I currently fly the best airliner in the world! The amazing A380, for British Airways.
My career with British Airways started in 1989 when I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Cadet Pilot scheme. Having completed my degree in Applied Chemistry at Cardiff, I started my flying training at the British Aerospace Flying College in Prestwick, Scotland, in November 1989. Below is the promotional video produced while I was there. You may recognise some people looking far younger than today!
The course was fantastic, interesting, hard work and introduced me to a great set of people who are still good friends. Each course comprised sixteen people from a wide variety of backgrounds. It was a busy time for pilot recruitment in British Airways. A new course was starting each month, so the atmosphere at the flying college was busy, exciting, and extremely friendly, as everyone was there for the same reason. It was the kind of place where you knew you were making lifelong friends.
Our course graduated in March 1991. However, the Gulf War was then underway, and a few weeks before our graduation all the cadets were summoned to a meeting hosted by British Airways management at which we were told the effect the war was having on the industry, and that there were no longer any flying vacancies. The silence in the room, containing over 100 people, was deafening. Many of my friends took up positions as cabin crew. I was fortunate enough to be offered a position within a chemical company called Ciba-Geigy, with whom I had worked during my degree. Looking back on it now, although this was not the ideal start to my flying career, it did allow me to work in another industry and learn lots of skills I still use today. For part of the time I worked for Ciba-Geigy I was posted to the Philippines working on a geothermal power station. This was an amazing experience and only cemented my desire to travel and see the world.
I formally joined British Airways as a pilot in January 1993, and being from Manchester, I was overjoyed to be offered a position flying the Boeing 737-200 from the Manchester base. This proved to be a great place to start. There was a real family atmosphere generated by some lovely people, and the fact there were only around 50 or so pilots stationed there.
I spent almost five years at Manchester, and can quite honestly say I loved every minute of it. Again, I made some lifelong friends, and am still in contact with some of the captains I flew with then. My last flight from Manchester was in December 1997. I started my command course in January 1998, simultaneously training on to the Boeing 737-400 series. This was similar in many ways to the -200 series, but there were also some major differences. The -400 had a ‘glass cockpit’ and was far more computerised than the earlier -200. My command also required a move to Gatwick.
I spent just over three very happy years at Gatwick, flying to a much wider variety of airports than the smaller Manchester base. The Gatwick base also had numerous night stop destinations which gave the opportunity to explore various European towns and cities. My particular favourites tended to be in Italy. I have a soft spot for the people and atmosphere there, in addition to being a fan of the food and wine!
My next move was to Heathrow and change of aircraft type to the Airbus A320. Roughly the same size as the Boeing 737-400, but built and operated with a different philosophy. I found the sidestick controls very intuitive, and I loved the fact I now had a table from which I could eat my in flight meal! Heathrow presented a new set of challenges. Gatwick is still the busiest single-runway airport in the world. But Heathrow felt a different level altogether. Two runways, very busy, new destinations, and a much larger operation than that at Gatwick.
A few years later and British Airways announced the plan to buy two Airbus A318 aircraft which would be operated from London City airport and fly twice daily to New York. The aircraft would be configured with just 32 Club World seats. This sounded like a return to my favoured environment of a small, friendly base, so I immediately applied. Fortunately, a few months later I found myself on a training course learning how to fly the A318 down the steep approach into London CIty airport. Most airports have an approach path angle of 3°. However, in order to minimise noise the approach angle to London City is almost twice that at 5.5°. This required Airbus to make various modifications to the A318 in order to allow it to fly this profile. The runway at London City is also very short and narrow. Flying the approach and landing was never boring!
In 2013 British Airways introduced the enormous Airbus A380. This was an aircraft I just had to fly. The A380 is without doubt the most amazing aircraft I have ever flown. The numbers are incredible. It can weigh 560 tonnes at takeoff. Compare that to the still very large Boeing 747-400 which has a maximum takeoff weight of around 397 tonnes. The horizontal section of the tail is about the same size as the A320 wing. It can hold 254 tonnes of fuel. Yet it is the quietest and in many ways easiest aircraft to fly of all those I have flown. The systems are incredibly well designed, with data and checklists presented to you on a ‘need to know’ basis. This is essential as there is an awful lot going on when this very complex aircraft is in the sky. It also makes me smile every time go to fly it, and again when I get off it when I look back. If you haven’t experienced an A380 flight, get one booked!
I feel like I am lucky enough to have just about the best job in the world. It certainly has the best office window! I love the challenge of flying an aircraft to the best of my ability. As a captain I enjoy setting a working tone and environment which, hopefully, means the people I fly with enjoy their trip, but also want to give their very best and operate in a professional, relaxed manner. Flying for British Airways has been a pleasure and a privilege. I was very fortunate to be selected for the cadet scheme, so I do feel a sense of loyalty to the company. The job has allowed me to see many countries and cities around the world I would never have visited on holiday, meet and work with some exceptional people, and still feel like a big kid every time I come to work to fly the largest airliner in the world. There is still no feeling better than sitting in the flight deck of an A380, pushing the thrust levers forward, feeling the power of the engines, and taking to the skies! It really is an incredible feeling.