In the cockpit with Nair and Charlie
By Nancy Heslin
Flying is the fastest way to get to the Isles of Scilly, with travel time between 30 to 60 minutes. Female pilots Nair Tate and Charlie Baker (pictured) give SLM the lowdown on Skybus.
SLM: What made you each decide to become a pilot?
NT: I grew up in Africa and when I was little my father had his own small aircraft to travel between the farms. I guess my passion for flying and airplanes developed then. However, I started off my career as an auditor for a Belgian bank and it was only in 2009, when I was on maternity leave after my third child, that I decided it was a “now or never” moment to become a pilot. Best decision I ever made!
CB: I was 12 years old when I decided that I was going to be a pilot. I grew up in Cyprus so I was fortunate enough to watch the Red Arrows train every spring. I initially wanted to join the Royal Air Force and become a Red Arrow Pilot, although I changed direction to commercial flying when I was 18 and never looked back!
SLM: Did either of you set your sights on working for a particular airline?
NT: Not really. My first job as a pilot was back in Africa flying propeller aircraft in the bush and I knew then that I wanted to fly “hands on” aircraft and not for a big airline. I also enjoy being able to have contact with the passengers and that is something you do not get if you’re flying big jets for a large airline.
CB: No specific airline. I have always wanted to fly for a company where I can increase my flying skills every day and land at some incredible and exciting places. Landing on the 525m runway on Scilly definitely ticks the boxes!
SLM: In 2016 Skybus flew 95,704 passengers. What attracted you to work for the airline?
NT: As a mother, combining family life with being a pilot can sometimes be tricky. Skybus is a great place to work in a beautiful location, and where I can enjoy the type of flying I was looking for as well as still be at home every evening.
Flying for Skybus is quite seasonal so we tend to fly long days in the summer season and shorter days in winter.
CB: What attracted me initially was the aircraft Skybus operated. Twin Otters are my dream aircraft to fly purely because they are specifically built for short take-off and landing operations. What we can do in an Otter you’ll never see a jet do!
The company itself feels very family-orientated, which attracted me even more.
There’s no workplace gradient, which I love, and everyone has respect for one another. From check-in staff to fire crew to ATC, we’re all a team and it’s a wonderful environment to be a part of.
SLM: Is there a difference for a pilot to fly an 8- or 19-seater plane? Are passengers nervous by the size of the plane?
NT: Flying the 8-seater BN2 Islander or the 19-seater DHC6 Twin Otter is really not very different at all with the main difference being that the Twin Otter is flown with 2 pilots and the Islander with just one.
We do indeed get passenger comments on how “cosy” the aircraft or how “small” (especially if they have only flown in large jets), but most of the time our passengers are really just very excited to be able to see what is going on in the cockpit. The experience and the views they get from flying in this type of aircraft to the Isles of Scilly is already a part of their holiday entertainment.
CB: I agree. Some passengers do comment on the size but once they experience the trip to Scilly’s, it’s truly an experience they will never forget and the majority can’t wait to do it again!
Also, the principle of flying is no different from a 2-seater to a 600-seater – just more buttons!
SLM: Life on the Isles of Scilly is dictated by weather, which also greatly affects transport to and from the islands. As a pilot, what are some of the challenges?
NT: Weather and flying go hand in hand always. Of course flying to a group of Islands like the Isles of Scilly sometimes presents some challenges with rapidly occurring weather changes as well as sometimes strong winds in winter. We cope with that by thoroughly briefing for the weather before we set off in the morning so we can assess what to expect but of course, the “not so pleasant” part of the job when we have to delay or even cancel a flight because the weather is not good enough.
CB: The flying part is the easiest part! Keeping passengers informed, alternatives, fuelling, restrictions, airport closures, communications with Operations and Dispatch are all things we consider as pilots.
But as Nair says, we do have limits – crosswind limits, cloud base and visibility – that we follow to ensure safety for our passengers and ourselves.
The biggest challenge is the unpredictability of the weather and decision-making with the changeable conditions due to different air masses.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #3 (July 2017)