43 Air School welcomes our first Guest Writer, STEVE FORD! 

Steve Ford, recently retired from Virgin Atlantic Airways as a Captain having flown for them for the last 23 years. Steve’s career started at the Crawley College in West Sussex as an apprentice Aeronautical Engineer with British Caledonian Airways in 1978.

“The aerospace industry is facing a significant challenge with attracting and retaining young people within the industry and it is important that the “diversity” of opportunities is conveyed to the next generation. The engineering foundation I was provided with allowed me to be heavily involved with Flight Test and development at British Aerospace and Virgin Atlantic Airways. As well as a diverse flying career, involving aircraft selection, customer acceptance Flight Test and flying the line.” – Steve Ford


This is probably the single most important thing that has ever been said to me in my entire aviation career. For our quest for flight, our passion for aviation depends on our understanding of what it means to hold “A licence to learn”.

These were the very words said to me when four decades ago I was handed my Private Pilots Licence by the CFI at Eagle Aviation in Long Beach, California. Words that have resonated in my subconscious ever since.

But what does it mean?

The reality is that it means none of us, no matter who we are and what we do, know it all! Aviation in particular, by the very nature of its inherent risks and complexity, means we can go from hero to zero in a heartbeat. To survive not only today but tomorrow, we have to embrace an open attitude to learning all of the time. We cannot “cherry-pick” when we do this or tread water for some time, for any gap in our knowledge is, at the end of the day a weakness.

How we go about this is individual and this is not the place to delve into the psychology of learning or for that matter the psychology of teaching. For we all respond differently. What we have to possess, however, is an “open mind” and understand that it is our responsibility to ourselves and our passengers/employers to strive to be the best we can.

For after all knowledge is power, is it not?

When we pass a check ride or are granted a licence, rating or qualification, we should celebrate and we should be proud of what we have achieved. The learning process, however, has only just begun, for now, we have to apply that knowledge and skillset to a real-world environment which can be very unforgiving to any lapse in knowledge.

Guarding against complacency takes disciple and I was shown by a wise old sage that the trick to six monthly simulator checks when flying long haul, was to pick one subject a month; for example “Hydraulics” and every sector pick up a QRH (Quick Reference Handbook) or manual and read a procedure/system operation, even if it is just for 10 minutes.

You will be amazed how quickly information starts to stick. The brain is, after all, a muscle and has to be exercised. Switching off for 5 months and then “cramming” for a check ride is a stressful and inefficient way of “retaining” knowledge.

How can I apply this you ask? I am a student and we have set courses and training structure?

Well if the weather prevents flying or the aircraft is grounded due to a technical fault there is always 10 minutes here there that you can harness. It might be something as simple as refreshing one’s knowledge on what those symbols actually mean on the Met chart!

Technology changes constantly and having started my career crossing the North Atlantic with navigation systems limited to 9 waypoints and a glass sextant dome in the top of the flight deck, over time I ended up in a completely different world. For today, with GPS and laser ref gyros, SATCOM and CPDLC communication links, we are rarely isolated or unsure of our position. All of this new technology had to be learnt and understood to apply it to the task in hand.

A licence to learn.. embrace it and it will serve you well.

Recently Steve Ford released his first book, 20 West.

20 West, Steve Ford Book

Sharing the adventure, joy, and – on occasion – tragedy, that makes aviation one of the most fascinating industries to be a part of, 20 West reflects the diversity of the aerospace industry. It’s not only an absorbing read for anyone with a passion for aviation, but also for the next generation looking to embark upon a journey that has no final destination.

20 West follows Steve’s journey through aviation, from an ‘unmin’ child travelling the world on standby, training from an apprenticeship to a jet engine specialist, to his distinguished career as a long-haul commercial pilot. It also presents an insider’s history of the last 60 years of the industry, giving readers a fascinating insight into the ways commercial flight and the corporate giants that dominate it have evolved over the years.

Packed with captivating stories from both above the clouds and down on the tarmac, it’s a must-read for anyone who’s ever wondered what really happens on the other side of the cockpit door.


20 West is available in paperback (£8.99) and e-book format (£2.99) on www.amazon.co.uk 
For more information or to contact the author visit www.20WestBook.com