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Allison Couch

Commercial Pilot

Allison Couch

Hi my name is Allison Couch, I am a student enrolled in the Integrated Airline Transport Pilot License (IATPL) program at the Brampton Flight Centre near Toronto, Canada. I will be graduating from the advanced flight training program in the first quarter of 2021.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Where do I begin?
I wanted to be so many things. Though, I had always been attracted to aviation—even at a young age—probably because of my father who was working in the aviation industry.

My incredible journey began when I was a young girl growing up in Singapore. While I was born in Montreal, Canada, at a young age my family moved half way around the world when my father was transferred to a posting in Singapore. From being around industry professionals, attending airshows, and sitting in the jump seat in a Boeing 747 as a child (while the airplane was on ground I should add), I knew I had found my passion . . . though some could argue that it was in my blood.

How did you get started in aviation?
Following my high school years, and wanting to pursue a career in aviation, I studied Aviation Management at Georgian College, in Canada. After graduation I worked for Ornge Air (an Air Ambulance service provider) as their Aerodrome Conformance Specialist overseeing the inspection and maintenance of more than 80 helipads across the province of Ontario. While working full time I was able to take-up flying lessons and earned my Private Pilot’s Licence.

What made you realise you wanted to become a Pilot?
I always knew I wanted to be a commercial pilot, but it seemed so unattainable. That is, until I actually started working in the aviation industry. Aviation is made up of an extraordinary and unique group of people, who share a passion for the industry with energy and enthusiasm that isn’t seen anywhere else. It’s contagious—and a little bit crazy—but once you’ve been a part of it, there’s no turning back. I knew too, that being a pilot would allow me the privilege to explore the world and meet new people. I also realized to become a pilot I would face numerous obstacles and it would be a challenging journey to reach my aspirations. Nevertheless, I was up for the challenge to achieve personal growth and look forward to a rewarding career. Not only that, I was surrounded by enthusiastic, hardworking colleagues, passionate about what they do. They gave me the encouragement that really sparked my imagination and to follow my interest. And of course . . . an office with a view beats a cubicle any day!

Who is your biggest influencer in your industry and why?
Well for me . . . that would be my father. He has been my mentor since I entered the industry in 2009. My father started out as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer working on Twin Otters, De Havilland Dash 7s and other aircraft from the Arctic to the Middle-East. He always guided me in the right direction and has always supported my dreams and aspirations. And while there were times I didn’t always appreciate it, he constantly challenged me to get out more and get involved in the industry.

What do you enjoy most about your job or training?
Aside from the flying of course, I thoroughly enjoy the connections with the people in the industry. I enjoy too, the challenge of learning to fly in the often harsh and unpredictable Canadian weather. What a breathtaking experience it is to be flying over the city of Toronto in a little Cessna, on a perfectly clear, moonless night with an outside air temperature of minus 25 degrees Celsius. That is of course, providing the cabin heater is working lol. Every day is different and no matter how much you prepare, you have to be constantly ready for the unexpected. Moreover, I thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie from my involvement with The Ninety-Nines (a global association of female pilots) and Women in Aviation International. It keeps me busy in an environment where I can constantly learn.

What do you like least about your training?
Funny enough­—it’s the WEATHER!! The very challenge I enjoy the most about learning to fly in Canada is the valuable lessons and decision-making skills acquired by better understanding the unpredictable and harsh winter environment that brings about unique challenges such as icing and snow squalls, to name a few. But, there are times when the harsh weather can keep you grounded for days with no flying. I hate that.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self starting a career in aviation?
The sooner you get started—the better. Take advantage of the many youth programs that are available such as the Air Cadets, where you can learn to fly even when you are still in high school.

I would also encourage anyone with an aviation interest to get involved in the many organizations available that offer comradeship and support to start and grow your career. There are many great organizations such as Elevate Aviation, the Northern Lights Aero Foundation, The Ninety-Nines, Women in Aviation International, and here in Toronto, the Urban Pilots Network that encourage, support and mentor young aspiring aviation professionals. And don’t forget, there are numerous scholarship opportunities available for both men and women that can lessen the financial burden of not only flight training, but also lessen the cost of higher education such as college and university.

Also . . . always, always, always network with your peers and others in the industry. It’s a small world where everyone is supportive of one another.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years or perhaps a bit beyond, I see myself flying as Captain for an international airline and maybe soon after I would want to diversify into additional roles, such as safety and emergency management where I could contribute to improving our industry-leading safety record.

Can you tell us a little bit about what training you have done in the past and how it has helped you get where you are?
I have been fortunate to have acquired hands-on aviation experience in a multitude of diverse roles. I graduated college with a degree in Aviation Management, where I completed three co-op work terms with Transport Canada, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Emirates Airlines. The internships were an amazing experience as it allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the different elements that make up the world of aviation. And even more so, the people I worked with were all so very supportive and engaging. As mentioned before, my father always challenged me to get out more. I followed his advice and joined Women in Aviation and The Ninety-Nines. Both are great organizations that support, encourage and mentor female pilots, and indeed support all women wishing to enter any career field in aviation. I met some incredible ladies who have been there for me, through every step of my career. I even did a term as President of the Upper Canada Chapter for Women in Aviation International. I think one way to give back, is to be an example to all—young and old—that want to learn to fly or advance their careers to the next level.

As mentioned earlier, my work at Ornge Air provided me with experience in aerodrome conformance and standards. Though wanting to be up close to live airplanes, I moved into maintenance planning at Skyservice Business Aviation where I learned much about the business aviation sector and corporate aircraft. I subsequently became infected with the “travel bug” and joined Emirates Airlines in Dubai as a Flight Attendant, as I needed to get out and see the world. And more importantly, I needed to build-up my savings to continue commercial flight training. I took advantage of the time in Dubai to further my education and obtained a Master’s Degree in Aviation Management and completed a diploma course in Aviation Security Management. While I enjoyed the international experience and learning as a member of the Emirates team, I made the hard decision to leave my career as a flight attendant. I returned back home to Canada to pursue full-time flight training.

I’ve been fortunate to have gained diverse experiences in the industry and I know too this will go a long way to become an even better pilot.

What qualifications did you require to start your career?
As a minimum, a commercial pilot’s licence, or rating, is required. However, most airlines and other aircraft operators will only hire new pilots that have acquired additional ratings, and in many instances employers will require candidates to have previous flight experience along with the advanced airline transport training. For some airlines it can be as much as 1,500 flight hours. So obtaining an entry level co-pilot’s position is not easy. Minimum qualifications can vary from country to country and even among individual airlines.

What does your job/training entail?
I am enrolled in advanced flight training commonly known as an IATPL (Integrated Airline Transport Pilot Licence) program. The training is intense and consists of both actual hands-on flying along with hundreds of hours of ground school instruction. The program is comprised of 5 phases, namely, 1) Private Pilot rating, 2) Commercial and Night rating, 3) Multi-engine rating, 4) Instrument Flight Rules rating and 5) Airline Transport Pilot training.

What challenges do you face in your role?
There are indeed some tough challenges. Becoming a commercial pilot can be a fulfilling and rewarding career, but it does take discipline, commitment and hard work to achieve your aspirations. Flight school is really intense and expensive! I must carefully budget and be disciplined in my spending habits. Also, I don’t have much of a social life anymore and little time for personal hobbies. However, I am fortunate to have a supportive circle of family and friends that continue to support me though my training. I know the results will be totally worth it.

What's your next career move?
The advantage of the IATPL program is the defined pathways that can be offered to qualifying students following completion of their training, potentially leading to a First Officer’s position with a regional air carrier. My objective is to study and practice hard so that I may follow that path and acquire an entry level First Officer’s position, preferably with a progressive regional airline, or perhaps in the corporate or utility aircraft market segments. And while the COVID-19 crisis is creating much uncertainty, I am hopeful governments and all of us will be disciplined and united as we battle the pandemic, to quickly bring the virus under control.

Follow your dreams! Life changes day by day and you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Believe in yourself and in your dreams, no matter how impossible they seem.

Instagram: @pilot.allison

Allison Couch

Allison Couch

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