MIAMI – Hello everyone, and welcome to a new episode of Airways Profile, our exclusive series dedicated to people in aviation.
From the United Arab Emirates, Airways travels to Paris, France, where Flo will tell us what it means for him to be a pilot for a legacy carrier.
Flo, let’s begin! What’s your name and what’s your role in aviation?
My name is Florent Lacressonnière, I am a Senior First Officer for Air France (AF) based in Paris CDG, I have been flying for nearly 7 years now, on the Airbus 320 family (318, 319, 320, 320neo, 321), I was previously flying for easyJet (U2), based in London Gatwick.
Senior First Officer. How did you end up being a first officer?
Being an airline pilot was a lifelong dream of mine. In my earliest memories I remember looking at the sky at aircraft flying by and being fascinated about how they flew and where they were going, from this time I knew I wanted to fly an aircraft.
I can still remember one of my first trips from Paris to New Caledonia, where it took 28 hrs of flying. A few years later, on my 15th Birthday, I did my first flight at a small flight School in Lille, north of France.
In the meantime, I’ve orientated my studies to become a Pilot as quick as possible, but I had a massive weakness, which was my English.
Believe me, I totally understand your problem with English!
Anyway, I had to move to the UK to learn English to become fluent, and from there I started a full training to become a Commercial Pilot, including the ATPL. After 18 months of intense training, between the UK and New Zealand, I became fully qualified, and joined easyJet for about 4 and a half years.
And after that, my dream Airline Air France restarted to recruit, so I did the assessment to join them. I have been at Air France for 2 and a half years now, still flying the Airbus 320 (all the family). I love working for an airline that is the national carrier of France. I am now waiting my turn patiently to move to long-haul, hoping this pandemic crisis will soon be part of history.
Wait. Did you really say twenty-eight or my English has gotten worse lately?
Well, I am talking about 1998 here, to fly to New Caledonia. It is a tiny but beautiful French Island near the east coast of Australia, you had to fly From Paris to Noumea, via Colombo (Sri Lanka), then Sydney (Australia). It was with a DC-10 AOM (an old French Airline), but by far one of my favorite trips ever. I was 7 but I can still remember some of it, especially flying over a massive storm near India. The crew giving me 4 seats to sleep, I was like the little Prince of the flight.
And from that moment on, you were sure that when you grew up, you would be a pilot. I have to ask: what makes you proud of being a pilot?
First of all, flying. It was my dream from a young age, and it has come true. I never gave up on that dream, it wasn’t always easy. I studied a lot and also it was difficult financially.
Being able to pilot modern aircrafts, seeing the world from above. You are responsible, even as a co-pilot, for many lives.
You were clearly motivated by your passion, but I assume you must have some requisites to be a pilot. Or, in your opinion, do you think that literally anyone can be a pilot?
Yes, I do. To start with, the medical check, even though it is less strict than before, you still have to pass it every year. You have to test your eyesight, hearing, heart, etc.
I am going to also say, English. I know it sounds silly, but for us French (and European), it is one big requirement. The rest is a lot of work, you have the 14 ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot Licence) exams, then the flying skills test. Again, that can be problematic for some people. The flight tests can be very demanding, you have to be accurate and precise, to me that is where your passion for flying will help a lot to get through it.
I have a question. Please forgive me if this can be considered as a cliché, but why Air France and not any other airline in the world that is flying the A320? Just a matter of patriotism?
A bit of patriotism yes, I am proud to fly for my state Airline of course. When they started recruiting again, I was with easyJet, but I did not hesitate to go to the recruiting session of Air France. To me it is also important to look at the career the airline is offering, and Air France was what suited me the most.
I really want to do Long Haul in the near future. The contract obviously, one of the best work conditions. I did want to stay in Europe as well. When I look around me, many of my pilot friends have lost their job. In Air France so far they have maintained everyone’s job.
So, Air France it is! How is the schedule when you work on the short-haul?
Right now, very quiet unfortunately. I barely do to 10 flights a month. We normally do a lot more on short/medium haul. I really hope it will all increase by May with a peak during summertime, where I should reach 60/70 flying hours per month again. My average this winter was 15. We are far from normal obviously.
Regarding the flights, I would normally do 3 to 4 days of night stopping all over Europe per week. On average it was 3 flights a day. Now it’s more daily return flights, or one sector out, and the return flight the next day.
How can you have a good balance between work and your personal life if you spend 3/4 days a week sleeping in another country?
It is definitely something you need to think about before applying to a legacy. You will be away most of the time and not come back every night as you would do at a low cost.
But honestly, I quite like it, it is not a 9-5 job Monday to Friday, which is what I like. But it does request some planning, sometimes you will miss birthdays or parties at the weekend, but you can always try to book them off.
You become a pro at packing, even though I still hate doing that, but sometimes you go to Russia where it’s a bit colder than Venice the day before. So yeah, it requires some planning. I do love going one day to one country, and the next day to a completely different one.
And now, you know I was going to ask this question: How has COVID impacted your life?
Unfortunately, quite a lot like everyone. My girlfriend lost her job (she works for an English Airline). I have also had to take a pay cut due to less flights on my roster. However, we still managed to move to France so I am closer to my home base in Paris, and my girlfriend can now learn French.
Why the long-haul? I am going to say something that a friend asked me once: is it not more exciting to perform multiple takeoffs/landings rather than to watch the ocean for eight hours?
To continue to live my dream furthermore. Flying all over the world, on one of the biggest long-haul networks would be awesome. I love meeting new people, discovering new cultures, and seeing new things. There are a lot more challenges like the weather for example.
I have been flying over Europe for over six years now and I really feel the time to progress further is coming. I am hoping to fly either the Boeing 777 or the Airbus 330/350 in the near future.
Training question: how can you switch from a narrow-body to a wide-body and then go to long-haul? Are there are some requirements in terms of years of experience, and do you have to wait for the right time?
Again, I will talk about Air France. To fly an airplane, you need a type rating. Each plane has a specificity you’ll learn with it. So, for us you start you career on short haul with a narrow-body, then to go on long haul you’ll do a new type rating on a wide-body.
They normally will look at your past simulators sessions to see if you don’t have any issues, and then according to your seniority in the airline, you will be able to get the plane you have requested. It also really depends on the economic situation, right now with the pandemic the requirements of pilots for long haul is quite low. I am confident this will get better again in a few months.
Any regrets for not arriving in time to still fly the Boeing 747 or the 380?
Oh yes, I do regret the 747 especially! That would have been a big achievement to fly it, but I’m born a little bit late. However some new planes are coming up now like the A350, and I’m looking forward to flying it one day for sure!
If, and I stress the if, you were able to choose between the Boeing 777 or 350, which one would you choose and why?
I would love to fly the 777 too. It is a “big truck” like we call it in Air France, it never fails to do its mission. It has power, reliability, and in Air France, the best network! If I had the choice I would love to fly it.
Then I would move to the Airbus 350, from what I’ve heard from A350 pilots, is the most “finished” aircraft. Everything is awesome with it, and performance-wise it is a beast and very economic.
Working on long-haul also means that you have to deal with jet-lag. Are you afraid of that?
I wouldn’t say I am afraid of it; I am actually looking forward to it. I had the chance to travel a bit to different countries, even some that are really far away with a 12-hour time difference (New Zealand).
I find I normally accommodate quite quickly in different time zones. Most of the captains I work with, who did long haul have told me if you’re a late person you normally struggle a lot less with Long Haul. And I’m definitely a night person.
Let’s go back to the small planes now: I wonder, what is the difference between working for a low-cost company and working for a legacy airline? I mean, an Airbus A320 is always an Airbus A320, isn’t it?
Yes, the plane is the same, except the cabin configuration. In Air France we have some “business” seats. The expectation from these customers is obviously higher.
But mainly it’s my roster which has changed the most. With easyJet, I was always coming back to my base after a day of flying. With Air France, we do night stop a lot more. We mainly do flights to feed the long-haul hub. However there are a few leisure flights to islands or hot countries during the summer.
Working for a ‘legacy’ airline gives me a chance to progress to long haul. On the other hand it will take a lot longer to become a Captain compared to a low cost airline.
I’ve just said the phrase “An A320 is always an A320”. What is the difference in terms of flying between an A318 and an A321? Is there a tangible difference or is it just the length of the fuselage?
The cockpit is the same. But as you said, the plane is a lot longer, which means a lot heavier as well. You do feel it during takeoff and landing. You can’t fly as high with a full 321, where we fly around 36000ft. The 318 won’t struggle to get to 39000ft on most flights.
The handling is a bit different as well, due to the shortness of the fuselage, but having the same wingspan, the 318 has a tail 80cm higher than the rest of the family, and you do feel that when you have a lot of crosswind! I personally prefer flying the 321 or 320, especially the ones with the sharklets.
I also had the chance to fly the NEO with easyJet, and that was definitely my favorite one.
Any thoughts on the NEO?
The Neo is really a game changer. I remember the first time I flew on it, I was going from London to Malaga. The captain and I were really surprised by the fuel required to get there. It was over a ton less than a normal plane. In cruise with a normal Airbus A320 the fuel consumption is about 40kg/min. With a Neo it is more like 32kg/min, so about 20% less!
It is enormous. On a passenger side, the noise level in the cabin during the cruise is also a lot less! These planes will be flying further with less fuel so it is a massive improvement, especially today where people are paying a lot of attention to their carbon foot print.
Let’s discuss for a second one the most asked questions about aviation: what is the difference between Airbus and Boeing, in your own word? We know that no one can say that one is better than the other since they have two different philosophies, but how would you explain this difference?
That’s a good question (Yes, he’s laughing!), to start with, it’s USA vs Europe!
Both are historical now since the number of years they’ve been buildings planes. I’ve only done a bit of Boeing during my MCC (Multi Crew Coordination), and it was a Boeing 737 classic, with no screen basically.
But one of the main things before, because I think the 787 is very modern now, is that Airbus created the two pilots aircrafts. And for that they used completely different system including the fly by wire. Boeing is (or was) more mechanical controls. Other big difference is the yoke for Boeing, and the Sidestick for Airbus, quite nice as you can have a proper table in front of you.
Airbus was in fact more like a big computer style aircraft, while Boeing was more old fashion with cables etc. It would be a very long subject to spot all the difference as you can imagine.
One last big difference I can think of, and that’s for the avgeek, is the strobe lights. If you pay attention, Boeing’s Aircraft are flashing one time while Airbus are flashing two times in a short amount of time. Planespotters will notice it quickly 😉
One of the pilot I have interviewed in the past described his life as ‘A boring life, waiting for 10 seconds of terror’. How much is that true?
To me it is not boring, because flying is what I love to do. But yeah 95% of the time, what we do is really “standard”. Like almost the same, with checklist to make sure we don’t forget anything. But when everything goes wrong, that is where we put our full skills in.
A pilot is not paid for what he does, but for what he knows to do. This is why we keep training in the simulator every six months, to cope with this “10 seconds of terror.”
Let me try to open a Pandora Box: what’s the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you during one of your flights?
I am pretty lucky to not have very weird stuff happened to me yet. But I had to divert a couple of times because of the weather being too dangerous to land. The weather can really be challenging such as the snow in the winter or the storms in the summer. Now we can predict as much as possible, but it still is unpredictable from time to time.
Mother nature is always stronger than you. And sometimes you can have some difficult passengers like people still trying to smoke in the toilets (even vaping), which can be really critical if a fire is starting…
Let’s put aviation aside, at least for a couple of questions. How was your move to the UK from France? UK and France are pretty close, but New Zealand is certainly not. Any thoughts on it?
Moving from France to UK was already a small challenge for me. I was only 19 years old, and my English was far from a good level. I had to adapt to a new culture, but I loved every minute of it, and London is definitely one of my favorite city in the world!
Then moving to New Zealand was also a big step. The time difference to start with as you can only speak to your family in the morning or late in the evening, because of the 12 hour’s time difference. But again, I know how to adapt easily. I love meeting new people and exploring new cultures. I really enjoyed it.
That’s a question I ask all my French friends. Why do you always speak French even if you are in a country where French is not the main language? I mean, you are not going to ask where Times Square is in French while in a subway car, aren’t you?
French and English, a big story! Well to start with, French people are really proud of their language, so they won’t make much of effort in English (haha). Also, in France I don’t think it is easy to learn English. The way we are being taught; people get fed up quickly. It’s one of the reasons I moved to England to properly learn it.
Also all the movies series etc. are being translated for us in French. Unlike in Netherlands for example, where they all have an amazing English level, because from the beginning, if they want to watch an American movie, it won’t be translated, so they’re learning faster. The older you get, the harder it is to learn a language.
Do you have any plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? No, that’s not a hiring interview, I swear!
In five years, I really hope to be on long-haul; hopefully, the pandemic crisis is far behind us then and the world is moving on again. On what plane, I’m not sure, ideally the 777 or maybe it will be the A330/A350.
In 10 years, again if no major problems, I hope to be senior enough to become an Airline Captain. At the moment, this will probably be either on the Boeing 737 with Transavia (which is the Air France Low cost), or on the Airbus A220 with Air France, as we are supposed to get over 60+ in the coming years.
And what about aviation? Where do you see the aviation world in 5/10 years?
Aviation has always had a very up and down story. Who could have planned that a world pandemic would put most of the planes on the ground, two years ago?
There is cycle in aviation, for the past 30 to 40 years, it has suffered a global crisis every 10 years… Right now, we’re in the biggest one ever unfortunately, I think it will last for a little bit more. It could also pick up quickly again, and that’s all we hope for! But it will be very hard for some airlines.
On the optimistic side, aviation is always improving, newer aircraft are sometimes 30% more economical to fly, we will see new opportunities I think on long haul flights, with aircraft capable of going for more than 17/18 hours nonstop!
Perhaps we will also see new aircraft electrically powered, and later powered with hydrogen. I’m kind of hoping there will be new supersonic planes coming up (like new Concorde). Let’s hope for the best anyway, and the return of as many planes as possible in the sky soon.
You are a pilot, you are an AVGeek, and you are also a planespotter. And a pretty good one – if I may say so since I find your photos amazing, and you also won our latest A380 contest. How did planespotting come about?
Thank you so much! I’ve been doing planespotting for over 12 years now. I always had a bit of photography passion, and then I discovered the planespotting world. I then met many friends and went on trips around Europe with some of them. I was also a screener for JetPhotos at some point. I had to stop during my training to become a pilot, as it was quite intense, and I was too short with money, so I sold my camera.
Few years ago, I came back to it, with a brand-new camera. I even manage to sell some photos now from time to time, and I did create my Instagram account to share it. So thankful to have reach nearly 4000 followers now, and I’ve discovered so many new talented planespotters.
I now can’t wait to meet some of them around the world, try some helicopter planespotting at LAX too for example, and go to many other airports.
What came first, you passion for aviation or your passion for photography?
Aviation! But then, by spending lot of time of aviation photography website, it joined quickly together. I’m also sometimes considering starting filming a little bit more. I quite like making some movies, I have one on YouTube on my training, nearly 30.000 views, I was quite impressed it did reach that many.
So, I’ve invested in a GoPro, and I’m now starting to film (with the camera on a suction cup) some of my approaches, as we have so many beautiful ones here in Europe.
Let’s try this scenario: I am an amateur photographer (what I really am, but that’s another story), and I want to open a new Instagram account because I think my photos are pretty cool and I want to share those photos. Any advice?
Firstly, do it for fun, not the views or likes! Photography is at first a personal thing. Yes some may not like your style, but if you like it then go for it.
Try to have your own style or try different point of view. There is so much diversity, you can get obviously inspirations, I do it too.
The quality of your shots will be important to gain followers, but the diversity can play a big role too. And you will easily meet extraordinary people who will sometimes even give you advices on how to improve. Just remember to keep it fun, it is not a competition, but a way of sharing your passion J
I have the feeling that someone should print those words and make a poster of them. Now, I don’t want to steal so much of your time, so let’s do some quick questions with really easy answers!
What’s your favorite plane: Boeing 747, Concorde, P51 Mustang, some old Russian planes
Who’s on the side of the list? Boeing 767 or the new Comac series
Your favorite airline, and NO, you are not allowed to say Air France: You’ve guessed my answer (laugh). Let say Virgin Atlantic to have flown with them a few times, they’re awesome!
What’s your favorite airport? COD and ORY are excluded. LHR (London Heatrow), LAX (Los Angeles), INN (Innsbruck)
ORY or CDG? I much prefer CDG
Most chaotic airport? Londong Luton (LTN)
Highest number of planes in front of you before takeoff: I think above 10 once or twice!
Highest number of holdings before landing: Specialty of London Gatwick back in the days, easily above 7 or 8!
An airport where you would dream to fly as a pilot: I’ll give a few, INN, LAX, JFK, SXM (Saint-Marteen), HKG (Hong Kong).
The highest number of minutes of delay: Wasn’t our fault (Obviously haha), but summer 2016 in Europe was chaotic, so above 4 hours…
The sentence you say most in the cockpit, except for your callsign: CHECK or request visual approach, nowadays.
Flo, that was an amazing interview for me. We are almost at the end, and I have to finish this with the question I think it’s my favorite. There is a sentence “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”. How true is this sentence for you?
So True, I’m living of my passion, I am very lucky! I feel like a professional sportsman, and rarely feel like going to work!
Anyone you want to say hi to?
My friends and family who will read me, and everyone who knows me through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube !
And that marks the end of this Episode! Flo, thank you very much. You are a really great person, and I can only wish you all the best for your future and for your career.
Thanks to our followers as well for being here and for making this column possible. Stay tuned for our next episode. Until then, take care of yourself and each other!
Featured and all images courtesy: Florent Lacressonnière