easyJet: How ‘now or never’ dream became a reality for ‘gender stereotype-busting’ pilot

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Being 32,000 feet in the air is something most people experience maybe just once or twice a year, but for Zoe Ebrey it’s just part of her day-to-day. What started as a passion for her has since become her full-time job, one that she says has been “completely different” every single day of her 14 years serving with the airline.

Zoe works as an easyJet training pilot, spending most of her time soaring above the clouds helping to train the pilots who fly the airline’s 96.1 million passengers internationally every year.

It’s a passion that began in her teenage years when Zoe says she was “bitten by the bug”, though she didn’t always realise it would become her career one day.

She explains: “My dad started gliding when I was a child and so I spent hundreds of hours at airfields with him during my childhood.

“I started glider training when I was 13 years old and went on to fly powered gliders and other small aircraft.

“Flying is a passion. We usually say we’ve been ‘bitten by the bug’ that lasts a lifetime and becoming a pilot professionally was always at the back of my mind, but with the cost of training it wasn’t a viable option when I finished school.”

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zoe ebrey easyjet pilots

Zoe Ebrey chatted with Express.co.uk to reveal the hard work that goes into being an easyJet pilot (Image: easyJet / Zoe Ebrey / Getty Images)

easyjet pilot zoe ebrey

Zoe took a leap of faith during a “now or never” moment to pursue her dreams (Image: Zoe Ebrey )

Instead, she went on to study for a degree in computer science in the early 1990s and soon began working in the IT industry.

However, despite her fast-paced career, she admits she spent plenty of time dreaming about becoming an airline pilot.

It was the early 2000s when Zoe had a sudden realisation – an urge to go after the passion she had held so dearly for so long.

“In the early 2000’s I decided that it was ‘now or never’ to turn my passion into my career,” she says.

“Becoming a pilot was my second career and I started when I was in my early 30’s.”

Though becoming a pilot takes a lot of intense training, motivation and hard work, Zoe already had a robust portfolio of experience under her belt.

“I already had lots of flying experience on small aircraft so I began by studying for theory exams alongside my full-time IT job and then left work to complete my flight training full-time,” she explains.

The process was not a speedy one, though, and Zoe put in the hours in order to reach her goals, but every minute was worth it. The dream soon became a reality.

“It took around four years in total,” she recalls.

“Just six months later I was off to a flying start in my dream job having secured a place as a cadet pilot with a charter airline.”

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Yet even once she had the title she had eagerly anticipated for so long, the learning didn’t stop there.

“My first years were all about more and more training,” she says.

“You need additional training to fly the specific aeroplane for the airline you are with, for me this was the Airbus A320 – most people will have been on one of these on a short-haul trip.”

Pilot training starts on the ground, before firing up the engines for take-off.

“This training takes weeks of intense classroom and in the full flight simulator, followed by ‘base training’, which is flying the aeroplane for the first time with an experienced training captain (but without passengers),” Zoe explains.

It was that heart racing first experience of taking to the skies, fully in control of a commercial airliner, that evokes a flush of pride in Zoe to this day.

zoe ebrey pilot flying plane

Zoe says she was “bitten by the bug” when she was a teenager, and knew she wanted to fly (Image: Zoe Ebrey)

“This still rates as one of the most momentous days of my career and many airline pilots will tell you the same,” she says.

“There is nothing quite like setting the thrust for take-off and taking the aircraft up into the air for the very first time – it was especially rewarding after my ‘now or never’ moment and it couldn’t have been clearer once I was at the controls of that jet that I had made the right decision!”

Even now though, 14 years since the memorable occasion, Zoe says as a pilot “you never stop learning”.

Indeed, one of the most exciting and striking things about her career is the constant variation every day.

“Whilst the structure of my day is the same, every day is completely different,” she explains.

“I will fly with different colleagues to different airports, or I might be doing different training activities.

“One day I might be training a brand new First Officer in their first-ever pilot job; another day training a new Captain who has recently been promoted. It’s incredibly varied.”

Largely, Zoe takes on two roles – one operating passenger flights as a captain, and one where she is teaching other pilots.

The job of the pilot might seem largely mysterious to passengers, especially with the flight deck off-limits for the duration of the journey. Luckily, Zoe is on hand to lift the cockpit curtain.

“The team – Captain, First Officer and four cabin crew – arrive one hour before the flight is scheduled to depart,” she explains.

“Together we pilots review the day’s flight paperwork and the schedule which can consist of up to four flights.

“For each flight one pilot flies and one pilot monitors (this includes communicating with Air Traffic Control) and we decide who will do which on each flight that day – it’s typically split two each.

“We then join the cabin crew team to brief each other on the day ahead. Once at the aircraft we’ll meet with our dispatcher, whose team is responsible for boarding customers and loading luggage onto the aircraft.”

Once in the air, the crew are continuously on top of flight path and systems, as well as staying in constant communication with Air Traffic Control.

There is one particularly enjoyable moment though.

Zoe points out that once cruising, there is “a little bit of time to enjoy the view from our ‘office’!”

This is probably one of the things that really sets her job apart from your regular nine-to-five.

“Who can forget the views? Most days leaving the UK you’re soaring through the rain and clouds, to then reveal an amazing sunrise,” she reveals.

She continues: “At our destination with our customers disembarking, we will be busy preparing the aircraft to do it all again!

“Once we return to our base on the final flight of the day, we’ll de-brief as a team and be heading home just 30 mins after our arrival.”

Along the way, she’s been lucky enough to visit a variety of countries, but one of her aviation highlights is Gibraltar.

“Flying in from the UK can sometimes require us to fly ‘around the rock’, which gives us and passengers a stunning view of Gibraltar,” says Zoe. “Incredibly, the runway has a main road that runs across it and so each time a flight is approaching, the airport has to close the road and inspect the runway before the aircraft lands.”

While commercial journeys are exciting and rewarding, with the added bonus of an exotic stop off, there’s something even more special about being a training captain.

“Being a trainer, I love that I am able to give back to the pilot community through developing their knowledge and skills.

“It’s a very rewarding role, and one I didn’t even dream I’d be asked to do when I started out.”

Zoe knows first-hand the effort it takes to achieve those ambitions, and she takes joy from seeing others experience it for themselves.

“ The most enjoyable part has to be presenting a new Captain with their 4-stripe epaulettes (that pilots wear on their shoulders, the stripes represent your rank),” she explains.

“This is an important and proud moment for any pilot marking years of hard work and it’s a pleasure and privilege that I am able to share it with them.”

It’s not just training pilots that Zoe makes a difference for.

As a female pilot, one of just 5.18 percent of commercial pilots around the world according to the Air Line Pilots Association International trade union, Zoe wants to encourage more women to pursue this worldly career.

“I was once saying goodbye to our customers at the flight deck door when a lady approached me and said, ‘you’re such a great role model to my two daughters, I am so pleased you were my pilot today’.

“It really surprised me, and she left the aircraft before I could even thank her,” she recalls.

“I find it incredible how my job can be seen by others and I’ll always remember that flight because it was a reminder of how important it is to bust gendered stereotypes about the job of a pilot and encourage even more women to do it.

“That’s something I’m really passionate about and so when I’m not flying I spend time visiting schools with my pilot colleagues to get more young people, especially girls, interested in becoming a pilot.”

Zoe hopes that maybe, she can inspire someone else to take a leap of faith at their own “now or never moment.”


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