Pilot diaries: Theo Brown

Becoming a commercial pilot has long been a dream of mine. It’s a challenging journey, with many different elements, but I’m getting there.

I’m currently in Phoenix with the goal of returning to the UK with my CPL after approximately 4 – 6 months of training with CAE Oxford Aviation Academy. Although I still have some way to go before a position in the right hand seat of a commercial jet, the process of getting to where I am now poses many challenges, some of which begun long before I started training. By sharing a few of my experiences, I hope I may help others who are already training or considering commercial pilot training.

To start with the major challenge that faces future pilots: funding the training. Anyone who has considered pilot training will know that the financial barriers to pilot training are high. This can be extremely daunting to many aspiring pilots. But what many might not realise is there are many options available to those with hopes of becoming a pilot even if they do not have the funding immediately available to them. In my case, after three years of saving I started a Modular course alongside an aviation degree at Buckinghamshire New University. The modular route was more appealing to me as it has allowed me to simultaneously retain my job (working for Heathrow Express), study and undertake pilot training. I found there to be a great deal of financial benefits of a pilot training/degree programme. For example, aside from the usual loans/grants from student finance, I have been granted a bursary directly from my University, and student finance services even provide additional finance if you are studying abroad. Top tip: this has enabled me to claim for travel and visa expenses whilst training in Phoenix!

“There have been bursaries/scholarships I have applied for but haven’t been granted, but don’t let this destroy your ambitions. Just apply for them; what have you got to lose?”

These are just a few financing tips that I’ve acquired along the way, but there are many financial options available. My advice would be thorough in your research if you require additional finance to help with your training; nobody is simply going to hand money over to you. Believe me, there have been bursaries/scholarships I have applied for but haven’t been granted as well, but it’s important to not let this destroy your ambitions. Just apply for them; what have you got to lose? However, it can be difficult to completely fund your training solely through loans, bursaries and scholarships, so you can’t rely on them; employment has funded the majority of my training, so work out a saving plan which suits you and consider training options which may allow you to work and study simultaneously.

Another aspect I found challenging throughout my training was ground-school. This can be one of the most demanding phases of commercial pilot training; completing 14 theoretical exams in six months is not easy! I had the extra task of balancing this alongside my job at Heathrow airport. Before starting, I was told that I may have to quit my job once I began ground-school, but, as it may not be for others, this simply wasn’t an option for me. There were occasions where I believed that I would indeed need to stop working in order to prioritise my studies. Week after week I found myself in Kidlington airport from Monday to Friday studying whilst driving home at weekends to work. Sometimes I would even arrive back in Oxford well after midnight on a Monday morning to be ready for ground-school at 08.40am! Despite this, I got through in one piece with first time passes in all subjects.

During this time, I found that communicating with ground school instructors at CAE Oxford to advise them of my circumstances was vital in achieving a successful balance between work and study. They were exceptionally understanding and I could not be more grateful for their guidance and support. Instructors such as Senior Theoretical Knowledge Instructor, Ian Harrington, were exceptionally helpful, allowing me the flexibility to split my exam sittings to fit them in around my busy work/study schedule. As well as this, he would continuously boost the moral in the classroom with funny jokes and was always on hand to help.

“For me the modular route has been my saving grace as it has allowed me a pathway to my dream job.”

I’m frequently asked about my experience as a modular student; a question I hear being asked at various pilot training conventions is which is better, integrated or modular training?

I see the advantages of the integrated route and it is one that I did consider for a long time, but for me the modular route has been my saving grace as it has allowed me a pathway to my dream job. It is a training route that I would recommend to anybody struggling to finance full-time integrated training, or to anyone else for that matter! Nowadays, the modular route is more highly regarded than it used to be; there are a lot of respectable courses out there; for example companies like Kura Aviation who run courses specialising in modular training. The larger, well-established training providers such as CTC and CAE Oxford also offer modular programs which provide the same high standards of training.

And as far as employment is concerned? Well, I have personally witnessed many pilots from my course securing jobs with the likes of Ryanair, Monarch and easyjet within months after completion, so don’t let anyone talk you into thinking that there aren’t jobs out there for the modular student! It just so happens that a work colleague of mine introduced me to a friend of his who is now flying for Wizz Air. After a short amount of time I found out that he actually completed the exact same course I am currently on, six years ago!

Success stories like this are key to my motivation, helping me visualise that end goal, that light at the end of the tunnel, a position operating at the controls of an aircraft for a commercial airline!

About the writer

Theo Brown has recently completed his ground school training at CAE Oxford and studied towards his degree at Buckinghamshire New University, Theo is currently based in Phoenix, Arizona, completing the next stage of his CPL training.