By Jennifer Cairns 19 Dec 2022 5 min read

ex-Emirates Pilot explains how pilots are finding their way back to the industry post-Covid

Meet Paul, an ex-airline pilot still chasing the dream to re-enter the industry. Paul shares how he started in aviation, his journey and how he's seen pilots find their way back to the profession post-Covid.


Paul, can you tell me about your journey within aviation?

For my start in aviation, I have to go back to the late 80’s! I remember career days during my last few years of senior school constantly revolving around the same theme. I wanted to fly and was told it would be way too expensive, or I could lose my medical and then what would I do? And so the career merry-go-round went from architecture to game ranging and on and on. 

After senior school, I went to university and graduated with a degree in economics. I’m not sure if economics chose me or I chose it, as I did well in it and enjoyed the experience. Four years later – I must have partied too hard during one of those four years – I qualified and went to the UK to take on the world’s capital markets in London.

Eleven months after starting with a bank in London, I made a phone call to the UK office of a South African flight school to ask how to become a pilot. A day later, I received a video and other material from the flying school. I spent the weekend watching Piper Cherokee’s flying along the Eastern Cape coast, over farms and down beaches, and finding out what it would be like at the flight school, completing a full-time in-house Private Pilots Licence (PPL)/Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL) course before searching for pilot jobs. 

The following Monday morning, I resigned from the bank and flew home to start flying. I was armed with only enough money for a PPL and Night Rating and many questions about how I would pay for the rest of the course. After finishing my PPL and Night Rating, I expected to head back to the UK and the bank job to finance my remaining training. That didn’t happen.  The boss of the flight school sat me down and sounded out my determination and motivation for flying. I was offered a position at the school, refuelling student planes, mowing grass runways, doing air traffic control (ATC) duties, and other jobs that probably can’t be mentioned nowadays! 

And so I joined a small group of guys and girls, working for the school, earning flying hours monthly, and completing our flying training along the way.

Those friendships remain today, all of us following interesting and rewarding flying careers around the world. I then completed an Instructor Rating and was fortunate enough to be offered a position at a flight school. Two years after that phone call in the UK to ask how to start flying, I had my first paid flying job as a flight instructor. 

Looking back, the continual nagging interest in wanting to fly, throughout school, university and work, never faded. That phone call to the flight school was possibly more difficult than all those CPL, ATPL and instructor exams! That voice in my head telling me I wanted to fly made me make that call. 

So to those starting out now, you won’t have all the answers. You probably won’t have the money. All you need is that voice in your head. Listen to it. 

Throughout a flying career, you are constantly chasing the next type rating, the next flying job, whether it be charter flying, contract flying on a turboprop, a regional airline job, a corporate job or a legacy airline job. Or something completely different. You never know when the next step forward will come, as it was when you did your first hour of flying. But if you take that first step, somehow, the rest will follow. 

As 2022 comes to an end, the impact of Covid-19 travel restrictions over the past two years has turned aviation and the lives of all those in it upside down. We have had to obtain new licences, revalidate old type ratings, move families around the world and switch careers to make things work. 

Many questions remain unanswered about our futures, yet the one constant is that voice! Once more, we’ll listen to it and find our way back into aviation.


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