IASA had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Cusack in August 2019 regarding her role as an A330 First Officer with Aer Lingus.
For me, the interest was sparked initially because I grew up beside Weston Airport, and was always curious about the light aircraft flying overhead. I completed my first flying lesson when I was 13 years old, and I immediately knew that’s what I wanted to do as a career. I was lucky, as a lot of kids wouldn’t be exposed to an airport environment, and this for me was key.
My school was very supportive, but they didn’t have a huge amount of information regarding the career. My older brother was very helpful and assisted me in researching all aspects of the career on the internet, which took a while, as it was dial up, connected to the house phone! I ended up writing to flight schools for information when I was 16, and they were all very receptive. Everyone around me, including my school, my family and my friends were always hugely supportive, and still are.
When I did look for advice about becoming a pilot, Maths, Physics or Engineering was suggested. I chose to study in DCU, and completed a degree in Applied Physics, which was very challenging but rewarding, and definitely worth it in the end. I do think it helped me when it came to studying for my pilot's licence, as a lot of the topics are science-based. When I finished my degree I then took up a job as a Flight Dispatcher at Dublin Airport, which I found really interesting, and it’s a job that not a lot of people know about. It was a very interactive job, in which I got to meet pilots, learn about weather, loadsheets and many other relevant aviation topics. I also got to interact with ground staff and everyone that contributes to the flight, from the fuelers to the caterers. It’s a team effort, and flight dispatching gave me a huge appreciation for this.
It started off with gaining my Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL). I initially began flying in Weston but due to bad weather and work commitments, I finished off the training for this in Florida, which was a great experience. Here I got a PPL and night rating. This cost about €15,000.
I applied for the Aer Lingus cadetship, but was unsuccessful in my first application.
The next step was groundschool, and 14 ATPL exams. I signed up to Bristol Groundschool and began studying the topics via self study.
Aer Lingus then advertised their Cadetship again, and I was lucky enough to be selected the second time around.
The training starts off with completing your PPL (again!) then you attend groundschool, to learn the 14 ATPL topics, and sit 14 exams. The flying section involves completing a Commercial Pilots Licence and an Instrument Rating. The integrated course is very intense from start to finish. You have to be disciplined and know how to self-study, but the modular course which I was planning on completing myself is equally as successful and takes some of the intensity out of the training.
Everything! I love everything. I love taking off, landing, and how challenging and rewarding the job is. You meet so many different people, every day you’re learning, and no two days are the same. Now that I’m flying the A330 I’m lucky enough to visit amazing destinations and I get to see the world. It’s a dream!
Definitely the shift work. I did shift work for 7 years before becoming a pilot, starting work at 4:30 every morning. I knew how hard it was going to be, but as you get older it does become harder to miss out on family events and special occasions, and just general socializing. It’s definitely something to consider, if you haven’t done shift work before.
There are lots of key traits which which make a good pilot. The most common include: good hand-eye coordination, multitasking, being a good leader and team player, and being able to work under pressure in a fast paced environment.
I would say good communication skills are also very important along with situational awareness, decisiveness and quick thinking.
The biggest challenge which most pilots face is finance. At approximately €100,000, the cost of training is financially impossible for a lot of people. When I left school and college I didn’t have the money to fund the training. Most pilots are gradually paying back the cost of training loans. I managed to save up money for my PPL and I was very lucky to get the Aer Lingus Cadetship. After that, when you start the course and complete exams, that can be a challenge also. I found in my course, everyone had topics that they were stronger at than others, so we all helped each other out with the topics that we found difficult. So the course is challenging, but initially it the finance is the greatest challenge.
I think that girls just aren’t exposed to this environment from a young age. Girls are put in pink from the day they’re born and told they’re princesses. For me, I had two older brothers growing up, and I wasn’t treated any different. I wore their football jerseys and was given their second hand bikes. I definitely think that girls are pushed in a certain stereotypical direction , but society is slowly changing. I personally think that in order to get more women in to aviation, it needs to start in the schools. It’s not the case that girls don’t consider the career, they’re just not exposed to any females within the industry. Can’t see it, can’t be it!
No, definitely not, and I’m delighted to say that! During each working week, you might fly with a different Captain for the first time, and there is a mutual understanding that you are both qualified to do your job to the best of your ability, regardless of your gender.
When you were starting out in your career, was there a particular woman who inspired you?
I think people are traveling a lot more and airfares are coming down to meet competition. In a few years, with reduced airfares, the future of air travel will be more accessible to people who couldn’t afford to travel abroad before, especially to the USA. This will increase the demand for Flight Crew, ground staff and all staff that make up the aviation industry. There’s definitely a shortage of pilots predicted over the next few years, and I hope that means there will be more sponsored cadetships by the airlines, as it’s a super way to guarantee a steady stream of qualified pilots, and a huge positive, as it eases the financial burden on those hoping to learn to fly.
If it’s what you want to do, never let your gender hold you back, and that goes for any career! For me, it was something I always wanted to do and I never thought twice about being female. Don’t let your gender hold you back from anything that you want to do, or any goals you might have.
I would love to be a Captain, that’s the goal. From when I first started flying, my dream was to one day become a Captain, and I think most Pilots would have the same goal. However, it is an intense course that involves a lot of work and is ultimately a huge responsibility. I would also hope that I could reach out to more schools, and encourage more females into the industry in the next 10 years.