My route to the right hand seat

On my Instagram page @pilotmaria I often get the question; “What can I do to become an airline pilot”  I wish I could answer each and everyone personally, but unfortunately, how much I wish I could I unfortunately don´t have enough time working a full time job, so I wrote this blog post and hope it helps as many of you as possible.

I started my pilot career in 2010, in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was intense and I had no idea what I had given myself into. I did my PPL (Private Pilot License) in just ten weeks! It was a full-time job. When I finished my PPL, I started the ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot License) theory the very next day. The ATPL theory took me from August to April 2011, and in the meantime I flew as much as I could to get my 100 hours PIC towards my CPL (Commercial Pilot License) Every day after school I took a thirty minutes power nap to recharge my batteries, in order to focus, I studied until at least ten at night when I went to bed. I usually go up an hour earlier than necessary to repeat what I studied the day before, if there was anything that I in particular struggled with. 

I had neither Instagram nor a smartphone back then. I could focus 100 percent on the subject (today when I need to focus I leave my phone in flight mode). Every Monday we had a progress test, to make sure that everyone was up to standard and knew what we needed to know. I studied every weekend! My alarm rang at seven every Saturday and Sunday morning. I made my own schedule that I followed strictly; morning stretch, breakfast, studying, lunch, study, dinner, study and sleep. I had “memory cards” with a question on one side and the answer on the other side. I did not allow myself to go to bed before I knew them all. But not only the correct answers, I had to be comfortable and understand why the correct answer was what it was (anyone can memorize questions, but that is not how you learn, you will forget it just as fast). I wanted to understand, not just learn it for the exams. 

In the beginning, during the PPL, I felt completely lost! Was I the only one who actually thought this was difficult and demanding? It was not before the ATPL theory that all puzzle pieces fell into place, when we went deeper into each subject and I learned everything in greater depth.  As I took my last ATPL exam I could not have been more pleased with my results!

I did a so-called modular course, which means I started with my PPL, ATPL theory followed by ME (Multi Engine) IR (Instrument Rating) CPL and last MCC (Multi Crew Coordination) or in another order, this is just how I did it. With modular you can decide for yourself how, and how fast you want to finish. 

The MCC course is according to me the most important course throughout the training, it teaches us how to work together as a team and take advantage of each others strength and knowledge, two brains are always stronger than one! 
Summer of 2011 a couple of friends and I from flight school rented a Diamond 20 and a Cessna 172 and flew a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) navigation flight from Gothenburg, Sweden all the way to Almeria in south of Spain. It was great experiance learning how to speak on the radio in busy European airspace.

Annie and I did most of our training together, when she flew I sat in the back and vice versa, in this way we got to see everything twice and I feel it was the best way to learn more. We flew our ME, IR and CPL together in a Gulfstream! It felt really cool to sign GA time! But in fact not Jet as most would associate a Gulfstream with, but a two engineered piston propeller engine airplane “The Cougar” built in 1978 with all the traditional clocks, NDB needels – back to basics! 

In December 2011 I had completed all my certificates and could call myself a proud commercial pilot! I was ready to take the pilot world by storm and applied to what felt like every airline in the world.

I checked my mail several times every day to see all airlines that would call me for an interview, but echo! Absolutely nothing! Most of the time there was no reply back at all, and sometimes there was an automatic reply sent back, started with something like “Dear MR” !! All applications and they did not even care about if it was a woman or man who applied, and sent the same reply to everyone, which stereotyped it to MR!

I felt like giving up, frustrated because I did not even get the chance to go for an interview and it was expensive to keep all my licenses to date. Every year you have to do a check ride to keep them valid, meaning that you need to rent an airplane with an examiner.

It was not before January 2014 when it suddenly happened. I received an email that the company I fly for today was interested in receiving my application and called me for an interview!

We first had a telephone interview, I could hardly control my voice, uncontrollable with nerves, the woman I talked to was really nice and she seemed to have full understanding of me being nervous. 

After successfully passing the telephone interview I had my simulator check at London, Stansted airport followed with a technical and personal interview.

As preparation I repeated my ATPL knowledge from school, read one of the best pilot interview preparation books Ace Technical Pilot Interview  I flew flight simulator on my computer at home, repeating approach procedures ILS after ILS, VOR, NDB, holdings everything! I was even lucky enough to be given two hours in a real Boeing 737-800 simulator practicing the scenarios that might happen during the simulator check with a Captain from the same company, thank you @piloth_tv

The day of my interview I felt prepared but nervous. My voice was uncontrollable, my face turned red and my legs started to shake, how am I suppose to be able to demonstrate level flight with a leg that bounces up and down like severe turbulence.  I rarely get nervous, I don’t see a reason for it but this time it was like everything was at stake. I wanted this so badly. I had been working so hard for it and I knew I would probably not be given a second chance.

 

After a full day at the sim center, back at the hotel the first thing I did was to lay down in my bed starting to cry, I thought I blew it. I thought I did not have a chance and I was waiting for the email saying that I was not successfully passed. After three weeks I thought they forgot about me. I kept in contact with other pilots who had been on the same assessment day as I and they as well heard nothing. Maybe it was a good sign? I would never allow myself to think that I might have passed. If I get my hopes up I will only get disappointed. Five and a half weeks later my phone rang, someone from aviation something….adrenaline was pumping through my body and I could not make out what he was saying, rang and said that I successfully had passed the interview and was welcome to start the 737 Type Rating course “CAE1420” at CAE Amsterdam. I could not believe it. Really! Me? Was I going to be an airline pilot!

Five weeks later a group of twelve met in East Midlands for the first time, starting our training together. After one week in East Midlands, containing safety training and tests we started the type rating at CAE Amsterdam sim centre. The type rating took approximately six weeks, six weeks of hard training and not enjoyable at all. Thinking back on that time I wish I would have enjoyed it more. But for me it was so intense and I was so focused on doing well that I did not take time to breath nor enjoy the fun of it, flying is fun and so should the training be.

After the type rating was base training. We were a group of five during my base training, base training is when you do touch and go in a 737, basically we had a whole 737 to do traffic circuits with. No passengers, no crew, only us and the training Captain. I have never felt as powerful as I did advancing the thrust levers for take off that first time!

It was amazing, five take offs and landings each, it went so fast I forgot to enjoy it, again…. I was too focused on doing well and forgot to be in the moment.

After the base training in East Midlands I started my Line Training in Stockholm, Skavsta. Line training is when you learn the company’s procedures and SOP (Standard Operating Procedures). It takes around 80 sectors, approximately two months. I had a great time in Skavsta, flew with great Line Training Captains. I was happy to do my training in the northern parts of Europe with winter operations, foggy approaches giving me great experience.

Me flying the 737, click on link 🙂

We have a great selection of different bases with the company, right now I’m in the south parts of Europe enjoying the summers in the Mediterranean, clear blue sea, 30 degrees Celsius sunshine and an ice coffee at the beach on my standby days. I am the happiest where there is a cost line, palm trees and sunshine.

My next goal would be to apply for SFI (Synthetic Flight Instructor), it is a great opportunity this company has to let its First Officers apply.  I think I will do my command upgrade in around two years time. For my long term future I would love to fly private jets, It is nothing I am planning on now, I am very happy where I am in life and I could not have ask for more.

This was my journey, if you yourself is an aspiring pilot and wonder how you can get into the training or where to start. Here is a quick guidance on some tips and tricks to become a pilot.

Flight training is expensive be sure that this is what you want to do! Find a flight club close to where you live, most airfields normally have a small aero club with a couple of Cessnas or Pipers. Contact them and see if they can take you on a thirty minutes flight. It might cost you 100 euros, but you will know if you love it, fall in love with aviation, “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return”  You can do your training either integrated or modular. Integrated means that you do all courses (PPL, CPL, ME, IR, MCC) integrated at once. Modular means that you do them step by step.  Go on recruitment days ask questions, what they offer etc. Learn as much as you can about the school. Ask the students that are already attending the school. They can give you insight that nobody else can. Save money, get a bank loan or however you decide to finance your training. It is expensive and can cost anything from Euro 50k to 120k! It’s worth to check out different schools and compare prices. Put your heart and soul into the training, it is not easy and it will be demanding!  When you are done, apply for jobs, this is the hardest part. For me it took almost two years. Two years of not even getting an interview, but you will get there, you will get that interview and you will get that job so keep fighting.
Enjoy it for the rest of your career!

52 Comments

  1. April 28, 2016 / 10:43 pm

    We would love to feature your #whyifly story on our website and instagram page! Check us out! Awesome story by the way.

    • Shaf
      June 12, 2016 / 4:49 am

      This was truly amazing to read! It’s got me really excited and very nervous at the same time… But I won’t be giving up for sure. I will hopefully start taking my hour lessons and follow it step by step as you put it! Thank you for this, you’ve been extremely helpful X

    • January 15, 2017 / 1:43 am

      Really want to be a pilot. Some days i want to give in other days i wake up and hear the buzz from planes above (the local airfield are always flying around us) and i know what i want. Finding all the licenses and required training complicated. What do i do first and for most?

  2. giuseppe capruzzi
    April 28, 2016 / 10:59 pm

    Thanks maria. I enjoyed each single word of your story. My BigGest dream is to fly…a Small propEller plane! If bari (LIBD) Will be in your ruotes would be Great to manage a chat with you. I wish u all The Best.
    Giuseppe (An istagram follower of yours)

    • Elena Fruehwirth
      July 27, 2016 / 7:59 pm

      How did you finance it?

    • December 4, 2016 / 8:19 pm

      Hi Giuseppe! Thank you so much 🙏 it’s been taking ages for me to reply but I’m finally getting back at it and hoping to get some new posts up here soon. All the best!

  3. Little Mary
    April 28, 2016 / 11:55 pm

    Så himla fint inlägg!! Du är en sån inspiration 💗

  4. April 28, 2016 / 11:57 pm

    Hi Maria, really nice and inspirig story.What a pity I did not know your story and you earlier , we could have met while training at CAE Amsterdam, which actually is in Hoofddorp, the place where I live. Continue with your positive vibes, they are contagious. Well done and continue enjoying your flying life as you do. It’s fun to follow you on Instagram. Looking forward to your posts. All the best.
    Peter vd Bergh (pdaddy70 on Instagram)

    • December 4, 2016 / 8:27 pm

      Hi Peter! Sorry for late reply 🙂 Thank you so much for your lovely comment, it means a lot to hear thank you 🙏

  5. Riley Dulaney
    April 29, 2016 / 5:16 am

    Maria, Loved your story. I have always had a love for aviation. I hope to get my ppl. I would love to meet you and Hiwa in person sometime. Keep Calm and Love Aviation
    Riley (jrdulaney on instagram)

    • December 4, 2016 / 8:28 pm

      Hi, hope your ppl is going your way, sorry for taking so long to reply!

  6. Raneem
    April 29, 2016 / 3:49 pm

    thank you so much for shearing your journey with us! i was really wanted so bad and looking for till i find you! i’m stared doing my ppl, but i’m thinking i started too late because i’m 24 year old now and i don’t know how it will take with my to act as a pilot in the airline, but after i saw how you are happy for achieve your dream, so that made me smiled and gave me inspire. i’ll do all my best to do it in the shortest time. i’m really appreciate your effort to help us!

    • December 4, 2016 / 8:29 pm

      Hi! I was 24 when I started my ppl so it’s definitely not too late 🙏🙏

  7. April 29, 2016 / 5:11 pm

    Well done Maria, it’s amazing to read your story in such depth and detail. As someone who has worked with you in the past, and had the pleasure to fly with your privately, I must say, you should be very proud of yourself and of what you have achieved. Keep making your dreams come true and one day in the near future, who knows when I will need a private pilot 😉 I am certain you will be the 1st person I would call.
    Kram
    Essi

  8. Ryan Elliott
    May 1, 2016 / 9:17 pm

    Thank you for the blog it is very useful as I would love to be a pilot when I’m older

  9. milanpaunkovic
    May 4, 2016 / 12:45 pm

    I’m going trough the harder path the same way as Maria. Went trough tough selection for national cadet programme and only 15 of us passed it, but eventually they cancelled the program. So I started integrated ATP course on my own. For me its very exhausting because of shortened time, but the feeling is great, I can do what I love to do and I’m appreciating that.
    Would like to add that you can do type rating with line and base training by your own. You can guess it, it cost a lot, the price is similar as for your ATP licence around 50-120k, if you don’t have time or don’t want to go trough the hard way like our friend Maria, and you have money, think of it as a good option.
    By the way great blog Maria! Keep up the good work, and also cheers for all of you aspiring pilots!

  10. May 20, 2016 / 10:52 pm

    Congrats on the job and kudos for all the hard work.💪🏻✈️ Love your Instagram posts too!

  11. Adam
    May 23, 2016 / 2:40 pm

    Hi Maria,

    An insane story! Well done!

    I have dreamed to fly jets in the airlines since I was 8year. I have had the past 9 years running a business on cruise ship to get the money together for the school and finally I have it. Where are the best places to train? I am having such a hard time as there are soo many all say same thing. The really good ones are too expensive and the the others are just a big mix and seem similar. I think I should do PPL/ME/CPL/IR/TProp/MCC/fATPL

    I think that getting the turbo prop will give a really valuable edge, what you think?

    Thanks so much!!

    Happy landings

  12. May 26, 2016 / 7:07 pm

    Hello Maria,
    it’s wonderfull to see how many happyness there is in your words and in your job! … As flying was my not realized dream, read that make me happy! 😉

    Good flight,
    Emanuele (emastyle75, a your instagram follower)

  13. Ahmed
    June 12, 2016 / 4:54 pm

    Great example to follow for dreamers.. All the best

  14. Kristoffer
    June 16, 2016 / 2:29 am

    Hej Maria the Pilot. Sej historie💪🏻 og en god inspiration. Du viser for at man skal tro på sig selv, hele vejen! Er følger på Instagram og bliver altid helt positiv når jeg læser dine indlæg og ser billeder
    Forsat god vind og masser gode vibes herfra

  15. Nanjul
    July 11, 2016 / 12:07 pm

    Thank you for writing this. It is so encouraging for me to read. I am currently in the difficult phase of acquiring a first job. Reading your article has given me new hope not to get tired just yet. Thank you so much

  16. July 16, 2016 / 7:51 pm

    Hello Maria, thanks! I really enjoyed reading this story! But it took away nearly 95% of my dreams becoming a pilot! Its just the money! Everything depends on money! I am soo unlucky! My parents cant afford ! Still i am fighting hard! Will somehow become a pilot!

  17. July 19, 2016 / 10:14 pm

    I loved reading this. I am currently pursuing my PPL and definitely understand the feeling of being overwhelmed and stupid – I’ve flown almost 35 hours and still haven’t even solo’d. But every single time that I get in that plane I just feel so at peace. I love it and am so lucky to have the opportunity to even do it. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  18. July 19, 2016 / 10:16 pm

    I loved reading this! I am currently pursuing my PPL and it’s definitely been difficult. I have so many moments where I feel stupid and overwhelmed (it’s been almost 35 hours and I haven’t even solo’d). But the feeling I get when I’m up there is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. I am so lucky. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

    • December 4, 2016 / 8:15 pm

      Hi Alyssa so sorry for taking so long to reply to you. I hope flying is going well! Keep flying aim high, all the best!

  19. Andrew Beer
    July 29, 2016 / 2:17 am

    Great read Maria, really inspirational!
    I have two questions, what did you do before you started flight training and what inspired you to take the leap?

    I am a 26yo married man in the military and all I ever think about is being a commercial pilot, I desperately want to take the leap and start training and my wife supports me 100 percent. Your blogs are really inspiring and influential, thank you!

    • July 29, 2016 / 5:07 am

      Before flight training I traveled a lot and worked bit and pieces here and there. I was 25 when I started my training so about the same age as you. I would say definitely go for it, it’s what you want and you have your wife’s 100 percent support! All the best and all good luck 😊😊

  20. kanak
    July 29, 2016 / 7:16 am

    Hi Maria! I’m 16 year old from India and I’m a huge fan of yours. You inspire me everyday! I wanted to ask, can I start PPL when I get out of school that is when I’ll be 18? Or do I have to do graduation before that? And what did you do those two years when you were waiting for call back from interviews? And what if I never get selected by an airline company after completing my course? Thanks!

  21. kanak kapoor
    July 29, 2016 / 9:31 am

    HI! How are you Maria?
    I love your instagram and you inspire me everyday. I wanna be just like you. I’m a 16 year old and I live in India. I want to know that whether I can start PPL when I leave school that is when I’ll be 18 or do I have to graduate before that? And also would I be able to do the whole thing you did cuz I’m just an average student but I really wanna become a pilot. Amd what did you don in those two years when you were waiting for call back from interviews? Thanks!
    PS- i wrote a comment similar to this one but it just disappeared so sorry if you see the same thing twice.

  22. Andy
    August 5, 2016 / 12:56 pm

    And how can someone overcome the fear of flying?? I love travelling, exploring cities but it is soooooo hard for me to get in the airplane. I hate the feeling in the stomach during the take off. Please write about that, but not about how few people die by planes and how many by cars.

  23. Christian
    August 5, 2016 / 3:11 pm

    Maria,

    it feels so nice & happy to see a young women who believes in her dreams become truth. And made it truth. All of us (I mean all of us pilots) want to see any pilot in the air, in an aircraft. Anyway, If this is a Piper 28, Katana DV20 (like me) or in an airliner (like you).
    Live your dream, because this is your life. All the best, all the best kind of weather, an of course: allways 3 greens & and happy landings.

    Christian (Munich, Germany)

  24. Adam
    August 5, 2016 / 3:50 pm

    “To me she is alive and to me she speaks. I feel through the soles of my feet on the rudder-bar the willing strain and flex of her muscles. The resonant, guttural voice of her exhausts has a timbre more articulate than wood and steel, more vibrant than wires and sparks and pounding pistons. She speaks to me now, saying the wind is right, the night is fair, the effort asked of her well within her powers.”
    -Beryl Markham, West with the Night, 1942.

    May the skys allways be kind to you Maria!
    And happy landings.

  25. August 6, 2016 / 7:34 am

    I am really impressed of you! Maybe not Ryanair but shortly I will catch up upu up there in the other airline. Matter of weeks. Looking forward to hear you somewhere there 🙂

  26. Mark
    August 7, 2016 / 6:23 pm

    Hi Maria

    I really enjoyed reading your story. Funnily enough the thing i picked up on most was your dinner plate in the 737, it looked super healthy and it’s health that is my biggest obstacle to achieving my ambition. It was nice to read you had paid for all your training yourself. I meet so many pilots who have it all handed to them on a plate and they don’t appreciate it. Great website and keep up the good work

    Mark

  27. August 12, 2016 / 8:13 pm

    I enjoyed reading your article. It is a perfect example of making sacrifices to reach one’s goal. I’ve always said to the younger generation that sacrifices always outweigh the benefits when working towards a goal. I’ve shared this with some of them I know who are in a position to achieve their goals or are setting goals!

    Good luck in your future adventures and I look forward to more good reads from you 🙂

  28. JP
    August 23, 2016 / 2:59 pm

    Thank you for your report. It should encourage people. I was thinking many times to write a blog myself about how I did but I don’t think anybody is interested in a negative story.

    I started with the same enthusiasm like you did. Today I come close to 16,000 hours, flying both short and long haul on Airbus. I became a Captain after just 3.5 years. A few years later a made the only mistake in my life by moving to the wrong company. Since then I am a First Officer again, now for over 20 years and will retire as such, because my company is shrinking and there hasn’t been an upgrade in the last ten years. If I may, I’d like to give you some pieces of advice:

    – If you move away from your present employer don’t rely on promises like ‘fast track upgrades’, etc. that are not written down and signed in a contract.
    – Become a Captain as fast as possible because I you get older as a First Officer you will be discriminated by your age if you want to move to countries like China, Germany or Switzerland.
    – A degree in Aeronautical Engineering doesn’t help at all in pursuing a pilots career. It’s not about how qualified you are, it’s about whom you know.
    – Always pay your taxes.

    This business is full of lies and broken promises. Be careful.

    All the best and happy landings.

  29. August 23, 2016 / 10:02 pm

    really great Maria, I wish I could be a Pilot too !!
    @virtualvarig

  30. Anas
    September 1, 2016 / 7:20 pm

    This is really amazing. At some point this motives me to do my best. You are smart and strong person. I like the way you organize your schedule I will definitely use something That is semilar to it. Thanks for sharing this great information with us. I am sure this will motivate many people.

  31. Kita
    December 11, 2016 / 11:58 am

    Dear Pilot Maria,

    I am flight training student at the moment,
    I really enjoyed read the steps you had to get through in order to achieve it.
    THANKS A LOT.

    Best regards,

    Benvindo Kita

    (University Of Turkish Aeronautical Association)

    • December 11, 2016 / 1:10 pm

      Thank you so much Kita for you kind words and all the best with your training, you rock!

  32. aparna
    December 24, 2016 / 6:57 am

    Hi maria I’m 16 and I’m in 12 I wanted become pilot how can I become pilot and I’m big big fan of yours and your new leather jacket is awsm ………….keep flying …how it feels when you fly so high ….. above the clouds…

    • aparna
      December 24, 2016 / 7:01 am

      I wish I could be a pilot too …….you are really great you rock ……

  33. Miia
    January 22, 2017 / 1:02 pm

    Hi Maria! I love your instagram photos and the fact that your a pilot and a woman! My dream has always been to be a pilot and next month I’m going to psychological tests for an airline pilot school. I just wanted to ask if you have any tips or guides how to prepare for the test. Or is there any possibility to train some skills? How did you pass all the tests before getting in to the school?

    • January 22, 2017 / 1:10 pm

      Hi☺️☺️ You can always do simple IQ tests at home, there are plenty to find online. Other than that it’s not much to prepare, take a deep breath before and relax, be yourself and take your time through the exercises ☺️☺️

  34. Santiago Rodriguez
    March 28, 2017 / 11:32 pm

    Hello Maria I follow you a lot I am an admirer of yours You could take a photo with a sheet of paper giving greetings to a page called my dream, to be a pilot on facebook please help

  35. Gabriela
    March 29, 2017 / 9:33 pm

    My passion is to become a pilot, but as you said it is so expensive. I am from Zimbabwe in Africa and I am now living in France as an Au Pair just so i can save up and fund for myself as there is no1 to fund for me. But even as an Au Pair, I will not save up enough. So my question is what work did you do in order for you to save up and manage to fund the complete training??

  36. June 5, 2017 / 2:24 pm

    What a nice story 🙂 I’m French and my boyfriend dreams to be a pilot, he has all the licenses but it’s hard to be called by a company ! I hope he will realise his dream like you 🙂

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