Saturday, 29 October 2011

Aviation - the most antiquated career path imaginable

Recently, we've been reflecting on how infuriating the aviation career path is. In what other industry can an employee NOT take their skills and experience and transfer to another company at the same level? Let me elaborate.

My husband has thousands of hours as an FO of a large widebody jet, one of the biggest there is. Great, you'll be thinking, surely he's in demand? Well, yes, but only to people who also fly this said same plane. And that's not the whole story. If he chooses to leave his current airline and move to another one on this same aircraft, he will drop right to the bottom of that airline's "seniority list".

Seniority is everything. In his current company, it can make all the difference with issues as diverse as promotion to the left-hand seat, annual leave bids and whether you get a seat on stand-by or not. In other airlines, it can also affect whether you get the days off and routes you ask for, too.

So, if he decided to move companies, he would be giving up a lot. Really key to all of this is promotion. If he moved, he would go right to the bottom of the list for that, possibly delaying his promotion by as much as 10+ years (in the case of Virgin Atlantic, for example.)

So, simple you think - he just needs to stay where he is and get promoted in a couple of years. Yep, he will do, and he'll earn lots of money doing it. All good so far. The problem then is, however, that entering another airline as a Captain is a rare thing indeed. All major airlines in the UK (BA, Virgin, Monarch, EasyJet etc) don't take direct entry Captains. So if my husband wanted to move home to work (which he'd like to, eventually) he'd be forced to give up his command and start at the bottom again as an FO, for a very paltry salary, or work for a lesser charter airline that might be accepting direct entry Captains.

This particular option is a tricky one, as charters like these are prone to collapse. You could therefore leave a well paid job in the Gulf for a less well paid one in the UK, only to find it disappear completely overnight, something we are of course very familiar with. Aircraft type is also an issue. That particular charter might not want pilots who fly my husband's aircraft, and specifically ask for, say, 737 time, an aircraft he no longer flies. Are you getting how tricky this is?

The other option is contract flying. There are some well paid jobs out there for direct entry Captains on commuting contracts. Still, commuting is a loose term, generally meaning a pilot would only make it home for 2 weeks out of 6 on average. The affect this would have on our family life is a price we don't want to pay.

So, what are we left with? Staying where we are! No matter how many times we discuss this conundrum, that's the only answer we come up with.

At least we have a great family life here, and no money worries to boot. In fact, we're currently negotiating to buy a second investment property in the UK. Every cloud has a silver lining, etc...

Saturday, 8 October 2011


Recently, I've been pondering what "home" really means to me. Facebook has a section for "home town", and I haven't put one, because I honestly don't know where my home town is. Is it where I grew up (but left when I was 17?) Is it London, where I lived for 10 years after that? Is it the town in Surrey where we bought our first house together? Or is it, in fact, the city in the Gulf which I now call home?

I've realised I have lots of "homes". Sure, the UK will always be our home country, the place our families are, and there are certainly places there that make us feel "at home." But still - driving back to our villa the other night as the huge, orange sun was just setting, I felt very at home here, too. We've been here nearly three years. We have a great house which is getting ever lovelier as we gradually furnish it, some great friends (amongst some not so great ones - such is life) and our son was born here. My career is really taking off here, too.

In the last couple of weeks, there was a small chance we might have been able to move back to the UK. I surprised myself by feeling very mixed about the chance to move "home."  The UK, as you all know, is in a very bad way financially at the moment. Many of my old colleagues' jobs are at risk. The aviation industry is unstable, and salaries there are low. Tax is 40% (if you're lucky.) Fuelling a car is a frightening experience. Food prices are on the rise. And crucially, I'd have to go back to work full time if we were going to be able to afford a nice house and childcare for our son.

So, as sad as I was when the opportunity was taken away, I was a little relieved, too. This way, I get to work part-time and bring up our boy, pay no tax (not a bean!) on anything I earn, and live in a house we'd have to be millionaires to afford in the UK. And we get home to the UK around four times a year, so it's not as if I never see my family.

I do miss my old friends, though. I crave an evening over wine and crisps with girls who've known me for years.  I've had a few depressing short-term friendships here (a fact of expat life) and it's so shallow. Sometimes, only old friends will do.

Still, one of them told me last night that she's planning a trip out to see me very soon. I'm thrilled.



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