University of Leeds Logo

Reach for the Skies

 February 18, 2016 | Simon Jenkins

“I always I wanted to be a pilot,” says Ben Gillard – and the Philosophy Student was able to share his passion for flying with young people from less privileged backgrounds, thanks to support from the Footsteps Fund.

His ‘Reach for the Skies’ project worked with talented young people from disadvantaged areas of Leeds to break down perceived barriers to pursuing a career as a pilot.
Ben created a two-day programme involving ten Year 12 & 13 students (aged 16-18) which began with trying the flight simulators in the University’s Faculty of Engineering and receiving a talk on a career in aviation and a specialist talk on aeroplane engines.

The second day involved a trip to Manchester airport and heliport during which the children were able to observe the control tower. This was followed by a VIP tour of Thomas Cook’s headquarters and hangars where they were able to sit in the cockpit of a commercial airliner.

Alumnus pilot Adam Howey also shared his passion for engaging future generations in his chosen career.

The young people who took part in the project were all part of the Reach for Excellence widening participation scheme funded by Terry and Liz Bramall. Reach for the Skies brought an extra dimension to the programme. Louise Oddy, a student at St Mary’s Catholic High School in Menston says: “The highlight was the opportunity to go on the flight simulators. It was a great feeling and it really felt as though you were up in the air.”


Ciaran Morrison of Notre Dame College in Leeds says the scheme gave him a real insight into a career he now hopes to follow: “It was absolutely fantastic. To get advice from an experienced commercial pilot was really inspirational. I got to sit in the Captain’s seat of an Airbus A321. Hopefully I will return there as a fully trained pilot one day in the future. Reach for the Skies has kept my dream alive.”

For Ben, the scheme was not only a chance to share his passion for flying, but it also supported his application to join easyJet’s pilot training scheme. And his own dreams are very much alive: “I’ve been training for just under a year and have completed six months of theoretical training and passed the required exams and I’m about to finish basic flying training. The programme has been pretty tough and the theoretical training was really intense but the flying has been great fun!”

The last part of this course is in the stunning setting of Phoenix, Arizona – then on his return to the UK Ben will begin six months of detailed tuition on A320 simulators, replicating the aircraft which he will be operating when he takes up his position at easyJet. “As long as I pass all of the training I’ll start flying as a first officer in the spring.”

He remains grateful for the support he received to establish Reach for the Skies: “It allowed me to demonstrate to airlines that I had the drive and commitment towards aviation and becoming a pilot which I’m sure helped me a lot in the selection process. Being able to get funding from the Leeds for Life Foundation was incredibly useful.”


Reach for the Skies