Captain for easyJet
What did we learn from Sarah?
There are certain academic requirements to be a pilot – most training organisations look for GCSEs in science subjects, maths and English
You can make the decision to become a pilot at any stage in your life – Sarah knows people who have trained to do an entirely different career and switched to becoming a pilot later on
Being able to multitask and effectively prioritise is vital – as is good communication skills and maintaining an assertiveness
Every day is different when you're a pilot – you have different destinations, different crews, different weather. It makes the career an exciting one
Training to be a pilot is no mean feat, but Captain Sarah Ackerley would definitely recommend it as a career path for women - read on to find out how you can go about breaking into the aviation industry
A-Levels: Maths, Computing, Physics, French
University of York
Degree: Management, Computing and French
When did you realise that you wanted to be a pilot?
I had thought about becoming a pilot from an early age. Some pilots came to school and told me what qualifications would be best to get into that industry. One thing they were clear on was that you would need physics, maths, science and even English at ‘C’ grade. Most training organisations want this. Your GCSE’s are the first thing you need to think about. I also think it would help to choose A-Levels that are relevant, such as maths and physics. I did maths, computing, physics and French. I know a lot of pilots that didn’t go to university and it isn’t a requisite, but I went and studied Management, Computing and French because again I thought that would put me ahead for the job, it is something I would recommend. Do research into what you need qualifications-wise, but also the necessary skills. I went to the air cadets, completed a scholarship with them and flew solo with them at the age of sixteen, even before I could drive. That was something that really helped my CV. I had put myself out there to get experience.
What do you think was the outside influence that meant you wanted to be a pilot so young?
I travelled from a very young age. My parents first took me on a plane at two weeks old as they used to travel a lot for their jobs. The thing that really stood out for me was when I was on a 747 with one other family flying on the way to the Philippines and as we were the only two families on aircraft, we played volleyball with the cabin crew. It was amazing being able to do that so far up in the air and it was after that I started looking into it seriously. I know a lot of people that have changed careers, people that have trained to be vets and completed all of their qualifications and then changed their mind to become a pilot. It can work for anyone that decides to do it at any stage of life, but for me it was something I always wanted to do.
How does it work in terms of making your way to captain? What positions do you go through and how do you get to where you are?
Usually you start off as second officer or first officer. It's all hours building and experience in the job. Most people achieve their captaincy at easyJet in five to seven years. There is quite a lengthy process to go through to achieve it, but it is achievable. It is really rewarding and eventually you will get to the stage of being first officer, where you want to hit the next milestone and go forward with your captaincy.
What qualities do you think are valuable when wanting to be a pilot? What certain skills do you need to have or nurture?
You need to be able to multitask and prioritise what you need to do. If there was an emergency on an aircraft, something we are trained to deal with, the main thing you are taught is if there are a lot of tasks to get on with, let’s prioritise the most important ones. You need to gain good communication skills. Teamwork and communication are essential as first officer, but when you get up to being captain, you need to be able bring your assertiveness, be able to work as a team and get everyone’s opinions and ideas before you follow through with a plan.
Why would you recommend being a pilot to young women?
It is a very rewarding career. There aren’t that many people in the world that have a career they really enjoy doing. The reason I continue to enjoy this job is because no two days are the same and every day brings new challenges. You have different weather, different destinations, different runways and different crews. You make so many different friends on the job and there are lots of different people you talk to on a daily basis. You go to some destinations and the weather isn’t ideal, but it’s rewarding to think I got all of these passengers and crew into the airfield safely and to their ideal destination. It’s exciting and I don’t want to do anything else.
What do you consider to be your greatest challenge professionally?
I have always been determined. The training can be challenging and it isn’t a walk in the park, but it has to be challenging. You are taking all your flying lessons and, at the same time, preparing for all of your theory exams. That could be in aerodynamics, meteorology or a whole range of subjects you need. It can be challenging and especially going through command, that brings its own challenges as well. You get a lot of support from easyJet and your colleagues so you can get through it.
Have you ever felt affected personally by the uneven ratio of men to women?
I wouldn’t say so. I definitely knew it was a male-dominated industry and knew that growing up. Many people have said, ‘Why would you want to go into an environment where it is so male dominated?’, but I did. Maybe I will be talking about football a little more, but that’s all. I have to say now I’m doing it, it doesn’t affect my work day at all. It has no relevance. And that’s why I am really encouraging young women at schools that are considering it as a career. Things are changing and we are doing things and addressing the balance.
What is the one piece of advice that can be applied to any career that you would like to pass on to young women?
Do your research and talk to people that are in that career at the moment. Find out what it is you want to do and know what qualifications you may need. There may be costs to get into that career or a place for necessary training. As long as you have the determination and put in the hard work, I think you can achieve any career you want.
Interview by Isabella Ford