Flying high as First Officers

First Officer Lee Bailey joined AirTanker in January 2017 under our Cadet Pilot programme, which is helping us to grow our cadre of civil pilots. 

Describing his experiences from gaining his Private Pilots Licence to becoming a First Officer with AirTanker, Lee tell us how being a pilot has fulfilled a lifelong ambition.

For many people, obtaining a career within the Aviation industry is a dream. For Lee it was always a passion and became an ambition that he was determined to achieve.

“I can’t really explain where my passion for aviation came from. As a child, nobody in my family had any connection to the industry. But my earliest memory is of being fascinated by aircraft and the science of flying.

I took subjects like Maths and Physics at school with an ambition to fly with the RAF. However, a history of childhood asthma meant I was unable to pass the RAF aircrew medical.  Instead, I joined the Army as an aircraft technician. Eventually, in 2010 after a couple of stints in Afghanistan I came to something of a crossroads.

Did I want to pursue a commission in the Army as an Engineering Officer or to follow my heart and try to become a commercial pilot. I just knew that I would always have wondered ‘what if’, so I decided to go for it.

Training to be a pilot is expensive. I had no house and no means of raising a loan so instead I opted to become a licensed engineer and to use this as a stepping stone to fund my flight training.”

Modular Training

There are really two options for people who want to pursue a career as an airline pilot. The first is to enrol at one of the major flight schools. This is where a lot of major airlines take their recruits from. The second is to fund yourself and to take a modular approach. There’s no right or wrong way, but for Lee this was a more affordable option.

Having gained his Private Pilot Licence, Lee gradually built up his hours flying aircraft such as the Piper PA-28 and by the end of 2015 successfully gained his Commercial Pilot Licence.  This was followed by an Multi-Engine Instrument Rating in summer 2016.

"It was probably the most challenging and rewarding part of the training. One mistake can cost a lot of money to redo a flight test. Once I’d completed the training and gotten my shiny new licence it was all about the hardest part, finding a job."

The training experience

One of the big challenges is adjusting to flying the A330 from the much smaller training aircraft. The type rating course is a mix of three weeks in the classroom and three weeks in the simulator. In the simulator you are faced with all kinds of incidents from engine failures to go-arounds, culminating in a Licence Skills Test.

Once in the aircraft itself, Lee had to complete base training, a series of six circuits - consecutive take-offs and landings - alongside a Type Rating Instructor.

"It’s a huge aircraft and has a lot more inertia than I had been used to.  I was nervous, but the instructors here do a fantastic job. They are very supportive and know exactly when to offer advice and guidance. I am currently nearing the end of my line training - this mean I fly alongside a training Captain to complete a total of 46 sectors [one take-off and landing] to gain more experience.

It's been incredibly rewarding. My first flight was to the Falkland Islands and I followed that by flying into New York's JFK airport flying for Thomas Cook Airlines [one of AirTanker's commercial charter customers]."

Working for AirTanker

Lee's journey to AirTanker started with an unassuming email to the Chief Pilot which to his amazement resulted in a chat, interview and offer of a position. When asked about his experience of working with AirTanker and advice to others, Lee said: 

"I'm really enjoying my role and I hope to complete my Line Check in the next month or so.  Because we operate with a relatively small pool of pilots, you get to know everybody well and understand how they like to work. That's important in building a rapport, unlike with some airlines where you fly with a different person every day.

My advice to any young person thinking of a career as a pilot is to plan ahead.  Be clear about how you plan to fund training, try to get involved in the wider aviation industry to build contacts and most of all....don't give up!"

Another journey...

Jack Roberts also joined AirTanker through the Cadet Pilot programme, having completed his training with Kura Aviation via their BESTPILOT scheme.  Click here to read Jack's story.



19 March 2018