Dubliner Alice Farrell is currently based in Jerez de la Frontera where she is undertaking 14 months of training as part of the Aer Lingus Cadet Pilot Programme. She tells us about securing a place on the programme and what life is like for a trainee pilot.
How did you get into the Aer Lingus Cadet Pilot Programme and what did the process involve?
I applied for the cadetship when it opened last September (2015). I’d made an agreement with myself that I’d wait to apply for the cadetship until I’d finished my undergraduate degree. A couple of weeks after applying I was invited to submit several online essays that covered my interest in aviation, my perceived ability to be a pilot and my general teamwork and communication skills.
After this stage, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Aer Lingus’ assessment day, which was jointly ran by my flight school FTE Jerez. The day consisted of four main segments; a group exercise, a panel interview, pilot aptitude tests and general aptitude tests. A reasonable standard of maths and basic physics is required to do well in these tests as time is limited. The group exercise was an interesting segment of the day as it’s very hard to prepare for such a scenario and a group of people that are entirely unpredictable. I had to trust my own confidence in my ability to adapt and to truly listen and communicate effectively with others.
The final panel interview was the next stage. This was as intense as expected but the interviewers really did try their best to relax and settle you. They very much were there to give you the platform to talk and show them who you are. They supported any search for clarity or understanding throughout. At times it’s very much your interview, in terms of what to talk about. An interview with a psychologist followed this stage. It was much like the panel interview but less technical, although it still had technical elements, and a longer time was spent probing certain topics in search of more in depth answers to perhaps previously asked questions. Lastly, [there] was a medical examination in the Mater Private. I was then offered the cadetship in early December.
Is being a pilot something you always dreamed of?
When I was younger, I actually dreamt of being an astronaut! As years went on, I realised that this was probably a lot more difficult to achieve than my childhood self had imagined. When it came to going to college I decided that if I couldn’t be the person flying the spaceship, I would be the one who helped build it. Although I found my degree in Physics with Astrophysics interesting, it still didn’t satisfy the part of me that was interested in aviation. So, I decided to apply for an MSc in Safety and Human Factors in Aviation. In the same fortnight, the cadetship opened for Aer Lingus.
What’s an average day like for you?
An average day for me at the moment is not as exciting as one may believe. I’m currently in Phase Two ground-school, where I am preparing for eight of the fourteen European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) exams. A typical ground-school day starts at 9.00am sharp where a student will do three one hour classes in the morning and another three in the evening, finishing at 5.00pm. After the school day has finished, most students will take a rest hour or two for relaxation and dinner. From 7.00pm to 10pm/11pm, I will then study the topics covered throughout the day.
How intense is the programme?
The course is a lot of tough work. Before heading down, I was told that however hard you think it will be, double it! This unfortunately proved to be very true. Most students will have to study most evenings, this includes weekends. And for those fortunate enough to be in the flying phase, [they] also have a lot of work to do with flight preparation, from checking the aircraft to route preparation to checking the weather forecast etc. The course is by far the most work I’ve ever invested into something but it’s truly enjoyable to see the rewards of your work as it’s a relatively short course, in comparison to a degree.
What do you like the most and the least about the programme?
As would be expected, the flying has been by far the best part. The feeling of walking out to an airplane and 15 minutes later, being at 3000 feet in control and alone, is one of the most liberating and thrilling experiences you can imagine. The least enjoyable part would probably be the ground-school, simply because you’re exactly that, grounded. Although, it must be noted that it’s a necessary evil in order to fully appreciate and understand what is required before heading into either of the flying phases.
How many people are in the programme?
There are around 145 of us in the training school – 15 female students and 130 male students. This hopefully reflects a slow but positive change in the industry in which currently only around 6% of pilots are female.
When do you get your pilot’s wings?
Wings are presented to students who have completed their CPL (Commercial Pilot’s License) and IR (Instrument Rating). On my timeline, I hope to achieve this sometime in late March/April 2017.
So will you be flying a commercial airline by May?
Not exactly. Myself and the remaining cadets return to Ireland late April where we will do our JOC (Jet Orientation Course) and type rating for the Airbus A320. Hopefully I’ll be flying by late summer!
What one thing would people be interested or surprised to hear about the programme?
People may think that because they’ve never flown a plane or because they have no background in aviation, this programme might not be for them or that their chances would be limited. I’d say to people of that mindset that the cadetship is for anyone that has ever dreamed of or has been passionate about a career in flying. The cadetship is definitely there to seek individuals that are passionate about aviation, hardworking, and an all-round team player. Regardless of experience, it really is a programme open to everyone who truly wants it.