I am Chris Pohl, I was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia and knew from the age of 12 that I was going to be an Airline Captain. I have stuck with that dream through 4 decades of Ups and Downs (intentional pun), proving that perseverance and dogged determination creates success. Nobody in my family was involved in the Aviation, my father was a builder, but he loved aircraft and nurtured my dreams.
I first flew as a passenger when I was 12, on a Trans Australian Airways 727. As we boarded the flight, my father told the flight attendant; “my son would like to see the cockpit”. I didn’t even know that was a thing? It was actually a ploy for my Dad to see the cockpit. Once inside I knew this was a very special place and while I was gawping at all the dials, buttons and switches, the Captain had invited me to stay for the take-off and the Flight Engineer was strapping me into the jumpseat, behind the Captain. As we sped down the runway and rotated into the sky, I knew at that exact moment, that I WAS going to be a become pilot and NOTHING ELSE.
From that day, I worked harder at school to get good grades in Maths and Physics, as the Captain had recommended.. I realised that flying lessons were expensive and I started saving. I worked 3 paper-rounds, 1 before school, 2 after, I also worked at a local supermarket and every weekend and school holidays on building sites with my Dad and Uncle.
By my 18th birthday I had finished Year 12 at High School and had saved half the money for an intensive 9 month CPL (Commercial Pilots Licence) course at Cessnock. NSW. I loved every day of the course and knew immediately that my decision from 12 was correct. As a 19 year old pilot with only a few hundred hours and a basic CPL, it was challenging to get my first jobs.
I flew Joy flights to pay for an Instructor Rating, then any Charter flights I could get to pay for an Instrument rating, and with each hour of flying that I didn’t pay for, came more and more flying opportunities. I flew target towing for the Royal Australian Navy, TV News film crews for Channel 9, Live Beach reports for local radio station 3AW between instructing flights at Moorabbin Airport near Melbourne, later I became the Chief Flying Instructor of a school at Coolangatta Airport, Queensland. I also flew charter flights along the entire East Australian coastline and the Outback in just about every aircraft built by Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft and many others. My logbook is like a spotters guide.
At 23, I had over 2500 hours which was enough to apply for the 3 main Australian airlines. TAA, Ansett and Qantas. I had interviews with all 3, but favoured Ansett and Qantas, who both offered me jobs. Qantas offered Second Officer 747 and Ansett; First Officer Fokker F27. I took the Ansett position because I wanted to fly and not just watch, plus Ansett, in 1987, had ordered the brand new Airbus A320 which I was excited to fly. Friends of mine who accepted the Qantas job spent up to 12 years as Second Officer and another 12 years as First Officer. However, Ansett (and TAA) pilots unions ended up in a dispute with the Australian Government with ultimately meant Ansett collapsing and me leaving Australia, never to return.
I arrived in the UK in 1990, I spent 6 months converting my Australian ATPL to a UK ATPL and found a job with Air Europe on the Fokker 100, which only lasted 6 months until they collapsed, next contracts with KLM, both Fokker 100, before 2.5 years with Eurocypria A320 based in Larnaca, Cyprus, next to Air Lanka (SriLankan) A320 until I hear that Virgin (my dream job) had purchased A340-300’s. I had an interview with Virgin on a Thursday and the following Monday I was flying to Miami with 3 new friends to begin my 27 years with Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin was expanding rapidly in 1994 when I joined, and within 9 months, I found myself as a 31 year old Long Haul Captain, flying 4 engine airliners into Kai Tak, Hong Kong and Narita, Tokyo airports from London, while my Qantas pals were still ‘carrying the Captains bag around’ while waiting for a First Officer upgrade.
Virgin’s route networks also expanded in the late 90’s with the new A340’s flying to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Johannesburg, New York, Newark, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Miami and Orlando and Las Vegas which was normally flown by the 747 fleet. Within a few years I became a Line Trainer, then shortly after TRI/TRE which is my current position since the turn of the century.
Since then I have enjoyed training new pilots joining as First Officer and follow their careers to Captain and also Training Captain. I still find the job amazingly satisfying and always look forward to my nest trip. After every take-off, when at a calm moment, I look across at my colleague and say “Imagine if you could get paid to do this?”
The future of Aviation is looking bleak at the moment. I have been lucky to have Seniority and a TRI/TRE rating on the amazing Airbus A350. Many of my friends and colleagues, also with seniority and many thousands of hours, have not been so lucky and may never fly again.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have quickly built a large following of Avgeeks on Instagram, by posting images of the A350, with positive messages for my colleagues within Virgin Atlantic and for the whole Aviation Industry.
I’m coming up to 57 next birthday and have logged over 24,000 flying hours. This leaves me 8 more years flying until compulsory retirement, although I imagine that by then, there will be no age limit, as long as I can pass the simulator check and the medical.
My plan is to keep flying until it stops exciting me. In the meantime I plan to continue to inspire and train the next generations of aviators and become an online Global Aviation Influencer and Commentator.
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Captain Chris Pohl @captainchris