When a promising career at the controls of commercial aircraft was brought to an abrupt halt by type-1 diabetes, Airways Aviation’s Ian Cooper never considered leaving the industry and is now plugging the recruitment gap.
How did you get into aviation?
I’ve always loved flying. From the first time I set foot in a cockpit I knew that was where I wanted to be. After graduating from the University of Wales, Bangor, with a degree in computer science and business, I traveled to Florida and completed a European Joint Aviation Authority integrated ab initio pilot course, flying over the orange groves. This led to a career as a commercial pilot for British Airways and Monarch Airlines.
Tell us about your career to date
After I earned my air transport pilot’s licence I spent five years flying for BA CitiExpress, before moving to Monarch for two years. I returned to BA, flying long-haul. Just eight months into my longhaul career I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. It was a crushing blow when I had to leave a job I had worked so hard for. However, leaving the industry never crossed my mind and in June 2008 I began working for Oxford Aviation Academy as its chief multipilot instructor. I stayed for two-and-a-half years, rising to become general manager of training and operations. I joined CAE to lead its Global Academy as operations director, until the end of 2012. After this I worked as a consultant for two years for my own business, before joining Airways Aviation in 2015 as general manager and head of training. I was then promoted to chief executive in December that year.
What are the major challenges facing the training industry?
The pilot shortage is an issue and it’s time we faced up to it. Regional airlines are starting to feel the pinch as pilots move to long-haul carriers and there are no trained pilots ready to step up. The cost of pilot training is a real barrier. Coupled with a lack of airline investment in ab initio training – and the reluctance of the UK government to remove VAT from training – it’s a significant hurdle we need to address. The pay-tofly model is another issue that must be tackled. Flying endless hours over the same strip of land is not going to improve a pilot’s ability and skill and, if anything, it’s compromising safety.
Cooper says barriers to becoming a pilot, including cost, must be tackled
Now you are at the helm of Airways Aviation, what are your plans for the company?
This is an exciting time for Airways Aviation. We’re rapidly expanding and forming key industry partnerships that are going to open doors for the next generation of pilots. We’re investing heavily in first-class training facilities, with our move to Oxford, where our new headquarters and UK training facility will be based, and also in our new European Aviation Safety Agency fair weather base in Huesca, Spain. We’re also opening more Foundation Schools worldwide, which form part of Airways’ unique ground-based training model. Potential cadets can undertake initial training close to home and discover if a career in the skies is right for them, before committing themselves to full training. All of our activities aim to ensure that our cadets have an outstanding experience.
What have been the highlights of your career?
There have been a few, especially when your job is flying a Boeing 767 to far-flung shores. One of my favorite experiences was having my dad in the jumpseat of a Bombardier Q400 when I flew for BA CitiExpress (pre-9/11 terrorist attacks). Being able to share that view of the horizon from the cockpit window with your family is pretty special.
You work in a highly competitive part of the market. What sets your company apart?
We live and breathe aviation and understand the career journey cadet pilots are embarking on. Airways’ organisation is structured to be responsive, with small class sizes and a cadet-focused approach. Our global training pathway starts with foundation schools and takes cadets all the way through to type training and high performance jet experience in our Beechcraft Premier 1 business jet. We care that our cadets graduate industry ready, trained above and beyond necessary regulations. So if it means hours flying upside-down teaching proper recovery techniques, then our instructors will happily do it.
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