Following the news that Virgin Atlantic’s Future Flyers Programme has extended its deadline by another week, meaning that aspiring pilots now have until 20 November to get their applications in, Elinor Evans spoke to Senior First Officer, Kat Hodge, about her experiences flying for the carrier and her advice to applicants
When Captain Graham Stokes presented at Pilot Careers Live on Saturday 7 November, he announced that Virgin Atlantic’s Future Flyers Programme is “here to stay.” The programme, run in partnership with CTC Aviation, is once again open for applications, with the airline seeking 12 lucky participants who they can take from little or no flying experience to a co-pilot role on the Airbus A330, flying Virgin Atlantic long-haul routes across the globe.
We caught up with Senior First Officer Kat Hodge, whose own passion started at the grassroots of aviation and she now flies the Boeing 747-400 with Virgin Atlantic. “I started out gliding, unpowered flight on a grass airstrip on sunny afternoons,” she explained. “What started off as a curiosity, just to see what it was about, turned into a passion for me. As I went through university, my hobby turned into an overriding passion that I realised I had to turn into a career – I didn’t really know how and that’s where the sponsorships available were fantastic, because I couldn’t have afforded it without the backing that I had.”
Kat explained that when she came through training, there were fortunately lots of sponsorships available. “Almost every large airline ran them and even some of the smaller airlines ran them in a slightly piecemeal way,” she said. “The choice of which airline you applied to was phenomenal, there seemed to be a circuit of these sponsorships that you could apply for.”
“I think it’s so important that people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it can actually realise their dream. For a period of probably six or seven years, there was a time when there wasn’t any sponsorship available at all, so unless you were wealthy enough to afford the training, you couldn’t realise it. Now you can.”
There’s certainly some stiff competition for the places on the programme; the last intake received more than 8,000 applicants for 12 spots, with similar numbers expected for the further 12 places this year. But Kat’s advice for applicants is simple: “Carefully fill in the form, re-read it and get someone to run their eyes over it, because it’s quite easy to get word-blind when you’re working on a document over and over. When you’re looking for inspiration to answer the questions, make sure you’re actually answering the question and not what you think the question is aiming for. If you can bring across some of the passion and your motivation for why you want to work for Virgin, why you want to become a pilot, what really inspires you about aviation, then that’s really an added bonus.”
Of the 12 cadets in last year’s intake, four of them are women. Six of those cadets are coming up to sit their final exams at CTC Aviation, while the other six are about to start flying. “I’m very passionate about encouraging anybody who’s keen on flying to apply; it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman,” Kat added. “My feeling is that perhaps not enough women consider it early on in their school careers, so what I really hope this scheme will do is filter down, not just reaching the people who are applying now, but the people who will apply in four or five years’ time. Hopefully it will show them that this is a really great career option.”