BlueSky: Danni Stoney, First Officer, Luxaviation UK (LEA)

This Saturday marks Women in Aviation International’s Girls in Aviation Day 2016 – to encourage and inspire young women to pursue their aviation dreams. As a pilot at Luxaviation UK (LEA), I’m delighted to be able to support the event.

I became a pilot thanks to my parents. They didn’t know what to get me for my 15th birthday, so they got me a flying lesson! After that, I was hooked and gained my Private Pilot’s Licence aged 17 – at that time I was the youngest pilot in Ireland and the second youngest female pilot in Great Britain. I am very proud to be able to say that I got a Student Pilot of the Year award when I was 17, and the Royal Airforce Flying Excellence Award when I was 22, but the most satisfying thing was flying my parents on the Phenom 300 from Ireland to England and being able to show them what I had achieved since that first flight.

For girls and young women looking to get into aviation, they should know there is no such thing as a typical day in the private aviation industry; the variety from one day to the next can be extraordinary. I’m constantly adapting to different routes and destinations, with changing schedules and weather conditions, which is all part of the excitement I get to experience in my everyday life. It’s an extra special time for me at the moment as I am currently doing my upgrade training to the rank of Captain. This is allowing me to incorporate my current skills with the increased responsibility and awareness that comes with the new role.

One of the biggest differences for a pilot in the corporate charter sector compared to commercial airlines is that there is no regular schedule. Often, our flying notice will be a couple of days in advance and, in some cases, only a few hours, which is called a ‘go now’. Regardless of the notice period, the preparation process for a flight is always the same. Luxaviation UK’s operations team look after the flight plan and liaise with the crew as required. Every flight plan requires particular attention to any operational factors based on the destination we’re flying to, which includes risk assessments, crew qualifications, route planning and performance. The pilots and cabin crew must report for duty 1½ hours prior to scheduled departure. Passengers often don’t arrive much more than 15 minutes before take-off, but this time is invaluable for the crew to ensure the flight is legally compliant. The captain always tries to meet and greet the passengers before they board to ensure swift facilitation through security and customs. Any information pertinent to the flight can also be discussed with the lead passenger at this point, if required.

Another big difference for pilots working in corporate aviation as opposed to scheduled airlines is that we are regularly interacting with the passengers. This might include informing them of any changes due to bad weather or a slightly longer flight time due to headwinds. Timetable changes, especially a change which increases passengers’ travel time, is not often met with much delight. We do, however, try to make as many other options available to the passengers, for example, by rearranging ground transport at their destination. Despite timetable changes, passengers are always grateful about being kept informed, and understand that safety comes before meeting passenger requirements.

As soon as we arrive at a location, the priority is once again focused on the passengers. The crew works quickly to ensure their baggage and possessions are offloaded and on their way to the passengers’ ground transport without delay. At this point I would usually be on hand to assist with any unforeseen circumstances and establish a meeting point for their return. Shortly after waving goodbye to the passengers, our attention turns back to the aircraft. Post-flight work includes cleaning and re-stocking the plane, which the whole crew is involved in.

Once complete, the crew may have a few days off to explore the surrounding area. With regard to downtime, we can be extremely lucky in some of the places we get to visit. In April this year, we went to Iqualuit, Canada. This was definitely the coldest place I have ever been at -40°. No amount of ski gear could have prepared us for that! We got up to all sorts, including building our first igloo (a skill we will hopefully never need), visiting the museum and visitor centre, watching our first ice hockey game and, last but certainly not least, we went husky sledding across the frozen tundra. I recently had some spare time after a flight in Iceland, where we went on an all-terrain vehicle through forests, taking in the lakes and waterfalls, and a beautiful three-hour trek across jaw-dropping landscapes.

If I were to give a word of advice to young women considering a career in aviation, it would be not to underestimate the hard work you have to put in to achieve your goal. There are many different paths to get there, but it is an extremely rewarding job, wherever those paths lead you.

Published in BlueSky on 22nd September 2016

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