MEMBERS of the public are flying a jet airliner and experiencing the life of a commercial pilot – as they take off and land at Fairoaks Airport.

But the Boeing 737 they are put in charge of stays on the ground, as part of a new aviation experience at the Chobham aerodrome.

Aspiring pilots fly the aircraft in a simulator which replicates its cockpit and controls, with the moving ground and sky shown in front on a large video screen.

Three young commercial pilots got together in October 2020 to set up the company that runs the simulator, Airline Experience. They also run a similar operation, SEMET Aviation, which has a light aircraft simulator at Fairoaks.

Two of the pilots are Nick Shaw, 26, who was brought up in Horsell and went to St Lawrence Primary School in Chobham and Gordon’s School at West End, and Anna McGrady, 26, from Pyrford, who went to St John the Baptist School in Old Woking.

Their colleague is James Lees, 28, from Windsor.

“We started Airline Experience to allow people to see what a day in the life of an airline pilot is,” said Nick, who learnt to fly while he was at college and is a pilot at London City Airport.

“We also wanted to support Fairoaks as being very much still open as an airfield, despite all the threats of being turned into a garden village, and one of the true jewels of the crown of Surrey.”

As well as providing thrills for aviation fans, the simulator is available for trainee pilots to use as part of their studies, and for furloughed commercial pilots and those who have been made redundant because of the COVID-19 pandemic to help keep up their skill levels.

For members of the public, the experience begins with full briefing on the dozens of switches, gauges and other controls in the 737 cabin. The weather and how it affects flying and the choice of runway is discussed and the pilot is helped to select a route to fly.

The company founders met at Fairoaks, where they have all been involved in the various aviation companies based there. Nick, a former manager of the Fairoaks Flight Centre, had several flying roles before he became a commercial pilot, including piloting for aerial photography, pleasure flights and taxi work.

Anna had her first trial flight at Fairoaks and was working part-time for the airport’s flying school while she was doing her A-levels.

James learnt to fly as a teenager and is now an airline captain.

This year, Nick, Anna and James started SEMET Aviation, which has a simulator for single-engine, twin-engine and multi-engine propellor aircraft. It also provides members of the public with the sensations of being in charge of an aeroplane and is used by trainee and qualified pilots.

“We have a team of mentors who can guide and advise people using our simulators,” said Nick. “We are now aiming to buy our own light aircraft so that aviation fans can go a step further by actually flying a plane.

“It will be part of a SEMET flying club whose members will be able to share the aircraft.”

The two companies recently reopened for flying experiences under COVID-19 guidelines. Find out more about their services at

NEWS & Mail photographer Anthony Gurr is an aviation fan who was delighted to be able to spend a morning “flying” a Boeing 737 and a light aircraft at Fairoaks.

“It was certainly a fantastic experience and it became very real very quickly,” Anthony said. “I’ve used flight simulator programmes on a PC before, but this was incredibly real. With the changing view on the video screen, I felt I was actually flying.

“The flight deck is a ‘half cockpit’ with the instructor sitting near you at a desk. They have a computer to keep control of what’s happening during the flight and to keep an eye on what you are doing while you are flying the aircraft.

“It was a very interesting experience, and I don’t know of any other companies that are doing anything similar.”