Even as a teenager, CAE Amsterdam/CAE Brussels Instructor Jan Groot was determined to become a pilot. His first step was to enlist in the Dutch Air Force at just 18-years old. “At that time, neither I nor my family could afford flight school, so joining the Air Force was my only option if I wanted a flying career,” Jan recounts.
While, today, Jan instructs on the fixed-wing Boeing 757, 767, 777, and 787 aircraft types, his early flying days revolved around helicopters. After his initial Officer training, Jan went to the United States for training with the Euro-NATO Department, where he flew different helicopters used by the U.S. Army. Upon graduation, Jan returned to the Netherlands to continue his training and received his military pilot license (or ‘Wing’). He went on to fly helicopters for the Dutch Air Force operationally for four years, followed by a year-and-a-half as an Air Force Test Pilot.
After completing his Dutch Air Force contract requirements, Jan’s wide-body journey began as a First Officer on the Boeing 747 with Martinair, a Netherlands-based cargo and charter carrier. Jan spent five years on the Queen of the Skies before he transitioned to the Boeing 767. After hearing about an up-and-coming airline hiring Boeing 777 pilots, Jan and his family moved to Dubai for a job with Emirates. Within two years he was upgraded to Captain and began instructing with the airline. He remained with Emirates for more than 15 years.
When asked to recount a memorable moment from his illustrious flying career, Jan didn’t have to search for long to find his answer. “September 11, 2001,” responded Jan, “without a doubt.” He and his crew had been flying from Amsterdam to Miami that morning, when they received confusing, and unsettling, information from Air Traffic Control. “I was on the radio with New York, and they told us the airspace was closed,” recalled Jan. “What? What do you mean the airspace is closed? We couldn’t grasp what was happening. It didn’t make sense.”
Jan and his crew ended up landing in Bermuda, with little information and no plan, waiting (and hoping) to receive some sort of direction. “We knew there was an attack on the world, but we didn’t know exactly what.” After three hours on a hot tarmac, the crew had yet to receive any direction from their company. “We didn’t know what to do, but we knew we couldn’t stay there. The passengers were starting to become very unhappy,” explained Jan. So, the 777 took off again with no destination, heading south to avoid U.S. airspace, and eventually ended up landing in the Dominican Republic, where the plane stayed for a week.
In 2015, Jan and his family decided to move back to the Netherlands. He had accepted a job as Head of Training with Flight Simulator Company (FSC), later acquired by CAE. In early 2020, Jan became a a freelance Instructor Pilot/Examiner with CAE, splitting his time between CAE Amsterdam and CAE Brussels.
When asked about the transition from the flight deck to a learning environment, Jan says there are fulfilling parts to both jobs. “For me, I enjoy teaching new skills and sharing my experience with the pilots I am training,” said Jan. “But it is most fulfilling to see the progress the pilots make. It proves that what we [instructors] do matters, and we provide the tools and skills pilots need to do their job. Instructing also has taught me a lot about myself as a pilot, it has made me think about things in different ways and learn new ways of doing things. You can learn a lot from those you teach.”
But instructing doesn’t come without its own challenges. “Every company has their own way of doing things – their own procedures and flight deck culture – which can be difficult to navigate,” explained Jan. “We want to make sure they follow the OEM procedures as close as possible, while also considering the unique way each airline does things.”
Jan’s advice for pilots interested in instructing: “Do it! Instructing is one of the most rewarding jobs in aviation,” says Jan. “It takes patience, a lot of patience, but I think it’s the best job you can have in this industry because you get to share your knowledge and give back.” And he must really mean it, because when Jan isn’t instructing at CAE, he is an instructor at a small flight school, helping people obtain their Private and Recreational Pilots Licenses, and Instructor ratings.
“I just really love flying,” concludes Jan. We can’t argue with that.
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