By Seerat Arora 23 Mar 2021 4 min read

The Truth About Flight School

This is an interview with ex-Flybe First Officer, James Paul Richardson, to discover the truth about flight school. We delved into his time at flight school, the challenges he faced during this time, and his career highlights so far.

How long have you been a pilot?

I’ve been a qualified pilot for many years. I got my professional wings after University (and PPL) when I was 23. I landed my first job with Flybe as a First Officer 6 months post graduating from flight school. I was based Aberdeen in Scotland and then transferred to Birmingham until the company collapsed.

I loved to fly the Q400 as it was a hard, demanding, rugged, stick and rudder aircraft with basic automation – half the time it didn’t work – spoiler alert!

I flew into all of the major UK and EU airports and gained 1300 hours with 700 in command (PICUS). Just recently, I un-froze my ATPL so I can be a captain in the future!

Did you always want to be a pilot?

Not always. I only discovered that I wanted to be a pilot at the age of 16 – then the rest is history, as they say. Before that, I wanted to be a Police Detective or a Celebrity Chef!

Enjoy this article?

Follow us and never miss an article or update from us.

Where did you train to become a pilot?

L3 CTS in New Zealand.

Why did you pick this institution?

Airline connections, and wanting to get the best quality training I thought was around (at the time anyway).

What was your experience of flight school?

It was challenging in all aspects – and mentally demanding! It wasn’t for the faint-hearted. The course had a very high failure rate, so staying on top of my game was very difficult at the best of times.

It was a major learning curve in terms of professionalism and learning more about myself. Occasionally, it was a test of how much abuse or pressure I could take before I cracked.

What advice would you give to students considering a flight school to choose?

Don’t fall into the trap of being the best – and blind guarantees of pilot jobs!

Look at their reputation, talk to students, and find out the real story or their real reputation – and not what is on paper.

£100,000 is no mean feat and you need to feel like you’re the customer and the student. Make sure the instructors know the answers to questions.

More importantly, make sure you fit in with the other guys and girls. From a social aspect, it’s worth it because you really need to rely on your peers when the heat and stress start to build!

What was the best part about flight school?

Multi-crew cooperation and jet handling course was the best experience I’ve ever had! Actual airline training captains teaching you, and the first-hand experience, paints the picture of a thousand words!

What was the most difficult part about flight school?

Ground school, instrument rating (it made or broke wannabe pilots), and living with the discomfort of the growing process.

Training to become a pilot is notoriously expensive. How did you fund it?

The bank of mum and dad!

What advice would you give to aspiring pilots who are concerned about funding flight school?

Funding is a massive hurdle and you need to be 100% sure that you’re made of the right stuff! Working is a good way to help fund flight school – and doing modular training is a massive advantage when it comes to the costs – you can build more professional skills and it can help to spread the cost more easily.

Tell us about your first flight. What aircraft was it and how did you feel?

I first flew a PA28 out of Goodwood and it was nerve-wracking but enjoyable. I was a bit negative afterward because I wanted to do more and I didn’t know how to go about it. But the actual ‘feel’ of the aircraft was too good to miss so I perked up afterwards!

Did you do anything in particular to prepare yourself for your first flight? Have you got any advice on how to manage this?

I read Pooley’s flight manuals. I also had a chat with my American Uncle who is also a pilot.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

  • Flying a multi-engine airplane for the first time,
  • Passing my multi-crew course,
  • Flying the Dash 8 for base training, 
  • And passing my ATPL license (full ATPL holder).

What are your thoughts about the future of your profession?

Don’t believe everything you read in the media. Aviation will bounce back soon enough. When the industry talks about a pilot shortage, this needs to be rephrased as a shortage of the ‘right stuff’. 

There is a shortage of airline pilots, but not qualified pilots! That’s my opinion!