Insight: Pilot Integrated Training

Suzannah (Suzie) McKee recently graduated as a Pilot. We had the pleasure of speaking to her about her experience of Integrated flight training.

How did you become interested in becoming a pilot?

Aviation was an industry I had often thought about, but didn’t become particularly interested in until I had properly investigated my options. I considered marketing, becoming a writer, and even midwifery before I settled on pilot. Academically wise, I chose to keep my opportunities relatively open throughout my education with the idea of becoming as well-rounded as possible. Flight was always a concept I found captivating, and I’ve been told by my family that the prospect of getting on a plane has always been more exciting to me than the holiday itself. By the time I graduated university, I had pretty much talked myself into the idea of breaking into the industry with the end goal of graduating as a commercial pilot. I then trained as cabin crew, visited flight schools and airshows, and found myself even more intrigued with the prospect of flying the plane myself. Consequently, I began applying to flying programmes in early 2018.

Where did you train?

I was lucky enough to be chosen for an airline sponsored programme with Flybe at FTE Jerez which is a school offering integrated training routes. For this reason, I didn’t have a whole lot of choice which school I attended! It turns out that I definitely hit the jackpot. The academy is all encompassing, with accommodation, canteen and flight operations all within a 5 minutes walk of each other. Having access to a pool, social club bar and some sports facilities also made taking some down time a lot easier. Spain is such a lovely place to learn to fly, with Jerez only experiencing around 50 days of rain a year, making VFR training a dream.

How long did it take you to complete your training?

I think something that’s worthy to note here is that it isn’t always a direct route from application to commencing an integrated course at your chosen flight school. The process from my initial online enquiry to day one in theory class took me around a year, but the pain of multiple assessment days and interviews are all worth it! I used that time to keep adding to my flying school funds pot. My course was originally an MPL, but that all changed when my airline sponsor went under in March 2020. I was lucky that the school were incredibly supportive, and made it possible for me to change license route and convert my training towards an ATPL. Unfortunately, I was at a pretty tricky part in my training when this all happened. I soon found myself heading from my MCC in the Boeing 737 simulator, back to the apron; building solo hours in the little PA28s. On completion of my frozen ATPL, I had trained for around 20 months.

What was your favourite day during flight training?

For me, the highlight was my very first solo flight. I don’t come from a particularly aviation orientated family, so aside from boarding airliners to go on holiday, I hadn’t really experienced ‘flight’. There really isn’t anything like it. Lining up on Jerez’s Runway 20 in my Piper Warrior and not seeing my instructor next to me was probably the most nervous I have ever felt. I’ve never experienced such a feeling of freedom, and don’t think I’ll ever get sick of flying solo over the Spanish mountains with endless blue skies and the clearest views of Africa. Whilst I was undeniably terrified, the power I felt at the controls on my own for the first time was indescribable.

What was the worst part of your training?

The most stressful portion of my flight training would have to be ground school. My programme split the 14 EASA theory topics into 2, with a 10 week flying phase separating them. They are subjects ranging from human performance to power plants and air law, and they literally take over your life. This section is so ridiculously condensed on an integrated course that I’d often find myself studying for 18 hours a day! Students sometimes use question banks with questions very similar to those that come up in the real exams to prepare, and this really is a life saving tool. Although it was the most punishing and overwhelming part of my training, seeing those 14 passes on a little sheet of paper made it all worthwhile.

What steps would you recommend to someone preparing to become a pilot?

Probably the most valuable advice I could give is back yourself. Don’t assume you’re not good enough. It’s an industry with a lot of stigma attached to it. For example, do pilots really require perfect eyesight, or lightning speed mathematics skills? Whilst training is demanding, and you are required to show certain attributes, it’s most definitely not as unattainable as some think. Believe in yourself! Do your research, and put in the hours and you can get there. Perhaps something more applicable to the situation we find ourselves in at the moment would be having an element of security to your training. Flight training is a HUGE financial commitment, so especially during a period of uncertainty, protecting yourself is key. Choose the right school, path and programme for you. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, and it doesn’t always go to plan anyway! Good luck!

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