was in full swing for my job as cabin crew when L3 announced that the British Airways Cadet Pilot Programme would be opening for applications. British Airways was my dream airline to work for as a pilot and was ultimately where I’d always intended to end up. I was so excited that they’d finally opened up their cadet scheme again after not opening it for a couple of years. Even better news was that they’d changed the scheme slightly (from the previously named Future Pilots Programme) to also offer an ATPL, which didn’t require A Levels like the MPL did (good news for me as my A Level grades wouldn’t have been high enough to apply). For the online stage we were asked to answer three questions in an essay format and then had to undertake some psychometric testing and maths testing; I didn’t really expect to get through the online application stage as I knew it would be an immensely popular scheme and there would be lots of very tough competition.


Fast forward a week or two and I was left in utter shock when I opened an email telling me that I’d passed the first stage of assessment and I was to once again attend an assessment day at Dibden Manor. Of course the nerves from last time resurfaced but at least I knew what to expect this time around, although BA required us to sit two additional assessments to the ones I did at the easyJet assessment day. Because of this, the day ran in four parts: numerical reasoning testing and verbal reasoning testing, followed but the multi-choice maths test and PILAPT testing. After failing the PILAPT testing the first time around I was very nervous to re-sit them but I’d put in a lot of practice and felt ready for the challenge. (I’ll go into greater detail about the whole assessment process in another post and give some useful hints/tips for preparing yourself for the various different tests).

I left the room where I sat the PILAPT test feeling extremely deflated as I thought I hadn’t performed well enough to progress my application and was gutted that I’d messed up my big chance; however, in the car on the way home I was sat checking my emails when the email that I thought I’d never get appeared in my inbox. L3 had emailed me to inform me that I had met the required standard and would be progressing through to the next stage of assessment! I was in complete shock but so happy that I’d actually passed the PILAPT testing and all my hard work and practising had clearly paid off. I didn’t have much time to sit and celebrate though as stage 2 was scheduled for two days after stage 1 - no pressure! I had one day to madly plan answers to a multitude of different interview questions before I was back at Dibden and ready for my next stage of assessment – a group interview and a 1-to-1 interview! Once again, to my amazement, I received another letter congratulating me on successfully passing that selection stage and before I knew it, January 2018 had rolled around and I was about to attend my final assessment day for the British Airways Cadet Pilot Programme – I couldn’t believe it!


The final assessment day for the programme was held at Waterside (BA’s Headquarters) on January 22nd 2018 and consisted of: another group interview, a 2-to-1 interview, and some more PILAPT testing. Weirdly enough, this was the first stage of the entire process where I actually felt confident with how I had performed, which I found rather unsettling! 

After a week of waiting to hear back I was getting extremely anxious. I arrived home from work on the morning of January 31st and went straight to bed to sleep off the jet lag; when I woke up at midday I had a missed call and a text message from one of the pilot recruiters at BA asking me to call her as soon as possible. As I pressed call I could feel my heart in my throat – this could potentially be the most important call of my life. She picked up and immediately told me not to panic and that she just wanted to let me know that I’d been successful and I had achieved a place on the British Airways Cadet Pilot Programme! I had done it. After years of work experience and gaining industry knowledge, months of interviews and weeks of nervously waiting for the outcome I finally heard the words that I so desperately wanted to hear but never in a million years would have allowed myself to believe they’d be true. I felt like I could finally breathe a sigh of relief that I didn’t even know I’d been holding onto. After hanging up from the best phone call of my life I immediately punched in my mum’s number and waited to tell her the incredible news.


So since January I’ve been filling out an endless stream of paperwork and organising class one medicals, insurances, visas and about a million other things. As of today (17/09/18) it’s exactly one month until I fly out to New Zealand for 14 months for my ground school and flying phases of training. I couldn’t be more excited about this new chapter and I’m so proud to share my story with you.


Thank you for taking the time to read this extremely lengthy post! I feel so privileged to finally be starting my dream career and I know that I 100% would not be here without the help of my amazing family. I can’t wait to share the rest of this wild journey with you and hopefully inspire other young women to find their wings and fly high! Olivia x

To my Mum and Jim, Daddy and Anne, Grandma and Grandad, and Nana, you are the most amazingly supportive family I could ask for and the sacrifices you’ve made for me are completely mind blowing. I love you all so much and can’t wait to fly you all around the world in a few years time!
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9 comments

  1. Hi Olivia,

    I'm attending L3's selection day 1 at Dibden Manor this Friday and i'm not sure what to expect. I was wondering if you could give me some tips since you have done this successfully! Well done btw!

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