People of SAS: Pilot Johanna found her home at SAS
Johanna Eriksson walks into the SAS Crew Base at Stockholm Arlanda Airport in full uniform, with a big smile on her face. That’s the smile of a person who’s found home after a 10-year journey that has taken her – literally – around the world.
“When I was a kid, my friend’s father worked at SAS, so I got to tag along to their Christmas events and such,” she says. “And I also worked at SAS Ground Services here at Arlanda for a while.”
Not only has SAS been on her radar for a long time, flying has been there for her entire life.
“My grandfather was a fighter pilot and he has inspired my generation to become pilots. My brother is a captain and our cousin fly a Gripen in the air force. Somehow that inspiration skipped a generation, though, as both my parents are business graduates,” Eriksson says.
She applied for a job at SAS in October 2018 and began her training at the company in February. But even if SAS now seems like the home she was always traveling toward, for about a decade it was just a dream.
It’s been exactly 10 years since she began her pilot training at the Lund University School of Aviation, and after 2.5 years she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree and a type rating that opened the door to her first job.
“Graduating with a university degree involved more than just flying a plane. We took courses on aviation management and other general university subjects,” she says.
“Back then, the Multi-Crew Pilot License training at Lund was fairly new, and to make sure the quality was top-notch, we got to spend extra hours in the simulator, which helped when I was looking for a job after graduation.”
As part of her education, she served six months as a co-pilot at a now-defunct company in Gothenburg. These days, SAS is one of the host airlines the university works with.
“After all those hours in the simulator, for quite a while it was something of a shock to see all those rows of seats when I opened the cockpit door.
“That said, it was a thrill to be flying a plane for the first time, when, in Gävle, we did touch-and-go’s – landings and takeoffs without passengers. It was fantastic to feel the acceleration for real,” she says.
Flying private jets
Unfortunately, after six months, the company folded and Eriksson was back looking for a job.
“I was lucky enough to have a type rating that let me fly an Embraer Legacy and I lucked out when I sent my application at the exact right time and got an interview with Lord Sugar’s private jet company in England. I got the job and moved to London.
“It was a fantastic job, even though for a week at a time I was on call 24 hours a day. Then, there’d be a phone call, and I’d have to get the plane ready to fly to Paris or Africa, or wherever,” she says.
While flying an English lord around the world may sound glamorous – and sometimes it was – the lines between Eriksson’s life and work began to get blurred, she says, which prompted the decision to return home. There, she landed a job at charter travel company Tui, but unfortunately for her, with the economy turning downward, Tui shut down most of its bases, including the one in Helsinki where Eriksson was based.
Then SAS came into the picture.
“Since I had the 737 type rating, I did an introductory session in a simulator, then three more and finally a check ride – an operator’s proficiency check – before I got to fly for real,” she says.
While there’s nothing unique about Eriksson being a female pilot, most of her colleagues are male.
“Women are in the minority, but I’m not alone here. The stereotype of an airline captain is that of a gray-haired man, but what’s so fantastic about working at SAS is that being a woman here isn’t so extraordinary. We have to pass the same tests, we earn the same and we’re all on equal terms,” Eriksson adds.
And those gray-haired veteran pilots are also superb colleagues, she adds.
“The work environment is fantastic. There’s very little hierarchy in the organization and I’m happy to see that the climate is so warm,” she says.
“And there are more women coming into the business. The other day, I checked in at the same time as four other female pilots, two of whom were captains.”
Next up for Eriksson is Airbus training, and after that, hopefully decades of flying, until she one day becomes the wily veteran telling stories from back in the day.
“It truly feels like I’ve finally come home,” she says.
Published: August 5, 2019