INTERVIEW: Getting pilot careers off the ground

Aviation

Alistair Checketts is chief flying instructor, with Gloucester, UK-based training school Skyborne, where he develops and manages airline training programmes.

How did you get into aviation?

My grandfather had a passion for flying and was in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, before getting a job with BAC (now BAE). His enthusiasm was passed on to me from a very young age and I have only ever wanted to work in aviation.

How has your career progressed?
I began my career as a flying instructor at Oxford-based Pilot Flight Training, before taking up the same role with Oxford Aviation Training (now CAE). I spent 12 fantastic years at CAE as a flying instructor, standards instructor, flight lead and chief flying instructor. I developed a strong working relationship with CAE’s former global operations director, Ian Cooper, who is now chief operating officer of Skyborne, and made the move to Skyborne as chief flying instructor in July.

What have been the highlights?
I have been extremely lucky to teach a very wide variety of cadets throughout my career so far. Many of them are military or airline-sponsored cadets, who seem to sail through flight training, while others have found the process more challenging. It is down to flying instructors to adapt their teaching style to maximise a cadet’s performance but, of course, hard work and the right attitude is required from both sides. Seeing cadets become competent pilots is always an instructor’s career highlight.

Skyborne

What does your job entail?
I play a key role in developing and managing Skyborne’s airline training programmes, as well as overseeing all practical elements of the training academy’s innovative educational approach. This includes evaluating cadets’ performance in the company’s state-of-the-art Alsim AL42 and Boeing 737 Max simulators, along with Diamond Aircraft’s piston trainers. At Skyborne, it is our vision to be the most respected and trusted airline training academy in the industry, and we want to make sure we enable the next generation of top professional airline pilots to get their careers off to the best possible start.

Pilot training is a competitive market. What sets Skyborne apart?

Skyborne is the UK’s newest and most innovative airline training academy. We have developed a unique educational approach with a focus on progressive continuous learning, making sure cadets remain challenged and tested throughout their time with us. We have invested in the finest training equipment on the market, including the world’s first fixed-base Boeing 737 Max simulator, to give our cadets the very best experience possible. We truly value our cadets’ time with us, which is why we are developing state-of-the-art on-site accommodation at our Gloucestershire airport headquarters.

What are your challenges?

Skyborne is more than a flight school, it is an airline training academy with a strong emphasis on preparing cadets for careers as international airline pilots. This means adopting airline methodologies and the correct ethos from day one. The biggest challenge is modernising the approach to ab-initio pilot training so the transition to the airline environment becomes seamless.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I decided to join Skyborne to team up with like-minded aviation training professionals. Like any new business, it is an extremely dynamic environment which is very stimulating. Skyborne’s ambition is to put its cadets at the centre of everything it does. To guarantee this, yearly intakes are going to be capped at a realistic level. Delivering top-quality training is what makes my job hugely fulfilling.

What next for Skyborne?

We are continuing to seek partnerships with leading airlines, to maximise our cadets’ career prospects. We have invested in establishing an outstanding flight training environment, but the most important thing is that our cadets find stimulating employment at the end of their programme. We are all looking forward to working with our first intake of cadets and giving them the platform they need to become some of the very best pilots in the industry.