By DebbieH 28 Aug 2019 7 min read

Life after being a pilot

Chris Rigby is a retired pilot who has recently started up a flight school called Flight Simulators Midlands. Below Chris tells us more about his career in the sky and life after being a pilot:


What was it that interested you in becoming a pilot?

I read Biggles books by W.E. Johns and thought the idea of being up in the air was exciting. I initially wanted to join the Fleet Air Arm and so be at sea at the same time, but reductions in armed forces made that look a bit risky.

When did you become a pilot?

I first went to a scout glider training school at Lasham airfield when I was 17. I went solo there within the week’s training. I got the bug then.


How did you pay for your training and licenses etc.?

I was fortunate to get into the College of Air Training at Hamble, sponsored by then BEA and BOAC. There was a training bond of £5000 even in those days, which was about a year’s salary as a second officer.


How did you find your time at the College of Air Training? What were your highs/lows of training to become a pilot?

Overall very good. I was used to being away from home with scouting activities. The training was intense. Ground school followed after 3 months by flight training. I was able to build on the gliding experience I had previously and went solo after just 4 hours. Highs were going solo and not failing any flying tests. Also flying a twin engine Beech Baron amongst towering cumulonimbus clouds just to build the hours up and teaching other students aerobatics. Not really any lows at all. Had a good time.


You also worked at Cyprus Airways, Brittania Airways prior to gaining your command – how was that?

I joined Cyprus Airways in 1972 due to BOAC having no work for us for possibly up to 2 years. I had also realised that I would be in my 40’s before I got the chance of a command in BOAC, so the outside world seemed to offer more prospects. After 2 years with Cyprus, the opportunity came up to join Britannia Airways in 1974 at Birmingham on a 2 crew jet (B737), so promotion was a better prospect. I got my chance in 1978 at the age of 27 and luckily I was good enough on the day. After flying with Britannia for 13 years, I wanted a change and left full time flying to run a commercial company with the intention of doing freelance work as and when I could.


How was your time working as a commercial pilot?

I joined easyJet in 1996, just after they had started up operations. This was for a contract company called IAG with 2 leased 737 200’s. These were the same 2 aircraft I had last flown for Britannia, 9 years before. When IAG’s contract ran out, I joined easyJet main company until 2000. I left due to the toll in driving down to Luton from Birmingham every day, and then joined Brymon Airways, now part of BA and branded as BA Citiexpress. This was on the Embraer 145 aircraft based at Birmingham. After 4 years there, it became apparent that the division was going to be closed down and sold off (which it was to Flybe) and just at the right time in 2004, Britannia advertised for 737 captains based in Coventry for their new offshoot, Thomsonfly. After another 4 years this too was being closed down so I joined Ryanair back at Birmingham in 2008 from where I retired at 60 in 2011.


After a long career in the sky, you’ve retired. What are you up to now?

After a year of retirement, I set up Flight Simulators Midlands with the idea of both offering professional training and flight experiences to members of the general public. We started with a 737, followed a year later by a B747 and a year after that an A320. We are now the largest centre in Europe offering this range of simulators, 2 of which have motion platforms.


What interests you most about working with Flight Simulators and young and upcoming pilots?

Just being able to pass on the knowledge that myself and my instructors have gained over the years. It’s always a thrill when we hear that our candidates have secured the job they were after.


What would you say to someone considering becoming a pilot?

Find out about what the job entails. It’s not just about chasing clouds around the sky. You need to understand that you are an expensive asset and the company will want to get as much work out of you as they can. Appreciate that your company may move you to a base you don’t really want to go to, or even worse, if your company goes bust, you may have to search worldwide to find another job. It’s not all roses but if it’s your passion, then go for it.

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