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  • Writer's pictureWill Hide

Van doors to manual: One pilot's Covid19 story from Flybe First Officer to Tesco delivery driver.

Henry McCarthy is 24 and lives in Edinburgh. Until the Coronavirus pandemic struck he was a First Officer with the airline Flybe flying Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft from Scotland all over the UK as well as routes to Ireland and continental Europe.

But when the airline ceased operations in March this year he was laid off and now pilots a Tesco delivery van around the Scottish Capital.

I caught up with him this week to find out about his new career path swapping take off for bake off.

“I grew up in Wensleydale in Yorkshire and didn’t ever really ever think about becoming a pilot. I can’t say it was ever a dream job. But then for my 18th birthday, my parents gave me a voucher for a flying lesson at Teesside airport. I just did it as a silly one-off but actually got a bit hooked.

After university, I started with Flybe as a First Officer and was there about nine months before they stopped operating.

On the day they ceased operations I was down at their Exeter HQ supposed to be doing a six-monthly refresher course in a flight simulator. But after they went bust I had to get from there to Edinburgh. Instead of flying for an hour, I had to take a train to London then back up the East Coast and it took me about 11 hours.

It was a stressful time but I run quite a lot to combat that, that’s my escape, although I haven’t quite made it up to Arthur’s Seat in one go yet. The first couple of weeks after Flybe went bust quite a few other airlines were recruiting. I spent time getting my CV updated and applying to various UK airlines.

But then two weeks after that the lockdown happened and recruiting stopped altogether. So rather than airlines, I started sending my details off anywhere and everywhere to try and get another job, including Tesco.

Driving a van appealed to me because like being a pilot you can look out of the window, you can see the world. Obviously, it’s different but it’s similar. I’ve seen more of Edinburgh in the month I’ve been driving for Tesco than in the previous eight months I’ve lived here.

In the morning, I’ll get to the depot and the van’s already loaded. Then I have to fill out a lot of paperwork confirming what’s we have onboard and that all the temperatures are correct. There’s probably as much paperwork doing this job as there was at Flybe!

I’ll do a morning run then come back with the empty van. Then I’ll load it up again myself for the afternoon run, and when I’m back from that I’ll load again for someone else to do the evening shift. It’s a ten-hour day and I’ll probably deliver to 15 to 25 people.

At the moment it’s a bit easier because there’s no traffic so I can stay on time. We have masks and gloves if we want them but really I think the safest thing is social distancing. Normally I’d be going into people’s houses and unloading the groceries for them but that’s not happening right now. We ring the doorbell then stand back two metres. People don’t seem to mind about substitutions, they’re just glad to have some shopping.

It’s been five weeks now and the main thing is I’ve been getting used to is driving a long wheelbase van. Up in the air, there’s not much to hit!

My passion is flying and that’s what I want to get back to when I can. Being a pilot is more than a job, it’s great fun and there’s so much satisfaction. I have to accept that’s not going to be happening soon, though. The industry’s struggling and it’s going to take a long time to recover. People are saying maybe it could be up to three years so now I’m just concentrating on this. My degree’s in air transport management so if I can’t get a flying job I’ll try and get one with an airline doing something on the ground.

Everything is guesswork right now but I think it’ll be the end of the year before people are flying again. To a degree, it’s just when people’s confidence returns. I think it could go either way – some people might be afraid to fly but others may flock to the airports because they’ve felt so cooped up. It just needs to be safe.

When this is all over I want to go to Greece with my girlfriend. I did a couple of months of flight training in Cyprus a few years ago. I’d love to go back there but we want to try somewhere new so we’ll go to Greece at some point.”

(c) Will Hide 2020

Top two photos (c) Henry McCarthy, bottom photo (c) Adam Wilson

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