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Interview with AFTA Integrated Student Karsten Hempfling

Karsten joined AFTA in April 2019 on an integrated course and completed his training in 13 months (taking into account the flight-line was closed for 3 months). We recently spoke to Karsten to learn more about him, his time training in AFTA and what advice he would give to future students and aspiring pilots.

Name: Karsten Hempfling
Age: 19
Nationality: Swiss

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I was born in Germany and mostly lived in Denmark. My two younger brothers still live in Denmark with my parents. My interests outside of aviation are photography and drumming. For years I have also been pretty active in skeet clay pigeon shooting. I like this sport because, in my eyes, it promotes a special form of goal orientation and a quick and effective connection between body and mind.

When did you become interested in aviation?

When I was around 11-12 years old I started being interested in radio controlled airplanes and that led to trying a flight simulator on my PC. I used to spend many hours either flying all different kinds of radio-controlled planes, indoors and outdoors, and flying planes in my simulators, from small Cessnas to large airliners.

When did you know you wanted to become a pilot?

I wanted to be a pilot around the time I started being interested in aviation as a young boy. At the age of 17 there were just two career alternatives. Finally the choice fell clearly on that of the professional pilot, which then led to starting here at AFTA shortly after my 18th birthday.

How did you find training in Ireland?

It was very enjoyable and exciting. I like the country and Cork as well. Of course, the weather here can be challenging, but I think this also helps in becoming a more experienced pilot. Being able to fly in windy conditions and having to analyze quick changeable weather was helpful and instructive. I do like the atmosphere here at the academy.

People are friendly and helpful if there’s any question or problem. Also during the critical coronavirus phase I thought management of the situation was very responsible, solution-oriented, transparent, and effective. In my opinion the school acted speedily to implement Government protocols and were extremely well prepared when operations returned. There were many new safety measures and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) put in place and I was extremely happy to return to the flight-line.

You moved through your training at a remarkable speed, can you talk me through this?

Sure, with pleasure. As already implied, a lot came together in a positive way. As for my part personally: I had never flown before starting here, but my general preoccupation with the principles of flying already as a child was certainly helpful.I was always aware that a key part of being a pilot is your ability to follow clear specifications and formal guidelines. The role involves enormous responsibility, accuracy, precision, leadership, team spirit and the ability to make quick and reasonable solutions in maybe critical and dangerous moments.

During my training, I tried to implement these basic components from the start and work closely in co-operation with the school, its teachers, operations and the professional structure here. In all honesty, it breaks down it to a few core aspects. My deep appreciation for aviation and motivation to make the most of this opportunity. I made a conscious decision from the start to really concentrate my efforts on my training and make the most of this exciting time. In terms of expediting my training, there may have been a few factors that contributed to this. I never cancelled any flight during my whole training, I made sure to prepare for each lesson and I never reacted irritated about changes in scheduling, even at very short notice. I worked hard to build confidence and trust with my instructors and I remained ready for additional flights and briefings. I really enjoyed my training it was fun. I was lucky to do my solos pretty fast and the ATPLs in a little more than five months. The instructors challenged me and pushed me to get better and for this I’m very thankful.

How did you prepare for each stage of your training?

For ATPLs I always prepared by first reading the books. Having an actual understanding of the subject is vital in my eyes not just concentrating on question banks. For me having read the books before helped in doing the banks. Another thing in this regard is: don’t learn off the answers – if you bank you need to understand why that answer is right. Otherwise, the exams might throw you. For flying, I prepared by first learning the general theory for the next block of flights and then day to day preparing and studying for each flight. I think it’s also important to read the Pilots Operating Handbook (POH) when transitioning to another aircraft and having a good understanding of the aircraft already at the beginning.

What has been the most enjoyable and least enjoyable part of your training?

Even in areas that initially seem strange or tedious you can still find very interesting aspects by the end. Sometimes your initial perceptions completely change. My two favorite parts of training were: 1) My solo flights which I did from Waterford (AFTA’s second base). Flying solo the first time was of course very special but the first time flying a solo navigation flight, I felt how far I had come since I started just two months earlier. It was thrilling. Having never flown a plane before to being able to get in a plane and fly to another airport just you in the air and the huge responsibility that comes with that was an amazing experience. Another favorite part was doing my MEIR training on the beautiful Diamond DA42. Doing the ATPLs was a phase that probably everyone experiences as a form of ‘getting through’, but they are still very rewarding and interesting.

Understanding your general background. What is your favorite ATPL subject?

One subject of particular interest was Radio Navigation. I always preferred flying IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) so it was nice to learn in-depth about how all these systems work. I found it very interesting how precise and sophisticated some of these systems are but also how old some of them actually are. Like the first auto-land on a commercial flight was conducted in 1965. So, overall I enjoyed that subject a lot.

What is your favourite aircraft?

I think during the training the Diamond DA42 was my favorite aircraft. In my opinion, it has exactly the right amount of technology and was just a great plane to fly. Outside of that and in general, I’d say the Douglas DC3, it revolutionized the airline industry when it first flew in 1936 and what I find remarkable is that still now, 84 years later, more than 2,000 of them are still flying in commercial operations. I also really like the sound of the 14 cylinder 1200 horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine.

What advice do you have for future students?

My advice would be to trust in the given guidelines from the outset, to consider them as a solid foundation on which you can build on. Be proactive and prepare for your lessons and trust and cooperate with the school, advisers and instructors and you will get on well.

I would like to share some advice from my father which was very helpful to me:Learning is always an agreement between two individuals and that means responsibility on both sides.

Learning, how I understand it, is not just consuming information but it is about being an active learner and participating and working with a teacher. It is an innate part of every person. Someone with more experience leads another. It’s about the content, of course, but in my opinion the way to success is also determined by the person.

In practical terms this means: Actively listen to instructors, take their advice and if they offer you feedback on something, don’t argue about it, they have a lot more experience. Remember they always just want your best – so give it to them. Having a good co-operative relationship with the instructors makes your training faster, since they will be even more inspired to guide you further, and it will make it so much more enjoyable, both for you and also for your instructor. Another practical point: I think the first thing you should do before arriving here if you’ve never flown an aircraft is to get a lesson and read the PPL books. Even if they maybe don’t make that much sense, in the beginning, it will help you.

The last piece of advice coming into my mind now is: don’t complain about ATPLs too much. Yes, it’s hard and yes it can be frustrating, but you’ve got to get through it so just try and just put your head in the books and get them done, as fast as possible. My tip would be to try to get through them in six months. As the longer they go on, might challenge you more. So work as hard as you can for half a year and try and get them done. In Denmark we would say: “Put on the Viking helmet and show it to the dragon – and do it quickly and efficiently, otherwise it will only get fatter.” That really applies to the ATPLs.

If you would like to find out more about our integrated course or mentored programmes please email info@afta.ie or call us on +353 (0) 21488737 #1 (9am – 6pm Monday to Friday)