“Dynamism and challenging day-to-day reality” – that is Jose Maria Fernandez’s, Avion Express’ new Deputy Head of Flight Operations, answer when he is asked why he loves his job and wakes up with a new flow of excitement every morning. The experienced pilot opens up about his career path and success he achieved.
Jose Maria’s relationship with aviation started developing 35 years ago in his teen years. Although he was thinking of becoming a sports teacher, he always loved to look up and see planes scorching the sky. Finally, after attending a promotional high-school event, organized by a local Pilot School, he was convinced to pursue a dream to take up a driving seat in the cockpit. Hence, upon graduation, he got enrolled in the Pilots School in Valencia.
“Back in those times, learning a pilot trade has not been an easy deal. With no digital material we possess now in computers and the internet, already on the first day I’ve got a big pile of literature to study and it wasn’t the most pleasant part of the learning. However, as soon as you got first hands-on experience of the simulators, enthusiasm rockets up in massive proportions”, – laughs Jose Maria when he remembers his first steps.
According to him, in aviation teaching, everything has been built – and it still is – to have pilot succeed, however, a few factors should be taken into account: “If you have the motivation to fly, probably, you will overcome the difficulties. For me, it took some time to understand that aviation is, in a way, a never-ending learning process. You learn from your instructor, the manuals, colleagues and, finally, by dealing with the situations yourself. Even though I’m a captain for many years now, every flight I discover something new.”
Having successfully graduated from the Pilots School in Valencia, trained to be a professional commercial pilot, Jose Maria moved on to fly Airbus aircraft. 2004 was the year when he performed his first flight as a First Officer: “I’ve accumulated a certain number of block hours, and I had to showcase my skills in a commercial flight. It was the flight from Madrid to Vigo, and I remember how entering the cockpit was a rather nervous experience. Yet, with massive support from my colleagues – instructor and safety pilot – who overlooked my performance, it went well and I will never forget these moments later when I’ve arrived at the hotel and had this amazing feeling of a dream came true.”
Strangely enough, when he had to perform his first flight as a Captain, there was less excitement, but more of an inner proudness and responsibility on his shoulders: “With support from the Flight Officer and the rest of the crew members, I have to make the decisions and be responsible for the crew and passengers on the aircraft. These moments helped me understand the extent of my responsibility and provided a platform to advance professionally and mentally”.
Stressful situations are an indispensable part of every pilot life – from minor aircraft malfunctions and challenging weather conditions to unforeseeable incidents with the passengers onboard. As Jose Maria says, even after he has flown over 10,000 block hours (BH), certain stress gives an impetus to progress and the feeling of satisfaction is overwhelming.
Since 2004, for nine years Jose Maria had been conducting flights in Turkey, Spain and Saudi Arabia as a First Officer and Captain for several commercial airlines before joining Avion Express in 2014. The decision to join Avion Express, as he says, has proved to be one of the best in his career: “I remember when I arrived at my job interview in Vilnius. It was small headquarters with only about 50 employees. But already then, the company held a great team of professionals that made me feel like an important team member. Being closer to the family is essential to every pilot and Avion Express offered me an opportunity to return to Spain, as I took up a position of A320 Line Training Captain in Barcelona.”
After thriving in this role, at the start of 2020 Jose Maria’s diligent work and leadership has been rewarded with another promotion, as he took up the newly established position of Deputy Head of Flight Operations.
“I would say that my breakthrough at the company materialized together with the progress of Avion Express itself. When I came here, the company had only a fleet of nine aircraft and less than twice the employees. As time has passed on, the number of responsibilities grew, Avion Express has become more mature and now we are among the leaders in the ACMI market. I am very happy to be a part of this company”, – said Jose Maria.
What does he like most about his job at Avion Express? Jose Maria didn’t need to think long: “Dynamism. Aviation is an always-changing organism and Avion Express is evolving along with it. It is great that you don’t stay in one place, and you got to experience different cultures around the world. Even though there are manuals and regulations that provide a typical framework for your job, when you go flying in the other continents, you must adapt to different rules and cultures. That helps you to grow as a person and a professional. And the lifestyle is never static – for example, last month I had planned not to fly for a couple of weeks, but suddenly I’ve been summoned to fly next week, and I was happy to go along with it. There is no routine in this job – every day at the office and every flight is different.”
For several years now, Jose Maria has been juggling the office job with the side stick in the cockpit. Although there are substantially fewer flights on his schedule, he feels he has a perfect work balance.