Today, I have a special guest, who studied 5 years’ computer science and dreamed to become one day a Pilot. My friend’s story is the perfect illustration of Seneca’s quote “ Luck is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity“.
A story full of inspiration, long hours of research, long years of study and hard work and guess what? His 15-day internship was a good asset to get accepted at Oxford Aviation Academy.
If you dream to join Oxford Aviation Academy, this article is written for you.
Enjoy Reading 🙂
Actually, for me being a pilot was my dream since I was 4 years old, so I don’t really call it a change of career but really finding my dream career.
After finishing my Secondary school, I tried to look for how to be a pilot in Algeria and what I got is 3 conclusions:
- Have a lot of money (between 80 and 150 million DA) to go study as a self-sponsored trainee pilot.
- Join the military to be a military pilot, but I found out that I might end up as a mechanic instead besides I was against joining the military even for my dream.
- Waiting for Air Algérie to launch a recruiting competition, but everyone I asked at that time told to forget it because Air Algérie will never do that and even if they do the list will already be prepared before even arranging for the competition.
Clearly the first point wasn’t really a choice for me and you know why, the second one I already said why, as for the third choice: well at that time nothing was saying that Air Algérie might organize a competition soon so I had to assume what the people I asked told me is true.
So, I moved on and went to the university to continue my studies in computer science far away from my dream.
5 years later I was scrolling down my Facebook news feed and there it was, a picture, posted by a friend of mine, from El-Chourouk journal saying that Air Algérie is organizing a 200 pilot recruiting competition so I took my chance and one year after that I’m writing these lines after I got back from a training flight this morning Alhamdulillah .
What did you do when you discovered you can’t follow your dream?
To be honest, it was a very sad moment in my life, discovering that I could not pursue my childhood dream anymore. But I always kept my love for aviation in my heart, my eyes would always turn to the sky as soon as I hear an airplane passing nearby. I also installed Microsoft Flight Simulator on my computer and tried to educate myself on how to fly the B737 between Constantine’s Airport and Annaba’s airport (I must have done that flight 100 times).
Also on my first year in college we were asked to do an internship of 15 days in a company of our choice so we can discover the world of business.
Again, I took the chance and asked my father’s friend who works as an air traffic controller if he can accept me as Intern which he kindly did. So my internship at “l’Etablissement Nationale de la Navigation Aérienne” based at Constantine’s Mohammed Boudiaf international airport took me in a journey inside the control tower where the controllers were kind enough to explain to me how different systems like the radars actually work, I also got the chance to go on an Instrument check Inspection with one of the technicians who explained to me how and Instrument Landing System (ILS), the VHF Omni-directional Range (VOR), the Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) and many other systems function. I learned a lot during these days about aviation and about how much I love it, so I applied all what I have learned about the ILS in MS Flight Simulator and I managed to use it to do my first ILS approach to runway 19 in Annaba’s Rabah Bitat International Airport using a B737.
But what I didn’t know is that 5 years later I will be sitting in a room to be interviewed by 2 CAE Oxford Aviation Academy employees (one of them was Bryan Field who worked for British Airways for 10 years) to see whether or not I deserve to be chosen to start my training to be an airline pilot at one of the well-known aviation training schools in the world. And to my surprise I got the question what did you do to keep the dream alive? To which I answered using what I learned in those few days 5 years back at that 15-day internship.
How did you successfully being chosen to be a future airline pilot by Air Algérie?
In fact, it wasn’t easy at all, when I first saw the picture of the announcement on the internet I unfortunately assumed that it’s not real and even if it is I can’t get in because all these 200 places will be taken by the sons and daughters of those already working at Air Algérie.
Lucky for me I was wrong. I remember that the application deadline was set to Wednesday November 5th, 2014. Before that I met a friend of mine whom I have known for 5 years and we became friends because of our mutual love for aviation, he was the one to convince me to try my luck and that’s what I did I prepared every paper and sent my file Wednesday morning hoping that It wasn’t too late.
Less than 15 days later Air Algérie started calling accepted people to come take the first contest, the only problem is I have received the e-mail on Wednesday November 19th and the contest was on Friday November 21st which actually gave me just one day to try and remember what I have studied more than 5 years ago in mathematics and physics which was basically impossible especially that I didn’t have at my disposal any of my copybooks from the secondary school days because they were all at home 400 kms away.
- The first Air Algérie contest:
It was organized at the USTHB (Algiers University) at 09:00 on Friday November 21st 2014 it contained three subjects: Maths, Physics and English, for the English contest we were asked to use the paper we got to answer so I don’t have a picture of it but it was the typical English exam: Grammar, Vocabulary, Reading and Writing.
For the Maths and Physics here are the pictures of the exam papers:
I went to the university that day with one goal try my luck of course while talking to some of the 2000 candidates all you hear is the same that this contest is just an image and the real pilots are already chosen. As for me I knew that could be true but there is no point in considering it. I told myself I’m going to try and treat it like one of the many exams that I had in my life and see what happens. Unfortunately, when I saw the first exam paper I realised that I forgot almost everything and the only thing I was sure about that day that I won’t get a zero. At the end of that day I went back to my room saying at least I have tried.
15 days later I received an e-mail from Air Algérie saying thank you for your participation but you haven’t been chosen to continue the rest of the steps.
I felt sorry about losing the one chance I’ve got to make my dream true but at the same time because I didn’t put my hopes too high I just moved on to continue working on my graduation project. Later we discovered that actually only 15 candidates were lucky enough to be chosen out from the 2000 candidates and at the end only 4 of were selected future pilots for the company.
But to my surprise as well as to all the others who haven’t been accepted the next day we received another e-mail saying that all those who didn’t get a zero in one of the subjects in the first contest are summoned to a second one which will be organized on December 23rd 2014 and I was one of them. The good thing this time is that I received this e-mail more than 15 days before so I had more than enough time to really prepare for it knowing that Air Algérie is serious about choosing its pilots (otherwise why bother organize another one) this time and all those rumours about how the list is already set are exactly that: just rumours.
- The second Air Algérie contest:
I went back home and took all my secondary school copybooks out (yes, I’m still keeping them until now) and revised all what I have forgotten especially in physics (we study a lot of Maths in computer science). On December 22nd, 2014, I got back to Algiers. And in the morning, I went to try my luck again. We had English first but this time without the writing part and with a small earthquake just at the beginning of the exam. The same as last time I don’t have the exam paper picture because we had to give it back. As of for Maths and Physics this is what we had.
15 days later I got the good news written in an e-mail sent by an employee of Oxford Aviation Academy saying that I passed the Air Algérie exam successfully and now it’s time for the next step which is a load of other tests to decide whether or not I deserve to be a pilot after all and to have my chance to be selected to start the training at the Academy in Oxford. But before getting to the rest of the story let’s see where the numbers of the chosen pilots are at this stage. From the first contest 4 have been chosen, from the second one 56 have been chosen which gives a total of 60 chosen trainee pilots. So, Air Algérie decided to organize even a third contest a year later, in September 2015.
- The third Air Algérie contest (and the last one so far):
This time there was no English test at all and a one exam paper that contained a 40-multiple choice questions, split into 20 math questions and 20 physics questions. This time as well I managed to get my hands on the actual exam papers: As you can see this exam was composed of one common paper between maths and physics and contained a total of 40 questions each of which worth one point. Everyone who scored 12 and more was summoned for the next step which is the Oxford Aviation Academy test.
- Oxford Aviation Academy admission tests:
Now let’s continue my story. To get accepted to join CAE Oxford Aviation Academy we had to pass one big test called the compass test in which there was lots of small tests each of which was made to assess one or more specific skills in a candidate. During this test each candidate (we were 8) was given a laptop a joystick and rudder pedals the whole test took about 6 hours. The compass test is quote famous you can look it up online.
- The interview
The Interview was done at the Hilton hotel Algiers as well but this time it was face to face. For me , my interviewers were a lady named Deborah Gaine and a gentleman named Brian Field you can look them both up on LinkedIn. The interview was divided into two sections the first one was about technical knowledge and motivation and the second one was about leadership and teamwork which are both obviously very important aspects to look for in a future airline pilot.
The technical part was led by the gentlemen and it contained the following questions (yes I still remember them even after 3 years):
- Why do you want to be a pilot?
- What did you do to keep the dream alive for so long?
- What are the 2 biggest airplane manufacturers in the world? Name them. And what are their nationalities? (obviously Boeing USA and Airbus Europe)
- Do you know some other airplane manufacturers? And to what country do they belong? (Antonov Ukraine and ATR French-Italian)
- Name the latest airplane made by Boeing and Airbus? (at that time, it was the 787 Dreamliner for Boeing and the A350 for Airbus)
- If I took you to an airport where a Boieng 777 and and Airbus A320 are parked next to each other and then I close your eyes make you do some turns to lose the sense of direction and then out you in the cockpit of one of them how would you know in which airplane are you? (the Boeing airplane will have a yoke and the airbus one will have a sidestick)
- What is fly by wire?
- How do airplanes fly?
- How many employees are there in Air Algérie?
- Why do you think Air Algérie is recruiting this massive number of new pilots (200)?
- How did you learn to speak English?
For the second part, it was more or less about leadership and teamwork experiences that I had in my life which by the way was not that much up to that moment so I only told them about a couple of school projects and volunteering work that I did just to avoid being silent during the interview.
- The teamwork exercise:
On the same day and only a couple of hours after the interview I did the teamwork exercise which consisted of Einstein’s riddle which has the following description (although the idea is exactly the same, this was not the exact wording of the problem we got as we had 18 hypotheses I just put it for you to have an idea):
Let us assume that there are five houses of different colours next to each other on the same road. In each house lives a man of a different nationality. Every man has his favourite drink, his favourite brand of cigarettes, and keeps pets of a kind.
- The Englishman lives in the red house.
- The Swede keeps dogs.
- The Dane drinks tea.
- The green house is just to the left of the white one.
- The owner of the green house drinks coffee.
- The Pall Mall smoker keeps birds.
- The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhill’s.
- The man in the centre house drinks milk.
- The Norwegian lives in the first house.
- The Blend smoker has a neighbour who keeps cats.
- The man who smokes Blue Masters drinks bier.
- The man who keeps horses lives next to the Dunhill smoker.
- The German smokes Prince.
- The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.
- The Blend smoker has a neighbour who drinks water.
The question to be answered is: Who keeps the fish?
The exercise was done in a team of 6 members each one of us had 3 hypotheses and was instructed not to show them to the other members of the team until the test starts. We had 20 minutes to try and solve the problem (the goal obviously was not to solve the problem but to work together in a methodical way to get as close as possible to solving the it).
- Class one medical exam
Now comes one of the most important parts towards getting accepted which is passing the tough class one medical exam where everything in your body gets tested from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet (brain, ears, eyes, teeth, lungs, heart, blood, legs, weight, balance …etc). In other words, this is the test that determines whether you get to continue the rest of the process or you stop just there.
- The IELTS
The IELTS or the International English Language Testing System is the English proficiency test that one must pass with a minimum level to apply for a UK student visa (tier 4 kind of visa).
The test’s structure is simple enough, 4 sections: Speaking, Listening, Reading and writing each of which is scored on a scale from 0 to 9 where 9 being the best there is, and then the whole score is the average between the 4 sections. The test is famous enough, you can find everything there is to know about it on the internet.
The test was done at LSA school (Language Solutions Algeria) in Algiers which at that time was the only language school certified to do the test in the whole of Algeria. Before we took the test, we got a 3-day preparation period where a teacher at the school taught us all there is to know about the test and how to pass it successfully. the test was done on the 30th May 2015 and we got the results back on the 21st June 2015, in case you were wondering i scored 6.5 on the test which was not awesome per se but it was enough.
- Signing the training contract
After we all took and passed the IELTS test successfully we got summoned by Air Algérie to the air operations centre at Houari Boumediene’s Airport in Algiers to get the official results paper (among other important papers) that we need to apply for the visa and sign the Training contract. The contract had some general rules concerning the training phase like where it is done and how much we get paid during it, but the most important part was the period (20 years) that we have to work with Air Algerie to repay the training costs which were around 95000 Great Britain Pounds (approximately 15 million Algerian Dinars at the time I signed my contract).
- The UK visa:
The last part before departing towards Oxford to start the training was applying for the UK visa which was without surprises and like any other visa the only thing that one needs is to have the Oxford Aviation Academy acceptance letter (CAS) sent to him by the academy which is a letter that certifies that one has been accepted as a student there in order for him to complete the documents needed to get the student visa which lasts for 2 years for my case but as I understand now the law has been changed so when one applies he will get a visa stamped on his passport that lasts for only one month and when he gets to oxford he has to go the post office located in the city centre to collect his BRP which stands for (British Residence Permit) which is like and ID card that he can carry with him all the time rather than carrying his passport but when one needs to cross the borders he has to have both the BRP and the passport obviously.
What did you study to become an airline pilot?
Well first of all I’m a trainee pilot sponsored by Air Algérie but what does that mean? It means that Air Algérie is paying for all my training fees including accommodation during the whole phases of the training plus transportation between the accommodation and the school and some many other things as well. So at the end of my training I will start working as an Airline Pilot for Air Algérie to repay them back for my training.
To be an Airline pilot one must pass by three steps:
- The Ground School:
Probably the part that all pilots hate, because in it the pilot gets back to class with 14 books (that weigh more than 20 Kgs when put together) to study in about only 6 months (2 phases: 12 weeks for the first one and 9 weeks for the second one).
These books contain the following subjects:
- Airframes and Systems
- Power plant
- Meteorology (84 questions)
- Electrics & Electronics
- Human Performance & limitations (48 questions)
- Principles of Flight (44 questions)
- Instrumentation (60 questions)
- Communications (VFR : 24 questions / IFR : 24 questions)
Airframes and Systems, Powerplants and Electrics and Electronics are studied separately but done in a single test called Aircraft General Knowledge or (AGK) which contains: 80 questions.
- Air law (44 questions)
- Operational Procedures (44 questions)
- General Navigation (80 questions)
- Radio Navigation (66 questions)
- Performance (35 questions)
- Mass and balance (25 questions)
- Flight planning (60 questions)
In each phase, there are 3 tests:
The first one is just a progress test and is done at approximately 50% of the phase, the second one is done at the end of the phase and is called the school finals which as the name indicates is done by the school to assess the students and to decide whether or not they are ready to take the most important test of the phase which is the EASA test. The last one is obviously the EASA test that needs to be passed to get the pilot’s license at the end.
All the tests are multiple choice questions without penalty (which meant you won’t get punished for a wrong answer) and to successfully pass a test one must get at least 75% in each subject (although at the school finals 65% is usually enough). If one gets less than 75% in an EASA subject (65% in a school finals) he has to retake it to get 75%.
The maximum number of retakes is 4 in one subject and 6 in any subject. If one fails to get 75% after he consumes all his re-sits all his record gets wiped out and he must restart from zero which usually means he will get expelled either by the school or by the company if he is sponsored.
- Flight School
The flight phase is divided into 2 parts one is done at Phoenix Arizona where one will learn how to fly a general aviation airplane from scratch. And the other one is done at Oxford where one will learn advanced instrument flying to get the Instrument Rating which I will explain next.
The first part of flying is done at the CAE Global Aviation Academy Phoenix at Mesa’s Falcon Field airport (ICAO code KFFZ) to be exact, this phase was divided into 5 essential parts when I was there (but now it contains 4 parts) in each part the student will do some flying sessions to learn something new and at the end a progress test PT will be held with a certified PT examiner to assess whether the student has achieved a good standard for him to advance to next step until reaching the last and most important test of them all which is the CPL (Commercial Pilot’s Licence).
Note: from PT1 to PT4 the student will learn how to fly a single piston engine aircraft which is the Piper Archer (PA28-181), after PT4 the student will learn how to fly a twin piston engine aircraft which is the Piper Seminole (PA44-180).
Progress Test 1:
When every student arrives at the academy in Arizona he will have to attend a week of class held session where some instructors will explain everything there is to know before starting the learning how to fly process (the airspaces around Falcon Field airport especially the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport class Bravo airspace and many other things).
After that, the student will have to get his fingerprints lifted (which a requirement to fly in USA) if not already done before. When all is done the school will affect him an instructor who will be his flying teacher and point of contact between him and the school. Here he will start to be scheduled to fly his missions and build his hours. Before taking the progress test one, the student will learn how to handle the airplane (take-off, climb, descend, turn, recognize, avoid and get out of a stall, land, and many other basic manoeuvers). That’s why when the progress test 1 is taken the examiner will assess whether the student is safe to fly solo which means fly safely when he is the only one on board the airplane.
Progress Test 2:
Exactly after the progress test 1 is passed successfully the student will fly his first solo which is the most important flight in the life of every pilot because he gets to see himself completely in command without anyone helping him doing it.
Then the second part of the flying phase starts which is learning how to navigate from a point to point without getting lost, during this part also the student will learn some emergency procedures like engine failure handling both in flight and after take-off and engine fire.
The end of this part is marked by the progress test 2 where the student will have to demonstrate all what he learned.
Progress Test 3:
After learning how to navigate from point to point without getting lost, it’s now the time to learn how to navigate from one airport to another and successfully join the traffic patter n and perform a successful landing all by himself and by being totally safe.
Progress Test 4:
Now it’s time to add some basic instrument flying to be able to fly the aircraft all by referencing only to instruments. To be sure that the new pilot can fly safely even when he’s inside clouds without any outside references like the horizon to help him keep his airplane straight and level.
Progress Test 5 (CPL):
This is the last test in the USA, after that the student will go back to the UK to continue his training there. The CPL test is the only test after which the student will have his first license: the commercial pilot’s license which will give him the privilege of carrying people as passengers for money.
The CPL is quite a long test (2.2 hours of flying with an examiner) done on board a twin engine aircraft where a lot of exercises are demonstrated by the student for the examiner like navigation, general handling (including stalls, steep turns and basic instrument flying), circuits, single engine flying, approaches and landing. Unlike the other progress tests this one is only done with a certified examiner.
- Instrument Rating (IR)
After getting the CPL, the student will go back to the UK to start the advanced instrument flying in which he will learn all about flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and its particularities. At the end of this part the student will be awarded a frozen ATPL which means he can join an Airline but his airline cannot promote him to be a captain until he accumulates 1500 of flying hours built on the hours he already has during his training. But before that there is one last part of training that he needs to do before going home which the MCC.
MCC stands for Multi Crew Coordination which as its name indicates aims to train students on how pilots work in teams because up to now the trainees learned how to fly small airplanes by themselves without having any help, but now that they are going to be flying big jets that need at least 2 pilots to be flown they need to really learn how to work in teams to ensure the best possible outcome that will ensure the safe conduct of the flight for the comfort of the passengers and the benefit of the company. For the MCC part students have to complete 40 hours on board of a Full Flight Simulator (FFS) which for me was a Boeing 737-400 FFS.
The end of this part will mark the end of the training at Oxford Aviation Academy and the student is ready to join an airline if he is self-sponsored or to join his airline if he is already sponsored like I was.
- The Type rating
After joining his airline and for him to be ready to start flying the aircraft he was assigned to fly, the new pilot needs one last training which is the type rating.
The type rating is a type specific training done at the airline for the new pilot’s benefit to train him on every aspect concerning his new aircraft. This part of training is tough and really demanding because it’s done in relatively short period of time (about 3 weeks of computer based training to learn all the theory of the airplane followed by another 3 weeks of simulator training to learn the practical side of it especially the manufacturer’s logic of dealing with normal, abnormal and emergency procedures) so the pilot is asked to be ready to absorb all that amount of information and aircraft knowledge in that short amount of time it’s difficult but any aviation enthusiast will really enjoy every second of it and here I’m talking about the simulator part because I’ve never enjoyed a theory part in my life.
When the theory and the practical side are successfully passed by the pilot he’ll be scheduled for the base training which is a familiarisation flight on board the real airplane this time, but without passengers only him and a captain who will be his instructor and one goal: apply what he learned during the simulator training in a real flight where he will do some circuits around the airport and try out some landings to really get the feeling of the airplane.
When the type rating is done all that’s left for the new pilot is to get the paper work done (get his license ready) and wait for his first flight to be scheduled with passengers this time.
What are the prerequisites necessary to study such a branch?
To be chosen to pass all the tests and become a pilot with Air Algerie, the company demands a minimum level of BAC + 2 years in a technical field in the university.
What are your goals?
As Jason Schappert the aviation enthusiast who has some of the best aviation teaching videos on YouTube likes to say: “a good pilot is always learning”, my short-term prospects are to keep learning every day to improve my skills and to be a better pilot. Concerning the long-term prospects, I’d like to have a successful aviation career and fly as many different airplanes as I can.
Last word 🙂
I started from scratch and now I’m a fully qualified pilot ready to fly big airplanes full of passengers and cargo. I’d say that the extra-curricular activities that I’ve done during my years at the university helped me build teamwork skills and coordination which are crucial in a multi-pilot environment.
Unfortunately for the time being nothing suggests that another contest will be organized soon but I’d say keep your eyes and ears open and don’t lose hope.
Don’t doubt yourselves, each one of you can achieve this, you just need to have faith and work hard and be ready to be tested.
PS : Interview conducted in July 2017