By Jennifer Cairns 22 Dec 2022 7 min read

The journey of a young Pilot throughout Brexit and Covid-19

When I was younger and travelling abroad, I would ask my parents, “What’s the most exciting part of a holiday for you?” When I had answers such as “food, sun, and the beach,” it was obvious aviation was something I enjoyed more than I had previously realised. 

Watching Air Crash Investigation and Border Force programmes from the age of thirteen, I realised my fascination in aviation lay in everything surrounding flying. I was captivated by both the intricacies of modern aviation technology, and the management of accident investigation.

At the age of fifteen, I attended Pilot Careers Live at Heathrow Airport. This enabled me to gain insight into a world that my all-girls school, nor my medical family knew anything about. For my birthday, my mum bought me an A320 simulator experience. This was the pivotal moment in my career; I realised this was the career I wanted to pursue.

I tailored my A-levels around aviation, including taking on an Extended Project, where I investigated the possible theories regarding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370.

Before commencing flying full time, I wanted to expand my knowledge further, and fuel my desire to learn all aspects of aviation. No one at my school had explored this area previously, so it was up to myself to research and discover places for me to begin my further education.

I decided to study Avionic Systems with Pilot Studies at the University of Liverpool. They offered the perfect balance of technical engineering and practical flying. I started flying lessons at Liverpool Flying School, while learning about the various electronics and technology used in aviation. I actively participated in open days and enjoyed representing my course.

In my second year, I joined the Liverpool University Air Squadron, where I discovered life in the Royal Air Force. I had the privilege of watching and meeting the Typhoon Display Team, performing aerobatic sequences in a Grob Tutor 115, and experienced a night sortie in a C-17 Globemaster. Despite experiencing a side of aviation I had never previously considered, my thoughts always returned to my first simulator experience.

In 2019, I applied to the Thomas Cook Mentored Pilot Programme at Flight Training Europe based in Jerez, Spain. I had no expectations, with my only thoughts being how life changing this opportunity would be.

I progressed through the application process, and before I knew it, I had reached the final interview. Receiving the call from FTEJerez to tell me I had one of the six spaces available on the programme is truly a moment I will never forget. It was complete happiness. I had just finished my second year of university, but I realised this was an opportunity of which I could not let go. However, this happiness was short lived.

Whilst sat in the waiting room awaiting my medical, the news appeared, showing that Thomas Cook had sadly gone into liquidation. My career had ended, before it had even begun.

Instead of letting this get the better of me, I asked my university if I could return to finish my third and final year, along with asking the Air Squadron to allow me to continue for another year. 

Both requests were welcomed, and despite COVID-19 hitting the UK, I finished my university degree, obtaining my Bachelor of Engineering Degree with Honours. I also completed my final project, where I wrote a code to help narrow the search area of MH370, a case I still follow closely to this day.

I finished my two years with the Air Squadron and had asked FTEJerez to hold my space at the flight school before I finished my academic studies, which they greeted with kindness and patience.

COVID-19 held me back longer than I had anticipated, but I finally began my studies at FTEJerez in March 2021, not as a Thomas Cook Mentored Cadet, but as a Self-Sponsored Student.

I made my way through the Airline First Officer Programme at the school, completing my theoretical knowledge exams under the new EASA ATPL 2021 syllabus, and progressed through my flying training. Giving back to the school was a priority of mine, having been so understanding with my complicated situation before. Taking on the responsibility of Vice President, Course Mentor and Course Leader was my way of showing gratitude.

I completed my flying training in July 2022, obtaining my EASA fATPL(A). With the complications of Brexit, I am unable to obtain a UK license yet, but I am hoping to find a job with the license I currently hold when the opportunity arises.

With the limitations my UK passport now holds regarding working in Europe, my hope is that companies and airlines will be able to see past this requirement, and will issue relevant work permits and visas when able, to those who are in the same situation as I am. 

I have come so far, and this for me, is the final hurdle in my goals that I am so close to achieving.

In the meantime, I have been expanding my aviation knowledge, working as an Operations Control Centre Controller at Flybe, gaining practical insight into the operational mechanisms that go on behind the scenes. I also wrote a piano piece named ‘Relative Bearings,’ inspired by my time in Spain, and my aviation studies.

I have since been invited back to the school that supported my dreams, that at the time seemed impossible, giving talks to other girls that may be considering a career in aviation. I aim to motivate young girls, pushing the message that if you love something, never be afraid to pursue it just because of stigmas and stereotypes.

My advice to anyone considering a career in aviation, is to be open to new opportunities, and always do what you love to do. Everything happens for a reason, and when one door closes, another one is waiting to open.

I cannot be more excited to begin a career in what I have been ultimately trained to do; fly.


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