Maria Fagerstrom is better known as Maria the Pilot due to her huge and loyal following on social media, with 521,000 Instagram followers alone. Usually found flying a Boeing 737 somewhere above the skies of Europe, Maria – like many pilots – has been spending much more time with her feet on the ground in recent months. In the last few weeks she’s been gearing up for her return to the flight deck with time in the flight simulator. It’s clear from speaking with Maria that there was only one career route she wanted to take growing up, and that route led directly to the flight deck. I asked Maria why she chose to become a pilot, what the challenges have been, and what keeps her hooked on life in the pilot’s seat.
When did you know you wanted to become a pilot?
I have always been fascinated by the life of an airline pilot, which I got to see first-hand growing up as my dad was and still is a pilot, flying long-haul on the Airbus 330/340. I would join him on trips, sitting on the flight deck jump-seat (prior to the locked flight deck door) watching him work. That’s how I was introduced into the aviation world. Choosing to become a pilot myself felt like a very natural path for me, especially as I had such strong support from my parents.
What was your route into flying?
When I was 18 years old I applied for a place at a government funded aviation school in Sweden, and after many tests, psychological evaluations and exams, I was fortunate enough to get accepted. I combined my pilot studies with studying a natural science program, and when I was 20 years old I graduated having my Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL).
When did you go solo?
It was in 2010, just before my 19th birthday. I remember taking off in the Cessna 172 and glancing over to the empty seat beside me during the climb. No instructor, just me at the controls. In that moment I felt extremely proud of myself.
What was the most challenging part of becoming a pilot?
For me, the studying involved in becoming a pilot wasn’t difficult, but the training is incredibly time-consuming and intense, and that can be the challenging part. The fact that you get to actually practice what you learn in theory is highly motivating though and makes it all feel worthwhile. I chose to study for my Commercial Pilot License during high school, so was undergoing two full time educations at once, which I found very testing at times. But I’ve always been goal-oriented and even though there were tough moments, I’ve never doubted that flying was what I wanted to do.
You have to become good at handling criticism too, as it comes with the territory. I did this by knowing that it was always constructive feedback that would help me reach my goal of becoming an airline pilot.
And as any pilot in training knows, you’ll wave goodbye to your social life for a year or two, but I can assure you it’s totally worth it when you get your wings.
Can you give an overview of your flying career so far, including the planes you’ve flown?
I currently fly a Boeing 737-800 NG as first officer, and prior to that I flew a single engine Cessna 172 and a twin-engine Piper PA-34 Seneca.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The best part of the job for me is the feeling I get after touching down on the runway after a tricky approach, knowing that you’ve done a good job manoeuvring the aircraft all the way from start to finish.
I enjoy being in the cruise too (the phase of flight once the aircraft has reached its altitude and before it descends for landing). Once we’ve taken off and out of the climb, the cruise can be quite a relaxing stage of flight, and the views are often out of this world.
What do you think makes a good pilot?
Here are the three qualities I believe are important:
The ability to stay calm – simply put, don’t panic. Too much stress clouds judgement, and it’s essential to maintain clear judgement at all times.
The right mentality – a pilot should be confident, but not over-confident. It’s a balance that has to be right when dealing with challenging situations
Leadership – being a pilot is not entirely mathematical and technical. You also have to think creatively and adapt to any situation. Having leadership qualities also means you’re able to listen, communicate and work well as part of a team.
If your dream is to become a pilot, never, ever be put off if you don’t think you have all of the personality traits or skills required. If you want it enough, you can develop and learn during pilot training.
What are your flying hopes for the future?
I’d like to see myself and my boyfriend, who is also a pilot, flying long-haul together on a month on, month off roster, where we’d be able to live on a sailing boat on our days off.
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to be a pilot?
Flying as a career is a great and unique career, and it suits both genders equally well. The training is very expensive, so do your research before you invest.
Quick turnaround questions
Take-off or landing?
Dream airport as a pilot?
Smaller airports where you get shortcuts and more flexibility.
Favourite place for a holiday?
Anywhere close to nature where you can eat good, fresh food.
Favourite aircraft of all-time?
As a pilot, the Boeing 737, but as a passenger I like the Dreamliner, with its big windows, and the A350 – it’s unbelievably quiet.
What would you be if you weren’t a pilot?
Air Traffic Controller
The best thing about flying is… the view!
Favourite inflight meal?
Qatar Airways vegan meal