Today’s Flight Plan
When Mariano wrote me, I just knew I had to have him on the podcast. This guy has been through a lot in his life, yet showed what he was made of by working through it all to become an airline pilot.
Venezuela born, went to school in Mexico, college in Venezuela, moved to Switzerland, flight school in the US and New Zealand, and lived in the UK. Now he resides in Paris flying the Airbus A320/A319.
Mariano is a top notch guy. He’s still young, just 29. Many of you aspiring pilots can certainly relate to him. Even if you aren’t wanting to become an airline pilot, his story is absolutely amazing. It’s a must listen!
Mariano, thanks for joining us on this episode. Really, your story is an inspiration to us all.
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Full throttle and full octane. This is AviatorCast episode 44.
Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff. Here’s your host, Chris Palmer.
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators, you’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. I’m an aviation freak or #AVgeek just like you. My mind is constantly full with the thought of flight and power flying things. A pilot and a simulation enthusiast, I find many ways to feed my craving.
I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack, a flight training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is a weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an art form, one that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility and a commitment to excellence. Show notes, transcript, community discussion and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.
So thank you for joining us on this, the 44th episode of AviatorCast. It’s my pleasure to welcome you and I’m absolutely excited that you are here. I have a great show lined up for you guys today, one that I believe will be very inspirational. This is a story that I just had to get on AviatorCast, so I hope you guys enjoy it.
Before we get to that, we have a review from David Thomas. He gives us five stars, says “Useful podcast with very good advice and also very helpful especially for those of us who are not big on flight simulators.” That’s the end of the review there, but that’s because he’s finding it useful because a lot of people just don’t know how much a flight simulator can help them with flight training even if they are running a flight school. Maybe they don’t know how much they can help. So that’s what our show does. It bridges the gap between flight simulation and real aviation training and we hope we continue to deliver those topics.
Today, we have Hangar Talk with Mariano Ripoll. Mariano is a 29-year-old A320-A319 pilot from Paris. However, Paris is just his current residence. He was born in Venezuela, did some school in Mexico, back in Venezuela, then the Switzerland. Then he did some flying in the US and then his flight training in the US and then down in New Zealand, UK. This guy’s been all over the place but he chased his dream, faced incredible adversity that you’re going to learn about in his story, yet overcame that and went out there and made this happen, and now he is enjoying a career as an airline pilot. This story came to me just by Mariano reaching out through writing me at email@example.com and I just told him “Hey, this story is absolutely awesome. I’d love to have you on this show.”
So that’s what we’re going to do now, we’re going to get into it with Mariano Ripoll, so here we go.
Now, a special hangar talk segment…
Chris: Alright everybody, we are honored to have Mariano Ripoll with us today. How are you Mariano?
Mariano: Hi, I’m doing great Chris. Thank you.
Chris: Great. So where are you coming to us today from?
Mariano: I am coming to you from Paris in France.
Chris: Great. Well, I think in our conversation we’re going to probably introduce about a dozen other countries where you’ve been and things you’ve done there.
Mariano: Yeah. I have been around the block you could say.
Chris: Now what’s your current profession? Tell us that kind of as a start.
Mariano: I am a senior first officer working for a low cost carrier in Europe and I fly the A320
Chris: Great. And you are working on an upgrade aren’t you to the left seat, is that right?
Mariano: That is correct. I have a sim check coming up on the 6th of December and provided that goes well, I should have a course for early next year.
Chris: Wow. Congratulations. I didn’t know it was that soon.
Mariano: Yeah. It’s been two years in the making though. It’s a long, long process with my company.
Chris: Oh sure. Well cool. I’m excited to see that kind of happen. But right now, I’m sure you’re having a blast right? I mean, being able to fly the A320 and 19.
Mariano: Oh I love it. I love the job. I still do every day.
Chris: Great. Fantastic. Now the reason I have you on this show today and we talked about this a little bit is because your story is absolutely inspiring and I think a lot of people, a lot of listeners can relate to having the kind of challenges that you’ve gone through. What I saw with you is what we called a few episodes back PHD which is passion, hard work and determination and we’re going to see that in your story today. This is largely going to be about your story. We’re not really going to talk too much about safety topics or certain airplanes or how to operate or human factors or anything like that. We’re just going to talk about Mariano’s story and like every person I interview, we start off with the question which throws us right into your story, is how did you fall in love with aviation? So tell us about that.
Mariano: Well, yeah, that is the beginning of everything really. My uncle, my maternal uncle, he used to a fighter pilot with the Venezuelan Air Force and he was pretty much the guy that I looked up to when I was growing up. He also had two kids, my older cousins and I look up to them too. Obviously, from the contact that they had with their father, basically everytime I went to their house, I was surrounded by aviation. My uncle flew everything that the Venezuelan Air Force had up until he retired in mid 2000s I think he retired. He flew prop planes like the Tucano or the Mentor and he went all the way from T-2D Buckeye, the aircraft that the US Navy used to use for training, all the way up to F-16.
Mariano: Yeah. So everytime I went to their house, we would go to the airbase. We would see them take off. We’d be in the hangars looking at all these aircrafts. That’s how I started falling in love with aviation. It just created this magical world for me where I could dream about someday maybe doing something like that.
Chris: And it kind of started out too, you mentioned that you had a simulator very early on and this is ironic. What kind of simulator did you start out with?
Mariano: Yeah. I did mention that. I must have been six years old or something. My dad brought home a compact PC. I don’t really remember the model. When he came back from his travels with his PC, he brought back an A320 simulator that was sponsored by Lufthansa. It must’ve been probably six, seven years after the actual A320 was released as a production aircraft and it was a civilian simulator unlike what was out there at the time. They had back then a bunch of military sims like Falcon-1 and Falcon-2 and things like that but this was just civilian stuff.
My dad brought it home one day. He put a really cheap joystick by the computer and he just opened up this manual and tried to figure out how to fly with thing. He failed miserably at it I must add. I mean, I didn’t really know what he was doing but I saw what buttons he was pressing to do certain things and eventually I got the little sim to take off and do a little circuit to land.
Mariano: Yeah. And that’s how I started.
Chris: Look where you are today, flying the real thing.
Mariano: Exactly. Yeah, it is funny. Simulation has been part of my love with aviation since the start because I am a little bit younger than most of the guys you’re interviewing. I pursued the interest through the things I had available to me. My dad bringing home that computer and that game basically got me into computer gaming, PC gaming, and I started using every bit of time that I could to basically fly in simulator so I flew that airbus sim. I played a lot with MicroProse military sims, F-16, Strike Eagle 3, and F-14, F117, there’s a bunch of them that came out in the 90s.
Chris: Right. I remember myself flying one as a teenager called the European Air War. I would
start up in the UK in a P-51 or something and I’d fly a couple hours or whatever over the channel in the German airspace and then I would just try to shot down bombers for hours and hours. I look back on that now and think “That was actually pretty valuable time I was spending doing that sort of thing.” It definitely met with my stick and rudder skills that I did later because you have to kick your rudder a little bit to shoot down an enemy if they’re off to your right too much or something like that, so I can relate with that.
Mariano: Well, to be honest, I agree with that. Simulation teaches you a lot of the basics straight away. You have to pull the stick to get the attitude going up. You have to push to get it to go down. You roll, you got left and right. It’s things like that that if you don’t have a background in simulation at all, you’ll have to learn it for the first time with in an actual GA aircraft, so it does shorten your learning experience a little bit.
Chris: Definitely. So you kind of grew up right in Venezuela. What happened between that and where did you go next? Tell us about that.
Mariano: Yeah. I grew up in Venezuela from when I was born until I was 16 years old. Perfectly normal upbringing filled with computer games and aircraft simulations as a hobby. Eventually, my mother who was working for a very large pharmaceutical company got a job in Mexico. That’s when the moving around the world started for me really. I went to Mexico in the year 2000 and stayed there until 2003 roughly. I graduated high school there. And then I had to decide what to do and where to go for for university.
Chris: Okay. So tell us about your formal education from then on out. And if there’s any aviation stuff in here speckled let us know. Maybe there wasn’t. Maybe you stopped doing aviation stuff or whatever but yeah, tell us about university and your education there.
Mariano: Well, up to this point, aviation was an interest of mind rather than an actual professional goal. I loved aircraft. I loved playing with flight simulators, the military stuff, the Microsoft stuff but I never really considered it a career because in Venezuela, the industry itself is not very active, so it’s not something that you can make a career out of unless you know the right people or you get very, very lucky after your training. So for me at this point in my life, aviation wasn’t really an option.
Chris: Right, okay.
Mariano: So I went with the next best thing. I loved aviation but I also loved computer gaming and computers in general so I went for computer science as a degree. I had to decide where to study that and just as I was graduating high school, my mother got moved again with her job and I decided not to follow and try to go my own way for a bit and went back home to Venezuela and got into a university studying mathematics and computer science.
Chris: Great. And what university was that you went to there?
Mariano: It’s called Simon Bolivar University which is like the founding father of most of South America really. It’s like the George Washington of South America.
Chris: Okay, interesting. And how long were you there?
Mariano: I was there for 3-1/2 years.
Chris: Oh wow. So did you get a full degree there or…
Mariano: Unfortunately not. I never managed to finish the degree because of things that happened afterward we will talk about in a second. I went there, I studied computer science, I started working as a web developer on the side as well, making websites and things like that. That was always kind of the discipline that I picked with a career. And then my family moved to Switzerland. My mother was working out of Basel in Switzerland and that’s how I ended up in Europe eventually. Basically what happened, I mean you already know from the email correspondence we’ve had is I went to Switzerland for a holiday and we were there only for summer when my mother had an epileptic fit and a stroke, nobody really knows what happened to her. But the gist of it is that she ended up with respiratory failure and heart failure. She was basically dead for a bit. It was a really bad experience. Eventually, paramedics get to where we were and we were a little shocked that you see in the movies.
Chris: Right. And you were there while all this was happening?
Mariano: Yeah. I was there. Obviously, that experience, I could talk for hours on that alone but it’s not really a nice thing to talk about. We ended up going to a hospital where we are holidaying and she was in a coma for the foreseeable future. It took six months for her to wake up.
Chris: Wow, wow. That’s hard.
Mariano: Yeah. That was pretty much the low point in my life so far and I hope I never get that low again ever.
Chris: Right. And so if you don’t mind me asking, what were you doing during kind of that waiting time? I mean, what was your thought process like, what were your emotions like, and where was your mind taking you kind of into the future?
Mariano: To be honest, once my mother was completely in a coma and we didn’t know what was going to happen to her, I stayed, I just stayed in Europe, I never went back to Venezuela. I stopped my career for a while and I wasn’t really thinking about the future because my priority at that time was to help my family. My brother was in high school still. My mom’s husband at that time, he didn’t have a job. And just the situation of having a family member in hospital full time and having to take care of her and having to keep company, it was pretty much a full time job.
I took the opportunity and the free time that I had to try to keep improving myself as a person. I learned German at that time and I started a part-time job in McDonald’s whilst every afternoon going to the hospital and spending some time with my mom and my family when they were there. We kind of worked in a shift. Her husband would go during certain times of the day and then I would go during the other times and my brother would go after school and we would kind of try to keep my mom company throughout the whole ordeal. It was kind of weird for Europeans to see that. That’s kind of what we do in South America. We’re very family-oriented.
Chris: I like that. That’s great.
Mariano: And I still believe that maybe that’s why she did wake up eventually.
Chris: I think there’s something to that for sure.
Mariano: But anyway, that was it. I mean, my emotions were very… it was a desperate time obviously. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You have this person that means the world to you and she’s not quite gone so you don’t really have the opportunity to mourn and get better but she’s not quite there either so you can’t really move on. It’s really bad, it’s really bad situation. But we made the best of it. As a family, we tried to pull each other through and eventually she woke up. She started reacting to things. She was initially like a six-month-old baby, she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t do much, but you could tell that she was aware of her surroundings and that’s when things started to get better and things progressed very quickly after that.
Within a few months from us knowing that she was there, that she was aware, she was back home within a few months. She improved incredibly. She got to the point where she is now where she is still a little bit disabled. She cannot live by herself and I have the pleasure of having her with me. I take care of her of now, she lives here in Paris.
Chris: That’s great man, good for you.
Mariano: Yeah. She’s been with me since 2009 I think, so it’s been five years that I’ve been taking care of her after she got divorced. After that was when I started thinking about what to do with the future.
Chris: Yeah. That was your big kind of fork in the road.
Mariano: Yeah. I got to the point where I had to decide what to do. I still have two more years to go to finish university back home in Venezuela, and the political situation back at home was worsening dramatically everyday and I spent the better part of a year in Europe and I thought if there’s any chance I could stay in Europe, I’d rather do that. And the other consideration was that my mom was always a big earner in the family. She was the one that was producing the money at that time and after her accident obviously that wasn’t happening anymore. And we were eating up into our family savings by quite a bit. I mean, the rent was high in Switzerland, the cost of living is huge, and I started to try to look for ways of becoming financially independent as soon as I could, try not to be a burden to my family. I started googling stuff and just out of pure luck, I don’t know exactly how I ended up there but I ended up in PPRuNe reading up about aviation and all the doom and gloom that is normally there in PPRuNe.
Chris: Right, and just for listeners, if you don’t know what PPRuNe is, what’s the acronym for that? It’s basically a professional network forum for professional pilots is what it is right?
Mariano: Yeah. It’s called Professional Pilots Rumor Network.
Chris: Yeah, there you go.
Mariano: It basically covers most things in aviation. There’s a section for flight training, there’s a section for rumors, there’s a section to share terms and conditions of different companies, and there are a few private sections for certain companies, you know, Emirates, Southwest, EasyJet, BA, they all have their own little forums in there. I stumbled into this forum. I don’t remember anymore what I searched for but I got in there and in the part of the Newbies and Hopefuls, there was a thread about a place called CTC which is a big training organization.
Back then, it was in the UK and New Zealand but now they’ve expanded so much, they have a base in Arizona, in the US, they have a base in New Zealand, they have several in the UK, and they keep expanding. It’s a huge, huge flight school. And this was early 2007 I think when I stumbled into this, or late 2006 when I stumbled into this idea of maybe not that I’m in Europe, there’s a way that I could completely turn my life around and start flying planes instead of making websites.
Chris: Wow, that’s a big decision.
Mariano: Well, the thing was that it all fit perfectly because back then, CTC was the only flight school in the world that had 100% success rate with their students to get into an airline. And that kind of background was so good that the banks would lend the students the money for their training without any sort of security.
Chris: Right, right.
Mariano: So you would not have had to put your house as collateral, you didn’t have to sign waivers or get somebody to be a cosigner in your loan. It was basically once you got in, you go to this bank and they give you the equivalent to $100,000. It was incredible.
Chris: Yeah. And as I’m sure you’ll mention later or maybe we should just mention now, that would never happen these days because this is prior to the financial collapse in 2008 that everything came kind of crashing down.
Mariano: Yeah. This was back in the good days. Even then before my time, before I got in, things were even better here in Europe. I mean, there were airline-sponsored schemes that would take you from zero to airline pilot without any sort of actual loan, like you would start with a company already sponsoring you all the way from training, but that was gone long before I looked into it. But anyway, I looked at this school and I started trying to research what I had to do to get into it and I realized it was an incredible challenge. Of course, I’m not the only one in the world who has a dream to becoming an airline pilot and moreover, having the thing paid for without you having to put any sort of security, without you having to depend on your parents or save up for years or doing it slowly draws everybody who has heard of it to apply.
When I applied, it was I think a 5% success rate for the whole pool of applicants. So for every 100 people that applied, only five got in. So it was quite tough to get through that process and start doing it. But I went into it, I thought “Well, this looks like something that if it happens for me, it’s going to solve my life, I’m going to be in a job that I love, it’s going to pay well and I don’t have to get my mother and my family in debt.” If it doesn’t work, I will be the sole proprietor of that debt, so I could always go bankrupt or it will always fall down to me and they couldn’t really do anything to my family. So I thought “Right, I’m doing this. I’m going to apply for this school and I’m going to get it.”
Mariano: But then I didn’t.
Mariano: I didn’t get it. I went through the whole process. It was a four-stage process back then. You have to answer some questions and make an essay all sorts of things and send your high school papers to CTC and they would decide whether they will give you a change to go to their offices and have aptitude testing, maths, physics and interviews and group exercises. Basically, it was a whole day of you going through this whole selection process. I was living in Switzerland at that time so I had to book my own flights and do all these things, and I got to the second stage where you have to go through the interviews and the group exercises and I failed.
Chris: Oh no. So why did you fail?
Mariano: The feedback that they gave me was basically mostly due to the group exercise. Here’s where a lot of information might have helped. I went into this group exercise with CTC thinking that I had to be this exceptional person, this leader, this person who can do everything and get everything done and be exceptional, and that wasn’t the case. Basically what they were looking for is how you interact with people. They were looking for CRM basically or they were looking for the potential of good CRM.
Chris: Right, teamwork.
Mariano: Exactly, teamwork, that’s what they were looking for. But obviously, they don’t tell you this and most people don’t really research that well and I didn’t, the first time I applied I didn’t really research that well what it is that they are actually looking for with these group exercises. When we got to it, the group exercise must have been, I mean, they had two of them. One was a scenario question where you had to work with older guys to figure out a solution to a problem and I think back then it was you are in sinking ship with some items and once the ship sinks, you have to decide which items you take and then how to survive once you get to the island, and they start throwing curveballs at you where you have to make some decisions as a group and as individuals and put your views forward and things like that.
But the interesting thing and the things that threw me off was that it’s all timed. It’s all time pressure so they tell you “You have to do this by X amount of minutes” and that kind of thing just brings the competitive side in people and you start trying to put your views across and you start trying to move things along. What they want to see is you deal with that conflict and deal with the situation, the time pressure, and I must admit that the first time I went there, I was very task-oriented. I was looking for getting the job done, getting the scenario done right and that came across. I was a little bit stressed with the time. My way of speaking to my colleagues and the other people that were trying the program out wasn’t optimal and I came through.
Chris: Gotcha. So they gave you that feedback live, they told you afterward basically what you would’ve done, right? Did I understand that right?
Mariano: Yeah. They didn’t give me the feedback that in-depth. They just said “Your big problem was the group exercise. Your interview was fine but we did not see what we wanted to see in your group exercise.” What happened then is that you had to wait at least six months to reapply, that was their rule, and the first day that they told me I hadn’t gone in, I was very depressed and I thought “Well, there you go. That’s it. I got to go and start by going back home and going back into computer science,” things like that. But after that I thought “Well, you know what? I’ll still have another go. I get six more months and I can try again and maybe this time I will get in.” But of course I didn’t just wait the six months. I thought, “What can I do to make my profile better? What can I do to prove to these people that I have what it takes.” And I decided that “Okay, I got to get myself a private pilot license so that I can prove to them that I am trainable, that I can do this, that I can fly a plane, and I’m going to read everything I can find on aviation, psychology, CRM, group exercises, assessment centers, all of that.”
Mariano: I bought as many books as I could. I found out exactly what they look for, what keywords they were looking for.
Chris: Keywords, geez.
Mariano: Yeah, they do look for keywords unbelievably. If you use the words “Why don’t we work together?” that lights their faces up. It’s great. But I didn’t do it to try to cheat the system. It was more of like “Alright, so my profile is not good enough. I do not measure up at the moment so what do I need to be? What kind of person do I need to be to prove to them that I can do this?”
Chris: That’s education you know. Education in all forms are exactly that definition, so certainly nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with going out and getting that knowledge you needed.
Mariano: Exactly, yeah. I had a car back home in Venezuela, I sold it. I moved all the money to Europe and that brought me around 10 gram I think it was, and I thought “Well, this is what I’m going to use to get myself to the US and get a PPL.” I bought a plane ticket, I booked my appointments for the visas and the medicals and all that stuff and I went to the US and went to Fort Pierce to a school that had European license capabilities, so they had European instructors and European PPL syllabus, and I took advantage of obviously the lower fuel costs in the US and I had family there, I still have family in Florida, so I stayed with them for a while.
Chris: Oh wow, fantastic.
Mariano: Yeah. So yeah, I got my PPL there, flew 50 or so hours in a Cessna-172 and that’s when I knew that this was going to be the thing that I was going to do for the rest of my life.
Chris: Awesome. You caught the bug then. You got the bug.
Mariano: Well, I mean, I had done a flight lesson there before in Switzerland just like an introduction just to make sure I wasn’t going to freak out or anything and getting to Florida and actually flying the plane for the first time and getting to that point what was changed me. After that point, even if I didn’t get into CDC, I was going to make it happen.
Chris: Great, fantastic.
Mariano: That was going to be the thing that I was going to do for the rest of my life. And the simulators, flight simulation helped immensely. I got a PPL with 50 hours, the minimum is 45 for the European one.
Chris: Wow. Yeah, that’s really low for anybody. That’s definitely below the average rate which I think is 65 or something right now.
Mariano: Yeah, and I don’t think I have any exceptional qualities as a pilot. I’m actually very average to be honest.
Chris: That’s how I am, yeah.
Mariano: But the thing was that we managed to skip a lot of the initial stuff, you know, straight and level, climbing, descending, all that stuff, we skipped it almost immediately because I could already do it.
Chris: Right, exactly.
Mariano: I could hold a heading, I could trim the aircraft, I could climb, I could descend, I could hold an altitude, so all of that went out the window and we started getting into the nitty gritty of actually how to fly, doing the radios, and the extra five hours I did was mostly circuits. I couldn’t land the plane. Because that’s the only thing you can’t really practice in a simulator.
Chris: Now, it’s not that great at it.
Mariano: Well, that got sorted out eventually.
Chris: Of course. Well, I would hope so.
Mariano: Well, I still have a dodgy one every now and then but they’re all safe. So yeah, at that point, I went back to Europe with my ticket, with my private pilot license.
Chris: So did you get your European rating in Florida or did you go back and take it in Europe, how did that work as far as the European rating because I’ve never actually heard of that before.
Mariano: It’s actually, everything done in the US, the examiner is European-certified, the instructors are European-certified. Everything is done there. The only thing you cannot do in a foreign airspace is the instrument rating.
Chris: Okay, interesting.
Mariano: Because of the airspace differences.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, that would be a big difference.
Mariano: Yeah. Everything else, the PPL, CPL, multiengine stuff, all the VFR things, all of that
you can do anywhere in the world really provided you have qualified instructors and examiners. So what happened was this school had in-house examiners and in-house instructors that were familiar with the syllabus and we flew into US two of the European syllabus. There are certain things that we do that the FAA doesn’t require from American pilots and there are things that the FAA pilots do that we don’t. For example we don’t have any of that turns around the point that some people have mentioned in the FAA syllabus.
Chris: Yeah, so what do you guys do?
Mariano: We do the basic stuff that everybody does. Engine failures, navigation, diversion, things like that. But I think, and I might be wrong about this, I don’t know exactly how it works with the FAA system. I think we have an emphasis on old school navigation and old school discipline when it comes to how to conduct yourself in the aircraft. So whereas I think some people in the US, you can get a PPL with basic rudimentary dead reckoning skills and they teach you how to use a GPS, they teach you how to use ATC and do that. With the European system, it’s basically map to ground at all times. Map to ground and that’s it, there’s nothing else you can use. The diversions are calculated completely by dead reckoning and map reading, and you have time references to get to your waypoints and you have to get your examiner at the NETA to your navigation point and it has to be within certain amounts of minutes. It’s all there in the structure.
Whereas I think the FAA is a little bit more practical in a way. They just want you to be safe and they just want to know that you’re not going to hurt yourself or anybody else, whereas the Europeans are like “You must do this this way at all times.”
Chris: Which is interesting because it actually reflects in the society as a whole in a way, I don’t know. In a lot of ways, the US is still kind of the wild west at least in a lot of areas and we still have the kind of that mentality, it’s engrained in the society and then I feel like Europe is very structured, and I could be wrong but that’s just my personal view on it.
Mariano: No, that’s exactly. I have family in the US and go there every year. I love it. I love the US as a culture but it is exactly what you say. It is a lot more practical in every respect. I mean, you’re talking about being able to take off in an aircraft in your little Cessna-172 and you talk to Miami Center and they give you flight following from, it doesn’t matter how small your plane is, they give you flight following and traffic information and all sorts of good things that you can use and airspace is wide open. You can fly right over an international airport provided you’re above a certain height. That would never ever happen in Europe.
Chris: Darn it.
Mariano: If you want to fly near an international airport, you better be in a jet or a commercial airliner. The airspace is completely cluttered. I guess, it also has to do with how things work geographically here. We’re all meshed in together. Every country is right next to the other and everything is very complicated. But it does make the flight training markedly different. In the US, you could do your navs, you could climb to 8000 feet easily and then do your navs with a really good view of where you’re going and you could see your destination from miles away. Here in Europe, you get 2000 feet, you’re lucky. You have to learn how to navigate really close to the ground and you’re not allowed to feet or crawl either so you have to do dead reckoning at all times and if you’re going to do a correction, you have to say it right, “I’m going to correct by 3 degrees because I’m off by these many miles at my halfway point.”
Mariano: Yeah. It is very different.
Chris: But you know, there are advantages to that too. That’s obviously the way we started here in the US as well other than the crazy guys back in the day that were delivering mail and just going up in an airplane and pointing at a direction sort of thing. Largely, that’s how everything started and I think in a way and this is kind of a cool conversation getting on an actual aviation topic but in a way, in the US we’ve lost a lot of that good stuff because have such a large system here in which they have to put pilots through in this quick and practical way just to know that they’re safe and we’ve lost a lot of this tribal knowledge, a lot of these base aviator skills, the Charles Lindbergh type stuff, the dead reckoning like you’ve been talking about, and getting to something like a turnaround a point or an S-turn or any of these maneuver-based things that don’t really make a lot of sense and they technically do teach you how to control the airplane but you can learn how to control the airplane in regular scenarios as well, I don’t know, so I see where you’re coming from on that.
Mariano: There are pros and cons to both ways of teaching these things. I must say, I love the fact that I learned how to map-read at that point in my life because I continue to fly general aviation aircraft now and I am perfectly comfortable going to a plan with no GPS, nothing, just my chart, and I know that I will be okay and I’m not going to do any airspace incursions that I know how to get places and if things go wrong and I have to divert somewhere, I have in the back of my head how to do it. I know how to deal with compass settings and calculate how many nautical miles I need to go and that’s basically what the PPL and the CPL syllabus is for the European guys, is basically dead reckoning navigation plus emergency handling of the aircraft and for the CPL commercial awareness, knowing how to fly the airplane efficiently and using whatever resources you have to do your job as commercially expeditious as possible.
Chris: Right, and I definitely can’t say that for myself I could do that. I am definitely a GPS baby. I love having glass cockpits and GPS, that’s just who I am. But at the same time, I absolutely love bush airplanes like Piper Cubs and 172s on floats, I’ve flown those, I love that stuff too so I don’t know. And I couldn’t do that stuff but…
Mariano: I’m not saying that that’s the way you should do it. I don’t do it everyday. I have an iPad with Air Nav Pro and I have my own little Garmin GPS that I took on board and I use my iPad to fly the plane, I don’t only map-read. But there’s been times where for example runs out of battery or I forgot it at home and here I am here at the flight club and I’m thinking “Oh, well what do I do now?” Well, I just pull up the chart and go anyway.
Chris: Yeah. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think that’s a great advantage and if nothing else, it’s something to fall back on.
Mariano: Yeah. I still do it every now and then because it’s really, I mean, the type of flying that I do is not very challenging GA-wise because I use the plane mainly to go from near why I live to another airfield to go skydiving because that’s one of my hobbies.
Chris: Okay, great.
Mariano: So I don’t need the GPS really to get to where I’m going and I just use the chart to position-fix and to make sure how high I need to be to not piss Paris Center off and then basically fly to where I need to go because I know the area well. So anyway, I think we were at the PPL state…
Chris: You just got your PPL done, you’re heading back to Europe now.
Mariano: Right. So I go back to Europe and go back to CTC and lo and behold, because of my cheating with all the psychology books, I managed to blag my way through the process and get through and I got through the final stage which was a sim check. You have to go in a 737 simulator with an instructor and obviously they weren’t expecting you to fly the plane at all, they were just trying to see whether you’re not trainable or not.
Mariano: So they would chuck you into the jet sim and they would have you climb, descend, pick up a heading and they ask you questions, math questions like, I don’t know, what’s 3% of 600, things like that, as you’re flying the plane and you had to show that you had some sort of ability or not even ability, just that you could take instructions. Because the instruction would say “Well, you rolled out on that heading a little bit quick. Next time do it a little bit slower.” And if you did it, they would say “Alright, this guy is trainable.”
Chris: Good, cool.
Mariano: But that sim was basically the most scared I’ve been in my life because it was a one-shot thing, like if I didn’t get through, I didn’t have another go with CTC, that was it, it was done.
Chris: Oh wow. That is nerve-wracking.
Mariano: And not even now when I have my simulators with my airline, I’ve never been as scared.
Maybe I will be in the next one I have on the 6th because that basically determines whether I will become a captain or not.
Chris: Yeah. That was kind of a moment. Right before you’re actually get into this program that could kind of launch your career. If you are in an airline, this is actually something I’ve been learning recently, if you’re in an airline, generally they’re going to try to help you and get you through the program because there are students and even if they are having a problem, they want to help you get along because if you’re already a senior first officer for example and I don’t know if you’d agree with this or not, but if you’re already a senior first officer, then they have a lot invested in you already if you’re moving over to the left seat. It’s not as intense of a situation in my eyes but I don’t know.
Mariano: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s a completely different animal. The training department in an airline, it’s not there to really try and fail you. It’s there to make sure that you are still at the standard that they require for you to be playing with their 80-million dollar toys. So that’s what they do. We all have problems with different aspects of the training itself. Very few people will come and say “I’ve had a perfect sim” or “I’ve had a perfect line flight” or “I’ve had a perfect check,” it never happens. You always mess something up, you always do something slightly less than optimal and sometimes you have to repeat things. They have you fly a maneuver twice or things like that but that’s what it’s there for. That’s what the system is there for.
Just as example, I came out of the sim a few days ago for my recurrent and I had to fly the wind shear recovery maneuver twice because I hadn’t done it in four years and it wasn’t as tidy as it could’ve been, so I flew it twice and they said “Well done, that’s it, that’s what we need to see.” Done deal. No hang-ups on that. The thing with CTC was it’s pass or fail and that’s it. You either have what it takes or you don’t. I think all the simulation and stuff that I did when I was growing up and was still doing at that time, that helped so much. It was pretty easy I must say. I didn’t really find it hard to follow the instructions of the examiner. I didn’t find it hard to fly this big jet for the first time in the sim. I actually quite enjoyed it. It was the first time that I was in the controls of this big airliner in the left-hand seat having fun and got in to CTC and that changed my life. I owe them everything really. I owe that school everything even though sometimes they try my patience quite a lot when I was training.
Chris: Let’s go into that more. Let’s talk about, because obviously from there, things went well right? I mean, you did well in the simulator, you got accepted in the CTC right?
Mariano: Yup. But from that point on, it was literally being put through a grinder everyday. I mean, CTC is a very efficient operation. They turn out pilots like it’s an industrial machine and I’m not talking about they just want to get people through and get them their license, I’m talking they get you from nothing to proficient and they are confident that you are going to go to an airline and you’re going to do the job well. But the only way they do that is by from day 1, you are in their eyes a commercial pilot. There is no spoonfeeding you things, it is you, go to the lessons already pre-briefed, you know what you’re doing, you know how the technique is going to work, you get it shown once and then you have to perform. Every single lesson was like that. Every single lesson was to flight test tolerances, like you’re 100 feet low, you get altitude and you have to go back and do it and they don’t let you take tests until you’re ready.
Mariano: The same thing happened with the theory side of things. You’re basically trying to drink from a hose. You have to do 14 theory exams when you’re doing the commercial stuff in Europe and it’s basically CBT, computer-based training done in your own time and you have to get yourself to a standard and try to pass these things. They send you for a couple of weeks to a specialized ground school to give you some exam techniques and things like that, but mostly it’s all self-work.
But the thing is, back then they were big. I mean now they’re even bigger, but they were expanding so much and they were taking so many students in that there wasn’t even a lot given the system when it came to dealing with setbacks. There were things that happened when I was in New Zealand doing my training, that’s where they did the basic training for the CPL and the single-engine stuff. Things like bad weather weeks, they had low pressure for a week and you just couldn’t fly, or they had a whole fleet of aircraft go offline because of technical issues. They found a carbon monoxide issue on the Alphas which we were flying at that time which is a version of the Robin DR-160 I think it is. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that aircraft, it’s just a single, and they had a problem with that. They grounded the whole fleet and basically what ended up happening is that they couldn’t frame the people correctly.
What ended up happening is basically every student pilot had to follow through and try to get their training in their own terms. You would have to go to them and say “I need a flight schedule. You need to get me in the air. You need to get me done because I only have four more months before I have to be back in Europe and do my theory exams. So it was frustrating at times dealing with something like that but they got us through, they got us all through. There were 16 people in my course. Out of those, only two didn’t go through the system, and the other 14 are all flying airliners. That was how it worked. The training was fantastic. We ended up in New Zealand, flying everyday, surfing when we were not flying, studying, it was fantastic. It was great.
Chris: What a dream.
Mariano: And all paid for from a bank loan that I didn’t have anything to do with. It was great. Fantastic.
Chris: Well that’s not going to happen for our listeners.
Mariano: No. Not anymore unfortunately.
Chris: But when I was training, the financial crisis happened. Everything slowed down. Airlines stopped expanding, fuel prices went through the roof. The loans stopped being given without a mortgage to secure against and everything just changed drastically, and that was the market that I entered in after I finished my flight training. There was nowhere to go. There wasn’t a job for us at the end. There wasn’t a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. What CTC did, they basically said “Right, we’re going to put you guys in the hold pool and as airlines start approaching us with their demands, we’re going to start pulling people out in the order of the groups that they graduated in.
Well yeah, so I was very skeptical that they would be able to place us. I mean, we had 16 guys in my group and there was one group a month so every year, you would have close to 200 pilots coming, well around 200 pilots if you count all the other extra guys that were not part of the cadet scheme. They would come out of this school and they would all need jobs. By the time I finished, the hold pool was immense and the economical situation was still in the gutter, there was nothing happening. The school, they don’t really have the time to be trying to reassure everybody so all they said is “Look guys, when we hear something, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, all we have to do is wait.”
Chris: So what did you do while you were waiting?
Mariano: Right. I had to make money, I had to pay my loans, so I went back into web development. I brought my laptop out of retirement and I got back into code and try to figure out what had happened in the past three years with the web industry and try to get myself up to standard and then start to apply for jobs, and I got really lucky that I finished my training in the UK, in England, and the English are the closest to the Americans with it comes to practicality, so they weren’t that fussed with me not having finished my degree, and they hired me just purely on my experience which was pretty low to be honest, but they taught me most of the things that I needed to know for the job and I started doing that. I built websites for small and then bigger clients and basically spent a whole year doing that and getting very, very scared of the time where I was going to have to start paying the loads because the loads didn’t kick in until a year and a half after graduation which was in theory when you would be starting with your airline in a normal respect.
So I started working as a web developer and that’s when I rekindled my hatred towards a normal office job. I got fed up with it very quickly. One day, things happened. I was living in the middle of England, working this job. By then, my mother had come to live with me. We were sharing a really tiny flat trying to save as much money as I could and then I got a call from CTC saying “Hey, we got a type rating course for you if you want it.”
Chris: Wow, of course, hello.
Mariano: Yeah, exactly. That was probably one of the best news I’ve ever had in my life apart from the day that I actually knew I was getting into CTC. Yeah, I obviously quit my job immediately. I couldn’t get my boss the four-week notice that I had to give him by law but he was very kind and he understood that this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I had to take it. So if I went and got myself into an A320 simulator for the next two months to learn how to fly it, and the rest is pretty much history. I’ve been five years with my airline. When I started flying the 320, I had a grand total of, wait for it, 260 hours.
Chris: Oh my gosh, of course. That is crazy.
Mariano: That’s unbelievable. It is, isn’t it? I mean, for most of your listeners that are based in America, that is impossible now obviously with the new 1500-hour rule. But even before that rule was implemented, you still had to have turbo prop experience, you still had to have a lot of multi time before you were even considered to be able to go into a jet. Here in Europe things are different and they stick total newbies into the right hand seat of a 64-plus ton aircraft and they expect you to be able to do it, and we do eventually get to the point where we are safe and we can do it, but it’s a very different system. You have to offset the lack of experience with a lot of knowledge so it’s all very strict and you have to know your stuff and you have to work really, really, really hard to get to the standard where you’re able to go on the line.
Mariano: Yeah. Well, flight simulation has been part of that throughout the whole training for me. I’ve used simulators during CTC to train myself in instrument procedures. I used simulators when I was waiting for the call, not to forget my instrument scans, and to be able to reevaluate my license which we had to do and pay for ourselves and then I got in the airline, I still used my own simulators to train certain things that I need to do as part of the normal checking cycle that we do here in the airlines. But yeah, it’s a dream come true for me. Obviously, I fly a lot. We fly almost 900 hours a year. It’s very, very tiring. It’s not the dream job that it used to be back in the day but I still love it. I haven’t gone to work since I started doing this. I go to this place where they give me money to do something I love, so I think I’m incredibly lucky in that respect.
And I got really, really lucky with how I did things. Not everybody can get to where I am with my low experience and even now, I’m screening for captain with around 4000 hours which is incredibly low for somebody who’s going to be in command of an A-320. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the way it’s worked out. I still fly GA at the moment. I still do my simulation every now and then, mostly military stuff, combat flight sims and things like that, but yeah, that where we are.
Chris: Cool. If I may just add here that I’m not so much of a matter of being lucky as I looked back here at your story and just what you’ve kind of told me and the listener is I think there is a lot of karma involved here or a lot of the saying that goes around “What goes around, comes around.” Because as I see it, you had kind of a different path to getting where you are. The typical path is someone goes and they get a loan that they secure with their families or they come from means or whatever it is and then they go through their hours and then they build hours and then they get in the airlines. You came from a different situation where you had such an intense thing going on in your family and then you had the opportunity to get an unsecured loan basically to go to a fantastic school and that school, because it was fantastic, placed you in the right seat of a jet at very low hours. I don’t know.
I kind of look at things here and look at some of the finer detail and look at some of the finer details of just your personal life, I think it’s a matter of karma. I mean, the fact that you’re still taking care of your mom and you’ve always kind of thought of your family along the way and not placing burden on them, it’s no wonder to me that you are where you are and that you’re getting the opportunities you’re getting. I think there’s definitely something to be said for that as well.
Mariano: Well, I’m honored that you think that and certainly I hope that the way I have done things is at least good and it has helped me. What it is though is that I still think that every time you have an opportunity to do something, you have to try and do it the best way you can and to try to learn as much as you can at all points. There are people who get into CTC who don’t get through the program. There are people who don’t get through it. I could’ve given up or most of the guys who get through, we could give at any stage. I failed several flights in CTC. I have had bad sims with EasyJet, we all have setbacks, but the whole point is to have a good attitude towards what your professional life and what your life as an aviator is and to make yourself a better person. There’s a lot of people who don’t really understand that and they have a bad flight and their instructor maybe is a little harsh with them, and they treat it personally. They think “Oh, this instructor is not good” or “I know I was just having a bad day” and it all comes to taking responsibility for what you’re doing and saying “Yes, I might have had a bad day,” “Yes, there might have been attenuating circumstances as to why I didn’t do as well,” but ultimately, the buck stops with you and you have to say “Right, I could’ve done this better and what can I learn from this to make it better for the next time?”
And I think that’s basically what gets people through training in any aspect. If it’s the way I did it with a school that pushes you straight into the right hand seat or even if it’s the classical CFI to turbo prop to jet, all of that requires the same amount of determination and the same amount of acceptance or feedback and humility. You talk about it everyday in your podcast, it’s fantastic I think.
Chris: So apart from kind of the accountability direction you’ve gone with that, what other advice would you give to somebody that was maybe in your position at this decision point in their life. You know you had several different decision points really. You had that decision point after your mother thankfully came out of her coma and then you’re deciding what to do with your life. You had the decision point after you first failed CTC. You had the decision point after you got done at CTC and you didn’t really know what to do. I guess what I’m getting at here is what kind of advice would you give to someone that is coming up against resistance to them achieving their dream? How would you encourage them to plow through those barriers?
Mariano: The barriers are all psychological. The stress from a CRM perspective is, the outlook you have of being able to solve a problem against the problem itself, not the actual capability you have of solving the problem but what you think you are able to do to solve a problem. So when you are faced with anything, the only thing that I would say to people is keep your mind in the goal itself. If there’s anything you can do at that point to help your future chances of getting where you need to go, do it. It might not have to be anything that has to do with aviation. If somebody does not have the money to fly, then maybe it’s time to start making sacrifices in your lifestyle and start saving up some mony. And every day you wake up, everyday you wake up, you think the goal is to be here. I want to fly this plane for this airline and I want to be a captain. And if you remind yourself for things like that, you motivate yyourself to take one step at a time.
And to get to a position where you’re happy in any aspect of your life is going to take a lot of work. If you see it as a whole, if you see a destination, a life goal as a whole, it’s a huge obstacle. You’re thinking that you’re standing at the bottom of Mount Everest and that there’s no way you can get to the top, there’s no chance. But if you look down, you look at your feet and you think “I’m going to just take a step. What’s the next step I need to take?” and you keep doing that, a few years down the line, you get there and you realize that the goal itself didn’t matter at all but the whole journey on what you learned through it, and that applies to everything. That applies to absolutely everything.
Chris: Awesome. Well, I don’t know of any other way to end the show but than that but looking at this Everest as you said and having this huge goal in front of you that just seems impossible but then looking down at your feet and just thinking about what the next step is, I think that’s the perfect visualization and you’re the embodiment of what it takes to achieve this dream, so again I think your story is very inspiring and I’m just really happy that you got on the show and share with us today. It’s extremely personal too so I really do genuinely appreciate that. Anyway, so thank you so much Mariano for coming on the show. I really appreciate your story. Very inspiring, and again thanks so much for your time.
Mariano: I hope it was interesting. I really don’t know if that’s going to be the case. I’m honored that you have brought me into your how and especially after coming after people like Eric Auxier and people with way more experience and a lot more interesting things to say, so I really hope your listeners get something of it.
Chris: Absolutely, and we’d love to have you back in the show sometime and we’ll see you again soon.
Mariano: It would be my pleasure. Thank you very much Chris.
Chris: Thanks. Talk to you soon.
So I definitely meant what I said when I told Mariano that I don’t think that all of these stuff that happened to him was by mistake. I think that he conducted his life at a very critical time that was honorable and he was accountable for who he was and he went out there and decided “I am going to do this. This is something I’ve always enjoyed” and he went out and did it. He didn’t piggy back off others, he didn’t ask for handouts really. This guy worked hard and made it happen. I look up to this guy a whole lot. Here he is, a 29-year-old airline pilot in Paris, having gone through so much adversity in his life. He’s still at home taking care of his mother. I just really look up to how genuine of a person he is and I think we can all learn a lot from that, and we can learn a lot from again his PHD, his passion, hard work and determination. This guy really went after it and it was never in question. It seemed like he always knew that he was going to accomplish this and he did exactly what it took to make that happen.
So Mariano, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of AviatorCast. It truly was a pleasure to have you here with us and to share your inspirational story. We wish you the best success in your near future and in the distant future and hope that you achieve everything that you set out to do. We know that you’re definitely going to do all you can do so we hope that the right opportunities present themselves to where you can continue this wonderful career that you’ve started and again thank you for joining us.
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