Meet John Turnbull

John Turnbull

John Turnbull is a lifelong lover of the skies with over 25 years’ experience teaching people how to fly. A highly qualified and experienced CFI and pilot, John flies 737 jets for a living, and light aircraft for fun. Originally from Melbourne’s Bayside Suburbs, John has flown light aircraft as a charter pilot along the Great Ocean Road and at a cattle station at William Creek, has combated bush fires from the air, and has operated as a Senior Training Captain, International pilot and Instructor for one of Australia’s major airlines. John joined the team at AFT in September 2020, instructing students in tailwheel and formation endorsements as well as in our Topaz.

John’s instructing style is calm and relatable, with a strong focus on building trust between student and Instructor. He works with individual students to help them understand their own strengths as well as how to embrace feedback in areas that need improvement. “Flying is ultimately a confidence game and Instructing is about teaching people to feel safe and confident. If people feel safe, relaxed, and confident during their training, then they will become safe, confident and capable pilots and get the most enjoyment from their flying” 

This proud dad of 3 from Melbourne’s Bayside suburbs knew he wanted to be a pilot since he was 6 years old, and at the tender age of 9, even fibbed about his age so that he could get a job selling newspapers to save up for the lessons. By age 13, John took himself down to Moorabbin aerodrome and sat his theory exams, biding his time until he was old enough to begin hands-on flight training lessons. Cooking pizzas and selling newspapers, John eventually raised enough to complete his flight training, aged 16. His first job in aviation was as a baggage handler for a major airline, before taking up a seasonal job as a charter pilot along the Great Ocean Road, flying tourists out to the 12 Apostles. “I was pretty young,” he laughs, “I had to take my ‘P’ Plates off the car every time I parked at the hangar car park so I didn't scare away the passengers”. John continued to build up his hours and took a job at a cattle station in William Creek, flying tourists around and landing at Lake Eyre when it was empty. He also did a short stint as an Air Attack Pilot spotting and coordinating bushfires.

At 21 years of age, John had an amazing opportunity and, in partnership with a friend from Wollongong, started up his own flight school and charter company south of Sydney. As Chief Flight Instructor (CFI) and Owner, John developed a love of teaching people how to fly, building their trust and confidence, and helping them to become safe, confident, and capable pilots sharing a love of the skies. 

After a few years, John transitioned to a Regional Airline flying turboprop passenger planes. When the opportunity came up to fly for a newly established Australian airline, John jumped at the chance and shortly afterwards, in 2004 became a Boeing 737 Captain and eventually a Senior Training Captain, which is a role he still loves.

He describes himself as calm and unflappable, and able to tailor his teaching style to the individual learning needs of his students. John uses his expert knowledge to build trust, preparing students for potential errors and helping them understand how to manage mistakes made in the skies. After all, we all make them. It’s about understanding why and building confidence to help people become safe and competent, while enjoying the freedom that comes with being able to fly. 

Owning a number of RAAus aircraft including a tailwheel bush plane and a single seat bi-plane, John loves drawing upon his 17,000hrs of experience to help people get as much joy and passion out of flying as he still does.

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