One of the greatest days of my life

by Thomas Axson on Sep 24 2019

My name is Thomas Axson and I am a former cadet and First Officer for Thomas Cook Airlines UK.

For every person who chooses a career as an airline pilot, your first flight with passengers will always live long in your memory, but it is far from a simple journey. Here is my story that eventually led me to my first commercially operated flight.

Like most people, at 11 years old I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career however, I was a very promising cricketer from a young age. As a result, I was invited to take part in two cricket tours of India before I reached the age of 13. Much to the despair of my cricket coaches, who were hoping that the trip would inspire me to pursue a career in professional cricket, I decided that a career involving travel and going to other countries was the life for me.

From then on, all my studies revolved around me getting the grades and experiences that would help me achieve my dream career in the sky. If you were to ask any of my friends from secondary school, college or even from my work before I started training, they would all tell you just how passionate I was to make a career in the flight deck a reality as soon as I could.

Fast-forward to January 2019 and my first fare-paying passengers got on the aircraft flying down to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. The day that I had dreamed of had finally arrived.

Although it was such an important day for me, to all the passengers embarking on their journey, it was just a normal flight with normal flight crew. With my Captain and safety pilot with me in the cockpit, it was time to get going. After completing all the necessary tasks prior to our departure, the captain briefed me on what was expected on the departure sequence along with standards he expected from me during this critical stage of flight. At this point, despite my excitement, I was very nervous. I wanted to make sure that I made a good start to my commercial flying career.

After a relatively short taxi out to the active runway at Belfast International Airport, it was time for the first commercial take-off in my career. As the thrust levers were advanced and the force of the CFM-56 engines pushed me back into my seat; the dream of becoming a fully qualified commercial pilot had finally become a reality. I can remember the sounds of that exact take-off and going through all the standard calls during the entire departure sequence.

As the aircraft continued to climb, I almost couldn’t believe I was a Pilot on board a flight with actual, fare-paying passengers. With every foot that we climbed, the better and better the view outside became. With Dublin on the left and the rest of southern Ireland quickly passing by, the day I had been dreaming of was being replaced with a day full of memories.

As the aircraft climbed to 34,000ft, the Atlantic Ocean came into view and the onward journey continued to pass underneath the nose of the aircraft. As Fuerteventura came into view, I continued to monitor the systems as best as I could and began thinking about my first commercial approach and landing.

As a team, the Captain, Safety Pilot and myself planned how we were going to conduct the approach into our destination. With the start of our descent approaching us at over nine miles a minute, it was key that we all understood what we all expected from each other. After discussing topics including the destination weather, the aircraft capabilities and the expected arrival and approach sequences, it was time to fly my first descent to a landing as a Commercial Pilot.

Shortly after entering the airspace controlled by Canaries control, we began our descent towards our destination, whilst also keeping in mind that there were some altitude constraints to adhere to on the way down. Furthermore, a constant adaptation of what we were doing was expected as shortly before we continued with a longer procedure, Air traffic control cleared us direct to the final descent point for the approach we were flying. With the aircraft down at its assigned attitude, the runway was now in sight and my first commercial Landing was just minutes away.

‘Two Thousand, Five Hundred’ was automatically called out by the aircraft, signalling that the system that provides automatic call outs for landing was now active. As we continued to monitor the approach, it was clear the conditions were very nice for flying. With the weather and the Captain inviting me to manually fly a landing for the first time, the autopilot was disconnected; I was now fully in control of the aeroplane.

‘One Thousand’ was called by the aircraft (this is a very key part of the approach as we are expected to be fully configured and set up for the approach by this height), the Captain called ‘stabilised’ and I continued the approach. With the flaps in the ‘full’ landing position and the engines rotating at 62% thrust, I continued to descent towards the runway. The closer and closer I got, the greater the pressure seemed to be; however, this was my moment to put all my training to the test.

With 40 feet until touchdown, I raised the nose by 2 degrees and closed the thrust levers waiting for the aircraft to sit on the ground. After, what felt like and eternity, the aircraft touched down on the centreline and touchdown zone of runway 01 at Fuerteventura. With the touchdown complete, it was now a question of safely taking the aeroplane off the runway, along the taxiways to our assigned stand.

Once on stand, I shut down the engines and switched the seatbelt sign off. My first commercial flight was complete!

There are very few moments in my flying career which will stay in my memory forever, my first solo plus CPL and IR skills tests will be amongst the few, however the one that I will always remember was my first day taking passengers to their destination. The satisfaction and pride I had that day was irreplaceable and as days in my career go, it was incredibly special.

In aviation, like in every other walk of life, abnormal events can occur, however it is not the event that people remember, it is how you deal with it and find a resolution. Since my first day flying passengers, there has been a few events that have been out of the ordinary. System resets and disruptive passengers can occasionally be an additional factor in what we are doing, however with an experienced Captain next to me, we work as a team through any abnormal situation we have on board. Furthermore, my training with Thomas Cook along with L3Harris has helped me to become a person confident in my abilities as a pilot and with excellent crews flying with me, my experience and knowledge will only continue to grow.

Despite my confidence to do a good job with everything I do, I am fully aware that complacency has no place in the role of a Commercial Pilot. Whenever I go flying, the primary objective is to operate the aircraft as safely as possible, and keeping complacency away from operation of the aeroplane is just one way to ensure that aviation keeps its safety record. Ultimately, the first question I ask myself before I do anything is, is this safe?

To all those who are reading this and hoping to become a Commercial Pilot one day, I personally only have one piece of advice for you: Never give up on your dream. With the cost and the time, it takes to become a Commercial Pilot, many people will pass it off as a dream that they can’t fulfil, however the world of aviation is in constant need of new and passionate aviators. Flying is a career with many benefits and if new and passionate people continue to take to the skies, the magic of flight will never end.

I hope to welcome you on board sometime soon, but for now, good luck on your personal journey to the flight deck.

Thomas