In this edition of Pilot Network Q&A, we are delighted to feature Michael Ashworth, a qualified Commercial Pilot, who will share with us his aviation journey so far. Michael graduated from flight training, in 2020, interestingly on a course that combines pilot training with an aviation degree. He is also currently an Associate Lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University, while also offering PPL and ATPL theory tuition in his spare time.
What made you want to become a pilot?
I grew up under one of Heathrow Airport’s flight paths, fascinated at the many types of aircraft flying over my home since I can remember. Along with many hours on a home flight simulator, travelling abroad on holidays and taking all the sights and sounds in, I was lucky enough to take the controls of light aircraft at the age of 12 during a flight experience. I knew I always had a strong passion for aviation and all things flying, but this confirmed for me it was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I caught the so-called “flying bug” and have been set on learning to fly, becoming a commercial pilot and turning my passion into a career ever since.
What training route did you take?
I chose to train via the university degree route, which was combined with modular training, allowing me to achieve a BSc (Hons) Air Transport Management degree alongside a Commercial Pilot licence. This took me 4 years full-time, including a major delay due to covid-19. The majority of my commercial training was undertaken through CTC Aviation (now L3 Harris) and Booker Aviation. The final part was the APSMCC, which I undertook at VA Airline Training, an intense but enjoyable 3 weeks on the Boeing 737-800 simulator.
Why did you choose the degree route and Buckinghamshire New University?
I chose this route for a number of reasons. To gain fantastic life experience, added flexibility, improve financing, spread training over a longer period, create a back-up plan/safety net, enhance networking opportunities and become a more well-rounded employable pilot with extensive knowledge of how the whole industry operates and is managed.
I was attracted to study at Buckinghamshire New University as they stood out, at the time, as the only university within the UK to offer a unique course, enabling you to achieve a full degree in Air Transport Management alongside Commercial Pilot training to a licence (frozen ATPL) required to apply for flying roles over 3 to 4 years. Having run aviation courses for over 20 years, the university has built up substantial industry experience, presence, and connections, with alumni working in a wide range of roles from head of airline operations to senior flight training airline captains.
How did you find this route?
I felt the degree route offered extensive life experience, networking possibilities, and wonderful opportunities I wouldn’t get anywhere else such as visiting both easyJet and British Airways’ headquarters as well as CAE Gatwick where I learnt all about Cabin Crew training and flew an A320 full-motion simulator. This route also offered lots of flexibility with your learning rate and finances. Being modular was great as it gives you full control of your training at every stage, choosing each flight school and enabling better management of your finances.
It’s had its challenges, as does any flight training course or route but, what I’ve learnt, the money I’ve saved, the experiences I’ve had, and knowledge I’ve gained is invaluable and I wouldn’t change it for the world. You learn what makes the industry tick, how the operation is managed behind the scenes on the ground night and day, all whilst learning to fly! Just some of the highlights were taking family flying over my house, building flight hours abroad around Cyprus, completion of the intensive groundschool phase and receiving my degree on graduation day.
For someone who has an interest in the industry beyond learning to fly, wishes to become a commercial pilot, and is happy to spread their journey out a little longer, in doing so helping them manage finances, then I’d highly recommend this route.
How has the degree benefitted you?
During the degree course, outside of your flight training you study modules including airline finance and economics, safety and security, crisis management, human factors, sustainability, and development of the air transport industry, from the early days of aviation to modern-day. Obtaining a degree alongside your pilot's licence arms you with extra knowledge ready to enter the job market and remain competitive. For example, you can bring more to the team of an airline than solely flying their aircraft and this stands out, giving you that edge.
After finishing my training during the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and its huge impact on aviation and flying opportunities in late 2020, my degree had already paid off as I was fortunate to be offered work at the university as an Associate Lecturer, responsible for delivering air transport management and pilot training courses. I have really enjoyed this experience so far, as it allows me to keep connected with the industry and give back to the university, supporting students in various ways to achieve their goals and onwards success.
Training can be a very fun and challenging time, what was your most memorable experience?
I couldn’t put it down to just one experience as there are so many vivid memories. My top experiences would include going solo at Wycombe Air Park in a Cessna 152 for the first time, completing my solo cross-country, flying to 2 other aerodromes on my own, and cruising across the Mediterranean sea at 8000 feet from Cyprus, before approaching the stunning city of Beirut in Lebanon.
Which aircraft would you most like to fly someday?
There are so many types of aircraft I’d like to fly, in fact anything really with wings will do! If I had to pick a few, it would have to be a Kingair, Pilatus PC12, Boeing 747 or Airbus A220 with its modern, sleek, ergonomic design.
What 3 pieces of advice would you give to a student pilot?
- Do your thorough research into the careers available as a commercial pilot, the different ways you can get there and speak to a range of pilots to find out their experiences. Know what you’re getting yourself into, the risks and benefits. Pilot Network’s database of information will help you with this.
- Enjoy it as you go. You only learn to fly once, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself and have fun.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them and keep the operation safe.
What are your next steps?
I'd like to continue giving back to the industry and sharing my knowledge and experiences through lecturing and ground school tutoring. Whilst patience is required until the job market picks up and there are more opportunities for graduate pilots, I want to keep my new skills current and stay in the world of aviation. I am hoping to start training to become a Flight Instructor in the near future as this combines both my passion for teaching and flying.
Thanks Michael for sharing your story with us, it has been a pleasure to hear about your journey. Pilot Network would like to wish you all the best in your future endeavours and hopefully see you in the skies soon!
If you would like to contact Michael to learn more or for any tuition, please feel free to contact him directly at:
Email: michael.ashworth [at] bucks.ac.uk
Thank you for reading,
The Pilot Network Team.