Recently, we spoke to Francis Page, who is a Chief Flight Instructor at Aeros Flight Training. He discusses how he got into aviation, their day-to-day role and advice that they would pass on to aspiring aviation professionals.
I grew up in a working class, single parent family in the north of England in the 90s. As a young boy I was madly in love with aircraft of all kinds – military, civilian, GA, airliners, those foam ones with a rubber band powered propeller – if it had wings, I probably had a model of it hanging from my roof and a well-worn book filled with pictures of it on my bookshelf. I was a Royal Air Force Air Cadet for most of my teenage years, something I heartily recommend for anyone passionate about aircraft and wanting to make some lifelong connections with likeminded individuals.
For me, a career in anything other than aviation was simply out of the question and I made my mind up to chase headlong after this dream at a very early age. My only other real passion in life has been cars and motor racing, but as this is probably the only thing more expensive than aviation to break into, it remains an enthusiastic hobby for me.
My Journey into an Aviation Career
I found my way into an aviation career via a BSC degree with Kingston University which offered applicants their ATPL theory exams (and a PPL in Florida) alongside their degree, courtesy of Cabair in Bournemouth. This allowed me to offset the cost of the ground school course with a student loan, which sounded great at the time but comes back to haunt me every time the student loans company docks a few hundred pounds from my paycheck…
Coming from my aforementioned humble beginnings, a modular route was really the only way forward for me, but despite my mother and grandparents being willing to support me as much as they could, I wasn’t able to scrape together the funds to start the practical part of the course on the completion of my degree. So off I went to the job centre, eventually using my passion for all things four-wheeled to pin down a career in the automotive industry with BMW UK’s Customer Service department, something I stuck at for around two and a half years. I then completed my CPL and a single engine IR (all I could afford at the time) and went back to work at my local car showroom, delivering cars and completing admin tasks, this time aiming to save for my Flight Instructor rating.
One of my closest friends from university had, during this period, become an instructor at Aeros Flight Training in Coventry and it was he who put me in touch with Nick Dunn, the CEO of Aeros. Nick was happy to offer me a job as a PPL instructor at their Nottingham base, assuming I could complete the training of course! After a slow start to my journey, this would finally be my break into aviation and indeed the career I still find myself in today.
In the (almost) seven years since joining Aeros, I’ve been supported with all manner of upgrades to my ratings in exchange for sensible bond agreements, along with opportunities to progress within the company - at first becoming SFI for our now closed Doncaster Sheffield base and finally CFI for the entire company earlier this year. I joined Flybe as an FO for a brief period in 2020 – something I’d wanted to do since my days in Bournemouth – but this was sadly cut off by their collapse at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
An Average Day
As Chief Flight Instructor, my primary duty is to promote standardisation across the company and ensure that all of our students are receiving the same high standard of instruction. Of course, I am also an instructor myself, so my average day looks very much like that of our other flying staff. This usually begins with briefing my first student of the day and ensuring that weather, notams and aircraft documents are all in order. IR or CPL flights will usually be around two hours long and take me all over the North of England from our Leeds East base – from Newcastle to Blackpool and all the way over to Humberside on the opposite coast.
No two days are really the same and our diverse set of students always keep things entertaining – I often find their work ethic and passion for aviation very similar to my own and I never fail to be impressed by them. After each flight, a detailed debrief is a must and then you reset and prepare for the next session. I often find myself switching between our DA42 twin-engine aircraft, the PA28 Arrow and the fantastic AL42 simulator from lesson to lesson, which keeps me on my toes! The DA42 especially is a fantastic training platform for students and a real joy to fly. Occasionally, I will be required to ferry an aircraft to one of our other bases or conduct one of my annual standardisation visits, which is always a rewarding exercise and a good excuse for a day out...
At the end of the day, I update the record of my students via our cloud-based system on FlightLogger, clear my desk and prepare for the next day.
Aeros currently operates five sites across the country, which can make my duties as Chief Instructor something of a challenge, but thankfully the advent of video conferencing software like Microsoft Teams and Zoom allows us to have monthly meetings with all of the various base SFIs to share news and best practices. We are all reassuringly busy now, as aviation bounces back from the lows of the pandemic and more and more students discover the benefits of a ‘pay as you fly’ training model – long may it continue!
I’d recommend an instructing career with Aeros to anyone wanting to improve their flying, the depth of their knowledge and their ability to communicate effectively in the cockpit. This job is incredibly rewarding, and I can scarcely describe the feeling of pride when one of your students achieves their dream as a direct result of your tuition.
Three Tips for Aspiring Professionals
1. Do your research!
Everybody in this industry will have their own views and opinions about the best route into an aviation career. We all inevitably have our own biases and preferences, so don’t take one person’s advice at face value (including mine!) Don’t take that one google search as a cast iron guarantee and don’t listen to that one bloke on PPrune with a massive chip on his shoulder about one school or another…
2. Be resilient!
This industry is volatile and there will inevitably be ups and downs throughout your training journey and beyond. Roll with the punches and always have a backup plan for the worst-case scenario. It’s never personal, it’s just how it is!
3. Don’t pay up front!
In October of 2011, just as I was finishing my training with Cabair, the company went bankrupt and took with it hundreds of thousands of pounds of students’ cash, submitted in advance for training they would never now be able to receive. Several of my classmates almost lost everything they had. You would think that something this traumatic would stick in peoples’ memories for a long time, yet we still get fooled by shiny aircraft and promises of a ‘guaranteed interview’ and cough up tens of thousands in advance to companies teetering on the edge of solvency. The recent collapse of Tayside Aviation and FTA Global are just the latest chapters in this sad chronicle and unless the CAA or government step in, it is bound to happen again.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is this – don’t fall for it! Make sure you only pay for training you’ve already received and avoid anywhere requiring massive upfront payments. Also, seriously consider a modular route. The days of integrated courses being the only way into airlines are long past and almost all of the UK’s major carriers have discovered the benefits of employing modular students. The cost difference will shock you and the opportunities are exactly the same in the end.
Best of luck and clear skies!