"I just want to fly an Airbus A320!"

Published: 23 Mar 2018

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We caught up with ‘”Captain Joe”, First Officer on the Boeing 747-400/8F, who shares his experience in getting his first position after graduating from flight school training. This is something we see for a lot of pilots in industry who, fresh from training but with no flying hours under their belt, struggle to find the first step in their career.

He shares with us his own story, along with some advice that may help others out there who can relate to his experience.

Over to Joe:

Dear aviation enthusiast, my name is Joe, better known as “Captain Joe” in the aviation social media world. Currently First Officer on the Boeing 747-400/8F.

For the past 10 years, I have been working in the aviation industry as an airline pilot and I have experienced the many ups and downs it has to offer. A Captain once told me, “Joe, every airline pilot at least changes his employer once in his career. Forced by either a company bankruptcy or national economy crisis. That or he’s so unhappy with his contract that after gaining the necessary 1500 hours of jet time, he applies to a more suitable company."

Many flight students still have the impression that they will immediately fly a fancy Airbus or even have the option to choose from a variety of great aeroplanes. That, unfortunately, is not the reality.

When I look back to my final check ride during my flight school training, the job offers with renowned airlines were down to zero. The economy was in a crisis and that very often brings the recruitment process to a complete stall. Sometimes for years!

Sure I could have applied to companies in Asia, especially India. But applying with zero flight time even becomes difficult in ever-growing India. So I had to find other options.

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My Single Engine Piston Land license extension check ride was due. So I scheduled an appointment with my former flight instructor. After a successful check flight, we had our debriefing at the local airfield pub. It was pure luck that I overheard a nearby conversation of two pilots, one complaining distinctively, “We need an extra pilot for the summer season. I’m not sure how we can keep up with the high demand.“ I got up and approached the colleague to introduce myself, stating I just got out of flight school and I’m desperately looking for a job with a set of wings. His and my desperation met, and a week later I started my class rating on the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter to fly for a skydiving company.

Boy, did I have no clue what I was in for, because let’s be honest, once you come out of flight school, the plane is flying you and not the other way round! After my flight instructor had just shown me how to maintain straight and level flight, I now trained rapid and steep descents with the Pilatus Porter after the last jumper left the plane, which was very challenging at first. But after a plunge, you always resurface, so I got the hang of it and really enjoyed my first pilot job. Yes, being a skydiving pilot is an actual pilot job, and it paid fairly well for starters.

Once you’re in the business, opportunities arise from all sides. As skydiving is a pretty seasonal business, especially in Germany, where “winter was coming”, I was sent the opportunity via e-mail to fly other skydive planes in warmer places such as Dubai, Spain and Portugal for example. I felt very honoured but decided I wanted to step up my game, pursuing my goal to eventually fly an airliner.

The last day of the skydiving season approached and I was up in the cockpit performing my 30th load of the day, as one of the skydivers sitting next to me, shouted at me (the Porter has a very noisy cockpit once airborne!) “Joe, what are your plans for the winter season?“, No plans so far, but I have a few offers, but why do you ask?“ I questioned loudly. “I ́m the chief pilot of an executive jet company. Fancy a job on a Beech King Air?"

Me, slightly surprised, concentrated on maintaining the best climb rate with the 40- year-old Porter, shouted back “Sure why not, you jump out, and we’ll talk more after my last landing”.

And there was my next job offer. A week later I started my class rating on the Beech King Air 200. A fantastic little plane to gain more experience and to get a taste of actual airline ATC communications and requesting proper IFR clearance as I was taught during flight school.

I was getting closer to my goal with each flight, and the feeling you get lining up after a Boeing 747 has just taken off, incredible!

And I flew that little plane as often as I could with my freelance contract. I didn’t care it had propellers, I gained experience with every take-off and landing and accumulated another 300 hours to my previously gained 200 hours on the Porter and 150 hours with the Cessnas and Pipers from flight school.

And sure enough, whilst updating my CV on all online job platforms and numerous applications I’ve sent out to various airlines, I received my invitation to my first airline assessment. I must have spiked their interest, as I now had more flight hours than all fresh flight school applicants.

Nearly two years after having completed my final check-ride at flight school, and flying two great airplanes, I got hired with a great company and started my airline career on the Airbus A320 family. I couldn’t have been any happier.

If you are about to finish your flight school training, be open-minded in terms of your first job in a cockpit. Don’t expect airlines to be waiting for you to finish and immediately hire you. That’s rarely the case.

Gain experience on any kind of plane, as long as the planes are safe and well maintained, you earn a little money and most importantly, you’re up in the sky most of the time!

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Any kind of gained flight experience will attract the attention of the recruitment team sitting opposite you during an assessment. And most likely one of the recruiters has operated one of the planes you’ve flown so far and enjoys sharing his stories with you. Similar interest is always a positive bonus during your assessment, trust me!

Don ́t expect an immediate hiring after flight school - work and fly for your airline career!

Best of luck for your path towards an airline career and don’t forget, “A good pilot is always learning!”

Yours, “Captain” Joe

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