After giving a presentation about Scenario Based Training at a Flight Instructor seminar in Sweden, I ran into former colleague and Flight Instructor, Lydia Wennström. Lydia is an energetic person who is always positive, so it was a pleasure running into her and exchanging a few words. We quickly started talking about her new and exciting job Saab in Linköping, which is the origin for many of the international flights she does in a Global 6000 (G6) jet.
As always, it is both fascinating and inspiring to hear about the success of our graduates and I was quick to suggest that we schedule an interview for the OSMAA blog. Busy schedules and vacations got in the way all summer, but a few days ago I was finally able to get Lydia on the phone to learn more and share it with you - our beloved readers.
S: Hey Lydia, nice to speak to you again. How have you been?
L: Spring was intense, but thankfully I've had four weeks of vacation during the summer to catch my breath. Vacation is always nice, but now it's back to reality and hard work ahead.
S: Sounds like you're keeping busy!
L: Definitely! It goes up and down - so it varies a bit depending on the time of year. There is no such thing as "lagom" (Lagom is the Swedish word for "just the right amount") when you have the kind of job I have. It's either full throttle or really chill.
S: So tell me, how did you end up flying for Saab?
L: You already know my background as an OSMAA student, where I started my flight training at the former Arvidsjaur base in northern Sweden before completing my training in Västerås - Thereafter I applied to OSMAA's Flight Instructor program and became a flight instructor at the school.
It was during my training in Västerås that I reached out to Saab during a school project, so when I applied for a job there they already had some knowledge of who I was. When I had been working at OSMAA in Västerås for a while, Saab offered me a job in their Operations Department (planning flights and other administrative tasks related to flight operations) in Linköping, which is also where I grew up.
We are a very small airline, we have an AOC (Air Operator Certificate), but we are not many people compared to an airline. I thought it sounded like an exciting opportunity to learn new things and after working there for around six months I was offered to do a type rating on the Global 6000. Since then I've mostly been flying - I also got to do a type rating on the KingAir.
Since there are so few of us at Saab we need to perform a variety of tasks as pilots, such as ordering fuel, applying for permissions and booking hotel rooms. So when we are out flying we have in-depth knowledge of all the planning that needs to be done before we depart on a flight, or a tour for that matter.
S: It sounds like it must be really nice to have that deeper understanding and have first hand experience of the work that goes into the planning phase.
L: Definitely! It's really nice to have an insight into all of the surrounding elements, so you know how to handle problems and issues if they arise when you are on the other side of the world. You know which documents need to be completed and how you apply for a slot time at specific airports. It's a lot easier to know who I need to call in order to sort things out.
S: Now we are getting into an interesting differentiating factor between the pilot job you have and traditional flight duty at a major airline, at least in my opinion. An outsider might not think about these elements of the job, but it is a complex variety when you work as a pilot for a smaller flight operation. Since you are expected to handle areas of flight operations that the typical pilot does not usually encounter in the day-to-day operations.
L: I believe you are right. For the record I haven't worked for a traditional airline, so it's difficult for me to compare. But my understanding, from what I've heard from my friends that work for major airlines, they are mainly there to fly the aircraft and provide great service to the passengers. There are pros and cons with both kinds of pilot jobs, but I find it exciting that more of the responsibility for any given flight falls under the duties of the flight crew.
I also like that we sometimes go on tours instead of back and forth between the same or similar destinations. Things come up along the way and you need to improvise and make the best out of every situation, making calls to see what can be done to change your flight plan for example, so there are many things around each flight that we have to take care of. We might not fly as many hours each year as airline pilots do, but I find all the other elements of the job exciting and I think it's fun to solve problems with my team.
Especially when you solve difficult problems for the customer together with your team and the customer can make it to their destination before they expected, even though we weren't planning to go to that destination when we started our tour.
S: Your job sounds really exciting and interesting, it feels like they've done a great job in their recruitment process as well Lydia. You seem like the perfect kind of person for this kind of duty.
L: I think it's amazing! It feels like it is right down my alley. This might not be the kind of job everyone strives for, it's definitely on the far side of the spectrum when it comes to different career paths for pilots. Right now, I think it's fantastic. What I’ll think of this kind of job 10 years from now is hard to predict.
S: Of course, things can always change. If you try to look further ahead, is this a type of job that can be difficult to combine with having a family?
L: Both yes and no. My own duties and those of my colleagues vary slightly, some spend more time at the offices in Sweden as post holders, such as Ground Operations Manager, Training Manager and Chief Pilot. All of these roles have both administrative duties and flight duties - some fly less than others and have more administrative duties, since they want to be closer to their families and have a more traditional work schedule. I would expect it to change during the different walks of life, as your priorities change. But it's difficult to predict the future, I have my hands full with the things I am doing right now [laughter]. I'm trying to take it one week at a time.
Right now I'm fairly new in the role as a First Officer and I'm focusing on learning as much as possible. Naturally I'm thinking about my future however, looking at how the different Captains interact with me and the other crew members and trying to be "a sponge" - learning as much as I can from their experience to develop my own pilot profile. Someday I'm hopefully going to be a Captain myself, so I'm trying to be conscious about how Captains approach decision making and how they solve problems that come up. So I know what to do, or what not to do, when I am flying from the left seat in the future. In that sense I am planning for the future even if it seems far away right now. We'll just have to see what the future brings.
S: I'm glad you brought up the relationship between the Captain and the First Officer, what is a great Captain in your opinion?
L: A good Captain, and a trait that I really admire, has the ability to both give and take feedback in a good way. A great pilot knows intuitively that you will never stop learning in this industry, even if you are over 60 years old and have flown for 40 years, you know that even if you have vast amounts of experience you will still make mistakes - after all, we are only human. It will always be this way as long as people are piloting our aircraft.
Then there are all the typical traits that one would expect from a Captain, that they are calm and able to revise decisions that were made earlier in the flight when circumstances change. This is actually really important when I think about it and kind of ties into the ability to take feedback. A great Captain doesn't get stuck on a decision that was made earlier, just because she/he has already made a decision. If circumstances change it's important to be able to adapt and listen to suggestions for alternative solutions. Being able to revise a decision and make changes if it can lead to a better outcome, is a trait I believe is necessary to be a great Captain. The weather, the traffic situation or other conditions can change. Especially when you fly all across the globe like we do.
S: What are some of best destinations you have flown into so far?
L: My strongest memory so far is when I was fairly new to flying the Global 6000, flying across the globe was something I hadn't even been dreaming about before and all of a sudden I was flying into Sydney right over the roof of the Opera House. In that moment I remember thinking "Wow! Is this really happening? And is it really me flying the plane?". It just felt so surreal and is one of the stronger memories, even though I've been to many cool places and there wasn't anything spectacular about that particular approach other than the view. I think it was just a regular ILS (Editors note: An ILS, or Instrument Landing System, is a fairly common type of approach with both vertical and lateral guidance) or something like that. But the absurdity of the whole situation and Australia being so far away from Sweden, just made the experience so strong for me in that moment. It was unreal.
I think it is one of the best things with the type of flying that I'm doing, is that we get the chance to fly across the globe. Everything from flying in Africa using HF (High Frequency) radio and not having radar coverage to learning all the difference procedures used for crossing the Atlantic Ocean, to flying in South East Asia around Singapore and Malaysia where the traffic volume is extremely high. I thought it would be fairly similar to fly in different areas of the world, but there are major differences between flying in Africa, going into Sydney or flying into the USA for that matter. Being able to travel to all the corners of the world and look around is incredibly exciting and amazing if you ask me.
S: I am sure there are many aspiring pilots out there who are inclined to agree with you. This is exactly the kind of information our readers have said the want more of, so they can get a glimpse of what opportunities are out there after graduation.
L: I've seen that you are doing a lot more with former students these days, both in your blog and on social media. It's cool to see all the different career paths OSMAA students have taken after graduating!
S: A girl that called into the office last year to ask about flight training said it the best. After I had given her practical information about our training programs and explained what the pre-entry requirements and career options are, she told me:
"That's great, thank you for the information. But I don't really want to talk to you..."
We both laughed since I knew what she meant - people that are considering to become a pilot want to hear directly from our students what the journey is like. This is what we are trying to facilitate by handing over our social media accounts to students and doing interviews with our graduates. We are trying to make our students more visible since people want to know what it's like to train at OSMAA and they want to know what our students are doing after they graduate - simply put, we are trying to give our audience more of what they find interesting and more of what they want. That is why it is so cool that you had time for this interview as well, because then people will get a better understanding of all the different opportunities that are out there.
L: Exactly! Before I started my flight training and before I knew much about the aviation industry, it was mainly the major airlines that came to mind when I thought about what a pilot is. Of course I knew that there were air ambulance operations and other smaller operators, but when I came to Saab I got to see the wide range of operations they are doing - everything from aerial work and target towing to corporate and business flights. It doesn't make up a large portion of aviation, but it is an exciting part of the industry to venture into.
S: Without a doubt. When I was working at OSMAA in San Diego there was an FAA examiner who's other occupation was to fly surfers out into the Pacific in a seaplane owned by a surfing gear manufacturer. I still think this is one of the coolest flying jobs I have ever heard of.
L: I'm sure there are many cool jobs most of us have never heard of even if we've been working in the aviation industry for while. It's cool to highlight these kinds of opportunities and make them known to others who might be interested.
S: We've touched this subject a few times already now, the contrasts of different flying jobs and the many different duties that comprise a job like yours - would you say that a typical day at work for you is simply chilling in the cockpit as you cruise across the globe in a sleek jet?
L: If you remove the word "chilling" you are getting closer to reality. I see that you've asked some of the other graduates if working as a pilot was what they had expected. In my experience one of the hardest things to imagine before you actually start working as a pilot, is how challenging it can be to travel through different time zones and having to deal with jet lag. It is one of those things you have to experience to understand it. If you are flying home from Singapore, which is the maximum range for the Global 6000, you are looking at 12 hours of flying. Even though there are three pilots on board, it's a long stretch to fly and it takes time. On top of that it might be difficult to get good quality sleep on an airplane.
We often fly these flights during nighttime of course, since our customers wants to make the most out of the time abroad and sleep on the plane so they wake up back home in the morning. On top of that you might return to Sweden in the middle of a snow storm. You really learn how to bring your A-game towards the end of these long flights, since it is vital to be alert during the last and critical phase of a flight. I remember one of the first night flights I did, when I had not worked night shifts before and how surprised I was at how tired I felt at some points during the flight. After gaining some experience however, you figure out how to get better rest in the air and it's easier to relax when you are given the chance to rest and sleep compared to how it was in the beginning. Flying during the night and being on the top of your game during the approach and landing at your destination is tough and feels like one of those things that are close to impossible to explain to a group of students in a classroom. It has to be experienced, even though you learn a lot about fatigue and giving yourself the best possible conditions to stay sharp during critical phases of flight during your flight training.
If I were to describe a more typical day on the job however, it depends a bit on the length of the flights we are doing. Shorter flights within Europe differ from longer trips to farther regions of the world, when the Captain and I will get together with the rest of the crew the day before departing to discuss the trip. If we are going to a place where we've been many times before, there is less planning involved - but if for example, we are going to a region in Africa where there are special HF procedures, the details of the flight might not be as fresh in mind.
For the longer flights, it's important that we go through everything in detail together. What kind of airspace will we be flying through? Are there special procedures to be adhered to? You don't want to find yourself about to enter unfamiliar airspace and being unsure about what to expect.
On the day we depart for longer trips we'll meet up at the airport an hour before departure to get all the final arrangements done. The flight attendant might need help if there is a lot of catering that needs to be loaded into the aircraft, we need to print all the paperwork required, for shorter flights we file the flight plans ourselves, but for longer trips the Operations Department will help us with these tasks. This frees up more time for the crew to look over the weather and take care of paperwork.
After all of that is done we walk out to the plane, complete the pre-flight inspection and start the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit), then we are ready to welcome the passengers on board. If we are simply going back-and-forth to one destination there's a lot less work than if we are going on a tour in Asia or South America or wherever we might be going.
On days when I have administrative duties at my home base the days look very different. I could be riding my bike to work in the morning without really knowing what's in store for me on any given day. If both of our jets are somewhere in the world I might have to assist them if they run into problems, if the schedule changes or if the passengers wants to go to a different destination than what was originally planned. They might have to go to a different city on short notice and then my job will be to help them make that happen as smoothly as possible. If all of the aircraft are at our home base I could be working with crew planning, handling and ordering fuel for example. You could say that my days at work rarely look the same.
S: It is definitely not a 9 to 5 five job you have, that's for sure.
L: Only occasionally, but most of the time it is not a 9 to 5 job.
S: Even those days when your working hours might be 9 to 5, you have a varied set of challenges that come up during your working hours.
L: Without a doubt, I rarely know what to expect even when I'm working in Sweden. Sometimes everything moves along smoothly, but sometimes a new long-distance trip comes up with short notice. Then we need to get to work and sort everything out.
S: So what would you say are the best parts of working in the aviation industry?
L: I would say that the opportunity to travel to many exciting destinations that one might never visit on your own is one part of it. Being faced with many different challenges as we spoke about earlier is another element that makes the job exciting. One of the best feelings is when you get into the taxi after a long trip, when something challenging has occurred during the flight and the crew solved it in a great way together. I love that feeling!
I remember on one of my trips to the United States, I think it was to Chicago, but there are so many airports in the US where there are many runways and a complex airport environment - anyway, it was one of those flights where you don't really know what rapid changes might be ahead. We were on the approach for one of the runways and we were given a late runway change. The Captain and I had briefed this scenario already, as well as a couple of other viable scenarios - and it just felt so good when things got hectic and we were well prepared to solve it smoothly. It was one of those high-five moments after we landed since we had predicted what would happen and were prepared for it. It feels fantastic when you solve these kinds of problems as a team. Those kind of days are the absolute best!
S: "A great pilot is a humble pilot" - Do you agree with that statement?
L: Absolutely, if it can happen to others it can happen to me I always try to think. When it comes to difficult situations that might arise I find that to be a good mindset to have.
S: You mentioned earlier that before you started working as a pilot it was hard to imagine how challenging it would be to traverse different time zones. Are there any other things that have caught you by surprise when it comes to being a pilot or are the other elements of the job as you had expected?
L: Yeah, I would say so. I think you get a pretty good picture of what the job is going to be like when you're in flight school. At least from my experience with OSMAA, which is the only flight school I've attended, we started with Crew Resource Management (CRM), a multi crew mindset and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) from the beginning of our training.
Something that I wasn't used to from flight school, is working long days and in different time zones. Nobody is exposed to this during flight training of course. It is highly individual how tough the long working hours will feel, some find it challenging and others won't be as affected by it. You have to learn how to manage your energy and become used to irregular working hours. Either you think it's fine or you don't, it's a good idea to figure that out before you pursue a career as a pilot. It's not a 08:00 to 17:00 job, but that's also something you'll be told before starting your flight training.
S: Now that you have some industry experience, when you look back at your flight training at OSM Aviation Academy, do you feel like OSMAA lives up to our vision of contributing to a safer aviation industry through great education?
L: I think it is very noticeable that OSMAA is a big flight school, you have a solid SOP and try to prepare the students for what will come after they graduate. Even in the early stages when you are practicing basic flying skills near the home base in Västerås, you are working as a crew and students are encouraged to think and communicate as part of a professional crew. Things like planning how you are going to fly the traffic pattern at your destination is structured in the same way as the commercial operators would expect you to do it, which gives students the right expectations for how things are to be done when you start working as a pilot.
I've always felt like the solid foundation I was given at OSMAA has prepared me to deal with the different situations that arise when flying for a commercial operator "in the real world".
S: If someone approaches you and expresses an ambition to become a pilot, would you recommend that they do their training at OSMAA?
Yes, absolutely. OSMAA is a well established school that has been around for a long time. You can rest assured that your training will be great.
S: What about socially? Did you have a good time studying at OSMAA?
L: Yeah, absolutely. The time I spent in Arvidsjaur in Northern Sweden was very unique, everybody had moved a long way to start their training there and the students were really tight, since we all went through it together. In Västerås there were more people from different parts of the world and that was a really cool experience as well, since it gave me a lot of perspective and insight in different cultures.
S: Are you one of those pilots who has been dreaming about this career since you were a kid or did your interest for flying come later on?
L: Naaaw, I have thought about this before. I don't think there is a particular defining moment where I just knew I wanted to become a pilot. But I have a lot of memories from when I was younger and we went travelling, actually, I don't remember too much from the destinations, but I have a lot of memories from the different airports we went to around the world. It's probably because I find airplanes to be so fascinating and cool! Being at the airport I'd see the different airplanes, and the pilots, and the flight attendants, I've always been fascinated by the environment in and around airports. So I guess it's something that has grown to be a part of me incrementally over time, which in turn led to my desire to pursue a career as a pilot.
S: What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming a pilot?
L: Ehm, to ask themselves the question if they are passionate about flying and airplanes. That they have an interest in the industry so to speak. It's also important that they ask themselves if they are prepared to work irregular hours and have a job that is not a monday-to-friday, 8-to-5 job.
If they feel like they could handle those conditions and even be happy with that lifestyle I would say just go for it! Being a pilot is not a regular office job.
It feels like most people from my generation who actively pursue career opportunities get employed as pilots, even though there was a slow period after the financial crisis in 2008. I think that's in part thanks to the extra efforts OSMAA puts in to strengthen your connections with different airlines, but also the reputation of OSMAA students that are doing a great job out there. It's a sign of quality when you have graduated from OSMAA, which is a valuable quality assurance to have on your resume when you start applying for jobs.
S: It has been really cool to learn a bit more about your role at Saab Lydia, it is always super exciting to get in touch with our students and hear about their journeys.
L: Yeah, I really like it here and it was a great opportunity. I really miss teaching sometimes however, but who knows, maybe I'll be back to give some lessons at OSMAA in the future.
S: You are always welcome to swing by and say hi to your former colleagues in Västerås, even if it's just to grab a cup of coffee. It was nice talking to you again. Take care!
L: You too Stein, say hi to everyone from me.
What's the next step for you?
I hope you all enjoyed learning more about Lydia's journey after graduating from OSMAA. If you want to learn more about what it takes to become a pilot make sure you come visit us on one of our Pilot Open Days.
You will learn more about what it takes to qualify for our programs and find out what being a student at OSMAA is like.
Blue skies and safe landings my friends!