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A Balancing Act – Isabel Thompson

Date: 17 July 2018

My name is Isabel and I was raised on a tiny collection of islands in a paradise called Bermuda. Isolated by the Atlantic Ocean, we are roughly an hour and a half’s flight time from the nearest landmass. My interest in aviation was first sparked by a flight deck visit as a child, where I could finally ask all the silly questions that I had pestered my father with during the flight.

As a young teenager I would cycle across a bridge to the island where the airport was and catch a glimpse of the aircraft that I would one day fly. At that time, however, I was as unaware of my career path as anyone. I knew that I wanted to work with technology and machinery, but it did not cross my mind that my job would be to soar through the skies. It was not until I was 16 that someone suggested becoming a pilot. It piqued my interest immediately. A few years of research into the field and one trial flight in a PA28 and I realised that I was hooked. I joined CTC Aviation (now the L3 Airline Academy) in October 2014, and started my career with easyJet as a First Officer in September 2016.


I am writing this blog today as I have just graduated from Middlesex University and obtained the degree that I have been working towards alongside my ATPL course.  Hopefully it will help you if you are weighing up the decision to take the same path.

Further education has always been important to me, as I understood that most employers require a degree before considering an application. Strangely enough, aviation isn’t an industry that conforms to this. However, it is a dynamic industry, with so many stringent requirements to uphold both physically and mentally, and I thought it would be risky to not explore and develop other skills. In fact, Evaluating and Managing Risks was the penultimate module in the degree!

For me, the Professional Aviation Pilot Practice degree (PAPP) gave me support to develop my non-technical skills and delve deep into the hows and whys of my learning process, among other skills. Look at it this way: it is not a technical degree that will aid you in scoring higher on your ATPLs or technical exams, but it will round out your development. This may mean you could be more desirable to airlines by making you a more conscientious pilot and increasing your ability to self-improve.


As a rough overview of the timescale (should everything go to plan), the degree should take three years to complete; you should be finished, having completed all coursework, upon the first anniversary with your airline. 

• The ‘first year’ of the degree is covered by the six months of your ATPL ground school.
• The ‘second year’ will be spread across your flight training within L3, finishing with an Airline Qualification Course, where you learn how to handle jet aircraft and the importance of multi-crew cooperation. You will need to complete this before applying to airlines.
• The ‘third year’ focuses on your development throughout your type rating (licensing for a specific type of aircraft) and your first year of working as a professional pilot in a jet aircraft.

My favourite module from the course was the last one: Threat and Error Management. In it we looked at the pressures affecting our decision-making and how we prioritise tasks as pilots. I focused on miscommunication between air traffic controllers and pilots: how the complexity and workload of an operation can be increased with various factors including weather, high density of traffic and language barriers. It was a tough process; I collaborated with fellow students, and by doing so we could consider viewpoints that had not been considered before. As a result we gained a better understanding of the environments we regularly encounter and this greatly increased our situational awareness. As you will learn if you choose to take this degree:

Situational Awareness ↑ = Workload ↓ = :) :)

With the help of the module tutors and the head of the course I was even able to create a website to aid in the future development of fellow graduates.


In order to succeed in both your training and this university degree you must be able to *manage your time effectively*. Aim to make every day a learning day. Determination, resilience and being a quick learner are all qualities you will need to do well in this course and become a perspicacious pilot. However, it is entirely a balancing act. Not just between flight training and degree; an equal portion of your time MUST be spent on personal health. Take care of yourself, as the training can at times be intense and overwhelming. The support that you need can be easily found around you. Although you need to be performing at your best, be certain to keep a healthy lifestyle. This includes plenty of exercise, eating the right foods, socialising, a solid sleep schedule and staying hydrated. Of course, keeping an eye on the end goal is important, but tunnel visioning your way there will mean you do not gain the most out of your time.

Today, my graduation is just behind me, all coursework has been completed alongside my training, and the support given to me by both L3 and Middlesex University has allowed me to balance my workload, maintaining a high standard of performance on both fronts. If, after reading this blog, you’ve decided you have what it takes to complete this degree alongside the course, do some more research into the specifics and aim to contact someone who is currently completing it.


The BSc (hons) Professional Aviation Pilot Practice degree is delivered in partnership with Middlesex University. More details can be found here and I encourage anyone with further questions, please send an enquiry to website.cts@l3t.com who will put you in contact with me.

To each and every one of you who will be embarking on this life-changing journey, I wish you blue skies and safe landings.

- Isabel