Date: 7 December 2018
As part of our series of ‘looking back’ blogs this December and with a base transfer to his home turf on the horizon, Conor reflects on his journey from beginning to present on his pilot journey
2 years of training, 14 ATPL exams, 4 moves and several flight tests later, today I achieved my goal, of getting a hair cut in Lyon without speaking a word of English. Lyon has been my home from home since I started flying for easyJet in July. Since then I’ve logged around 200 flying hours across 2 continents, 11 countries and to 34 different airports.
My name’s Conor, I’m from Northern Ireland and I graduated from L3 Airline Academy in June of this year on easyJet’s MPL training route. Since I was a child I’ve had a fascination for all things that fly. In my teenage years I surrounded myself in aviation as much as I could, going to airshows, volunteering and learning to glide at my local gliding club. I’d looked at various airline programmes and flight training organisations with ambitions of doing my training. L3 Airline Academy (then CTC Aviation) appealed to me with its close airline ties, modern fleet of training aircraft and in house simulators. And who would say no to spending 5 months learning to fly in New Zealand?!
Half way through my A level year I decided to apply for Virgin Atlantic’s Future Pilot Programme with CTC. I put a lot of effort into the application and shortly after submitting it I was invited to attend a selection event at Dibden Manor. In January 2016 I travelled over to Southampton for the full day of selection tests. Later in the day as I waited for my flight back to Belfast watching aircraft depart and land, I felt quietly confident and content with how the day had gone and excited for what the future could hold. Just as I was about to head into the terminal, a DA42 Twinstar flew over on a training detail. That could be me I thought.
The next morning I received the news that I’d not been successful. I felt quite disheartened as all I’d given wasn’t enough. I tried to see the benefits from the experience and use them to my advantage, gratefully receiving the feedback to learn from for the next time.
Shortly after this I was given the opportunity to pursue another passion of mine, in the form of teaching Irish Traditional Music. I was a little apprehensive but humbled to be asked and embraced the opportunity. I had a lot of learning to do, teaching something you love is very different to practicing it. My confidence grew each week and I could see the progress in my students and I strove to be the spark that would ignite one of their passions for music like mine had been learning to play the tin whistle in primary school.
Around this time also I’d started working at City of Derry Airport as a security and ramp agent. This was a really interactive job working as a team with lots of rules and procedures, perfect I thought, for an aspiring pilot! It also meant I got to see the goings on behind the scenes of an airport. A lot of people’s hard work on the ground contributes to your holiday flight to Malaga or Faro leaving on time!
I fitted these commitments in around my A levels which I sat in the summer of 2016. A short time prior in May easyJet had just opened their MPL training scheme. I’d matured and learned a lot of life lessons since the last time so I thought I’d give it a go and easyJet was my dream airline to work for. I got through the initial application and once again found myself at selection. A few weeks later while loading bags into a 737 I received possibly the best news of my life. I had passed selection and easyJet wanted me to join them as a First Officer on completion of my training.
In November of 2016 my training journey began. I packed my life into my car and headed off to Coventry where my first six months would be spent studying towards my ATPL exams. These were tough, but with supportive housemates, a great CP and fantastic instructors I passed them all first time and with a solid average.
Next it was off to New Zealand to actually learn to fly. My first flight was an incredible experience followed a month later by my first solo on the 26 July, a very special day for any pilots’ logbook and a thrilling experience. All was going smoothly until a small ‘uh oh’ on my PPL skills test. Unfortunately I messed up an exercise and had to do it again which would require an extra hour of training followed by a retest on the part I’d failed. No one likes the idea of failing something; I felt a bit worried and only had one chance to rectify it to still get a first series pass. Thankfully this was one small speed bump as I passed it second time round and with the remaining IFR flights done and dusted, it was time to head back home for a well-earned break.
Not long after it was time to move to Southampton where we would be for the remainder of our training. It was nice to be back in the Northern Hemisphere flying the right way up again and the Bournemouth winter weather definitely lent itself to IFR flying. With my last flight in January it was then on to the real deal, the Airbus A320 simulators. After flying the simulator in all-weather with every kind of failure and technical problem imaginable, we completed our license skills test and were signed off as qualified airbus pilots in June 2016. We’d done it!
Now it was time to get our hands on what we’d been dreaming of for the past 2 years. In the last week of July easyJet’s newest pilot recruits went to Liverpool where an A319 awaited us. The next morning we all climbed aboard G-EJAR and headed off to Newquay. When it was my turn to fly I sat down in the right hand seat and thought ‘wow, this is it’. With the engines already running there was no delay as I taxied out and lined up with the runway. When the clearance came, I would be taking off. And on the 26 July 2018 on a bright, summer Cornish day, I took flight in an Airbus for the first time, exactly a year to the day since I had first flown solo in a Cessna. I flew six circuits with touch and goes before finishing up with a final landing. I had done it, all of my training had culminated in this moment and I was now a qualified easyJet pilot. Next it was off to my new base of Lyon to observe on the jump seat for a few days before my own very first flight with passengers.
I turned up nice and early at the Edinburgh crew room on 7 August to operate the EZY806 to Gatwick. I met the captain and safety pilot, did the walk around and prepared for the flight down to Gatwick. I was pilot monitoring on the way down but on the way back it was my turn… I lined up on the runway and took off with my first passengers towards Edinburgh. It was a super clear day and the views were amazing with Canary Wharf visible as we passed by the city. About an hour later and I was about to make my first landing into Edinburgh. We touched down, taxied in and the smile on my face lasted at least the duration of the turnaround. And the best part, in just over 30 minutes I would get to do it all again, this time to Stansted.
Fast forward to the present day and I’m loving flying for easyJet. It’s a busy, dynamic exciting place to be and all the trainers and captains I’ve flown with have been fantastic. I have achieved my dream and with a base transfer back to Belfast on the horizon I’m very fortunate, excited and proud of what I have achieved. The view from the flight deck window at 30,000 ft as the sun rises sipping your first cup of coffee will never get old.
Since writing I’ve had the pleasure of flying three very special people on one of my flights to Lyon. My wonderful family enjoyed having their own personal pilot for the evening and have been enjoying the week with me exploring Lyon.