We grilled Senior First Officer Tom Richards on his experiences while learning on the Thomas Cook Airlines Mentored Pilot Programme.
Tom’s Flight Stats
Name: Tom Richards
Profession: Senior First Officer on the Airbus A330
Years flying aircraft: 13
Years flying professionally: 7
Commercial Aircraft Flown: Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, Embraer 170/190, Boeing 757-200, 757-300, 767-200, Airbus A321, A330.
Why did you sign up for the Thomas Cook Airlines cadet mentored programme?
I have always wanted to be a commercial pilot, I had recently graduated from University and I was applying for every cadet pilot scheme at the time. The Thomas Cook mentored programme particularly appealed to me for several reasons.
Firstly, the cadet scheme itself was interesting, it provided an opportunity for me to be seconded to a regional airline, flying turbo prop aircraft for the first two years before joining Thomas Cook, I thought this would provide a great platform to develop my skills and knowledge.
In addition, Thomas Cook operates a wide range of aircraft to short, medium and long haul destinations from the UK. This would provide great variety and career progression.
What was the selection process like?
The selection process was very intense. In 2010, there weren’t many cadet programmes around as most airlines didn’t need cadets as there was a global surplus of pilots following September 11th. As a result, any cadet opportunities were very competitive.
The mentored cadet programme was opened in May 2010, advertised online. I was required to submit my CV, answer some basic eligibility questions and submit some essay style questions to competency based questions. For example; Can you tell us of a time when you have shown leadership?
Three weeks later I was invited for a day of testing at the Thomas Cook Headquarters in Peterborough, this part of the selection was run by the flight school to be used by Thomas Cook, FTE (Flight Training Europe).
During the day, I sat the entry exams which included Maths, English comprehension and a technical exam. In addition, my hand and eye coordination and spacial awareness skills amongst others were tested using something similar to a computer game with a joystick. Finally, I was given a 50-minute interview, I was asked about my motivation and key skills. A few weeks later, I received a letter saying that I had been successful and have been invited to the final round at the Thomas Cook Hangar in Manchester. During this, we were given a little more insight into Thomas Cook. I was then interviewed by the Chief Pilot looking at my key skills and attributes along with my knowledge of Thomas Cook.
Finally, the last stage was a group exercise, 10 candidates had 20 minutes to discuss and solve a problem. This was the hardest part of the selection, getting the balance right between making a positive contribution to the team, showing some leadership skills whilst allowing others to contribute. This lasted about an hour, having to present our solution at the end, which concluded the selection process for me.
The following night, I was sitting in Pizza Hut with some friends, when I got a phone call from the Chief Pilot to inform me that I had been successful. I was ecstatic, I had finally been given an opportunity to fulfil my lifelong goal of becoming a pilot… it was still a long road ahead.
How long did the selection process take? from application to being offered a position on the course.
From applying in May I was told I had been successful in August and started the course on 11th November 2010.
What are the benefits of being mentored throughout the course by the Thomas Cook Liaison Pilot?
Firstly, security. Although you aren’t guaranteed a job when you graduate from flight school you have all the resources there to help you succeed. We had two mentors that looked after a group of 8 of us, they provided professional advice where needed and also personal development. Having someone at the end of the phone who understands the stress of the training and the transition to the job is worth its weight in gold.
In addition, it allows you to form a connection into your future job without actually being there, you have access to their knowledge that has taken years to develop. I’m still in contact with my mentor, who is actually one of my managers now, but I still get to pick his brains.
Would you recommend the cadet mentored programme? If so why?
Absolutely. Thomas Cook is a great place to be a pilot, the work force is very friendly, the training is second to none. You will eventually have an opportunity to fly a mixed fleet on an Airbus A330 or A321 both long and short haul. Having the opportunity to be able to do that just a few years after graduating from flight school is a very unique opportunity.
The mentored cadet scheme will provide all the tools necessary to allow you to develop into a confident and capable professional along with arming you with all the skills required to become a pilot. In addition, the mentored cadet scheme at Thomas Cook is a small but unique scheme, we are looking for high calibre candidates who will be the future of Thomas Cook, as a result, you will receive an individual and personal relationship with the airline as you progress through your career.
Any advice to new cadets?
Firstly, congratulations, it’s a difficult process so enjoy your success whilst you can. The training course at FTE is challenging but very enjoyable. You will never have an opportunity to live in southern Spain again, make the most of the mountains, the beaches and of course the Sherry as Jerez is the home of Sherry. The study and rate of learning is unlike anything you will have experienced. It takes a level of maturity to stay on top of things. Furthermore, the people you study with will be with you throughout your career, learn to support each other and develop each other. You are about to embark on a great career make sure you build some solid foundations in terms of your knowledge, experiences and friendships.
What made you want to be a pilot in the first place?
My uncle worked as a helicopter engineer with the Army, we would often visit the hangar where he worked. I will always remember the pristine hangar, mind-boggling array of switches, the smell of oil and fuel along with the constant buzz around the hangar.
Having an early interest in aviation, my family would take me to airshows where I would spend most of the day imagining what it would be like to be in control of an aircraft. I was always encouraged by my family, who told me I could do anything if I put my mind to it. Having a dream at an early age gave me the motivation and determination to work hard at school, I also joined the Air Training Corps, where I had my first flight and time in control of a light aircraft, cementing my ambition to become a pilot.
I was sponsored by the Air Training Corps for a gliding scholarship, during which I flew on my own for the first time at the age of 17, In addition I was a lucky recipient of a flying scholarship at the age of 18, which allowed me to fly my first powered aircraft solo at the age of 18. At this point I was hooked, I knew I wanted to fly professionally, however, I couldn’t afford to pay for my professional pilot training at the time, so I decided to study for a Masters in Aerospace Engineering and Pilot Studies at Liverpool University. Here I was able to learn more about aircraft whilst completing my private pilot’s licence. I also joined the University Air Squadron, which allowed me to experience some military flying. All of which developed my skills and passion to pursue my career goal.
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