Arty is a 28-year-old pilot of Slovenian-Italian roots, currently flying as FO (first officer) on an Airbus A320 for Lauda Europe with base in Zagreb, Croatia. His love of flying led him down an exciting path, starting his education in Crete and later working as a flight attendant for Ryanair to pay for his flying hours and training in Canavia Flight School in the Canary Islands. Despite the pandemic and other circumstances, his perseverance proved that if you are committed, dreams come true.
First Officer Arty Nal Toffanin
Did you always know you wanted to be a pilot?
Honestly, no. The idea came to me when I was living on the Greek island of Crete, where I was admiring the NATO military planes breaking the sound barrier from my terrace, as well as all the other interesting military planes that you don’t usually see everywhere.
I was 18 at the time and I quickly realized that I wanted to become a pilot and found the private school to make it happen.
I lived in Slovenia (Ljubljana) for the first 18 years, then moved with my family to Crete (Chania), Greece, where I was supposed to have a one-year break before university. My parents are in the fashion industry and I thought I would enjoy something like that, but thanks to Greece, I found out I was wrong and that my goal is to be a pilot. In my 20s, with a PPL in my pocket, we moved to Milan.
How come you decided to continue your flight training in the Canary Islands?
A few months after we moved to Milan ( Italy) I was already working as a flight attendant for Ryanair and I was based in Scotland (Glasgow-Prestwick). That’s where I started my distance learning flight training. Two years later I was transferred to the Canary Islands, first to Lanzarote (ACE) and a year later to Gran Canaria (LPA). There is also a school ( CANAVIA ) where I passed my pilot license.
I have to thank my parents, who supported me and still support me in every way and have guided me through this journey in the right way.
How long did you study in the Canary Islands?
My schooling took a little longer than normal because of distance learning and my job as a steward. I did my schooling in about five years, on the island of Gran Canaria.
What are the specifics of schooling in the Canary Islands?
Schooling in the Canaries is very different from on the mainland because most of the time you fly over water, between islands.
The Canary Islands have 8 islands, our main base is Gran Canaria (LPA), where there is an international airport as well as the only private uncontrolled airport (El Berriel) on all the islands, which is a little further south than LPA airport. What is specific there is that the runway is quite short (600m), there is sea on both sides and the runway itself is on one of the windiest parts of the island.
Because of this, we often have very strong winds ( 30+ knots ). As the landing strip is in this location where the winds from the north and south meet, wind shear is very common either on the landing strip or very close to it.
I suppose for some pilots this is not a big problem but when you consider that we are training pilots from scratch in these conditions (high winds, wind shear, short and narrow runway…) it is quite impressive and definitely a very good and steep learning curve.
In most flight schools, when the wind blows over 10 knots, many schools cancel flights, etc… That’s why we are quite proud of the training that pilots get there and it definitely helps them when they get to their first pilot job.
Have you flown between all the islands? Sounds like lots of fun…
Yes, I have visited them all, and I have to admit that they are indeed eight beautiful islands. Lanzarote is a very dry island, with almost no greenery, just volcanic rocks everywhere. Fuerteventura has the most beautiful sandy beaches and is a paradise for surfers. Tenerife and Gran Canaria are the biggest islands, where you have everything from beaches to almost jungle, La Palma is the banana island and one of the greenest islands…
The best part for me was to fly very low near the inactive volcanic craters, which are admirable, and then land on one of the smaller islands, where you can very casually leave the plane, rent a car and go for a nice lunch by the beach, jump in the water, take a little sunbath and then fly back home.
If anyone wants to experience this, where do you recommend they go?
If anyone wants to experience flying as a tourist (pilot experience for a day), where the client will fly the plane with an instructor, or anyone wants to do any pilot license (PPL, LAPL, IR, CPL…) I suggest contacting Instagram: flight.school.canavia or on the website: https://www.canavia.it/where you will be in contact with Paolo, who will give you all the information you need.
You paid for your further license training by working as a steward on Ryanair. Can you describe this experience? What did you like the most and what was the hardest?
Although Ryanair gets a lot of bad reviews from some customers, we have to admit that it is not bad in terms of work. The salaries are not bad, the schedule is very nice (5 ON, 3 OFF for stewards and 5 ON, 4 OFF for pilots), the work itself is fun, and you have the possibility to be based all over Europe…
I think the hardest part for everyone is working on the morning flights when you have to get out of bed at about 03:00 in the morning. In the beginning, I thought that you get used to it with time, but I think I speak for everyone that this is definitely not the case. Every year it is harder to get up at these hours.
Passengers are mostly quite OK. You certainly often have more special passengers, but that’s something you have to be able to handle in this job, otherwise, I don’t think a job in catering is for you. The hardest part is when there is a medical emergency in-flight, which definitely happens, you just have to give it time.
As long as there are only some minor problems, when someone loses consciousness, feels unwell, panics, stress etc.. it’s fine, the hardest is when you have passengers with heart attacks, strokes or even when they die, which has happened to some of my colleagues.
The best part is the timetable. If you are lucky enough to be based in a good and relatively small base where you know most of the people (and have very good family relationships with them), it means that there is a lot of socializing. And if it’s a base that mostly has longer flights, that means you’re flying more hours and fewer times a month.
I flew about 10 days a month as a steward in the Canaries, and the other 20 days I was OFF or on standby (which was usually, fortunately, like an off day…). So when you consider that you can only work 10 days a month, get a relatively good salary and live in the Canaries, where the weather is perfect all year round and you can practically live on the beach, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Did you have your eyes on Lauda Europe from the start? How long did it take you to get into the pilot’s chair?
Not at all… my schooling, or rather my start in aviation as a line pilot was quite turbulent.
I finished my studies in 2019. I was targeting Ryanair (B737) from the start because I had a lot of experience with them by then and knew what to expect. Honestly, it would be a great job for a first pilot experience because they have very good and high standards, you fly a lot which means a lot of experience in a very fast time, a good salary, a great schedule, and a very good opportunities for promotion. As soon as I passed my pilot’s license I applied to Ryanair, passed my interview, and just as I was about to start my B737 training, it was canceled due to the catastrophic crashes of the B737-MAX. At that time Ryanair stopped receiving B737-MAX models, like all other airlines. Luckily, Ryanair called me six months later and offered me a job at Lauda Europe (formerly Laudamotion from Niki Lauda, which Ryanair bought in March 2018).
Fortunately, I started training for the A320 quite quickly, finished everything I needed to, and moved to Palma de Mallorca. Just as I was about to start flying, the lockdown due to COVID-19 began.
At that time, I and most of the new pilots were fired, so I had a very “fun” start…
Fortunately, during the pandemic I got a job in my flight school as a flight operations manager, where I learned a lot also in terms of school management, organizing the technical safety of the aircraft, making sure that we fly all the planes to the maximum, we have an overview of all the students, instructors, etc… It was a very great experience, which lasted for two years and came to an end. when I was fortunately called back to Lauda Europe as FO (first officer) on the A320, where I am still currently employed.
What are the responsibilities of the FO-“first officer”? Do you think everyone wants to be a captain?
The “First Officer” has the same responsibility as the Captain to ensure that the flight operation is successful. The pilot (either FO or Captain) ensures the safety, efficient operation and management of the aircraft. “First officers” have the same duties, except that the captain is at the highest level and all decisions are ultimately his responsibility. The FO shall take over all duties of the Captain in case the Captain is incapacitated.
There are also certain procedures (with our carrier) that only the Captain can carry out, e.g. parking the aircraft. There are also airports and procedures at some airports that are marked as “Captains Only”, i.e. they are suitable to be carried out by the Captain only because he has more experience than the FO.
Example: the Dortmund airport (DTM) has a “Captain’s only landing” because the runway is only 1700 m long (which is not much for an A320), Madeira airport (FNC) is very windy and only the Captain can land there (usually with special training)…
In principle, it can be said that every FO is in ‘training’ to become a captain. Every FO wants to be a captain, so we work hard to gain experience and do our best to be the best we can be so that we can move up when the time comes.
I guess it depends on the Captain/First Officer dynamic how nice the day will be in the cockpit. Appropriate communication skills are required.
The Captain is definitely in charge, so he has quite a big influence on how the day goes.
In my experience, all the pilots I’ve met are very communicative and social, so for the most part we get on very well and the flights go without any problems. This dynamic also varies greatly according to cultural differences. I’m sure we have a much better dynamic in Europe than in China or in some Arabic parts of the world ( I mention this based on stories I’ve heard from other pilots…).
I think the FO has to be humble to a certain extent and let the captain be in charge. This boundary is perfectly clear unless something abnormal occurs.
A way of saying and showing the mistakes that are made by a colleague… If they are shown in a more diplomatic way, it will definitely be better than in a more harsh way.
For example, if the Captain forgets little things like lights, the difference between “Captain, would you like more light” and “Captain, you forgot the lights” is quite noticeable. The way we communicate should be collaborative (teamwork) and not a one-man show.
We all make mistakes, and we always will (it’s human) that is why there are two of us in the cabin. To try to prevent mistakes that are bound to happen.
Have you ever had an in-flight experience that scared you?
As a flight attendant, I have had an incident or two where a passenger had a heart attack and we had to perform first aid and divert the flight, where paramedics took the passenger. These were one of those flights where the ability and efficiency of the whole crew is very important.
Fortunately, as a pilot, I haven’t had any major incidents so far… A few bird strikes, we’ve had a number of technical problems, but nothing terrible.
I think all these events are somehow related to luck… There are a lot of pilots who fly from a young age until retirement without any serious problems, and then there are other pilots who experience all kinds of surprises from the beginning (engine failure, decompression, fire on board, etc…).
I noticed you have a good eye for details. What do you think flying has taught you that has changed how you react in your daily life?
Thanks to flying and training, I have learned to face problems in a way:” Can I fix it? If the answer is “yes”, I do something about it. If it is a “no”, I face it and accept it. That way there is no complaining. If the problem can’t be fixed, you learn to live with it.
It has definitely made me much more responsible, reliable, and adaptable to constant change.
I have also learned that when you rush, you lose the quality of your work. When we fly, there are many situations that cause delays. Usually, we would like to buy time by rushing our procedures to catch up with delays, which very quickly leads to more new problems than solutions. So no rushing.
In principle, I’m happy flying to all destinations, but it’s true that I really like long flights and flights to sunny destinations, so Spain, Greece, and Italy. I’m very happy because the people there are immediately warmer, a warm destination is immediately more ‘happy’ than flying in the rain and fog…
On the other hand, I also really like flying to some of the more complicated airports, where you have to prepare your descent and approach better than usual.
Which destinations are you currently flying to from your base in Zagreb? What is your schedule?
We currently fly to Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, the UK, France, Bulgaria, you name it… I have a standard Ryanair schedule of five flying days and four days off. Each week we alternate between working on morning flights and working on afternoon/evening flights. On a normal working day, we fly 2-4 sectors, which means that we go, for example, from Zagreb-ZAG to Paphos-PFO, back to ZAG, and then from ZAG to Rome-FCO and back to ZAG again. It means sleeping at home in our base every day.
What’s your favorite thing when flying?
Of course, the views are beautiful… I really like that every day is something new, every day you learn something, which is very important in aviation. Every day there are new surprises for you, and that adds a little spice to our flights. And, of course, meeting new people. If you want to, you can learn a lot from everyone and make new friends.
What are your goals and visions for the future?
For the moment, I am very happy with Lauda. I want to get as many hours and experience as possible and become an SFI (flight instructor) when the time comes to become a Captain. In the long term, I would like to try longer “long haul” flying and fly a bigger machine like the A350.
What advice do you give to someone who wants to become a pilot?
I think anyone who really wants to become a pilot has already trained themselves and has some ideas about advice and what to look out for. I would like to add three thoughts that I have remembered forever and maybe will help someone else as well. If anyone has any questions, I am always available at: [email protected]
- A good pilot is always learning.
- In aviation being dynamic is not enough, you need to be fluid.
- The captain may be thinking ahead of what the FO is thinking about, maybe about things that will happen at the destination, whereas you as FO are still thinking about the current airport and the captain may forget some of the smaller things. As a good FO, it’s good to always have the “here and now” in your head and to make sure that the captain hasn’t forgotten anything and that you can support him well.