Billingshurst-based pilot Steve Ford reflects on the fast-changing world of aviation

As Billingshurst-based pilot Steve Ford stood at the start of his career a few decades ago, he couldn’t possibly have predicted the massive changes ahead in the aviation and aerospace industries.

Steve Ford
Steve Ford

He predicts the pace of change will accelerate still further in the years to come.

“The 60 years in front of the current apprentice now will be just as exciting or even more exciting than all the years I have had,” says Steve.

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And it’s that thrill, that excitement, that Steve, who turns 60 in January, has sought to capture in his new book: 20 West: A Journey Through Six Decades Of Turbulent Change Within Aviation. 20 West reflects the diversity of the aerospace industry, following Steve’s journey through aviation, from a child travelling the world on standby, training from an apprenticeship to a jet engine specialist, to a career as a long-haul commercial pilot.

But as Steve stresses, this is not simply autobiography. It also presents an insider’s history of the last 60 years of the industry, giving readers an insight into the ways commercial flight and the corporate giants that dominate it have evolved over the years. Steve promises a book packed with captivating stories from both above the clouds and down on the tarmac, It’s a must-read for anyone who’s ever wondered what really happens on the other side of the cockpit door.

“The reason for wanting to write this book was to provide a record; to attempt, as accurately as possible, to present a view from within the aviation industry during a period of monumental change. It spans six decades, stretching from propeller-driven transport aircraft to composite, fly-by-wire and wide-body double-decker aircraft, plucked from the pages of science fiction.

“Over the years, I have probably worked with and flown with hundreds if not thousands of pi-lots, and one of the biggest drivers for me wanting to write this book was not because it is about me, but because it is about them. It will also allow those who have absolutely no idea what it is like to spend a lifetime in aviation to get a sense of what it looks, feels and smells like to be embraced by such a career. It is a way of life that wraps itself around you and enters every pore as you fall within its envelope.”

Steve’s father was a flight engineer. As Steve says, aviation was absolutely in his DNA. He has been flying for 40 years, retiring three years ago from Virgin. He has continued within the industry, instructing out of Goodwood: “I wanted to convey the excitement and the dynamism of the industry, the fact that it is never ever static, and there is both a positive and a negative side to that. And I wanted to capture what tomorrow we will be looking back on as history. Within aviation, particularly in this area of West Sussex and Gatwick through the 70s and 80s, right up to the demise of Thomas Cook and so on, you realise that the industry is in a constant state of change, and that is what I have wanted to put down in the book. But it is good. I am definitely a glass half full man. Change is not something that we should be afraid of. Change is something we should adapt to. I think of it as the Madonna effect or the David Bowie effect. They were always adapting to the next generation’s needs and that is what is happening with aviation and aerospace.”

Paperback (£8.99) and e-book format (£2.99) on