How I spread my wings to become a First Officer

After struggling to find a First Officer job when I finished my training, I applied to become an Operational Controller with London Executive Aviation. At that time, I had no real experience in operations and was just hoping that by getting my foot in the door I would one day secure that dream job as a pilot.

Working in operations made me more determined than ever to get flying and I was lucky that I was able to do some flights as a King Air safety pilot on the weekends. It’s funny, but when I first started my pilot training I wanted to work in the airlines, but after a few months with LEA now Luxaviation UK, I began to fall in love with GA.

I have great respect for our operations team as it is hard work! I was dealing with clients, crew, setting up transatlantic flights, band tours and so on, every day I was learning something new. Even working out crew duty periods when the passengers wanted to change their departure times was something I had never encountered before when training as a pilot, but definitely helped me when I started flying.

After 2 years in operations I finally got my lucky break with Luxaviation UK and was offered the chance to become a First Officer on the Citation XL fleet. I began my type rating in August 2015 and after four weeks ground school and simulator training, I passed the exam and was finally able to start the line training.

In order to get signed off to fly there is a minimum number of sectors that you need to complete, (the amount of sectors needed depends on your previous experience). How hard can it be? Well learning to fly the simulator in a controlled environment is very different to everyday flying with Luxaviation UK, for a start you have passengers (who quite often turn up early or late), ATC (who distract you whenever you go to do something) and not forgetting the changeable weather!

During my time on the fleet I have had so many great trips. The Captains I work with are all brilliant and very professional, but also great to have a laugh with when you are down route. In this job this is essential as you spend so much time with the other crew members when you are away.

Of course, there were flights where everything goes wrong, slot delays, maintenance problems, bad weather but I love that every day is something different and I learnt quickly to always to expect the unexpected! It is not a lifestyle for everyone, but I love it!

One of my most favourite trips was to Reykjavik in Iceland, we had flown out early in the morning with some lovely passengers and we had a few days off in town before the return trip. On landing the Captain and I booked a Northern Lights boat tour, it was fantastic (although very cold), the tour operator said that that evening was the best display of the northern lights that they had had that season so far! It’s at those moments when you realise that you have the best job in the world!

Another time we flew a band’s sound team to a summer festival in Spain and during the flight they invited us to watch the band that evening with back stage passes. We watched the show from our own private viewing area in front of the stage and then went back stage to meet everyone, the atmosphere was amazing!

I was also able to take my husband and other members of my family up for their own flight in a private jet when we were positioning empty on a few occasions, they absolutely loved it! and it was nice to be able to show them a little bit of what I do.

One of the best things about this job is the chance to explore new towns, cities and food, sometimes even travelling to places where the airlines can’t go to.

After spending over three years as a first officer travelling all over Europe and beyond, I’m now excited to start my next adventure which is having a baby.

As you can imagine it was challenging but I received so much support from my colleagues on both the flight deck and from operations. Luckily, I didn't suffer too badly with morning sickness and I am now temporarily working in operations until my maternity leave in June.

 

Katie Smith

First Officer Citation XL Fleet

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