Challenges get adrenaline flowing
Published: 16 Apr 2018
Duncan Beckman is a base safety pilot and senior first officer with UK airline EasyJet – a role that allows him plenty of flying time to various destinations, but also the social interaction of working in an office
Have you always been interested in aviation?
Yes – for as long as I’ve understood that flying machines were a thing – I was probably less than 10 years old and was interested in flying. Watching stuff fly, learning about flying, pretending to fly – I was keen. Strange, really, given that none of my family likes flying, let alone works in any branch of aviation. One of my uncles sails for leisure – that’s about as close as it gets.
Why did you decide to become a pilot?
I got the bug really badly aged 13 with the RAF Air Cadets – they’ve got a lot to answer for! I will always remember that first moment where I was in a small lump of fibreglass that started defying gravity. It was just infectious. Standard cliché pilot origin story I guess, but at that moment you comprehend the additional axis of movement you gain, it’s hard not to want more. I made the most out of getting airborne through air cadets, scholarships and blagging rides. I spent almost every weekend of my sixth form education cleaning aeroplanes just to be around them. I have always struggled to focus on things that I am not passionate about, so I knew that I needed a career in something that I genuinely love, and flying was always that for me. I’ve worked hard for it, but I’ve also been very lucky to get to where I wanted to be.
Tell us about your typical day
Turn up at the airport, get in a plane, fly it to another airport, repeat. However, there really isn’t anything typical about it. It’s a process that seems so simple that you could be forgiven for assuming planes run on rails. The truth is they don’t: politics, technical defects, external agencies, service suppliers, personalities, passengers and – let us not forget – the weather, all impact on how an operation runs. That’s just what makes the job challenging and exciting day after day.
What have been the highlights in your career?
In the past couple of years, I have taken on additional roles within EasyJet’s flight operations department. I work in the office one day a week and this has allowed me to get involved in other aspects of the business. I recruit new pilots, help with induction days, investigate safety events. I sit on action groups that genuinely change things and make things safer. I recently passed my command assessment, so I am off to do my command course and start that new phase of my career. That was a pretty big adrenaline rush.
What challenges do you face in your job?
The job is challenging every day. It’s a big dynamic situation and although the autopilot is really good at flying – much better than me – you have to stay focused the whole time. We sometimes work long, anti-social hours, and ensuring that you are always up to scratch is tough. We get routinely tested, there is always a new airport to learn about, there is always a bit of technical knowledge that you didn’t know. Every day is a school day.
Is there anything you would change about your job?
The hours can be long and anti-social for your personal life, but the one thing I don’t like is the anti-social nature of the working environment. I never flew before the 11 September terrorist attacks, but having that flightdeck door closed and locked the whole time is just a huge barrier to communication. It’s one of my favourite things about working in the office occasionally. It allows you to be social and build relationships with your colleagues more easily than in a small locked box.
Where do see yourself in 10 years’ time?
I would like to be doing more of what I’m doing. I love my flying, but I also really enjoy getting more involved with flight operations and safety. So fingers crossed, that’s how it works out!