Becoming A Virgin Atlantic A350 Training Captain

Captain Chris Pohl gained an interest in aviation at the age of 12 when his father got him to sit in the cockpit of a Boeing 727 on a family holiday. Fast forward to today, and Captain Chris is one of Virgin Atlantic’s senior captains, with a responsibility for training pilots on the Airbus A350.

Captain Chris, Virgin Atlantic, Airbus A350 Pilot
Captain Chris Pohl recently shared his journey to becoming an Airbus A350 training captain at Virgin Atlantic with the Simple Flying team. Photo: Captain Chris

Simple Flying’s Jo Bailey and Tom Boon caught up with Captain Chris recently to discuss his career, and to talk about the future for those interested in pursuing a career in aviation for the Simple Flying podcast.

The pre-Virgin journey

Getting into the captain’s seat of the Airbus A350 wasn’t the most straight forward journey for Captain Chris. He explains that he started off doing paper rounds to earn money for flight school before working evenings at a supermarket and helping out on building sites.

By 19, Chris was a commercial pilot. However, looking so young, he struggled to get a job, so he turned to flight instruction. He explains, “I was doing anything for flying hours, and that’s how a young pilot starts… I used to work for funeral directors repatriating bodies around Australia.”

Captain Chris, Virgin Atlantic, Airbus A350 Pilot
Captain Chris’ first airline job saw him flying Ansett’s Fokker F27 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Eventually, Chris landed a job flying the Fokker F27 up and down Australia’s East Coast. In 1989 he moved onto the Airbus A320. In 1989, Chris moved to England and was grounded cleaning aircraft at the airport for four to six months while converting his license to the CAA.

With his new license, Captain Chris flew Fokker 100s for several European airlines before moving back to the A320 with Eurocypria Airline in Larnaca. He mentions that after applying for a job at Virgin Atlantic, he was told, “I applied to them before and they’d always said to me, we only fly jumbo jets and all you have is glass cockpit time that’s useless.”

Becoming a Virgin Atlantic captain

In 1993 Virgin Atlantic introduced the Airbus A340-300. This meant that the airline was suddenly in need of pilots with glass cockpit experience, just what Captain Chris had to offer.

“I got a Flight International magazine from a news agency in Sri Lanka. There was a big article about how Virgin Atlantic was buying some A340-300s from Northwest Airlines,” he remarks. “I called the chief pilot… It went something like “Who are you,” and I said, “I applied to you many years ago, but you told me that glass cockpit time was useless. I see you’re buying A340s. Well, I’ve got lots of experience on the A320.”

Captain Chris, Virgin Atlantic, Airbus A350 Pilot
Captain Chris joined Virgin Atlantic on the Airbus A340-300 before progressing to the A340-600. Photo: Getty Images

One week later, Captain Chris was in London, and a week after that, he was in Miami on one of the first Virgin Atlantic courses to fly the Airbus A340. As he joined the A340 fleet right at its inception, Chris has always been one of the more senior pilots, becoming a training captain early on.

Of course, in 2020, Virgin Atlantic retired the Airbus A340, leading to Chris needing to retrain.

“When the A350 was introduced, obviously, being a senior captain in the company and a training captain, I was asked to be part of the entry and service team. That meant being on one of the first courses down at Airbus. It also meant an amazing month flying the A350 as a guest of Cathay Pacific, flying the aircraft and trying to remember when I did my PAs that I was a Cathay Pacific captain.”

Virgin Atlantic, Boeing 747, London Heathrow
Today Captain Chris is a training captain on the Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com – Edited by Alvin Man

You can hear our full interview with Captain Chris, touching on everything from the aviation industry’s current state to following a career in aviation today on the Simple Flying podcast.

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