Spotlight: What’s it like to be a qualified pilot in search of that first airline flying job

 raphael-4Qualified pilot Raphael Mendonca, 34, suffered the consequences of the last recession, which saw a market flooded with cadets who didn’t have aircraft to fly. He talks to Pilot Career News about how he’s staying resilient and keeping his ambitions sky high, working with aviation recruitment specialists AeroProfessional.

“I always wanted to be a pilot,” Raphael explains. “However, I didn’t have the means to pursue the dream. Flight training is very expensive, and that’s a fact that generally rules out a good bunch of people. Unfortunately I was in that category.” Raphael took some time to follow another passion of his: music. He studied percussion, popular music and jazz, performing with an orchestra in Portugal, before returning to aviation.

“When I moved to the UK, I worked several jobs and eventually ended up joining a flag carrier as a cabin crew member. That brought that aviation spark back and made me see that if I pooled all of my resources, I could gain my qualifications to fly. I worked as cabin crew and kept a bar job on the side in order to raise funds for my pilot training.”

“Often cadets forget that a good pilot needs to be resilient, be humble, be resourceful and think on their feet”

Raphael followed the modular path, training at Cabair School of Air Training in Florida, before the school went into administration as he was about to start his CPL. He then returned to Europe and joined Egnatia training in Greece, before an MCC/JOC with CTC Aviation. While there were plenty of highs in training – Raphael fondly remembers flying cross country and interstate in America, saying, “You can land at any airport and there was a wealth of opportunities to explore and opportunity to develop your flying skills, it’s fantastic to fly over there” – there were also tough challenges throughout. “Unlike most of my colleagues, I had no backing from parents and managing the whole training finances adds to the pressure,” he says. “There were a lot of sacrifices I had to make, and at the same time I had to make sure that I was fit and ready for every test, classes and flying lessons. When my flight school went into administration, there were several other issues to be resolved and it felt like it was not meant to happen. Resilience played a big part and often cadets forget that a good pilot needs to be resilient, be humble, be resourceful and think on their feet. I am very proud about the fact that I have passed my skill tests first time and finished the whole thing in 14 months.”

Now in CTC Aviation’s Flexicrew pool, awaiting a flying opportunity, Raphael also works as a business development executive for aviation HR and recruitment specialists AeroProfessional. “Aspiring pilots need to understand the industry,” says Raphael, “and my current position at AeroProfessional helps me understand better how training is conducted, as well as the business side of the industry. I am much more confident about interviewing and application processes and the constant exposure to contract negotiation and to airline administration has made me a more complete and competent pilot. Understanding how a pilot affects the operation, and how he/she can contribute to an effective and efficient operation is paramount. You should read about the markets, how the airlines are performing and why, political and economic trends, corporate responsibility and carbon footprint, biofuels and fossil fuel costs, cost of recruitment etc. Read it all.”

“Flying Instructor rating is also a good way to keep sharp, I have a rating myself and I am trying to secure an opportunity to fly on weekends.”

His advice to qualified pilots in a similar position is to stay involved in the industry as much as possible. “Cover three major aspects: flying techniques, theory, business,” he says. “It is very easy to get demotivated, especially when you have sent hundreds of CVs and you get no response. If you can’t afford to fly regularly, practise your Instrument SCAN with a home flying simulator and try to visit a training facility once a month. Focus on IR skills, Intercepting and tracking, but the most important is your SCAN (be ahead of the aircraft). If you have the opportunity to join a flying club, do it; socialising with other pilots will motivate you. An Instructor rating is also a good way to keep sharp, I have a rating myself and I am trying to secure an opportunity to fly on weekends.

“As far as theory is concerned, it may be hard to retain your ATPL knowledge, so focus on your favourite aircraft type, read about its systems, techniques about flying it, how it performs on weather, power and pitch datums etc. That will get your head in that mindset again, as whilst you find out more, you will have to refer to your old ATPL knowledge.”

As for what he’d like to see from the industry, Raphael referred to a recent study from AeroProfessional, showing that the industry imbalance could be addressed if more airlines invested in training. “Pilot training has been a club for the very few privileged for many years, and it is time to add diversity and change the mentality in recruitment. People from different backgrounds and walks of life tend to approach challenges in different ways, and this could benefit the airlines in many ways. The industry needs to understand that by investing in people, very often they get commitment back, loyalty is important and you can keep recruitment costs down by offering people a platform to develop as professionals.”

He would also like to see fairer competition when it comes to cadet programmes, and see an end to so-called “pay-to-fly” programmes, which see students committing large chunks of money into training, but with no guarantee of permanent employment contract. “I believe we should have heavier regulation on flight schools, so cadets don’t have to face situation like I did when my school went into administration. During the crisis, many businesses sold ‘the dream’, and it was sad to see many students buying into empty promises of employment. Those people are now heavily indebted, with no prospects of finding a job in aviation anytime soon.”

For now, Raphael’s resilience, attitude and role with AeroProfessional is setting him in good stead. “The position has taught me a lot about business, and I am hoping that one day I can put this additional expertise to good use at an airline. I want to be able to help other aspiring pilots have the opportunities that I didn’t when starting out, and hopefully help change the industry for the better.”