Sompting pilot beats Euro deadline to get licence

AFTER 30 years away from the hobby he loved, Bill Smith has regained his wings, just days before changes in EU legislation would have grounded him forever.

Bill, 50, first got his private pilot’s licence when he was 18, but after choosing an aeronautical engineering career over that of a pilot, he didn’t take to the skies for decades.

New European rules, set to come into force on April 8, would have meant his old-style licence would have become obsolete, so the Sompting resident took on a refresher course at Shoreham Airport’s AERO ALLIANCE, where he works as an IT specialist.

Bill, of The Deneway, Sompting, said he beat the deadline by about a week.

“Since I was a teenager, I wanted to be a pilot. I won a scholarship through the Air Cadets and learned to fly.

“When I was at university, I was in the RAF Reserves. But when I came out of university, and had to pay for it myself, I didn’t have the money.”

The rule change was just the kick-start Bill needed to get back in the cockpit.

“I missed it. I regret not keeping it up,” he said. “I have been thinking about it for the last year, but this change in rules made me decide to do it.” It took about a month of lessons before Bill was ready for his test.

Instructor at the firm, Andy Bland, said: “After 30 years, I have to say he was excellent. He has done really well.”

He went on to say saving Bill’s licence had been a great experience.

“With these rules, Europe will just sweep up all these licences, and people will never get them back,” Andy said, adding Bill had not had taken the refresher course in time, his only option would have been starting his training at “square one”. Andy and Bill, who has no intention of leaving it another 30 years before he goes flying again, said aviation was vital to the local economy.

“Without aviation”, he said, “a whole lot of people will be without a job.

Andy added: “It does not just support pilots, it supports engineers, instructors, firemen.”