Published: 10 July 2023

Wales Air Ambulance is delighted to announce its newest aircraft commander.

Tom Vincent has graduated from co-pilot to captain at the Charity’s Cardiff base. This achievement came about after extensive training and assessments, with final sign off by aviation partner Babcock.

Tom, who has worked in Cardiff since January 2020 as a co-pilot, will now be responsible for the operation of the Wales Air Ambulance’s helicopters when on shift, as well as the safety of its occupants. He will also have the authority to give commands he deems necessary for the purpose of securing safety and will ensure the helicopter is operated in accordance with required rules and regulations.  

The 38-year-old captain started his aviation career 12 years ago, when he learnt to fly in Gloucester alongside selling golf simulators.

He said: “I grew up in Cornwall and had a caravan on the Gower and watching the air ambulance’s operating in the sky always made me want to be a pilot.

“I looked at going down the military route but then decided to go to university, and after that I got a job in the family business. I thought my flying career wouldn’t happen, so I decided to start paying for a few lessons while I was working.

“You don’t need specific qualifications to become a pilot. I think you just need to adopt a good work ethic and be persistent, because there are lots of hurdles and knockbacks and financial reasons not to do it, but if you can get through those it is one of the most rewarding jobs I can think of.”

Tom, who studied a degree in Business Studies at Bristol University of the West of England (UWE), did his commercial pilot licence in October 2013 and then in January 2014 he began his first job in Aberdeen where he spent six years, before the opportunity came up to work for the Wales Air Ambulance in Cardiff.

He said: “Working for the air ambulance was always my main objective. It was the main reason I got in to flying in the first place. A pilot’s primary job is looking after the aircraft and getting the team to where they need to go, but when you are on scene you may see things, you wouldn’t expect to see.

“When on a mission, everything else takes a backseat and my focus is on getting the team to the patient and getting them to hospital in the safest way possible. Our colleagues and our company are very good at giving support should we need it even though we do not have medical training.”

It took Tom three months to graduate from co-pilot to captain. He had to be assessed under the supervision of a qualified training captain or regional managing pilot, complete reading and knowledge tests of operation manuals for the aircraft, as well as manuals for the operation of both day and night legal limits and responsibilities.

Tom also needed to complete a number of training flights with various emergency training, followed by test flights on the ability to identify and correctly deal with any issues and maintain safe control of the aircraft. Lastly, there was an assessment during live missions based on many different scenarios a pilot could face, ranging from issues with equipment, to weather, and even landing site issues. Once they were complete, he also underwent an assessment by day and another by night.

Tom, who lives in Bristol, said: “I feel very proud to have become a captain and am excited to be in a position that I have worked so hard for.

“I love everything about my job. Firstly, I love the help we can provide people at their most vulnerable time, secondly the stunning scenery that we have in Wales from Snowdon, the Brecon Beacons and the coastline and thirdly I love working with the people within the Charity and EMRTS. It can be quite a difficult job with what we see on a daily basis but the team and comradery between everyone is the best I have experienced.

“As captain, I am looking forward to creating a really good, positive environment for everyone to work in.”