In this series of blogs, we hear from Bristol Groundschool students about their time studying with us, why they chose to become a pilot and what they’ve gone on to achieve since gaining their ATPL/CPL.
Olivia Olphert recently completed her ATPL(A) theory with Bristol Groundschool in 2021 and is currently the only female Loch Lomond Seaplanes pilot.
Here she shares her story about why she chose to become a pilot and her advice to other women looking to become pilots.
How did you get into aviation?
When I was young, my Mum was cabin crew for Tui, so going on holiday the crew were often friends of hers and would allow me to visit the flight deck after the flight which always excited me just as much as the holiday! I got given a trial lesson for my 14th birthday which completely gave me ‘the bug’ and I set my sights firmly on this job. I’m still in touch with the instructor from this flight and we’re now good friends – he has been a great source of help and inspiration throughout my training, and I am so grateful to have had such a positive introduction to the industry.
What’s the best part about your job as a pilot/becoming a pilot?
One of the things I really enjoy about being in this industry is meeting so many different people along the journey through training, and now as passengers, other crew, operations, etc. I have found that as much as there is always something to learn from the manuals, there is always something to be learned from all the people I now interact with on a daily basis, and I really enjoy the diverse range of backgrounds and stories people have and share.
Where did you train and how was your experience?
I completed my training alongside a part time Maths degree with the University of St Andrews, therefore I chose a modular route. After my PPL I did my hours building with Pilot’s Paradise in Florida before coming back to do my ATPL theory exams with Bristol Groundschool. Due to Covid, my degree studying went online which allowed me to complete my commercial training with Aeros Flight Training, primarily from their Cardiff base.
Flying a floatplane has always been at the top of my dream bucket list. After completing the MEIR, I travelled to Prestwick to do the SEP (sea) rating with Scotia Seaplanes which was the most incredible rating, and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering giving floats a go!
As I have done parts of my training at different schools and in different locations, I’ve encountered a range of instructors, aircraft types, SOPs, airspaces and weather conditions, all of which have broadened my knowledge and experience base, and to which I am extremely grateful. One of the most prominent things I think of when reflecting on my training, despite all the hard work, is the fun I have had along the way and I am so thankful for everyone who has had a role in my journey this far.
What was your experience of training with BGS?
As I studied for the ATPL exams part time alongside university, it was definitely a challenge which sometimes felt like a losing battle. Time management was definitely one of the bigger challenges I found with studying part time, but the BGS lesson software offered great structure to tackle each module in an order really effective for absorbing the content.
At the revision weeks, subjects were covered by extremely knowledgeable instructors with many different backgrounds in aviation, who often used their personal experiences to make the content relatable to real-life situations and therefore the lessons were always very engaging whilst still covering the syllabus. During these revision weeks I met other BGS students at different stages of the exams, and found it really useful to share experiences, study tips and offer support. It was a great opportunity to meet people in a similar stage of training and has been amazing to see some of their different journeys post-ATPLs.
While studying with BGS, whenever I had any questions on either the content or question bank, I received quick and helpful responses, completely shutting down the originally daunting feelings I had towards self-studying for these tough exams. I couldn’t recommend BGS more highly to anybody considering doing their ATPL theory exams.
How did the pandemic affect your job/training?
Due to the pandemic, my MEIR instructor was made redundant from BA and therefore temporarily returned to instructing. I feel privileged to have had him conduct this portion of my commercial training as coming straight from the airlines, he was able to illustrate the real-life applications of the training, ensuring the style of instruction reflected what we might expect from airline SOPs, and offered soft skills support as is assessed at interview.
In the last 2 years I’ve met a lot of crew from many different airlines who had been furloughed/made redundant and had re-entered the training sector, and I feel I have gained so much knowledge from their experiences.
What advice would you give women looking to become pilots?
My biggest piece of advice to women looking to become pilots would be to go for it! Although it can seem daunting entering an industry currently largely male-dominated, the statistics are changing, and aviation is becoming increasingly more accepting of diversity! It can be tough at times but having a good support structure and a focused goal helps to push through. Fewer than 6% of pilots worldwide are female, but by networking and meeting other women pilots, there is a lot of support available from people who may have experienced similar challenges as you. A lot of support is available, for example by joining groups such as the British Women’s Pilots Association where I have met great pilots who are now friends and received a lot of encouragement throughout my training. Social media such as LinkedIn and Instagram is also a great place to meet other women pilots, to reach out for guidance, support and networking.
Personally, I’m lucky enough to have had a really positive experience as a woman in aviation and have been welcomed into the workplace warmly by all the team at Loch Lomond Seaplanes, but I appreciate this isn’t always the case for women in other schools/airlines. I am always happy for current pilots or women considering pilot training to reach out to me via Instagram or LinkedIn to help in any way I can.