DONEGAL passengers flying into Dublin are quite likely to hear a friendly Tir Chonaill voice over the intercom from the cockpit as they board their Aer Lingus flight over the Christmas holiday period.
Pilots Louise Gilroy (Letterkenny), Don McNulty (Creeslough) and Helena Mulroe (Mountcharles) or First Officers Fergal Crawford (Castlefin), Jason McLaughlin and Aidan O’Donnell (Buncrana) are just a few names you might hear should the tannoy crackle with a Donegal accent.
“Donegal is well represented in Aer Lingus. We nearly have our own ‘Donegal only’ cockpits at this stage,” Helena Mulroe joked.
Having grown up in Mountcharles, she went to school in the Nuala Convent primary school and the Abbey Vocational School in Donegal town. Her parents, Michael and Annette Mulroe had a fitted kitchen business in Donegal for many years. She has two sisters and one brother.
“My twin Maura and I are quite alike in some ways but we are also quite different, she isn’t in the airline business, she is the creative one and will soon be starting her own wedding photography business in Galway. I think my interest in flying was sparked when we would go on family holidays as a child,” she said.
When Helena left school she went on to study travel and tourism in Dublin and gained employment with IATA (International Air Transport Association). She worked with them for nearly five years but was looking to try something different.
“I’ve always wanted to be a pilot so I decided to try some private flying lessons to see if I actually liked flying. I was lucky that I joined a good flying club at Dublin Airport that had great instructors,” she recalled.
In 1999 Aer Lingus were offering places on their Cadet Pilot Programme and for Helena it was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
“I was offered a place, which was fantastic as all my training was paid for by Aer Lingus with a job waiting for me at the end,” she said.
In October 1999, she went off to Oxford to start her flying training, which included two months initial flying in Arizona. When she finished that course she returned to the Dublin base to start training on the Boeing 737.
Initially, Helena flew as a 737 First Officer out of Dublin on the European routes for nearly five years before moving onto the Airbus A320.
“I’ve been flying the A320 for ten years now and last year I was promoted to Captain. We work quite busy rosters these days compared to when I started flying 17 years ago. My husband Brian is a Captain on the European routes also. We have two little boys so it can be quite challenging trying to organise family life, school runs and the like,” she laughed.
With very early starts, late finishes and working on weekends, it is a job you have to be prepared for with 10 to 12 hour days not unusual.
“My typical day would start with a check-in between 5-6am. I’ll go into Flight Operations and go through all the paperwork with the First Officer. We’ll check the weather, airport information, any slot delays and then make a decision on how much fuel we will take for that flight. We’ll then head out to the aircraft to set it up.
“One pilot will do the ‘walk around’ outside to make sure the aircraft is in good condition, while the other pilot will set up the cockpit and programme the computer with our routing. During the flight we are constantly monitoring everything to make sure the flight goes smoothly.
“Once we land at our destination, things get even busier while we try to quickly turnaround the aircraft for the next flight. We are always trying to keep the flights on time so we fuel while disembarking or boarding to keep things moving. On average we will only spend 40 minutes on the ground before we push back again for the next flight,” she said.
Some of the more famous guests that Helena has had on board over the years include the late Michael Jackson, the actor Woody Harrelson and President Michael D Higgins.
“It’s a fantastic job which I really enjoy. No two days are the same which keeps it interesting,” she said.
“My advice to anyone wanting a flying career is to keep working hard and you will get there. It’s definitely a job that you will really need to be interested in as it’s takes a lot of training and money to get there. In the last few years Aer Lingus have reintroduced their Cadet Programme which is a fantastic opportunity for young people looking to get into flying,” she added.
Posted: 8:22 pm November 13, 2016
LETTERKENNY sisters Louise and Carol Gilroy are literally flying high in their respective careers in the aviation industry.