Eleanor McBrien MRAeS, Senior First Officer, A320, British Airways

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Eleanor McBrien MRAeS


Senior First Officer, A320, British Airways

What is life like working in your role?

My role at British Airways is just one small part in a large scale operation. I fly on the short haul network, covering the majority of European and domestic routes and stretching as far as Cairo and Moscow. As a pilot, there is no set routine to our work patterns and the pace of work can vary hugely in a day, week or even year.

What does a typical day look like?

The day can start at any time in any country and no two are ever the same. This is one of my favourite things about the job. When reporting for work I meet the captain, often for the first time ever. We fly together for up to five days on short haul. We discuss the weather and work out the required fuel for the aircraft depending on weight, passengers, cargo and forecast en-route. On reaching the aircraft we carry out a number of checks and procedures, liaising with the cabin crew and ground staff to get away on time.

Once airborne we are busy flying the aircraft, speaking to Air Traffic Control, checking systems, and relaying information to the cabin crew and passengers via the passenger address system. It is important to ensure there is a contingency plan for all eventualities, including technical problems, and so we are constantly reviewing the weather and runway conditions at suitable airfields below. On arrival, we often get the chance to stay in our destination for up to a few days and become immersed in the diverse range of international cultures. On some occasions we return straight home, with the possibility of flying multiple sectors in one day.

What are the key skills required?

As a Senior First Officer I am second in command of the aircraft and so problem solving and decision making are a key part of my career. These are both skills that you develop from a young age from personal experiences. Dealing with passengers is something that makes up a large part of the job too as we are responsible for every single person’s safety on board our aircraft, so it is important to have good communication and people skills.

What is the most exciting/challenging part of the role?

I think that travelling across multiple time zones presents a challenge in itself. Even on short haul, the time change means that there are days in the winter where you can spend all day flying through night, even when it is the middle of the day on your body clock. This means that your body needs to adapt and it is important to take time out to recover when possible.

Flying to the more challenging destinations can definitely be exciting. Some of the Greek Islands, or Alpine airports have more complex approaches due to their terrain or lack of high-tech radar equipment. This often means you get to disengage the autopilot and fly the approaches yourself, which is the best part of the job. Experiencing the aircraft respond to your control inputs is quite an amazing feeling and something I certainly don’t take for granted.

Any advice to give new entrants into the sector?

Never give up. The aviation industry is highly competitive so keep working at your goal, and stay determined, even when the going gets tough. No matter what career you are going for, if the first time doesn’t work out, don’t let that phase you and try to find a different way to achieve your goal.

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