Former commercial airline pilot Lee Woodward saw an opening for high-quality, bespoke airline training. Now with an established brand, the academy is preparing to begin courses at Spanish and UK sites
How did you get into aviation?
I always knew I wanted to follow a career in aviation – and from a very young age I dreamed of being an airline pilot. I successfully completed the selection process for the British Airways (BA) cadet sponsored pilot programme in the late 1980s. There were only 500 places and, allegedly, more than 60,000 people applied. I was one of the fortunate few.
How has your career progressed?
Having graduated from the BA pilot training programme in November 1990, I immediately embarked on a Boeing 757/767 type rating and seven years later, progressed to the 747-400. For medical reasons, I left BA and joined what was then CTC Aviation as a type rating instructor and examiner.
I spent 13 years with CTC in various capacities, including chief training captain, director of business development and chief operating officer. I have continuously held instructor and examiner qualifications on the 757/767 and I am also qualified on the Dassault Falcon 2000LX. I left CTC in 2017 to co-found Skyborne, using my industry experience and knowledge. The aim is for Skyborne to fill the gap in the market with a high-quality and bespoke airline training academy.
What have been the highlights?
I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my career, but some of the highlights have been my first base training experience and my first flight with passengers on the 757. Aside from that, flying the 747-400 into the old Hong Kong airport, Kai Tak, and flying the then UK prime minister and his government to Jamaica. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have flown on Concorde, which was a truly amazing experience.
Why did you launch Skyborne?
I am very passionate about the airline piloting career and proud to have facilitated the career advancement of several thousand cadet pilots over the years. At Skyborne, we are taking the training delivery and user experience to another level.
We have established a forward-thinking, capable and dynamic team so we can innovate and improve all aspects of pilot training. I see a gap in the market for a high-quality, almost boutique approved training organisation and we plan to fill that niche.
What are the challenges facing the airline training industry?
One of the biggest challenges is removing barriers to entry, such as implementing inclusive funding solutions. Various factors such as the impending global pilot shortage mean it is vitally important that the talent pool widens so Skyborne can source the very best cadets for its airline customers. It therefore makes sense to provide easier and more affordable access to funds.
At Skyborne, we see this as a high priority and something we are working very hard on delivering, through conversations with various financial institutions and bodies.
Another challenge is the continued pressure to develop more sustainable and environmentally friendly technologies, such as electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft and alternative fuels, in order to lower carbon dioxide emissions. Finally, greater harmonisation and mutual recognition for pilot licensing qualifications across the board could improve labour markets.
What are your plans for the company?
We have completed the first stage of our development by introducing a strong brand that truly represents what Skyborne is about – quality. Since signing the agreement earlier this year, we will soon be opening our Spanish training base at Castellon airport, in eastern Spain, enabling our cadets to train in year-round perfect weather and flying conditions.
Here in the UK, our next major milestones will be the completion of our brand new 80-bedroom campus accommodation centre at Gloucestershire airport and embarking on formalising our airline partnerships. Our goal is to deliver 120 European Union Aviation Safety Agency-integrated/multi-crew pilot's licence cadets and 60 modular pilots per year with Skyborne, and we are well on our way to laying the foundations to achieve these figures.
We are also launching a Bachelor of Science degree programme and will commence attestation training for up to 300 new cabin crew.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love this industry and truly enjoy engaging with fresh, new and talented cadet pilots embarking on their career pathways. I remember my first steps and it always resonates with me when we analyse how to do things better. I like solving problems and innovating. I enjoy working with like-minded professionals in the airlines and take great satisfaction in seeing the embryonic plans for a new cadet programme come to life. This is a dynamic industry that blends safety and professionalism with creativity and innovation. I am fortunate to run a successful business and continue to fly, train and examine.
There really are few downsides. There is the challenge around funding for would-be pilots, but we are working on a very innovative solution to that and, although we have challenges to overcome, I am entirely confident we will succeed.
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