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Airline Pilot (and Specialist Biomedical Scientist)

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Hi, my name’s John, and I’m here to talk to you about careers in aviation.

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I’m an airline pilot and I work for one of the largest airlines in the UK.

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We fly holiday routes, regional routes all around Europe, going

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as far as places such as Turkey, Cyprus, Black Sea

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and occasionally over to the United States all the way down to places like the Canaries

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and occasionally to Africa.

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So my education has been long and varied.

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I would describe it.

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And that’s not actually required for an airline job.

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The A-levels I did were geography, chemistry, biology,

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and general studies and then went off to university.

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My initial plan was to join the Royal Air Force, and I did zoology

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with veterinary medicine because I needed to have a subject that

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that wasn’t aviation just in case it didn’t all work out.

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The Royal Air Force didn’t work out.

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I became a school teacher briefly and then after two years, a very difficult job.

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I changed direction, went back to university and

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and into laboratory medicine, where I did

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a master’s and a doctorate – ended up in the hospital,

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being an examiner and assessor and quite senior.

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I’ve never really given that up.

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I still do a little bit – pull the odd shift

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and help the hospital out, which works very well for both of us.

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I keep my registration, keep my skills up, and they get a very experienced examiner

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turning up to handle difficult situations.

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Meanwhile, while I was doing that, I was learning to fly

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and I did that all along right from the very start.

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And I worked part time as a flying instructor for a good number of years

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and then eventually got to a point where I could take an airline job.

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And so that’s exactly what I did.

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I simply switched the careers round – did the airlines full time,

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did the hospital part time and and I’ve never looked back there,

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and I like having that varied life of both the airline job and the hospital job. It keeps me grounded.

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So what are the good bits and the bad bits of the job?

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Well, my favourite bits are the travel,

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quite frankly, to sit and look out the window.

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I love the views as we travel all around Europe and fly over mountains

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and volcanoes and cities and and all sorts of other bits of scenery.

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And it’s fantastic and surprising how quickly you get used to

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what you’re looking at – just like on any car journey if you do it often enough you start

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to recognize all the features and know your way around.

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The ability to adapt to change – it’s not unusual to turn up

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to work in the morning and then be told that you’re going somewhere else.

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If you like the kind of job where you do the same thing every single day,

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flying is probably not the job for you.

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You have to be able to just switch up a gear

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where required and move on and put things behind you.

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I guess my main advice really

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would be to be yourself and to know yourself.

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I think it’s really,

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really important to be the kind of person who looks critically at yourself

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and tries to improve,

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and that will come out really,

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really strongly in any interview when when you turn up

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and you can demonstrate

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how you’ve been able to do that and turn negatives into positives.

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You don’t have to necessarily be the cleverest person in the room.

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You just have to be the person who works the hardest and applies yourself the best.


John has parallel careers – working both as an airline pilot and as a specialist biomedical scientist – and has followed an unusual path. After a degree in zoology, his dream of joining the RAF didn’t work out. He became a teacher, before returning to university to study laboratory medicine, and then worked in hospitals.

In his spare time, he learnt to fly and became a part-time flying instructor before making the switch – he now works as a full-time pilot but keeps up his hospital work on a part-time basis.

More information about Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

average salary

The UK average salary is £29,813

average weekly hours

There are 37.5 hours in the average working week

90%  male 
10%  female 

The UK workforce is 47% female and 53% male

Future employment

Future employment?

? Aircraft flight deck officers check, regulate, adjust and test engines and other equipment prior to take-off, navigate and pilot aircraft and give flying lessons.
Entrants with GCSEs/S grades and A levels/H grades, an Advanced GNVQ/GSVQ Level III or a BTEC/ SQA award can apply for an airline sponsorship. Private residential training is available to candidates with GCSEs/S grades or appropriate BTEC/SQA or GNVQ/GSVQ awards or to holders of Private Pilots Licences who have 700 hours flying experience. Normal colour vision is required and candidates undergo a medical examination. Training lasts up to 15 months and consists of courses of study and flying instruction. Airlines may have additional age and height requirements.
  • Studies flight plan, discusses it with flight deck crew and makes any necessary adjustments;
  • Directs or undertakes routine checks on engines, instruments, control panels, cargo distribution and fuel supplies;
  • Directs or undertakes the operation of controls to fly aeroplanes and helicopters, complying with air traffic control and aircraft operating procedures;
  • Monitors fuel consumption, air pressure, engine performance and other indicators during flight and advises pilot of any factors that affect the navigation or performance of the aircraft;
  • Maintains radio contact and discusses weather conditions with air traffic controllers;
  • Performs specified tests to determine aircraft’s stability, response to controls and overall performance;
  • Accompanies pupil on training flights and demonstrates flying techniques.
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