Cornwall Life talks to four new Skybus pilots
Cornwall Life talks to four new Skybus pilots about their experiences flying to and from the Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly are well known for their beauty and with their powder-white sands surrounded by a turquoise sea, you could be forgiven for thinking you had landed in a tropical destination. “It has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world,” says 26-year-old Emily Bliss, who started flying for the airline in March this year. She is one of the youngest pilots working for Skybus and recently took on the role of First Officer. Skybus regularly flies from Land’s End and Newquay airports to the Isles of Scilly. She adds: “You get to work really closely with people because it’s such a small aircraft, and the flying is really fun, but it can be pretty challenging when the weather’s not so great.”
Originally from London, Emily moved to Penzance when she was 10 years old and this is her first experience of working for a commercial airline. Previously she had been taking small groups out on scenic flights around Cornwall.
Simon Williams is another new recruit for the airline and both he and Emily say there is no better way to begin your career as a pilot than flying to and from the Isles of Scilly. “I’m local, I love flying and I love the Scillies, so it’s a perfect job,” says Simon, who was born in Porthleven and lives in Penzance. “Working for a local company, it’s easy to enthuse to customers about the area. It’s nice being able to go the extra mile for the passenger – their holiday starts when they get on the aircraft,” he adds.
Simon previously worked as a paramedic for the Cornwall Air Ambulance. “We came up with the concept of an air ambulance in the mid-1980s after seeing what was being in done in Germany. It’s something I’m really passionate about because it’s so important to people living in remote areas in Cornwall.
“Previously, if you were on the Isles of Scilly and you needed an ambulance, you’d have to get to the mainland by boat or plane before you could get taken to hospital, so the air ambulance is really important for places like this,” he adds.
Simon also says that flying Skybus is as demanding as a bigger aircraft. “On a beautiful sunny day it’s heaven, but when there’s inclement weather it’s challenging.”
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That’s a view shared by one of Skybus’ newly promoted Captains, Ian Parsons: “You would think that flying back and forward from the islands would get a bit boring after two years, but there’s always variety, largely thanks to the South West’s changeable weather conditions! On one day you could be at the airfield landing and be able to see the islands clearly, on another the weather could be terrible and it can be really hard work.”
Simon Williams says he’s even had to coach the odd nervous flyer in his time. “This lady was particularly anxious, so I met her before the flight and talked her through the procedures to make her feel more comfortable. I got a very nice letter from her and her husband afterwards. It’s being able to do that which I love about the job.”
As well as taking in the beautiful scenery, passengers often get to spot wildlife between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly including whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals. The airline also admits to having carried some strange items over the last 26 years including a five-foot blue shark, a sea lion returned to the wild on St Mary’s and a consignment of chickens, two calves, some pigs and a meerkat.
Skybus operates flights from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly using three Twin Otter and three Islander aircraft. The airline is owned and operated by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, which has also been sailing to the islands from Penzance for 90 years.
After 15 years of working as a software engineer, Mike Ryan-Fecitt decided at the age of 42 to become a pilot. “I was fed up with sitting in an office and I’d always wanted to fly a plane. Before I started flying for Skybus, I worked as a flying instructor for four years.” Mike, who is married with three children, has recently moved up to captaining Skybus from having been a First Officer. He says: “Working for Skybus is great, it’s always interesting and you get to work with people who are really nice. I’ve been flying to the Scillies for three seasons and now I’m flying the Islander on my own, which is a great step up, especially being one of the older pilots,” he adds.
Interesting and varied backgrounds seems to be a prerequisite for Skybus pilots. Ian Parsons, who lives in Porthcurno, has been with the company since 2008 but before that worked for the British Antarctic Survey. “I loved the scenery in Antarctica, the animals and the complete remoteness of the environment, and how the people out there all come together.”
But Ian went from one temperature extreme to another. On his return from the Antarctic and a stint as a flying instructor based at Land’s End, he moved to Zambia to become a bush pilot for a year. “I wanted a change and to do something completely different. I didn’t know anyone out there, I’d just heard about it through word of mouth. It was a bit of a gamble but I loved it, I’d go back there at the drop of a hat.”
Ian continues: “Flying Skybus is completely different to being a bush pilot. Being a bush pilot in Africa is more like being a white van man! But Skybus is still probably the closest thing you can get to that in the UK because of the way you can interact with the passengers. They will always tell you if you’ve done a good or bad job!”
Ian says he was very fortunate to get the job. “As long as they’ll have me, I’ll have them! It’s a great team of pilots, and it’s working in a close-knit team where everyone knows everyone; the organisation is a family and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!”