Sara Johansson.

12-07-2018Humphrey Carter

Sara Johansson is a woman of many talents, but growing up the last thing she ever thought she would become was a pilot; she was terrified of flying. "My father once said to me I would be a flight attendant one day, I told him he was joking."

Born in Borås, near Gothenburg in Sweden, it was on the third flight of her life aged 16 heading to Greece for a holiday with her boyfriend and friends, that everything changed. "I know it is not done now, but I was allowed to go and sit in the cockpit and that was it.

"I knew I was scared of flying, but I’ve never let my fears get the better of me and stop me from doing something I want. Sitting in the cockpit, seeing everything that was going on, I felt so safe and it changed my whole attitude to flying. Sometimes, when you are sitting in the back, you hit turbulence, hear strange noises and you don’t know what is going on, and I think that is why a lot of people are afraid of flying, but once you’ve been in a cockpit, it changes everything. Last year, for example, was the safest year on record for flying."

However, she did not become a pilot overnight. She first trained as a hairdresser and opened a hair salon with a business partner. "Business was good and for a while I really enjoyed it, but eventually I felt the need for a change and I decided to enrol at a flight training school in Gothenburg.

"They invited me to what I thought was an interview but in fact was a full day of exams - maths, physics, IQ all that kind of stuff. I had no preparation at all, but I sat the tests and passed. Problem was I didn’t have enough money. They wanted me to start training straightaway, but I asked for a year’s grace, rented out some of my shares in the salon, went to Norway and worked double shifts in an airport while continuing my extra studies to get my pilot’s licence. A year later, I returned and began training. I was 29."

So, she embarked on training for her licence, qualified and just over two-and-a-half years ago landed her first job. "I started flying for the Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson who is also a pilot and owns his own charter company. I was flying a Boeing 737 with a capacity for 189 passengers. Sometimes we flew together.

"Then I spent eight months flying private jets for a company based in Djibouti and that was a great experience, especially for a tall blonde from Europe. But I was also flying cargo. As long as I was and am flying I am happy and now I am working for Industrifly which is located in Stockholm and we are focusing on complex travel solutions for companies and private people.

"And what is great, I am going to be flying a Falcon 7X which is a state-of-the art long-haul private jet. I am really excited about the plane and the longer flights. I love travelling and this job has enabled me to visit places I would probably never have had the chance to in my life. That is why I began posting Instagrams of my travels. I never set out to gather so many followers but what is amazing is that now I am getting contacted by lots of young people, male and female, who want to know more about how to get into the airline industry. So, I am helping to inspire people and encourage them to believe in working hard to achieve their goals, live their dreams."

This may sound very romantic, but flying is hard work.

"It’s demanding physically and mentally. Depending on the duration of the flight, we have to manage and balance our sleep patterns, our diets, our physical condition. Every six months we have to sit revision exams and go through simulation tests, mostly in England, and we are always tested for the worst-case scenarios in the simulator. We have to be prepared for anything and know how to react, with the important thing always remaining calm and collective.

"Each year we also have extremely in-depth and extensive medical tests and of course, with the aeronautical industry constantly evolving, we have to be constantly on top of all the latest innovations, aircraft designs and engineering. But being a bit of a nerd, I love all that stuff, I find it fascinating. The more knowledge you have about the aircraft and flying, the safer everybody involved is.

"I am now working for a very good and stable company and have a busy summer schedule ahead for which I am currently applying for all my visas. In the meantime, I am making the most of some downtime here in Palma, my new home, with my boyfriend and new friends I am making in the Scandinavian community.

"Being based here in Palma is ideal for my job because I can easily and quickly commute to any European airport where my plane is waiting for take off. But we have to watch our flying hours. Pilots are only allowed to fly a maximum of 900 hours a year and the clock starts ticking from the moment the plane starts to taxi and ends on docking or coming to halt on landing. There are so many rules and regulations but they are all there to make flying as safe as possible.

"The only thing that disappoints me about the airline industry is that, and we reached this mark this year, only six per cent of pilots are female; it’s still a macho-dominated industry. I know its changing, but I would love to see more women getting their pilot's licence and joining either the commercial or private sectors.

"While being extremely demanding, you have to always be at the very top of your game and know as much as you can about the profession. It is also amazingly rewarding. There are few words to describe the feeling, the sensation of flying, and that is what I want to transmit through my Instagram posts. I want to inspire young people to join the industry or at least follow their dreams. Nothing is impossible. If you work hard, very hard, you can do it."

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