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  • 12 July 2019

Want to work in aviation? VET can make it happen

Hunter Valley-based pilot, engineer and VET graduate Toby Dorn

Soaring high above the clouds in a 10-seat Piper Chieftain, Toby Dorn is living his dream. The Hunter Valley-based pilot and engineer first learned to fly as a teenager, spending money he earnt in his part-time job on after-school and weekend lessons. A qualified pilot at 17, Toby then chose to pursue an engineering apprenticeship through VET. Now Chief Pilot, Executive Officer and Head of Airworthiness and Aircraft Maintenance Control for Blue Sky Airways, he credits his grandfather for his love of aviation and VET for delivering the skills needed to turn his passion into a career.

“I’ve always had a fascination with flying and with aircraft, especially vintage aircraft,” says the 29-year-old. “This is the dream job. I just thoroughly love flying and there’s always something interesting happening.”

The skills Toby gained through VET are central to his role. As well as flying and managing the day-to-day operations of Blue Sky’s fleet of 8-, 10- and 14-seat aircraft, it’s his responsibility to schedule the maintenance required to keep the planes airworthy.

“The regulatory compliance stuff—that’s the part of this job that follows on from my VET training,” he says. “A lot of people who hold chief pilot roles don’t really have an understanding of the engineering requirements. We liaise with three different maintenance organisations, so when they’re saying something is wrong with your plane, you can look at it with them and actually understand the problem.”

Toby Dorn - Pilot

A VET apprenticeship can take you places

Based at Cessnock Airport, Toby flies all over NSW and into southern Queensland. On any given week, he runs charters to Sydney, Tamworth, Moree and beyond. Recently he flew a group of doctors to Condobolin then onwards to Lake Cargelligo in the NSW Central West. “I often land in little towns, which is quite fascinating,” he says. “Once I flew a load of passengers into a little place called Hungerford on the NSW—Queensland border and when I landed, I almost doubled the population!”

To date, Toby has had two job offers from the big airlines, but at this stage, living and working in the Hunter Valley—where he grew up—is more appealing. “Maybe down the track that will change, but to be honest, it’s just not me,” he says. “In my own naïve way, I always believed I could have this sort of job and live where I do.”

Passion takes flight

Toby’s location also lets him indulge in his other passion: vintage planes. He owns a World War II ‘Piper J3 Cub’—purchased sight unseen on the internet—and uses it to train other pilots interested in vintage aircraft. “It’s not my day job, but it’s the side of aviation I enjoy the most,” he says.

The canary yellow plane lives in his hangar at the airport. “Yellow was the colour they used for training,” Toby explains. “It’s a 1940 model, so the skinning is fabric—very similar to canvas—and it’s covered in resin. It’s as tough as anything, but the sunlight does hurt them.”

On his website, Toby explains the appeal of flying older planes: “The Cub has been described as the symbol of freedom, and once you take a flight in it, you’ll understand why. The Cub is slow enough to truly appreciate the joy of flight, with the window down.”

VET opens doors to opportunity in the aviation industry

Drone pilot - crop dusting Want a career in aviation? “There are many other options than going to uni,” says Toby. “You can even get your pilot’s license now through VET. You can end up with a well paying and enjoyable career.”

  • VET qualifications are nationally recognised and deliver practical, on-the-job experience alongside key employability skills such as communication, problem-solving and digital technology, which are vital at every career stage.
  • The Certificate IV in Aeroskills, available as a fee-free apprenticeship, sees you qualify as an aircraft maintenance engineer, a job that pays around $85,000 a year. The qualification offers three different specialisations—avionics (centres around computers, electronics and electrical control systems), mechanical (the mechanics of an engine and associated systems) and structures (the parts and systems that hold a plane together).
  • If you love the idea of travelling across Australia and the world as a flight attendant, a Certificate III in Aviation (Cabin Crew), available as a traineeship, could be for you. On average, flight attendants earn around $70,000 a year, with only half the workforce in full-time roles—meaning many opportunities to work part-time.
  • A Certificate III in Aviation (Remote Pilot – Visual Line of Sight), available as a traineeship, can turn a weekend hobby of flying drones into a satisfying career. Skilled drone pilots are in demand across a range of industries, including agriculture, construction, mining and civil engineering.