We recently caught up with Simon Latimer, an ex A380 Captain for Emirates, about the reality of what becoming a pilot involves, the pros and cons of flight school, and his concerns for the future of the industry.
Did you always want to be a pilot?
Yes – it was a schoolboy dream! I have been a pilot for 16 years now.
Where did you train to become a pilot?
I took the Self Improver route – London Guildhall for ATPL Theory and Professional Air Training Bournemouth for Multi-CPL and IR.
Why did you pick this institution?
Mainly due to the reputation, results and aircraft used.
What was your experience of flight school?
It was a real experience, learning at a field with Commercial Traffic, ILS and other instrument procedures. The instructors were superb and the aircraft extremely reliable. It was a small school with a great camaraderie between students as well, which was extremely helpful for the low days.
What advice would you give to students considering which flight school to choose?
Ignore promises of jobs and employment offers – they’re generally unable to offer any such thing unless directly linked to an airline scheme. Select your school based on the licence offered, the number of first time passes, the reputation and the condition of their aircraft.
Go and talk to the managers and the instructors. Are they career instructors with passion or hours builders?
Look at the aircraft for commonality of equipment fitted and availability of airplanes to fly. What FNPT is there?
Are there instrument approaches for the field, or will you burn money flying to a field with ILS, VOR, GNSS etc..?
“Ignore promises of jobs and employment offers – they’re generally unable to offer any such thing unless directly linked to an airline scheme.”
What was the best part about flight school?
For me, being able to complete the MEP as part of the Commercial Pilot Licence. It made the IR much easier as I already knew how to fly the twin, so I could concentrate on the Instrument flying.
What was the most difficult part about flight school?
My chosen school was popular because of it’s success rate and reputation. Getting a starting date was the hardest part.
“Getting a starting date was the hardest part.”
Training to become a pilot is notoriously expensive. How did you fund it?
My wife’s wages covered the mortgage and the bills – but no more. I took a year of unpaid leave from my job. I sold my car and instead got a motorbike as it was cheaper to run and insure.
We re-mortgaged the house and I was one of the last to get an HSBC Professional Studies loan. Family helped with the remainder. I stopped counting how much I’d spent when I passed £120,000. At that point, you’re pretty much committed to going on.
“I stopped counting how much I’d spent when I passed £120,000. At that point, you’re pretty much committed to going on.”
What advice would you give to aspiring pilots who are concerned about funding flight school?
Select your school carefully; check the instructors and their pass rates. Be realistic in how many hours it will take to pass, with the possibilities of having to do exam resits and retaking practical flight tests.
Don’t bank on achieving with minimum hours. Don’t forget you have to eat and live, too! Save as much money in advance so you don’t have to work too much during the studies. I had to and it makes it more challenging.
Tell us about your first flight. What aircraft was it and how did you feel?
My first PPL lesson was in a Cessna 152 in Florida. It was a bumpy day and I remember asking myself, ‘why the hell was I doing this!?’
My first commercial flight was in a Boeing 757 from Manchester to Dalaman at night. I spent the outbound sector pretty much behind the aircraft, all the way to landing in Dalaman. But the feeling of turning finals onto Manchester 05L just as dawn was breaking through an early morning mist, with the sight of the approach lights in front of me, is one I’ll never forget.
“Just as dawn was breaking through an early morning mist, with the sight of the approach lights in front of me, is one I’ll never forget.”
Did you do anything in particular to prepare yourself for your first flight?
I had only just come out of the 757 TR – I was just spending all my time reading the Flight Manuals!
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Operating the Airbus A380 as a Captain. Four engine aircraft are becoming increasingly rare and the A380 even more so.
Having had the opportunity to fly the A380 from both seats is a real highlight many pilots will never get to achieve.
“Having had the opportunity to fly the A380 from both seats is a real highlight many pilots will never get to achieve.”
What are your thoughts about the future of your profession?
There’s been a steady decline for my 34 years in the industry. Many speak of the ‘Race to the Bottom’ that now pervades. Everything is driven by profit, and staff welfare and loyalty is a long forgotten quality.
Many airlines have capitalised on Covid as a way to cut costs even further, impose slavish Terms and Conditions on their staff and demonstrate an unparalleled ability in short term management by releasing their older and more experienced staff.
Recovery from Covid won’t be instant – it will take 2-4 years in real terms at the very least. I feel deeply concerned that the levels of experience lost to job cuts and airline failures will have major impact on safety for the future, in both the flight deck and on the ground.
Certain airlines will discover to their cost that when they want to recruit again, the experienced pilots and engineers won’t want to return to the industry.
“I feel deeply concerned that the levels of experience lost to job cuts and airline failures will have major impact on safety for the future, in both the flight deck and on the ground.”