BSc Physics & Astrophysics, 2012; MSc Physics and Technology of Nuclear Reactors, 2013
Senior First Officer, British Airways
Whilst studying for my post grad masters I gained a place on the British Airways Future Pilot Programme, and literally started my flying training the morning after my graduation in December 2013. The flying training was tough, with an intense 6 months of ground school to start us off, and 14 exams at the end.
After passing all of those, we moved to the flying phase of the training; the highlight of which was to spend 9 months in New Zealand! Followed by the Instrument Rating (so you can fly in/above clouds), Multi Crew Certification and then Type Rating for the particular aircraft, I would fly at the airline. In total this took just under 2 years, and in October 2015 I joined the airline as a line pilot. I have now been flying the Airbus A320 on short-haul routes for almost 7 years, flying to most of Europe and even as far as Cairo, Beirut and Amman.
I hope soon that I will be able to change fleets and move to the Boeing 787 which is a long-haul aircraft. Obviously this will bring new challenges but it will mean getting to see some new destinations across the world.
What does the typical day of a senior first officer look like?
There’s no 'normal day' in this job. Whenever you turn up at the airport it could be for a day trip and you’ll be back home for dinner, or you could be away for five days staying in different countries every night. There is also a variety of start/finish times, so it does sometimes come with some painful wake up times, or getting to the hotels down route in the early hours of the morning.
As a senior first officer on the Airbus 320 I fly with one other person, the Captain, and we’ll stick together for the duration of the trip. We share the flying equally, and when you’re not “pilot flying” you’re known as 'pilot monitoring' so watching what the other is doing, and also operating the radios speaking to air traffic control.
Particular highlights of my job are that I get to visit and explore a variety of different destinations, and I quite often go for a run around the city to see the sights. Selfie stick avoidance around the Coliseum in Rome can end up feeling like some sort of assault course!
The view we get from the flight deck is also second to none, the sunrises and sunsets over the Alps can be spectacular, though nothing can compare to the view of central London as we fly the approach into Heathrow airport.
What was the best thing about being a student?
Not only was the University of Birmingham a top university to study at, with great lecturers and facilities, but there were so many extra-curricular activities available. As a very sporty person, when making my choice about universities the sporting facilities were very important to me, in particular the squash club. At UoB, the Munrow (the former sports centre at the University) was exactly what I needed, if not more, and I am very jealous that I wasn’t still at Birmingham when the new sports centre opened. I was a squash club member throughout my time at UoB. It was great to have something different to do other than study, giving me a chance to compete to a very high level in the BUCS competitions and also make some very close friends along the way. As an undergraduate student I also joined what I believe to be one of the best-kept secrets at university, the University Air Squadron (UBAS). This is an organisation funded by the Royal Air Force, giving students opportunities to fly, go on expeditions, play sports competitions and take part in many other military activities as part of the RAF Reserves. Particular highlights for me were competing at the RAF ski championships, having the honour of taking the salute from the Head of the Air Force at the RIAT gala dinner, and hanging from a Sea King helicopter above the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. They’re not really what you’d call normal student experiences!
How did you grow as a person by coming to university?
Even in just my first year at university it was apparent how much my confidence grew, together with other skills such as communication and teamwork. One of the main things I saw about myself was how determined I am and, how with enough hard work, you can turn bad situations into positive ones. For instance, after my undergraduate degree, I lost a graduate scheme job with BT. Rather than move back home, I researched the PTNR Masters and within a week I had organised myself an interview. At the time, losing the grad scheme felt like the end of the world. However looking back now it is probably the best thing that ever happened to me, giving me the motivation to better myself academically and apply for the BA future pilot programme. While interviewing for the BA post, I had to utilise skills that I’d gained at university such as planning, team work, problem solving and time management. In the same week as my final assessment day for BA, I had a computing project and lab report to submit. This was obviously a stressful time, but with prior planning and good time management, both projects were completed and ensured I attended my assessment day confident in my preparation.
What advice would you give to current students?
The PTNR course involves a thesis project in the summer to complete the masters. One thing that I would encourage people to do is to apply for the projects that are available in industry, as opposed to staying in Birmingham. The university course is well regarded within the nuclear industry and there are many projects available for study. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only PTNR masters student in my year who did not progress to a career with their placement organisation. This is a course I would highly recommend.
Here's what Hannah had to say about studying at a campus university
“The campus was so green, which isn’t what you expect of a university in the second largest city in the country. As a student you can lay on the grass in front of the library on a sunny day, yet if required you could be in the city centre within 15 minutes using the on-campus train station. You really do get the best of both worlds!”