We love to hear from past students, and recently Tom Roberts (who completed his A Levels at St Gerard’s in 2019) dropped us a line to let us know what he is up to.

Now in Cork, Tom has gone on to train to be a commercial pilot.  His journey, shown below, isn’t just interesting for aspiring aviators – many will find his experience and advice useful whatever their chosen path.


Hi everyone, my name is Tom Roberts, for those of you that don’t know me, I am 19, a former student at St. Gerard’s and my sister Alice is currently in Year 9. I started in the junior school and finished my A-Levels in 2019.

I have just finished my training to become a commercial pilot in Cork, Ireland at a flight school called Atlantic Flight Training Academy (AFTA). I’d like to tell you a bit about what its like training to be a commercial pilot and hope to inspire you to get into an amazing industry that’s just about to take-off again.


I’m sure many of you are still unsure about what you want to do in the future, I was the same. From a young age I had always had a passion for flying and wished that maybe one day I could be a pilot. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where to begin, aviation isn’t really an industry schools know much about. Applying for a flight training isn’t like applying for university through the UCAS website, you have to your own research about a school and apply directly through the school.


The application process for each school is different so I will tell you a bit about mine. I hadn’t heard about AFTA until I went to an event called Pilot Careers Live which is full of schools, airlines and much more, an event full of information about the industry, I would highly recommend anyone interested to attend. I spoke to one of AFTA’s representatives and was advised to go to the school and have a look around.

I contacted AFTA and began the application process which included online aptitude tests, a simulator assessment and an interview, the day before my assessment and interview I was shown through the school. The sim assessment isn’t difficult, its just to judge your ability to listen to instructions. After the assessment day I was accepted onto the course and began training in April 2020.

My training began in the doom and gloom of the Covid-19 lockdown online via zoom with two weeks of ground school, which was to teach us all the basic principles of how to fly an airplane. After the restrictions eased slightly, I was allowed to travel to Ireland to begin the basic stages of flying a plane, working towards the first major milestone in any pilot’s career, their first solo. This is the first time a pilot is allowed to fly in a plane on their own. No one there to help if they mess up it really is an all or nothing moment. Every pilot remembers the day of their first solo it is an unbelievable feeling I will never forget.

The training then moves on to the ATPL ground school, the most dreaded part, its 6 months of nonstop studying. Here we began studying 14 subjects, ranging from Air Law to Principles of Flight, each with their own exam at the end. The subjects are split into 3 blocks each lasting two months, it’s a lot of work but give a great insight into how everything comes together to operate smoothly and efficiently in the aviation industry.

After passing these exams we are then allowed to start flying again working towards our Private Pilots License (PPL), this license allows us to fly recreationally in small piston engine planes. After gaining this license we begin hour building, this is Pilot-in-command hours where we are in charge operating the aircraft safely to build flying hours to go towards our Commercial Pilots License (CPL).

After finishing hour building, we move onto a new aircraft, I chose the Piper Seneca. The Seneca is a great multi-engine aircraft that teaches to manage a much more powerful aircraft with a second engine, I completed my commercial skills test on the Seneca. This tests your ability to plan and operate a commercial flight transporting paying passengers to their destination.


After completing the Commercial Skills Test, I moved into the simulator and onto a much more modern and efficient aircraft the Diamond DA42, on this aircraft I learnt to fly solely using the aircrafts instruments to allow us to fly in poor weather conditions. After completing the Instrument flying, I applied to Ryanair’s Mentored Programme, this gives student pilots like myself an insight into their operations. I was successful in my application allowing me to continue onto the final part of my training as a Ryanair Mentored Cadet.

The final part of my training is where it got really exciting, finally getting my hands on the Boeing 737 Simulator on the APS MCC course, this course is designed to prepare you for multi-pilot airline operations. As you can imagine the Boeing 737 is much more complex with lots more systems to manage, a lot more power in your hands and this comes with increased responsibility.

After 12 sessions in the simulator and a lot of hard work I passed my final assessment which drew to a close my flight school journey. I enjoyed every minute of my training and would highly recommend anyone who is interested in aviation to put some thought into flight training, you will not regret it.

So, what’s next? I will head back to Cork in the new year to begin preparation for airline interviews and hopefully apply to Ryanair in the early months of 2022. Then if I am successful, I would begin a type rating with Ryanair.



Categories: Senior School


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