You have had a long career in aviation. What are the highlights?
I have been lucky to have a varied career, flying a diverse range of aircraft and have been involved in some really interesting and satisfying projects. I trained as an instructor relatively late in my flying career and was surprised at how rewarding I found it. That experience has shaped my career since. Undoubtedly the highlight so far was setting up an innovative programme which allowed many hundreds of pilots to access the profession who may otherwise have been unable to afford to train as a commercial pilot. That programme has, however, now become unaffordable to many and that is what has motivated me to become involved in the Wings Alliance initiative which has the same aims.
Tell us about your current roles?
I have two jobs at the moment. I’m a director of Bristol Groundschool and responsible for maintaining the company’s course materials and providing customer support. I’m also the chief executive of the Wings Alliance, which currently is a very hands-on role, getting the project launched.
What is The Wings Alliance?
The Wings Alliance is a trade association of European Aviation Safety Agency flight schools. It has a couple of aims; to promote the members’ interests, to encourage best practice and the improvement of standards within the industry and to provide graduates from member schools with a path into employment.
The training industry is very crowded. What sets this company apart from the competition?
In one sense, the Wings Alliance has no competition in that there is no similar trade association. However, in promoting our graduates to employers we are up against large and well-funded integrated schools. We have a number of advantages. For prospective pilots the choice in the past has been to pay £100,000 ($130,000) or more for an integrated course which purports to give you an advantage when seeking your first job, or spend half or less doing modular training and find employment on your own. We offer the same employment opportunities at half the price of the integrated schools, which makes the decision a no-brainer.
For employers, it has been easier to use large schools where the employer understands the training that the pilots have been given and has a sense of the usual graduation standard of the pilots, where the diverse nature of modular training can be difficult to comprehend. We overcome that problem in that all pilots we recommend to employers go through a standardised selection and final course, so employers can now access a source of pilots that may have overlooked before.
What are the main challenges facing the training industry?
The training industry has always struggled with a couple of issues; firstly, nobody wants to spend money on training as training is a means to an end (a job) rather than an end in itself. We are a necessary cost rather than anything desirable. Employers don’t want to pay and prospective pilots will pay only what is strictly necessary. This put a constant pressure on costs and, as a result, quality.
As a result jobs within the industry are not well-paid and so it is difficult to find high quality experience instructors. In what other profession is it deemed acceptable that instructors are newly qualified themselves? Can you imagine learning to drive a car with an instructor who got their licence a few months previously? Type Rating Instructors are drawn from experienced first officers or more often captains, yet many pilots have little or no experienced before doing an FI course.
Finally, the industry must identify and satisfy customers’ real needs. When a pilot undertakes an instrument rating (IR) course, it is all too easy for the school to believe that the pilot’s need is to pass her IR. However, her real need is to get a job. The IR is just a step on the road; she’s only doing the course because the regulations say she must. What she wants is a job. So she must satisfy the requirements of the employer. Understand those, and make sure that she is equipped for them and the school will truly have met her needs. That’s what the Wings Alliance is all about.
Tell us about your typical week?
I’m largely office‑based in Bristol Groundschool’s very pleasant new premises in Clevedon, near Bristol. The work is currently quite varied, split between Bristol Groundschool and Wings Alliance. For the latter we are currently talking to many employers and developing our internal processes, so no week is typical really.
What do you do in your spare time?
I don’t seem to have much! I’m a single parent, with two teenage children who are interested in different activities; horse riding and judo, and I live on a smallholding in a lovely part of rural Somerset. Between them, my children, the animals and my girlfriend I use up all my spare time.
Source: Flight International