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Aviation stories

How did I become an airline pilot?

Besides why I chose for this profession of soaring the skies at 37.000 feet, the next question is how did I manage to get where I am today? I get lots of questions of which school I attended, how I afforded this, and how I got a job. There are many different routes, but this is my story in short.

Regarding flight schools and taking the modular route or an integrated course, I researched mostly online. Internet will give you a ton of information. I visited several information days of flight schools in Holland. I chose to follow an integrated course: this is 2 years of full time studying. Everything is done in this period to get a frozen ATPL: all theory exams, flight hours flying single engine and multi engine, an instrument rating, all practical flight exams and an MCC course. I applied to the Dutch flight academy ‘Nationale Luchtvaart School’ (now CAE Oxford Aviation Academy), and passed the assessments to start flight training.

Pilot loan

How did I afford it? Flight training is very expensive, so I understand this question. When I started my training in 2008, there was a Dutch bank that offered ‘pilot loans’. If you got accepted in a flight academy, you could apply for a loan at this bank to fund your studies. I afforded my flight training by getting a loan, and as we speak I am still paying off this debt. The bank now stopped with this construction, so these ‘pilot loans’ are something from the past.

I started flight training in october 2008; this was exactly the start of the ‘global financial crisis’. All I could do now, was study hard: get the highest grades possible, and pass all my exams at once. I knew getting a job at the end of the course would be extremely difficult. In 2010, when I graduated, the market was full of cadet pilots, and hardly any jobs, not even for experienced pilots. Welcome in the pool of unemployed cadets.

Pool of unemployment

Two long years I did everything I could to get a job, and kept improving my skills and CV. I tried to find work in an airline: if it was not as a pilot for now, then in another position. I managed to get a full time job at Martinair operations, where I worked as a dispatcher and crew scheduler. In the mean time I applied everywhere. I considered every airline, big or small, business jets, turboprops, open applications. I networked, I called airlines, I uploaded my CV into countless online databases. I spent hours of checking aviation websites and forums online, looking for chances. I made summaries of all the theory subjects, and invested in some more reading material to keep my knowledge sharp.

Living for the future

And there was more. I completed a bush pilot course in South Africa. I joined the editorial staff of the Dutch Airline Pilots Association and wrote voluntarily for their magazine. To obtain a certificate that would increase my chances on the German pilot market, I completed a German language course. I trained regularly on an expensive Boeing 737 simulator, to be ready anytime for an assessment. I kept my license and medical valid. For two years my whole life revolved around getting a pilot job at an airline. All my time, money and energy went there. I was only living for the future.

Airline interview

Then one day, in september 2012, I got the invitation for an assessment at a big European passenger airline. I knew that my time was now, otherwise maybe never. I felt a lot of pressure. But the night before the assessment I slept ten hours nonstop! I was so tired of preparing, and at the same time relaxed; I knew I had done everything I possibly could to prepare. I was ready. With this attitude I started my simulator assessment. My nerves did not ruin things for me, and I flew the best assessment I could think of. This was followed by an hour of technical an personal questions.

Job

To conclude the interview I got a firm handshake from the captain that had assessed me. He told me to start preparing for my type-rating on the Boeing 737: I had the job! This in now 4 years ago, and to recall this day still brings the biggest smile on my face. For those of you out there working hard to get a job, maybe for several years already: don’t give up! Keep working hard, keep improving. Many of us have been in this situation. Keep faith that you will get to that flight deck seat: you will, but it takes constant work, and the right attitude.

Aviation stories

From journalism to flying jets

‘Why did you want to be a pilot?’ It is a frequently asked question, and my story provides not the most obvious answer. It was not my childhood dream. My dad was not a pilot, nor anyone else in my family. I never ever imagined myself behind the controls of an airplane, until just before getting my ‘Bachelor of Arts’ degree, at age 22. Today I find myself flying jets for several years. So what happened between then and now?

 

In highschool I was a bookworm who excelled in languages. I had no clear idea where I wanted to go in my life, so I chose a broad range of subjects. I wanted to keep all options open, and therefore I also included all beta subjects. Probably I would ‘never in my life’ deal with these formulas again. With the goal of broad knowledge I struggled my way through maths, chemistry, and physics.

Challenging career

Growing up we all dream about our future. I was an eternal dreamer. In my head I created so many different possible futures. What would be my ideal job, and my ideal life? Holland, my country, is great, but I wanted to live abroad. To experience living in several countries would even be better. I did not want to work 9 to 5 with the same people every day. I desired to feel a real passion about my job. Together with her love for literature and writing, this Millenial narrowed it down: journalist! I would create insightful stories for respected media. I would live my life to the fullest, which in my eyes included living abroad, traveling, and a career that would always challenge me. How to get this lifestyle as a journalist? I planned to figure it out along the way, and started at University.                                      

Journalist in doubt

And so I studied literature and journalism. With several freelance writing jobs I payed for my study, and got experience in the field. I loved all the writing assignments. I got to interview famous Dutch authors, and truly enjoyed putting their words into the best articles I could. My grades were good. And then, doubt hit me. What if I was not on the right track? The kind of life I was aiming for required an amazing network, the best writing skills and building a name for myself. What if I would not succeed in all this, and be average at best? What if I ended up glued behind a desk, feeling envious when writing about the people who lived the kind of life I wanted to have? I tried to shake off these doubts, told myself that with attitude and perseverance one can reach a lot.

Several people noticed my doubts regarding a future in journalism. It was my mum who said: ‘Eva, why don’t you visit a flight school? See if this is something for you?’ Wait. What? I didn’t understand her comment. ‘You often express your admiration for the job of airline pilot.’ I did? It turned out I did. Several of my friends confirmed that I had sighed more than once ‘what an amazing job pilots have’. Apparently I had this subconscious dream inside me, and the people around me actually discovered it before me.

Could I be an airline pilot?

Now that my subconscious dream was out in the open, it became clear to me: indeed, I had always had this big admiration for the people flying jets. At the same time a voice inside my head told me this would be absolutely unattainable for me. This conviction is why I had always pushed this fantasy right back, deeply into silence. Could I be an airline pilot?

Some months went by. I researched as much as possible about the aviation industry, education, what the life of a pilot is like, and what it takes to become one. I graduated in maths and physics, with all those formulas I would never deal with again. It turned out I already met all the criteria to apply at a flight school. I realised that the profession of a pilot completely matched with my ideal kind of life. This job would bring more than I could have ever imagined for myself. And it might be attainable, if I dedicated myself to it. Becoming a pilot went from never crossing my mind, to something that became my ultimate goal. It was now time to stop dreaming and take action.

Dedication

I worked hard that year. I wrote my thesis ‘The change in literary culture’ to graduate University. At the same time I prepared for my flight school assessment. I spent days in the University library, and nights researching aviation websites. I was in the final stage of writing my thesis, when I got the invitation for an assessment at the flight school I hoped to get into. When I received the news that I passed the selection procedure, I was over the moon. I remember dancing in front of my mailbox, with the letter in my hand stating I got accepted to start flight training.

This brings me to the next question I get asked a lot: how did I become an airline pilot? I hope you enjoyed my personal story. – Am I happy I made the switch, and is airline pilot my dream job? Yes, absolutely yes!