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Interview with Andy Thornton & Advice on Technical Interviews

We spoke with Captain Andy Thornton, Operations Director with CAE Crew Services regarding some advice on Technical Interviews. He has had an accomplished 20-year career so far in the aviation industry, starting off as a dispatcher and then becoming a line pilot with various airlines around the world and eventually progressing into different management positions. As such, Andy is well versed on Technical interviews from both sides of the interview panel.

Can you give us an insight into your career to date?

I started on the Saab 320 with Loganair. There weren’t enough aircraft at the time, so I was asked to introduce the rest of the fleet and do the paperwork manuals. I never left the office. I was a Tech Pilot at Loganair. 

Then I got a Direct Entry Captain position at BMI Regional on the EMB135 and 145. I spent 6 years in Glasgow. I was drawn back to the office, as an Area Manager which is like a Base Captain for several bases. I was then asked to go to Singapore with a team of 6-7 managers and 2 pilots to Tiger Airways, which is where I met the A320 and met the technical side of airlines. I was the Deputy Chief Pilot for 3 years. 

I had my first child, so we went home after 3 years and I re-joined Loganair as the Director of Flight Operations. It was a non-flying position, and I missed flying so I joined WOW air through CAE Parc initially and then went on to a local contract. I ended up back in the office managing training projects, and I became a TRE on the A320. After WOW Air I joined SAS Ireland and within a year I went back into management as Operations Director in CAE Crewing Services.

Do you remember your first technical interview and who was it with?

I do yeah, funnily enough, it is not with Loganair, Loganair’s process was a lot less formal, which was very nice really, nice experience for a newbie as I was, a newcomer to the industry. My first technical interview was with BMI Regional. So, it was actually really daunting, I had never done one before. I came with the experience that they were looking for, as an experienced pilot. But I didn’t actually know what I was walking into, I had no idea really. I took a lot of word of mouth and a lot of advice from people who had been through the process before. I was a very nervous chap walking in. They are difficult and a bit overwhelming at times.

If you were going to a technical interview or exam now how would you prepare?

It is all about reading. It's all about mentally preparing yourself for anything really. The problem with technical interviews is it can be so wide-ranging it can cover all sorts of topics. Some will be aviation specific or flying specific. You may have not thought of these topics since you were sitting your exams, fortunately for some that may have been fairly recent, but for me I sat my ATPL exams 25 years ago, there are topics there that I wouldn’t be so confident speaking about in an interview. So, it is all about being prepared. 

There is so much information available on the internet and books that will always be useful. In preparing for exams- it is all about reading. You’re not going to know everything perfectly and remember every page or every line, but just have enough knowledge to know what questions could be thrown at you.

Are candidates better off looking at company SOP or the aircraft manual?

It's specific to each airline, but my experience and general advice would be to look at the aircraft manual. It's amazing how different airlines can fly aircraft types differently on the basis that it's quite difficult to know exactly why an airline would have an SOP in a particular way. My advice is you can’t go wrong flying or operating the way the aircraft manufacturer suggested in the first place.

What is the weirdest technical question you have ever been asked in an interview?

I was once asked or told that aircraft have 3 landing gears, why don’t they tip up? You kind of sit there and say sorry what?! Basically, what he meant was there is a wheel at the front and 2 in the middle, why is there nothing at the back and why doesn’t it tip up? I think it was meant to relax me, but the conversation he wanted to have was on weight and balance and understanding the centre of gravity concept, etc. Then he went on to the principles of flight, etc. It just came across as a very strange way of wording a question on weight and balance.

Now that you’re on the other side of the interview table, what are you looking for during the technical interview?

Preparation- you can always tell if someone has not prepared. You can sit and ask a reasonably simple question and you can see people becoming flustered over that question. Many times, it is because they haven’t put any thought into the preparation of what is going to be asked of them. But if you get yourself into the mindset of being prepared for the type of technical questions, then you can bet that guy or girl is going to be more comfortable being able to answer. It's all about preparation specific to the airline or specific to the aircraft. But just be prepared.

What if the candidate doesn’t know the answer to the question, how should someone respond?

Do not make it up. If there is nothing you can do, say I’m sorry I don’t know that. What I like to see people do is to try and work it out because not everyone knows the answer to every question. Even if you go back to ‘Why don’t aircrafts tip up’ questions like mine, if it is not obvious what they are after then it's very easy to say ok well we can talk about is the nose heavy, is the tail heavy, or the balance. You can extract more information from the interviewer by engaging with them by demonstrating that you still know lots of information, even though you might not know that specific question. But if you can try and work it out and even get an interviewer to help you a little bit, then it shows you were able to look beyond the question itself and try to think outside the box to get to the answer.

If the candidate is not rated on the aircraft type, what kind of questions should they expect?

This is a little airline specific. Some airlines will be very specific on the questions they ask, how they are answered and will be graded. From my experience and from my perspective now, I think the more information you can get about the aircraft type or types being operated by that carrier, now that might seem generic, but the more information you can get, the better position you will be in for the questions that do come up. So, like I said, some will still expect you to know some specific information which may or may not seem fair, but that is their interviewing technique. But the more you know, the more chance you have of actually being about to reach an answer that might be one that is specific.

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