10 top tips from retired airline pilot Mike Gibson

Posted on Tue, 15/06/2021 - 11:29


Mike Gibson is a recently retired long haul 787 TRI/TRE with nearly 3 decades of experience. He got into flying because, by his own admission, he wasn’t clever enough to fix lawn mowers, and it went downhill from there. Despite his best efforts, he joined the Royal Air Force and flew GR1 Tornadoes before being down-sized after the first Gulf War. He then flew HP Heralds (you may need to Google those) and then moved on to the B747 and B787 for a UK based airline. Due to sheer desperation, the company made him a TRI/TRE. In his eyes, he achieved the ultimate goal of all commercial pilots - he left the airline without the Chief Pilot knowing his name!


Aviation Do's and Don'ts

There is much advice available to would-be commercial pilots, most of it superb, and a lot of it is easy to find. It is therefore a difficult task to add anything new to this pantheon, so rather than repeat some of the same old tropes, on offer here are just a few suggestions that have been accumulated over the course of a few decades in flying. Please take or leave them, but if only one tip helps one prospective pilot, then it will have been worthwhile.

If you are already in the game you may want to look away now as it is probably of no interest. It all might be a bit simplistic for a professional. That’s why you can always tell a pilot, but you can’t tell him much. In no particular order…


Do…..work on being a nice guy/gal as well as your flying skills. Only half of the job is flying an aeroplane, and the chances are that there will always be someone sitting next you while you’re at work. Prospective employers will consider this, as in “Would I want to be sat next to this person for the next 1,3 or 9 hours?” You will be thinking the same about them no doubt, and therefore realise how important it is.

Do…..when training for anything, go to the bar after work. You can learn as much there in an hour as you can a whole day in the classroom. Is this promoting a drinking culture? You don’t have to drink alcohol, (although after a day in front of PowerPoint, it can be very therapeutic). People are more at ease away from the classroom environment, and more likely to open up, be they the teachers or your fellow students.

Do……mess up but don’t cover up. To ‘err’ is human, and EVERYBODY makes mistakes. Think of the number of, say, politicians who have made an error, only to be found out trying to cover it up. Aviation has a good, and honest safety culture which has been partly built on the study of when things have gone wrong. So if you screw up, own up, and you might be surprised how much trouble you don’t get into.

Do….when night-stopping in a hotel, an old pro’s trick is to put away your valuables in the room safe, along with one of your uniform shoes. Next day when you check out in a hurry, you shouldn’t leave without your prized possessions. That or you’ll leave only wearing one shoe…

Do…..remember that…. ‘A superior pilot uses his superior awareness and anticipation to avoid having to use his superior skill’. Truisms abound on this subject so take your pick. ‘Prior preparation prevents poor performance’, ‘Fail to prepare or prepare to fail’. They probably all just mean that there’s no substitute for hard work!



Don’t…..p**s people off on your way up. Aviation is an incredibly small world, and you will always be surprised about who knows who. Word travels……Today you may be the pigeon, but tomorrow you might be the statue.

Don’t….bulls**t your way through your career. It is surprisingly easy to spot, and, as above, people know people and it will come back to haunt you. An honest “I don’t know” will always be received better than made-up rubbish. Put yourself in the place of an employer/trainer/interviewer….would you rather be dealing with a know-it-all who in fact doesn’t, or someone honest who is keen to learn?

Don’t…..ever give up. Clichéd as it may be, winners never quit and quitters never win. Lady Luck plays an important part in your career and it really helps to be on the lookout for it. Two recently qualified pilots were once sharing a house to save money when the phone rang. “Is Jim there?” came the question.

“No I’m afraid he’s away for a couple of weeks”.

“Damn I was going to offer him a job….”

“I can start tomorrow if that’s any help….”

Don’t……think the job is over until the paperwork is finished. Once after a 9hrs30 transatlantic flight, the F/ O executed a perfect landing and triumphantly taxied the aircraft on to stand. Checks were completed, engines cut and Seat Belt signs were extinguished. Just then, the crew noticed the ground engineer gesticulating frantically to put on the parking brake, as the aircraft slowly rolled backwards. Luckily the aeroplane did not tip onto its tail during braking, and all was well, costing the crew only a beer for the alert ground engineer. Things could have gone so differently. Once the Tech Log is signed, you can begin to relax.

Don’t…..sell yourself too cheaply. The airlines will always put huge pressure on you in order to lower their costs, but once you accept lower pay or terms and conditions, they won’t be given back. You will have gone through a lot of hard work and financial commitment to get where you are and you deserve a proper reward. You are a highly qualified professional, and deserve to be treated like one, so stand up for yourself and your colleagues. (Phew - rant over…)


Errr……that’s it.


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