Would-be pilot needs £106,000 for flight training after losing support when company that backed him shut down

17 June 2024, 11:00 | Updated: 18 June 2024, 12:38

Joshua Merchan-Nicholls: Fundraising for commercial pilot academy

By Phoebe Dampare Osei

A would-be pilot who has dreamed of taking to the skies since he was a boy has been left devastated after losing his support when the company that backed him suddenly closed its doors.

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Eighteen-year-old Joshua Merchan-Nicholls, from Finchley, North London, needs to raise £106,000 by September this year if he is to get into the Skyborne Airline Academy, and hopefully earn his wings.

KidZania, a children's amusement centre in London, had planned to sponsor and help him towards his pilot training - something which Joshua highlighted is a rare opportunity in the industry.

Staff got to know of him when he visited their aviation academy when he was about 13 years old, and landed a plane using their flight simulator.

However KidZania London shut its doors suddenly, for unclear reasons, and is now closed until further notice. Joshua has been left feeling uncertain about the support towards his commercial pilot training.

Read more about Joshua's fundraiser here.

Joshua, who is currently an airline operative with British Airways, told LBC: “It felt like everything was being stripped away, in the sense of, you worked so hard to get to that point. Everything that I had done led up to someone who would give me the opportunity.”

He continued: “I was searching for two to three years to get to that point…for it to be stripped away in a matter of a couple of months - it was gut-wrenching…I knew it wasn’t going to discourage my dream, because at the end of the day I was going to find another way.”

Joshua was successful in being selected for the Gliding to Solo Scholarship, provided by The Air League.
Joshua was successful in being selected for the Gliding to Solo Scholarship, provided by The Air League. Picture: Nathan Martin-Nicholls

From the age of seven, it was Joshua’s dream to learn to fly, and after being greeted by pilots on his way to Spain where he would be visiting family on holiday, he knew this was something he wouldn’t forget.

He said: “Once we took off, it was an amazing experience. It was heartwarming…it was just so amazing to me how such a heavy aircraft was in the air and flying so seamlessly.”

“It was my mission from then on to understand the physics of the aircraft and how they flew…I love the experience of being in the air, so I felt like that would be the career for me”, Joshua added.

He went on: “From then on, I pursued it with every option I had. Me, as well as my family, looked as deep into it as we could.”

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His journey to becoming a commercial airline pilot officially started in 2021 after he was selected to be on the Fantasy Wings programme - an organisation that runs seminars for young people who want to know how to get into the aviation industry.

It is the largest diversity in aviation organisation in the UK, having given out 389 flying scholarships in the last three years, with 3600 graduates from the programme in the same time frame.

The aviation operative describes his journey with them as “fantastic”.

Jackson Smith, the founder and CEO of Fantasy Wings said: “Joshua is a very exceptional and determined young man, and I have seen him be determined throughout his time on the Fantasy Wings programme, to securing an apprenticeship with one of our partners.

“Every move he makes is in service of the dreams he is trying to achieve, and I know he is going to get where he is going because he has the perseverance and the determination to make it happen.”

Joshua has plans to inspire the next generation of pilots. Here he is with his younger brother, Elliott, in the cockpit.
Joshua has plans to inspire the next generation of pilots. Here he is with his younger brother, Elliott, in the cockpit. Picture: Nathan Martin-Nicholls

Joshua told LBC: “I have met some amazing people as well as some aviation enthusiasts that have driven me to further pursue my passion and dream. I’d personally like to thank Jackson Smith for the ability to learn the many routes into the aviation industry and also the vast number of different roles that pilots can fulfil, for example, commercial, aerobatic, crop dusting and cargo just to name a few. Those gave me hope that I would be able to find my way into the flight deck one way or another.”

He added: “At the end of our course that spanned over 12 months, I had to submit an application explaining what we covered in each seminar from the start of the year right through to when we finished our course…I fortunately was a winner of the scholarship and was scholarshipped to do 10 hours of flying at North Weald Aviation in Essex.

“I was also called to a massive ceremony of around 1500 candidates in which I was asked to come up to the front, was gifted my certificate as well as being able to complete a speech on my journey through the aviation sector and how I have kept my head held high throughout.”

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Joshua is grateful for the support he has received from the founder and CEO of Fantasy Wings, Jackson Smith.
Joshua is grateful for the support he has received from the founder and CEO of Fantasy Wings, Jackson Smith. Picture: Nathan Martin-Nicholls

Joshua’s glowing record of achievements also include being awarded a distinction in his 24-month Aviation Operative Apprenticeship with British Airways, and successfully applying for a scholarship from The Air League at The London Gliding Club. The Air League is sponsored by the Department for Transport.

He told LBC that it was an “honourable” feeling, noting that “not many people get recognised for their achievements so young”.

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The Air League’s Lucy Isabel Dakin-Scott said: “The Air League offers the broadest range of aviation scholarships and bursaries in the UK, with over 120 opportunities being awarded annually across flying, gliding, engineering and drone sectors. Over £2m of funding has been awarded to young people over the past decade, and our work to change lives through aviation continues to inspire beneficiaries who might not have otherwise considered aviation as a career path prior to an Air League experience.

“Joshua was one of the Air League's 2022 Gliding to Solo Scholars: an introductory gliding course which provides gliding lessons for a student up to them flying solo for the first time. We're very proud of the progress of all of our scholars and wish Joshua all the best on his journey to the flight deck.”

Alan Harrison, a senior flying instructor at The London Gliding Club in Dunstable said: “Josh was a great team member and a good pupil. He was attentive and interested. He has a professional approach, he listens, learns and responds to advice. He made excellent progress and made the most of his opportunity. We greatly enjoyed flying with Josh and hope that he achieves all his ambitions in his life.”

The aviation operative received his award from The Air League President, Air Marshal Sir Christopher Harper, after completing his scholarship.
The aviation operative received his award from The Air League President, Air Marshal Sir Christopher Harper, after completing his scholarship. Picture: The Air League

Joshua is very grateful to his family for the support they have given him. He acknowledged that while his parents are not in a position to help him financially as much as they would like, “emotionally, they have given the world” and have taken him to various seminars and events to help him on his way to becoming pilot.

On his journey so far, and what receiving the funding would mean to him, he said: “I wouldn’t change any of it. It’s built me into who I am today - a resilient young man.

“It would mean the world to me because it would allow me to pursue the dream that I’ve always wanted to, and it would give me the opportunity to open the doors for young individuals after me to also come through the door, as I would know and have the contacts inside of many different airlines.”

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In the next five years, he hopes to bring five to ten other people into aviation and would love to mentor them, and advises others in a similar position “not to give up, take every opportunity with both hands, and run with it as much as possible”. Joshua would also like to go into schools and support young people to fulfil their potential.

“It’s such a competitive industry, in terms of there are people with Master’s degrees and people with PhDs trying to come in…I feel that young people need that support from somebody who’s already in there that can give them that fighting chance”, he said.

Joshua’s "faith in humanity" is upholding his belief that he will raise all the funds to pursue what he describes as a “demanding but very rewarding career”.

"I aspire to be something, and I'll make it come true", he said.

You can support Joshua's journey here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/joshtocommercialpilotacademy

Joshua tells LBC that he is committed to making his dream of becoming a pilot come true.
Joshua tells LBC that he is committed to making his dream of becoming a pilot come true. Picture: LBC

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