Dreams of becoming an airline pilot often develop at a young age, but this is not the case for everyone, including First officer Eva Claire Marseille. Eva longed to be a journalist. How did this self-confessed ‘book worm’ set out to write, but find herself flying 747s with a huge following of 152,000 fans on social media?
When did you know you wanted to become a pilot?
You hear many stories of boys and girls dreaming about being a pilot from an early age. This wasn’t how it happened for me. I always knew though that I didn’t want to live the ‘9 to 5’ life. Holland was a wonderful place to grow up, but I longed for adventure and the chance to live abroad.
I thought the world of journalism would provide the excitement and travel I craved, so after leaving high school I embarked on a Literature and Journalism degree. Part way into the course I had a sneaking feeling that life as a journalist might not be my real dream.
After voicing doubts to my family, my mum suggested visiting a flying school open day. Although it hadn’t registered with me, my family and friends told me I’d often said that the life of an airline pilot sounded amazing.
So, it wasn’t until the age of 22 that I had a gradual ‘light bulb’ moment that flying was the life for me!
What was your route into flying?
I didn’t want to waste the time and effort I’d already put into my degree so I continued studying towards graduation, while simultaneously researching everything I could about aviation. Although my degree was in the arts, I’d also studied maths, physics and chemistry at school which helped when it came to applying for a place at the Dutch flight academy ‘Nationale Luchtvaart School’ (now CAE Oxford Aviation Academy).
Things worked out very well. I completed my degree and passed the assessments required to secure a place as a trainee pilot at the National Luchtvaart School.
There are a number of ways to become a pilot. I followed the ‘integrated’ route, which means I underwent two full time years of study to get my Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL). This included 14 theory exams, flight instruction and build-up of hours in single engine and multi engine aircraft, instrument rating, practical exams, and the Multi Crew Coordination course (MCC) that qualifies pilots to fly as part of a crew.
When did you first go solo? What was the aircraft, and what did it feel like?
The build up to my first solo was challenging. I worked hard to prepare myself for my first solo flight. When a number of my classmates were given the all-clear to take to the skies alone and I wasn’t, it was hard to take. Then I had a couple of flying lessons with a different instructor. I ‘clicked’ with the instructor, who had the ability to restore my self-belief, and get me flying solo: After this moment, everything felt easier. I had grown the confidence needed to find my wings. I did my first solo in a Piper Archer 28.
What was the most challenging part of becoming a pilot?
The most challenging part for me was getting my first pilot job.
After graduating from flying school in 2010, the world was recovering from the financial crash of 2008. This meant there were thousands of pilots, including experienced pilots, with no work. This was not great for my job prospects. For two long years I did everything I could to get a job. I decided to get experience within aviation while waiting for my pilot break and managed to get a full time job at Martinair operations, where I worked as a dispatcher and crew scheduler. In the mean time I applied everywhere. I considered every airline, big or small, business jets, turboprops.. you name it. I networked, I called airlines, I uploaded my CV into countless online databases. I spent hours checking aviation websites and forums online, looking for chances. I made summaries of every pilot training theory subject, and invested time reading study material to keep my knowledge sharp.
I didn’t stop there.
I completed a bush pilot course in South Africa, and joined the editorial staff of the Dutch Airline Pilots Association, writing voluntarily for their magazine. To obtain a certificate that would increase my chances on the German pilot market, I completed a German language course. I trained regularly on an expensive Boeing 737 simulator, to be ready anytime for an assessment. I kept my license and medical valid. For two years my whole life revolved around getting a pilot job at an airline. All my time, money and energy went there. I was only living for the future.
Finally, two years after completing flight training I was offered a job, and moved to Barcelona to operate as a first officer on the Boeing 737 for a European airline.
You now live in Hong Kong and work as a first officer on the 747 flying cargo – what’s the jumbo like to fly?
The 747 is a dream to fly! Before I flew the jumbo, I hadn’t even flown on it as a passenger! My first training flight was a moment I’ll never forget. I remember saying ‘set thrust’, then rattling down runway 07R. There was no cargo on board so we were very light and lifted off the runway in no time.
I fly the B747-400 ERF and the B747-8F. Like millions around the world, I have a huge soft spot for the queen of the skies and feel privileged to fly her. I didn’t find transitioning from flying the 737 to the 747 that challenging. For me, one of the hardest parts was taxiing the 747.
There’s a 30 metre (97 foot) gap between the front and back wheels, so it took a while to factor this in when driving her on the ground! I never taxied the 737 because the first officer side of the cockpit had no tiller (a steering wheel in the cockpit), which meant the captain always taxied. This meant I jumped straight from taxing the Cessna 172 to a Boeing 747!
The entire aircraft is used for transporting cargo, except for the upper deck. As we don’t carry passengers, there is no door separating the flight deck and upper deck. There are no cabin crew on board, so once in the cruise, the pilot not flying can head to the galley and make a coffee – it’s very relaxed.
Passenger flights take the nicely timed day slots, so many cargo flights depart at very unsociable hours, like the middle of the night, and rosters can change last minute. This can be tough on your body clock.
In general. I love flying cargo. We carry everything from pharmaceuticals, post, cars, even horses! Every now and then the nose cargo door needs to be opened for larger goods to be loaded. This door isn’t used that often, so it’s a novelty to see when it’s in use!
What are your flying goals for the future?
Right now, I am loving life on the 747, and am very much going with the flow.
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to be a pilot?
My advice would be to never give up on your dream, even when it feels impossible. Keep working hard, keep improving. Many of us have been in this situation. Keep faith that you will get to that flight deck seat: you will, but it takes constant work, and the right attitude.
Do you have specific advice to women wanting to pursue a career in aviation?
My advice would be the same as above, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I get to do something I love every time I go to work. I remember working an extremely long four sector day with lots of delays, and returning from our last flight very late. Back at the gate I waved to the dispatcher and opened my flight deck window to communicate the ‘On Blocks Time’ to him. He laughed, shook his head and yelled: ‘Eva, I knew it was you! Only you would return from such a day and still have the happiest smile.’” This reminded me that my job isn’t a job because it makes me so happy.
Take-off or landing?
100% the landing! It gives great satisfaction to hand fly an approach, finished with a smooth landing, or to nail a crosswind landing. The 747 with her huge wings is a dream to land; especially if she is very heavy – she lands so nice and gentle.
Dream airport as a pilot?
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I only flew there once, last year. Though I am not based there, it is home.
Favourite plane of all-time?
The Boeing 747-8, and as runner ups the MD11 and the Fokker 50.
The best thing about flying is…
The joy it brings! To take a machine into the air, and to be responsible for what you do with it, and to always feel driven and motivated to perform your best. That, and the sense of community in the aviation industry. From pilots to engineers, ATC (Air Traffic Control) and operations; we are all part of the aviation family.
Favourite inflight meal?
Thank you, Eva for sharing your incredible story here on the blog. Your story raises hope at every turn and proves that hard work pays off.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a pilot, the CAE website is a good place to start.