Maria Pettersson: Airline pilot based in Sicily

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An airline pilot based in Sicily who gets to drink her morning coffee and evening tea at 38,000ft, while watching amazing sunrises and sunsets
Interview by Yayeri van Baarsen

How did you get into flying?
I’ve always loved to travel so becoming a pilot felt like the perfect choice. My dad flew single-engined aircraft when he was younger – he dreamed of becoming an airline pilot but was never given the opportunity.

During my first holiday abroad, to Greece, aged 13, we sat on the beach and watched aircraft land on Skiathos – my dad taught me about the aeroplane lifting its nose to slow down. It wasn’t until 10 years later that I realised how much of an impact that moment had on my life.

Tell us about your job…
I’m an airline pilot and I operate from the beautiful island of Sicily, mostly flying domestic routes around Italy. I’ve been to Roma Fiumicino so many times, I know the taxi charts off by heart! It’s a big international airport with four runways serving all types of aircraft, from business jets to the Airbus A380. For an aviation lover like me, it’s like being in a sweet shop!

About an hour-and-a-half before departure we get the paperwork in order and check the weather and Notams.

A 737 crew consists of two pilots and four cabin crew, who are all briefed together. Our home base crew is like one big happy aviation family. We always fly home at end of the day, which means I get to sleep in my own bed every night. Like any other job, after a while, the day-to-day tasks become a habit. However, when the weather is challenging or something unusual happens, we really have to perform. Making decisions in stressful situations is something machines can’t do – therefore, it’s an airline pilot’s most important ability.

What makes my job so special is the view. I enjoy my morning coffee or evening tea at 38,000ft, which means that I get to watch beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The sky never looks the same and I’m mesmerised every single time. I know it sounds cheesy, but each sunset is different, as is every sunrise, and all of them are amazing.

What training did you have?
After my PPL, I obtained my CPL, ME, IR, MCC and ATPL theory. I fly on a ‘frozen’ ATPL so I’ve got all my qualifications for captain and just need to accrue flight hours and experience for a command upgrade.

Every day, I use what I learned during my training. For example, when planning how much extra fuel to take, I use meteorology, my favourite subject. Since taking meteorology lessons, I’ve never ‘just looked’ at the sky – I always try to predict the weather and study the cloud formations.

What’s been your most memorable flight?
One from Milan to Trapani. There had been thunderstorms over Sicily earlier that day, and small clouds were slowly making way for endless visibility. We started our approach during sunset, and as we got below those clouds, the sunlight illuminated the clear, almost red sky and reflected in them as purple and pink. It was so beautiful – I’ll carry that moment with me forever. Whenever the alarm goes off at 0315 and I don’t want to get out of bed, I think back to that view of the sky and know I have the best job in the world.

Another cool flying experience was wing-walking with the Breitling crew, which was absolutely surreal!

Maria blogs about her flying – and much more – at PilotMaria.com

And your favourite airfield?
Palermo, Sicily. Although I’ve landed there hundreds of times, it’s still one of the prettiest approaches I’ve ever flown – Runway 07 is my favourite. You fly over clear waters which shift from blue to turquoise with, to your right, the villages of Terrasini and Cinisi, and beaches all the way from Balestrate to Castellammare del Golfo.

Do you get to fly much outside work?
I try. Recently, I flew a Cessna 152 in North Italy – I’ve always wanted to fly around the Alps so that was a dream come true. I’m also planning to fly a Piper Cherokee around Sicily with friends, which I’m really looking forward to. It’ll feel a bit strange landing the Piper at Palermo though. as I’m so used to fly the 737 there – I can only imagine how many times I’ll mistakenly give my airline’s call sign on the radio.

What’s the most valuable career advice you’ve received?
A 737 captain told me that, whenever I had a question or I wasn’t sure about something, firstly, always look it up in the manual and only ask someone about it if you can’t find the answer there.

Flying CV

Maria Pettersson blogs about her adventures in aviation at www.pilotmaria.com

Started work June 2014
Now flying Boeing 737-800
Favourite Concorde
Hours at job start 230
Hours now 2,300

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