Cat Cousins, Senior First Officer with Thomson Airways took the time to tell us about her career in aviation so far.
“Since I was a child I have always loved being on airplanes. The best part of going on holiday was the flight, I didn’t even mind coming home as it meant getting to go on an airplane again.
No one in my family is involved in aviation so it wasn’t a career path that evolved naturally for me. My all-girls school was pretty traditional, directing us towards more conventional career paths. I began a four-year teaching degree specialising in Technology and Design. Whilst I learnt a lot and enjoyed many aspects of teaching, deep down I knew I wanted to fly.
Having never met a pilot before, I always imagined them to be haughty, intellectual types, how wrong I was! It was luck that I met a very down to earth airline pilot through some friends. He explained what was involved and the various ways to go about the training. I was 20 when I took my first trial flying lesson in a single-engine propeller aircraft in my hometown of Belfast. With a great deal of moral support from my family and friends, I made the decision to make flying my career. It wasn’t a decision that I took lightly as flight training involves a lot of hard work, not to mention a significant amount of debt. But in life nothing worthwhile is ever easy. With trepidation, I approached the bank with my plans and asked for a loan.
Achieving my Frozen Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (Frozen ATPL) took approximately two years in total, involving various flight tests and theoretical examinations. Initially I attained my Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL), which required approximately 50 hours of flying and a flight test. After some essential hour building and study, I then sat exams in 14 theoretical aviation subjects including Principles of Flight, Meteorology, Communications and Navigation to name but a few. Subsequently I achieved my Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL), this flight test requires a more polished skill level than the previous one. The Instrument Rating (IR) is the most challenging flight test for most pilots, the course teaches us to fly in clouds or poor visibility using only our instruments with no reference to outside. This is usually conducted on a more complex, multi-engine propeller aircraft. The final building block was a course in MultiCrew Cooperation (MCC), which after months of flying solo, teaches us to fly cohesively as part of a two-person crew. I won’t deny it was all very hard work but it was rewarding to get closer to achieving my goal of flying an airliner.
After completion of my training, I flew for a few months as an unpaid pilot’s assistant on Air Ambulance flights to gain some experience. Getting called out at 3am to collect a surgical transplant team is one example that sticks in my mind. I was fortunate that the market was quite buoyant and I got my first airline job relatively quickly. Pilots need to complete training for each new aircraft type we fly which takes a number of months. This involves learning about the type specific aircraft systems and practicing flying and emergency procedures in a simulator. My first type rating was on a British Aerospace 146 jet. Over the years I have also been rated on the Embraer 145 and most recently the Boeing 757/767. I’ve been lucky to gain a varied background flying both short and long haul, operating a wide variety of passenger, cargo and VIP flights.
I joined Thomson in January this year on the Boeing 757/767 fleet. Having flown for a number of airlines previously, my decision to apply to Thomson was mainly down to hearing that it was a great company to work for. So far I am very pleased with my decision. My colleagues are friendly and there is a positive working atmosphere throughout the company. No two days are ever the same in this job and there are always new challenges to keep you on your toes. It’s lovely to have a night stop somewhere sunny like Cape Verde once in a while, especially when it’s winter back home! Flying people on holiday is particularly rewarding, as it was that holiday feeling that made me fall in love with aviation as a child in the first place.”