World Pilots’ Day: Retraining Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 747 Pilots

To celebrate World Pilots’ Day, Simple Flying caught up with Airbus A350 Training Captain Chris Pohl to hear more about the challenges and triumphs that he and his colleagues face. It has been such a tough year across the aviation spectrum, but the Virgin Atlantic pilot is optimistic about the future of the industry. Notably, he shared details about how many veteran pilots that were out of work amid the crisis are now retraining to join him in the cockpit.

Captain Chris A350
World Pilots’ Day falls on April 26th every year. Photo: Captain Chris

Back in the squad

Last spring, Virgin Atlantic announced the immediate retirement of its Boeing 747s from commercial service. The type is a legend in the skies, but throughout the market, airlines have been phasing out the Queen in favor of more efficient options. Virgin was already planning on letting go of the jumbo but brought the retirement date forward amid the pandemic.

Passenger activity has been minimal over the last year due to the ongoing restrictions. However, with expectations looking more positive for the summer, Virgin started contacting affected pilots about getting back in the air. A lot of these pilots are in their late 50s and early 60s, and this time last year, they thought they would never fly again. However, they now have a chance to return to the flight deck of another aircraft.

Virgin Atlantic 747-400
Virgin Atlantic was a keen user of the 747-400. Photo: Getty Images

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

The right support

As an Airbus Training Captain, Chris is integral to helping several of the pilots’ transition from Boeing to Airbus. For instance, he accompanies them on their key sectors (flights).

“January was horrible for everybody, then February started off, and my roster became busier because we started bringing back our 747 pilots. I was involved in the simulator training and also their live training. Being one of the senior guys, I did sectors one and two.

“Sector one and two are the very important first two flights. It’s the first time they ever fly the Airbus outside the simulator, and they could actually have passengers onboard. Sometimes we have cargo flights. Still, they’re flying real airplanes,” Chris shares.

“We bring these guys back to the A330 first. The A330 is more basic than the A350. Once they have 500 hours on the A330, we will then also type rate them onto the A350.”

For a pilot to convert from a 747 captain to an A330 one, Chris explains that the ground school takes approximately one month to complete on the pilot’s roster, and this segment includes practice in a simulator. After this process, the pilot will go into live training, which can take approximately three months to complete.

Captain Chris Training
Chris himself was previously flying on other Virgin Airbus models before taking on the A350. Photo: Captain Chris

Guiding through the storm

Altogether, it can be a lengthy process to get back in the skies. However, for many of these pilots, they would have never expected to hit the air again. Now, they are making a comeback and will also have the opportunity to handle one of Virgin’s long-term flagship aircraft, the A350, within a year.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A350
These pilots have a chance to fly Virgin’s more modern aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Overall, pilots worldwide have had their roles impacted due to the global health crisis. Several crew members have had to take early retirements to find work in other industries as a result of the conditions. However, it is warming to hear that airlines are preparing to bring pilots back to work amid prospects of recovery.

It has been well reported that carriers in the United States, such as American Airlines and United Airlines, began rehiring pilots ahead of the summer. So, it’s also positive that Virgin Atlantic is preparing by retraining its veterans. After all, modern vehicles such as the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787 will need the right crew behind them.

Nonetheless, not all pilots have been facing the same fate. Chris understands this, and to mark World Pilots’ Day, he is offering hope to his global colleagues by affirming that the challenges will soon come to an end. He shares that pilots are always supporting each other, and they will help each other get through these difficulties. He looks forward to seeing more pilots in the cockpit soon.

How are you celebrating World Pilots’ Day? Also, what are your thoughts about the retraining of these Virgin Atlantic Pilots? Let us know what you think in the comment section.