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Training as an easyJet pilot

Part one: Initial training

My name is Kieran McTaggart, a recently qualified First Officer flying for easyJet out of the airlines largest base, Gatwick. Previously I worked as an Air traffic controller, playing what can only be described as the most complex video game invented, but after many years of saving and waiting for the right cadetship to come up, in 2013 I began my training with CTC aviation. Those of you that fly with easyJet will be pleased to hear that arriving at the point of being a qualified airline pilot has been one of the most intense 20 months of my life, and hopefully this and the next blog will give some insight into my journey.

Given the nature of the aviation industry, I made the decision that I was not going to commence training unless I was pre-selected by an airline. This opportunity presented itself in April 2013, when easyJet announced the launch of a flagship pilot training programme, the Multi-crew pilots licence (MPL) in partnership with CTC Aviation. The MPL is a new licence designed specifically to prepare pilots for the role of multi-crew airline pilot, with the focus on one airlines operating procedures from the outset.

A scheme like this with one of Europe’s most successful airlines would inevitably draw a huge amount of interest, and even with only 36 places available initial applications numbered in the thousands. Suitable candidates were invited to Dibden manor in the New Forest, where selectors would launch a battery of tests upon us designed to discover who would be most suitable for the role. These tests went from the standard computer aptitude tests which would examine how our brains processed information, group exercises which would put us into a timed scenario requiring teamwork and cooperation to achieve the goal, and finally a one-on-one interview to find out who we were, where we’d been, and what made us suitable for the role. From the many selections that were run by CTC Aviation, the top 1-2% were sent to Luton for final selection at the easyJet academy, where we would be examined by the company HR team, and the final cadets would be selected.

In September 2013 I joined 11 other cadets in Nursling (Southampton), who would make up course EZMP03. Our journey had begun, but unfortunately before we were allowed near the aircraft we needed to understand the operation, and so began 6 months of ground school consisting of 800 hours in the classroom and 14 exams looking at subjects from human performance and navigation, through to the weather and principles of flight. Effectively for 24 weeks my life involved going to lectures during the day, then coming home and studying until bedtime. As painful as it was, ground school is like a jam sandwich; the more you put into it, the more you get out, and information buried in my memory is frequently called upon during my working life

Ground school came to an end and in March ’14 we boarded a flight bound for Auckland, New Zealand. It is on the Northern Island of this incredible country that CTC Aviation established their primary flight training facility, where we would commence the MPL core flying phase. I previously held a private pilots licence and have been instructing Air cadets to fly gliders for over 10 years, but the course design is pitched at a complete novice, so we started small on the Cessna 172. This phase was designed to teach us the fundamentals of flight, how to manipulate the controls to manoeuvre the aeroplane, but mostly to build into the memory the vital motor programmes that would make the flying autonomous. As much as I previously had flown, I was still very privileged to fly around some of the most stunning scenery on earth, from Islands in the north where pigs on the runway are a threat during the landing, to volcanos which served as the backdrop to the blockbuster saga the Lord of the Rings.

We returned to Britain in Autumn, for what for me was the most exciting phase; multi crew operations training on the Airbus A320 simulator (the aeroplane in use with easyJet). It is at this point that the easyJet MPL programme differs from the traditional route, as we were introduced to multi-crew operations in a 70 ton jet. I appreciate this doesn’t sound significant, but for many pilots multi-crew operations are only introduced towards the end of their training, when they are not only trying to learn their new airlines operating procedures, but also learning about a new aircraft which handles very differently to the light aircraft they are used to. easyJet as a pioneering airline realised that if cadets started flying the Airbus earlier and for longer, their knowledge of the aircraft systems was vastly improved when they arrived at the airline, and as the airlines SOP’s (standard operating procedures, the framework we on the flight deck utilise to ensure a standardised operation) were introduced sooner, transition from simulator to line flying became a lot smoother.

Compared to the traditional route where a pilot receives approximately 40 hours in the Airbus, by the end of my training with CTC aviation I had flown 180 hours across 58 training details, and as a quirk of the MPL had visited easyJet headquarters at Luton. This is because from selection we were seen as the next generation of easyJet pilots, and as an investment in our futures and deeper understanding, we visited many areas of the business that new entrants don’t often have the opportunity to see.

My final simulator flight in March of this year was a two day check, known as the licence skills test (LST). My examiner was actually a line Captain at easyJet, and after 8 hours of being put through my paces, myself and my partner passed and were ready for the next step; joining the airline we had been selected for almost two years before!

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