Exactly what is involved in taking to the skies for the Flying Doctor? We speak with our Head of Training & Checking, Matthew Cosier, to find out what he looks for in a successful RFDS pilot.
How does someone get their foot in the cockpit of an RFDS aircraft?
Firstly, we look for commercial pilots with experience flying in rural and remote Australia. This could be prior experience with a tourism charter flight company, for instance.
Each candidate needs a minimum of 2500 flying hours, including night flying experience.
What do you look for beyond flight experience?
Practicality, problem solving and autonomy.
We really seek out pilots who are able to use their initiative, especially when little things don’t go to plan. That’s where the rural and remote exposure comes in.
In terms of a job, being an RFDS pilot can be a fairly demanding role as there is a lot of night flying and we fly in many types of weather.
It’s also important for candidates to understand that flying for the RFDS is more than just being a pilot. It’s a culture of a common purpose. You’re there every step of the way - planning for the task, helping the doctors and nurses where you can and supporting an environment where they can get on and do their job.
How long does training take and how many pilots are successful?
We’ve just gone through a fairly busy period, but generally we would be training around six new pilots a year in South Australia and the Northern Territory. They are a diverse bunch – our youngest pilots would in their early 30s and we have hired pilots well into their 60s.
On average, it takes about two or three weeks of in-house training before you can start flying with patients. On-the-job training with another pilot takes another four to six weeks. Our pilots are trained in the Pilatus PC-12s, which make up the majority of our fleet.
How did you become an RFDS pilot?
Mum and Dad were both pilots. They met when they were both learning to fly Tiger Moths. Mum ended up being a private pilot, while Dad worked as a commercial pilot then as an agricultural pilot.
I started flying in 1988, starting out as a commercial pilot. I then became a flying instructor and worked for an airline, training cadets around the world.
I wanted to go back to something a bit more hands-on, so I joined the Flying Doctor. Getting up in the morning and not knowing exactly where I was going to go during the day really appealed to me.
You get to go to a lot of places you don’t usually get to see. You get to see some pretty amazing places in Australia. Every now and then, you realise that you’ve made a difference. You’ve turned up when somebody really needed you to be there and you got them to where they needed to be. That sort of job satisfaction is hard to describe, but it creeps up on you.