Tuesday, 15 April 2014

I'm there!

I've done it! We completed our line evaluation check ride on the 737 simulator yesterday, passed, filled in a heap of paper work and that is it, I am a qualified airline pilot at last!

Admittedly, there is one slight snag as I'm not yet qualified to fly any particular aeroplane, that is the next stage of my training. Known as a type rating, it consists of six weeks of ground school and simulator work to learn every detail about, in my case, the Airbus A320 family.

The check ride was a short trip from Heathrow to Manchester and back. I was pilot flying for the first leg, while my buddy flew the return trip. On both trip there were three 'events', ranging from minor technical breakdowns to smoke obscuring the runway to the airport's instrument landing system failing.

Heathrow to Manchester in a 737 is a very short trip, in fact as soon as you have finished climbing it is time to descend again. When we first tried it a few weeks ago, the instructor had to freeze our position as we bumbled through the required checklists and briefings. This time we were able to complete all the necessary tasks and deal with the 'events' in real time without rushing — it is amazing how quickly we have improved.

We were far from perfect of course — this is why when we start the job we will be flying with very experienced captains not other cadets. But I was very happy with our trips and delighted to have finished the course at Oxford.

Land grab

In the UK, nobody really owns beaches. There are there for everyone to enjoy. Sometimes, for safety reasons they are divided up into sections, perhaps one part for the swimmers, one for the surfers and so on. Some areas will have life guards watching over them and others you take your chances.

Airspace is very similar. Nobody owns the airspace above our heads and it is there for anyone to use. Clearly it is not a complete free-for-all, and for safety reasons some if it is controlled airspace with restrictions on it usage. In some of it, pilots can receive a radar service, much like a life guard watching over you and preventing accidents.

The details of controlled airspace vary, but the basic idea is to protect aircraft on busy commercial routes from coming into conflict with any other aircraft. As I see it, it is purely a safety issue.

To fly in controlled airspace, a pilot generally needs prior permission, current ATC clearance, constant two-way radio communication, usually a radar transponder system and often specialised instrument-flying equipment and training. This means that most light aircraft are generally unable or unwilling to enter controlled airspace, while gliders, balloons, microlights etc are excluded.

The tricky job of balancing the needs of commercial aviation for controlled airspace and everyone else for somewhere to fly falls to the Civil Aviation Authority. Although often seen as stuffy and bureaucratic, they genuinely do try to do their best to satisfy everyone.

TAG's attempted airspace grab
So why do I mention all this? Because there is a massive attempted land grab (or should I say air grab) going on right now. The new owners of Farnborough airfield, TAG, have applied for a truly massive amount of controlled airspace. Just have a look at the picture.

TAG are not a commercial airline that provides a service to the general population, they specialise in transporting wealthy executives and VIPs in private jets. They have perhaps two or three paying passengers per day, yet they are asking for their own controlled airspace that rivals Heathrow in size and exceeds it in complexity.

Should this application be approved, it would be a disaster for general aviation. There are several airfields below or actually inside the proposed airspace that would likely go out of business. There are several more gliding clubs that would shut down.

The large area of insanely complex airspace is frankly frightening to the ordinary pilot (airspace busts are taken very seriously). No one will want to fly anywhere near it, with the result that all the light traffic will be concentrated into corridors around the edge, significantly endangering their safety. Meanwhile the large volume of controlled airspace will lie unused almost all of the time, some of it permanently empty.

Even more worryingly, it could set a precedent. Smaller commercial airports such as Cambridge, Coventry and Oxford have been operating happily for years without controlled airspace protecting their instrument approaches. If TAG get their way, then airports like this will soon be making similar bids. Uncontrolled airspace will become squeezed more and more. 

Imagine if a private company tried to lay claim to all the beaches between Southampton and Brighton that they didn't even own and close them to everyone but a handful of super-wealthy people. There would be public outcry.

This is no different. There is no benefit to anyone but TAG. There is no safety argument. It will cripple non-commercial aviation in the area. It is completely disproportionate and unfair.

Please help to prevent this crazy plan going ahead. All you need to do is spend a few minutes contributing to the consultation document (parts B to E) before it closes on 6 May.  For more information, the British Gliding Association has written a guide to the proposed changes.


  1. Well done, sir! I did wonder about Heathrow to Manchester, - did it with BA once (as a passenger), and they tried to do the full tea and trolly service. It was notable as they seemed to be having to try and serve on an angle for both passes, once one way, and then the other. They also seemed pretty rushed and stressed and there might have been a few sloshes and dropped sugar bags. :)

    Matty J

  2. Congratulations! Following your blog for a while now and it’s been delightful to read of your progress. Hope you keep this blog going and tell us all about your type rating and first flight in the right hand seat as a FO with BA.

  3. Congratulations!! I have only started reading your blogs since today and have been hooked since the past 2 hours (I should actually be revising :S) Well done on all your successes, you seem to have made a lot of progress! I am currently 17 years old in sixth form and aspire to become a pilot for BA like yourself someday. I actually plan on attending university (so I have a degree to fall back on if unsuccessful) before applying for BA so still have a lot of time on my hands. Do you have any advice on what sort of work experience/clubs I could get myself into to help prepare me for this? Your blog is so inspiring and reading through all this makes me want to achieve my dream even more. I recently attended a flight convention at Heathrow Sofitel hotel which really gave me a greater insight to this field. Thank you so much for all your tips (i have read this blog from the start). Its amazing to see how much you've done, I can only dream to experience all this some day.

    Best of luck,
    Recky :)

    1. Hi Recky, I would say one of the best things you can do is get some flying experience before starting your training - not least to make sure you actually enjoy it! There are several ways to do this without breaking the bank. ATC is one obvious one, there will be a local group and probably one attached to your university too. Also try your local gliding club, most have cadet schemes that are very reasonable and there are lots of grants and bursaries out there for younger pilots to apply to. Again your university may have a gliding club which will allow you to learn to fly at very cheap rates. Other than that, just keep reading around the subject both the technical side and the commercial side so you build up a good picture of the industry over time and are well armed to answer interview questions. I would also consider applying to the next round of the BA future pilot programme as well as to university. Very few people, once accepted, have failed to complete the course. Best of luck!

  4. Congrats! Been reading your blog posts for the past few months seeing your journey to becoming an FO. Hope all goes well regarding your Type Rating training and hope to see you flying in the RHS soon, maybe one day flying me :)

  5. Congratulations - looking forward now to your first commercial flight report!
    Great job on the Farnborough fiasco - you've put it into a context that anyone can understand.
    (cgc fft)

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog throughout - congratulations on your achievement.
    As a local pilot from Fairoaks, I am delighted to see you have put the Farnborough fiasco into plain english and hopefully your passage will invoke people to make their opinions known.

    Out of interest - what is the timescale from Type Rating through to RHS looking like at the moment?

  7. Wow awesome, good for you! I was wondering if there was anyway i could email you? Since i my self have a few questions about aviation?

    1. Hi Jordan, I'd rather not publish an email on here, but feel free to ask questions or post and let me know how to contact you (can delete again after). Thanks.


Comments are very welcome, but please no names!