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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 16°C
Jason Clarke Photography Co-pilots Claire Cronin and Lisa Cusack who have recently completed flight school in Jerez, Spain as part of the Cadet Pilot training programme.
# Pilot Programme
How difficult is it to become a pilot for an Irish airline?
Fourteen months training, for a start.

IT’S ONE OF the all-time top dream jobs for kids.

But, as the years go on and we realise we’re not very good at maths or engineering or Flight Simulator, many of us abandon plans to become a pilot.

But how hard a job is it to get?

This week, Aer Lingus announced they would recruit 12 new cadets to fly their planes, sparking a wave of excitement in the thousands of people who grew up wishing they could take to the skies for a living.

The 14-month course will see potential pilots undertake an extensive training course both on the ground and in the air in Jerez in Spain.

Of course, competition for the jobs will be fierce, but don’t panic if you don’t have experience flying or a degree in aeronautical engineering.

Captain Eamon Kierans is the Manager of Training and Standards with Aer Lingus and he told that those who are being recruited need a wide range of skills.

We’re looking for all-rounders – the guy or girl who at school did well academically but was also on the sports team and is also socially capable. Flying is an interesting job because you’re in a cockpit with someone for long hours while operating a fairly complex machine, so a good diverse set of skills is needed.

“Hand-eye co-ordination is necessary in the skills that you need to develop to fly the plane.

We’re looking for people who are mature, who can take responsibility and who can speak up when things aren’t right. We need the younger people to speak up to a captain when they feel something is wrong.

“You don’t need to be particularly academic or particularly sporty, but it all helps.”

Aer Lingus / YouTube

Kieran O’Connor from the National Flight Centre, which trains pilots for every kind of aviation, says that anyone thinking of applying should remember that “the job is just a job”.

“You need to be someone who wants to do it, number one. If you have the aptitude, that’s great, but the interest is more important. You need an easy-going, reasonably intelligent person. There is a reason that the Irishman as an airline pilot is well sought after.”

Get to work

Airlines amend flight disruption policies PA Wire / PA Images PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

The training for the cadets will see them undertake 14 months learning at a flight school in Spain and, unlike previous years, won’t cost applicants a penny.

Which, when you consider that training can run to over €70,000, is handy.

“That Aer Lingus pay for it is a big thing,” says O’Connor, who has flown almost every type of aircraft there is, bar a Zeppelin*.

“We would charge about €70,000, so if you’re being paid for, that’s massive.

It’s about 1,000 hours of study which is mandatory. It would be 200 hours of flight time. No more than any degree, there’s a set curriculum.

Just don’t expect to take off on day one.

“The first half of the course is quite heavy academically,” says Kierans.

“The material is not particularly difficult to understand or use, but there is a huge volume of it.”

On the job

Ireland Aer Lingus AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Taking to the skies is still seen as something of a glamourous job, but both men say that the reality is slightly different.

“People think you’re jetting off to foreign places which looks great,” says Kierans.

But the reality is, you fly to a place and spend 45 minutes on the ground while the plane is being cleaned.

“The job is the best job in the world, but it is busy.”

Successful cadets will fly on Aer Lingus’ short-haul routes, so a typical day might look like this:

  • Report one hour before takeoff
  • Fly to Rome (2.5 hours)
  • 45 minutes on the ground
  • Fly back to Dublin (2.5 hours)
  • 20 minutes post-flight debrief

Or on shorter flights:

  • Report one hour before takeoff
  • Fly to Amsterdam
  • 45 minutes on the ground
  • Fly to Dublin
  • 45 minutes on the ground
  • Fly to Heathrow
  • 45 minutes on the ground
  • Fly back to Dublin
  • Debrief
Our days can be demanding. Our earliest flight is 6am, so you could be up at 4am to be in at 5am. But we have a great rostering system – pilots work five days, then have three off.

“We have a later shift, where guys would be coming in at 2pm, but only our long-haul flights are overnight.”

And, despite what some will tell you, it’s not all autopilot now.

“There is a whole raft of conditions to the technical systems that allow you to operate them,” says Kierans.

“You have to make sure they’re working properly. It’s a tool, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.”

O’Connor says that being a pilot is a “good job, especially somewhere like Aer Lingus”, but says that it’s not that difficult, autopilot or not.

I never found it a difficult job. The air does the lifting, it just takes training and dedication.

Read: Ever wanted to fly an Aer Lingus plane? Now’s your chance

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