After a lifetime in the air, Thomas Cook’s Steve Parfitt is finally hanging up his wings.
Captain Parfitt spent 25 years with the airline, after joining in 1992 from the Royal Air Force. Here, he shares his wisdom from the cockpit.
1. Flying runs in the family
On arrival into Manchester on his final flight, from Cancun, Steve was greeted by the surprising sight of his son, Dan, marshalling him to his gate. Dan had to undergo special training to be able to take part in the farewell treat, but is no stranger to the industry, being a Thomas Cook captain himself. “He’s grown up with his dad as a pilot,” said Steve, “and he’s seen the life and thought that’s the job for him.”
2. Pilots don’t consider it a job
“If you talk to most pilots, not many do it for a job,” says Steve. “Most guys that go flying have a passion for it. You just want to do it because it’s flying – you don’t think of it as work.”
3. Your BA pilot probably used to fly fighter jets
Steve joined Thomas Cook after 16 years flying with the RAF. “It was quite a common route at the time [from the air force into commercial airlines],” he says. “When I joined Thomas Cook in the Nineties, most of the guys leaving the RAF went to BA.”
4. Which was a little more exciting
“Flying is flying,” says Steve. “With the Air Force you take the planes a little more to the limits of their capabilities than your passengers would want you do, and it’s a bit more staid flying a commercial aircraft. There’s a different aim between the two, but in the end it’s still flying.”
5. Leaving the clouds is incredible
“There’s something magical about flying out of the clouds,” says Steve. “Just as you break through the top layer you can feel an enormous sensation of speed and there’s this huge expanse of blue above you.”
6. But there’s pressure in the cockpit
“When you’re up there and it’s just you and the First Officer, you have to know your stuff,” says Steve, about the importance of continuing to learn new protocol and technologies over his career. “If you just let stuff pass you by, it can have more far-reaching effects as a pilot than if you were sat behind a desk.”
7. And flying is always changing
“One of the greatest changes is the shift to digital that meant that I no longer had to have these huge manuals in the cockpit,” says Steve. “Now it’s all on tablets and iPads.
“I’ve been flying the Airbus for the last 20 years, and their aircraft are quite advanced with its fly-by-wire technology, but there’s always new techniques and new technology. There’s still progress to be made.”
8. Challenging landings are the most fun
It may not feel it to passengers but Steve says landing a plane at some of the more tricky airports on the planet injects a little excitement into the job.
“The more difficult airports stand out,” Steve says, asked which he enjoys flying into the most. “Madeira is notorious among pilots, but then because it’s challenging it can be quite fun.
“Skiathos – a short and narrow runway – can be quite challenging, too.”
9. The secret to becoming a pilot
“Have an understanding bank manager,” says Steve. “Nowadays, flying is very expensive to get into, to do the training. I was very lucky that the Queen paid for my training in the Air Force, but even when my son Dan went through the costs were quite high, and are high now [it is around €90,000 to put yourself through flying school].
“But if you have a passion for it, you find a way to meet the costs.”
10. But a decent salary will help recoup costs
“Yes, they are well paid jobs,” confirms Steve. Pilots can earn up to €160,000 a year.
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