Many pilots will be hoping to resume a career in aviation once the coronavirus crisis recedes, but in the latest in our ongoing series, John Paget, a former A350 captain with Qatar Airways, reveals that a career is possible outside the cockpit.

Around the world there are whole swathes of aviation professionals coming to terms with the greatest crisis ever to befall their industry. Mine is a typical example: a 53-year-old captain flying long-haul for a well known Middle Eastern airline, I was discarded early into the crisis and have therefore had a little longer to adjust to life in the real world.

What soon became apparent was the lack of transferability my hard-won qualifications held. Note – qualifications, not skills: yes, I have flown and managed staggeringly expensive equipment with large crew contingents and hundreds of passengers, but, in the wider world, my experience counts for very little. Any hope of gainful employment featuring a remuneration package approaching a sensible percentage of what I had become accustomed to was fanciful at best.


Source: John Paget

So I needed a plan… and fast, before my financial well-being disappeared. I needed to reinvent myself, forget aviation and create a way of making enough money to survive. And while financial stability is important, that survival also needed to be on a psychological level. After all, the emotional impact on flight and cabin crews of seeing a dream career vanish virtually overnight cannot be underestimated.

I consider myself lucky to have an interest outside of aviation. A chance conversation with a fellow pilot led to the suggestion of turning my passion and knowledge of classic motorcycles into a viable business. With a van that I purchased for a mighty £900 – some way short of the list price of a Airbus A350 - I hitch up a trailer and I head out across Europe in search of motorbikes.

Sleeping in the van – my crew-rest area these days - either in the back on a mattress, or across the front seats, I criss-cross the continent, using my motorbike knowledge to find deals that have sufficient margin to cover the cost of the search, plus make a modest profit on top. A normal journey will be in the region of 2,000 miles and take four days where I’ll expect to buy up to five bikes.

In addition to the financial positives of the undertaking, I’m indulging my passion, getting out of the house, and meeting new and varied people in a multitude of environments (sound familiar?). One of the biggest psychological benefits is that I’m not hiding in my study looking for jobs that, for the moment, simply don’t exist. This way I feel I’m proactively working to protect the well-being of my home and household.

In the last month I’ve loaded into the van a beautiful 1951 Moto Guzzi Airone, and delicious 1978 Yamaha RD250. Oh and enjoyed tea with Piero Laverda – a name that will resonate with fans of old motorbikes - while doing a deal on a tasty Laverda 750SF restoration project. There are days when I have to pinch myself because I’m enjoying myself so much and in circumstances so diametrically opposed to my previous life.

The bottom line to my new little (ad)venture is that having explored the four corners of Europe, I have made many new friends, and discovered capabilities in myself that I may never have found. If I can keep this going, I may not want to go back to the cockpit.

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