Interview with Jonathan Willis – easyJet A320 Captain and Air Racer

Today I have another interview with Jonathan Willis easyJet A320 Captain and Air Racer. I thought it would be good to speak to someone who does airline and GA flying and ask if they think that staying in touch with the GA world is essential.
I was introduced to Jonathan by the assistant editor of Pilot magazine who I met in the wonderful Blackbushe cafe.

G-TNGO at Abbeville

How did you do your training?
My training first involved a couple of one week gliding holidays at Dunstable in my early twenties. A couple of years later I started my powered flying training. I did this full time and did it the modular way. I completed half in Vero Beach, Florida at Flight Safety International, the ground school in London and my CPL/IR (Commercial Pilots Licence/Instrument Rating) with Frozen ATPL (Airline Transport Pilots Licence) at Cabair in Cranfield. Once I’d got my CPL/IR, I did a Jet Appreciation course at Oxford which was 4 hours on a generic fixed base 737 sim. 

What was the most difficult part?
The hardest part was the BCPL flight test in Florida (CPL in today’s terms). You could say that it was like a PPL GFT and NAV test in one but with tighter tolerances. With a typical test time of 3 hours, it was as much a test of endurance as it was skill. I only attained a partial pass on my first attempt. The problem with this test is that it is mostly a VFR examination and VFR is somewhat subjective. An IR (instrument rating) however is purely a numbers game with a bit of handling skill thrown in which is easier in my opinion.

What do you think of the changes of training between when you did it and now?
I fly with a lot of newly trained people and we often compare notes on what we did for our IR and the equipment we used. Most have done their IR on the DA42 Twin Star with the G1000. I’ve not flown this but it does sound a little easier when you’re presented with a track line compared with doing an IR in the Grumman Cougar with its steam driven gauges which is what I did mine on. However, none of the pilots I fly with who have trained on the DA42 lack any of the necessary skills to operate an Airbus and if anything, being fully conversant on the G1000 or equivalent is probably more useful when converting onto an EFIS equipped airliner.
With regard to course content, this seems largely unchanged since I did my training 20 years ago.

What advice do you have for trainees?
There will always be someone better than you in some or all of the areas of your course, accept this, achieve what you can and you’ll find that your instructors and fellow pupils will warm to you, you’ll relax more and therefore progress more rapidly and probably enjoy the training experience more.
When you make a mistake, don’t be angry with yourself (I know this is easier said than done). Instructors don’t want to see this because this negativity can inhibit further learning. Acknowledge your fault, verbalise it in a calm manner and move on. We are organic beings who make stupid and I repeat stupid mistakes and often the same one more than once.

Could you tell me about the flying jobs you have had?
My first flying job was flying the BAC 1-11 for AB Airlines who were also known as Air Bristol. These old jets were built in the 1960s and were the perfect airliner to transition onto from an old fashioned light piston twin owing to the commonality of old fashioned instrumentation. I loved this job and would still be there today had they not gone bankrupt in 1999. The BAC 1-11 had a fairly basic autopilot by today’s standard, no manual thrust, flight management computer or area navigation. This made the job extremely rewarding as you had to calculate you top of decent by using your 2.5 times table instead of the more common 3 times table of more modern jets owing to its low by-pass ratio jet engines, navigate using raw data VORs, NDB,s or even dead reckoning if a VOR was out of range (if only the passengers knew!) and then when a bit closer to the ground, good old fashioned seat of the pants hand flying.
I then joined GB Airways in 2000 and spent 2 years flying their B737 300/400s before converting onto their Airbus 320s and 321s. They were nice airline who put lifestyle above pay in their order of priorities.
In 2008 GB Airways were bought by Easyjet with whom I have stayed with since.

USAF Alconbury

How is life working for easyJet?
Easyjet are a good company to work for. They have a wide variety of destinations, lots bases across Europe potentially allowing you to live in a variety of countries and they pay well. The only negatives from a personal point of view is that the work shifts can be very tiring. For example in one week you may be rostered to fly 5 consecutive early duties each with a report time between 5am and 630am. Three of those five days might involve 4 sector duties. You then might have three days off and then the next block of 5 duties will have late finishes, sometimes as late as 3 am and again with three or four of those 5 days work being 4 sector duties. In fairness to Easyjet however, they do have fatigue management system in place and so if when you get up for your day’s duty you feel too tired to carry it out, you can call them and they will take you off that duty. This is a vital safety valve for which they should be commended. The only other negative is the lack of nightstops at most of the bases. This means that each day tends to merge into the next as there isn’t much social interaction between the crew.

 

How did you get into air racing?
I’ve always enjoyed watching or reading about the Reno air-races and often wished for an equivalent to be available in the UK. Then one day I read an article in a UK GA magazine about air-racing in the UK. I went with my family to Compton Abbas to watch one, really liked what I saw and then set about revalidating my SEP and finding an aircraft that I could rent to race. Once these were obtained, I enrolled onto an Air Race course run by Roger Hayes and then entered my first race at North Weald in a C152.

What attracts you to the sport?
Aspects that attract me to the sport are:
It’s not easy to do well and this forces me to hone my flying skills
I love seeing how fast something will go and then tweaking it to try make it go faster!!!
It’s reason to fly somewhere
Great social scene

Do you feel it is important to stay in touch with GA as an airline pilot?
GA flying and Airline flying are so different that I don’t think it’s important for an airline pilot to stay in touch with GA. However, I have noticed that during extended periods where I’ve not flown GA a slight drop in my overall situational awareness. Perhaps its to do with the fact that when you’re in a GA aircraft on your own, you have to look over your shoulder more as there’s no one else to do it for you.

What is the best part of being a pilot?
The best part of being a commercial pilot are the days off because when you’ve had a long week, then oh boy do you enjoy them. However, there are times when you fly an approach into somewhere with breathtaking scenery such as Innsbruck and you think …what a privilege and you wouldn’t change it for the Earth. Regarding GA, hell, I love everything about it, well everything except the cost and the fact that one always seems to be running late!

I would like to thank Jonathan for taking the time to talk to me and I hope that you enjoyed his interview.


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