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Pilot Q&A: Captain Sally Williams, A320 fleet


Captain Sally Williams talks about going from cabin crew to pilot and being married to a fellow flier
What triggered your interest in aviation?
I started out as cabin crew, which was a job I had always wanted to do. Back then, nobody ever said to me, 'Why don't you become a pilot?' I think the initial interest came from my mum, because she had always wanted to be a stewardess too, but I don't have any other flyers in my family. I joined BA in 1984 as cabin crew, and did that four years. During that time, I got my private pilot's licence. Then in 1987, BA took on its first female pilot, so I thought, 'Why am I crew when I could be flying the plane?' I asked BA to sponsor me, but I couldn't get on the cadet scheme because I was a little too old. So I left the job and sold my flat to pay for flight training, which took a year. I was lucky with the timing and BA took me on as soon as I had qualified.
Do you miss being cabin crew?
Being crew is fantastic because of the people you work with. As a pilot you still have the camaraderie and travel, but the flying job is much more challenging — every day is different. Being a captain with a crew background means I have a better understanding of both sides of the flight deck door, which makes it easier to create a unified team to serve our customers.
What has been your career progression?
I rejoined BA as a B737 pilot at Heathrow in 1989, which I flew for four years, then I spent two years on the B757/B767. That was a great fleet. The aircraft share the same 'type' licence and offered real variety, with a mix of short- and long-haul flying. Then I spent three years on the B747-400 and became a captain flying the Airbus A320 at BA's former Birmingham base. After two years there, I then came back to Heathrow as a captain on the Airbus, which I've been flying for 13 years. 
The decision now is whether to move over to the A380. My husband is also a senior Airbus captain. We both changed to short-haul flying because we can spend more time at home. But we would both like to fly the new aircraft, which would mean flying long-haul again. Tricky, but a good dilemma to have.
Tech specs: A320
I suspect that if you asked most pilots, they'd say what they like about the aircraft is the fold-out meal table, but among the Airbus's attributes is that it is brilliant in low visibility, as are most other aircraft now. We are allowed to land with 75 metres visibility on the ground, which is necessary as it allows us to be able to taxi. The aircraft is also equipped with a 'microwave landing system' which enables it to fly closer to other aircraft on final approach, allowing shorter spacing between aircraft. This reduces delays at Heathrow.
What's your favourite route?
I always enjoy flying over London because there are so few approaches over cities. Every day, you spot something different — and the skyline is constantly changing. Rio is fantastic because you approach over the ocean, and the mountains and the city are laid out before you. But one of the best things about the job is early morning as the sun comes up, and you're skimming the clouds at 300 knots. There's really nothing quite like it. 


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Priscilla McInnes Queiroz Campos

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