Catriona Saunders never thought she’d end up at the controls of a plane, let alone fly for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
Initially, she wanted to be a flight attendant but after starting at university, decided to give being a pilot a go; a decision that changed her life.
“A lot of hard work and perseverance eventually paid off and before I knew it, I had my first flying job in the Northern Territory,” Catriona said. “A few years, jobs, and interstate moves later, I started with the RFDS Central Operations, in 2019, based in Alice Springs.
“When the opportunity came up in late 2022 to take over as Senior Base Pilot in Townsville, I jumped at the chance to apply and since starting with Queensland Section in January, it’s been amazing,”
For Catriona, and all of the RFDS’s highly skilled pilots, no day is the same.
“There isn’t another pilot job that’s as dynamic, requiring such adaptability or offers so much variety,” Catriona said.
“You’re part of the operational crew, so at times it can be ‘all hands-on deck’ and you rarely know in advance where you’ll be flying; whether it’s a major city, regional town or remote community, or what job you’ve been tasked to which can be anything from an inter-hospital transfer to an emergency retrieval.”
RFDS pilots may fly solo but they’re never alone; nurses work directly with them in the aircraft, a team of engineers keep the fleet maintained, and a 24/7 Operations Control Centre ensures they have the most up-to-date information.
“Our support crew members play a vital role in ensuring we’re able to get our aeromedical teams where they need to be, when they’re needed,” Catriona said. "You’d be hard pressed to find a job like it; the aeromedical environment is incomparable. We work in close proximity to the medical team, often get to know our patients, but through the ever-changing conditions and at the end of each shift, you’ve made a significant difference to someone’s life and you’ll always be a small part in their story."
“Being a pilot for the RFDS combines the best of the aviation industry with the finest of healthcare and it’s an amazing feeling to be involved with an organisation that makes such a significant difference to those who need it.”
Catriona’s advice to anyone considering a career as an RFDS pilot is simple.
"Working as a RFDS pilot is a job like no other, we all know, for the patient we’re picking up, this might be the worst day of their life, but our job is to make that day a little better and brighter.
“We never lose sight of that.”