Q&A Update from Pilot and MES FP, Caroline Skinner

Posted on 25th Mar 2024 in Former Pupil, The Mary Erskine School

It’s been a couple years since we spoke, tell us what you’ve been up to?

After six months of ground school exams in Cheltenham with Skyborne Airline Academy, I spent the next six months completing my single engine flight training at their fair weather base on the east coast of Florida! I had a great time there and then returned to the UK to progress onto the twin engine aircraft for my Commercial License and Instrument Rating. I finished flight school in February 2023; however not many airlines were recruiting cadets at that time. Flying for easyJet was my ultimate goal, so I started working for them as cabin crew at London Gatwick while waiting for recruitment to pick up again. I was incredibly lucky to be offered an interview for a First Officer role with easyJet. After completing my Airbus A320 Type Rating in the summer, I then started my new role as an easyJet pilot at Gatwick in November.

What do you like most about the aviation industry?

Besides the flying of course, my favourite part is the people. Everybody in the industry shares the same love of aviation and it’s such a friendly and tight-knit community to work in. I had so much fun in my 6 months as cabin crew and my colleagues have been so encouraging and supportive of me moving into the flight deck – it’s been great fun to fly with some of them again since starting my new role.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

During my Line Training with easyJet, it was always emphasised to me that things won’t always work out the way you want them to, so consider every mistake as an opportunity to learn something, willingly take on board any feedback, and don’t give up.

What has surprised you most about your career to date?

The sheer number of crew in the company definitely surprised me, especially being based at the company’s largest base, Gatwick. I believe there are around 1200 pilots and over 2500 cabin crew working for easyJet at their Gatwick base alone. It means we are often flying with completely new people every day, and we may not bump into each other again for another year or more!

What’s it like to be female working in the aviation industry?

We are few and far between - I believe only around 5% of commercial pilots in the UK are female. The proportion of female pilots in easyJet is slightly higher than this though which is great to see. I do think there are a lack of female role models (which is partly why I hadn’t considered a career in aviation sooner), but this is slowly changing and will continue to do so as more girls enter the industry and go on to inspire others. Being a pilot is a stereotypically ‘male’ job, and often people assume that I am cabin crew because of my gender – I’ve even had the occasional joke from passengers that they want to get off the plane when they see there’s female pilot flying them! If anything, this just encourages me even more to try to inspire other women to join the industry.

Who inspired you?

I think my interest in aviation came from my parents, but particularly my Dad, who used to hold a Private Pilot’s License and would spend hours on end with me at Edinburgh Airport and the air shows each year at East Fortune watching planes as a child. They are some of my earliest memories and had it not been for them, I doubt I’d ever have taken an interest in a career as a pilot when I became older.

Where do you see your career going?

At the moment, I’d like to continue with short haul flying. I love the huge variety of routes and fast-paced environment, while still being at home most nights and having a semi-normal life. At the moment I should have 5 or 6 years of flying as a First Officer before becoming a Captain – once I achieve my Command I would be really keen to eventually branch out into recruitment or management as well.

Is there anything specific you take from your ESMS education?

Besides some maths and physics, most of the subjects studied for the 13 ATPL (Air Transport Pilot License) exams are ones like law, navigation, and aircraft systems, which are not generally covered in school. However, as a pilot, I am continuously assessed on five ‘non-technical’ competencies, including workload management, leadership and teamwork. I attribute much of my foundation in these skills to my time at ESMS, particularly through the extra-curricular activities I was involved in, such as DofE, House Music, and being Captain of the MES Ski Racing team for two years.

How do you strike a good balance between work and social endeavours?

Being a short haul pilot can involve some very long hours, especially during the summer when operating further afield more regularly, such as to Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. However, this is balanced by generally having more time off during the winter, and also a roster bidding system which allows me to preference the sort of shifts that work best for me personally and allow me to schedule a social life too (be it short or long sectors, or early or late flight times). It can be hard work, but good fun nonetheless.

If you could give one piece of advice to an ESMS student looking to get into the industry, what would it be?

Definitely have a go at flying to see if it’s for you before committing to it. Most airfields offer trial/experience flights for people of all ages and believe it or not, you can obtain a Private Pilot’s License at just 17. I did a few flying lessons up at Perth Airport before deciding it was definitely the career for me. Alternatively, programmes such as the RAF branch of CCF or the Air Cadets give young people the opportunity to experience flying a light aircraft and it’s something I particularly regret not doing myself. Flight school is notoriously expensive, however the past year has seen the re-introduction of fully funded airline cadet programmes, such as with BA, TUI and Aer Lingus. I do hope these continue into the future as they now allow anybody, regardless of background, to have the opportunity to become an airline pilot – so go for it!

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