Michael has over 13 500 flying hours and extensive experience as an Instructor and Senior Check Captain for one of Australia’s biggest airlines. Originally from Perth, Michael cut his teeth learning to fly gliders at the age of 15. Since stumbling across a promotional flyer for the Curtin University Flying Club back in 1992, Michael has flown tourist charter planes, commercial turbo-props and jets for a number of Australia’s most prominent airlines. Since 2002, he has been employed as a Line Pilot, Instructor and currently a Senior Check Captain, developing and assessing airline pilots for Virgin Australia Airlines. His unwavering patience, calm and passion for teaching – coupled with his extensive experience as a pilot – ensures he derives great joy from teaching students how to fly.
Michael joined AFT in late 2020 after initially signing up to fly the Topaz himself. Bitten by the bug of light recreational aircraft all over again, he was drawn to AFT’s community spirit, camaraderie and distinct club feel. His instructing style is patient, calm, and dedicated to supporting each individual student to think differently about skills development and concepts. His priorities are safety, competency, and capability, and he tailors his own teaching style to meet the unique learning styles and needs of his students.
Born and bred in Western Australia, Michael Gurr first got a taste for flying when he took up flying gliders with his older brother at the age of 15. While the sense of adventure in the skies captured Mike at a young age, aviation was never a career choice he properly entertained until he had already started at uni. A talented musician, Mike’s original plan was to study Performing Arts at university. In the end he embarked on a Commerce degree at Curtin University majoring in Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations. He later went on to complete post-grad study in Aviation Management at UNSW in Sydney.
One day back in 1992, whilst relaxing in the university cafeteria, he stumbled across a promotional flyer advertising the Curtin University Flying Club and he decided to take a gamble: if flying a powered plane was anything like gliding, he was up for it! So, downing the rest of his coffee, Mike headed straight out to Jandakot Airport and immediately signed himself up to the program. It was the best thing he ever did. Michael’s first instructor was a former military Tank Commander! But far from being an aggressive military officer, this instructor was deeply encouraging and enthusiastic about Mike’s learning journey, confirming his choice that flying was indeed his calling, and setting the tone for his own instructing journey in the future.
Michael paid his way through his flying training by teaching piano, driving forklifts in a factory, and doing any odd jobs to help pay for his lessons. After he completed his Commercial Pilot’s Licence, he completed his Instructor Rating. While he did a bit of occasional charter flying, it was instructing where he really found his groove. According to Michael, teaching runs in the family - his father, uncle and other family members were all professional educators - and so instructing was a natural fit for him. He started out teaching at the Royal Aero Club of Western Australia and then quickly progressed to the Singapore Flying College in Perth, teaching the pilots of Singapore Airlines. After some time there, Mike felt the itch to get out and do some other types of flying. He took up a gig with Great Western Aviation, flying a Beech 1900 turbo-prop, whetting his appetite for bigger planes and more adventure. This was soon followed by a transition to Skywest Airlines, based in Perth, where Mike got to fly a Fokker-50 turbo-prop on intrastate commercial routes throughout WA.
With the collapse of Ansett in 2001, the hole in the market was quickly filled with the exciting and shiny new Virgin Blue Airlines, and in 2002 he was offered a role as a Boeing 737 pilot. Michael jumped at the chance to relocate to the East Coast and fly for Australia’s newest major commercial airline. And he thrived! After just 18 months he was given command of his very own Boeing 737 with Virgin, where he has remained ever since. In 2007 he was appointed as a Training Captain for the airline and progressed through the ranks to Senior Check Captain. Using his innate teaching abilities, Mike now conducts a range of train-the-trainer type programs, developing and assessing other Check Captains and developing curriculums and training courses for current and new pilots and instructors.
After being stood down along with many other aviation professionals as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael applied his typical optimistic lens to the situation and considered this career pause as a bit of a ‘circuit-breaker’, an opportunity to reassess his own desires in flying. While the role of Check Captain provides plenty of access to a full motion flight simulator, Mike was feeling itchy and wanting to get back into the skies in the flesh. Heading out to Adventure Flight Training at Riddell Airfield, Mike was keen to get back to basics. “Flying the Topaz was like being bitten by the bug all over again,” he says. But more than just the plane, there was something different about AFT itself. From the moment he met AFT’s Chief Flying Instructor Josh Kamal, Mike says he could tell the school was different to any other commercial school he’d been to. It took him a while to understand exactly what it was that set it apart, but he reckons the word ‘community' sums it up pretty well. “AFT has much more of a club vibe,” says Michael. “It’s about community, partnership, camaraderie – all of which is really missing in so many commercial flying school spaces. With AFT you can have a coffee, a chat, and share the love of aviation. But at the same time, it’s also about safety. I really appreciate Josh’s focus on making people safe - making sure they feel safe, learn safely and become safe pilots,” says Mike.
This is a priority for Michael, whose passion and personal instructing style is one that emphasises safety and competency while enjoying the journey of learning to fly. He gets a real sense of joy and fulfilment in being able to share and impart his extensive knowledge and experience to students, encouraging them to think differently about their own learning style and approach. Despite having over 13 500 hours of flying experience, Michael thrives when he is able to challenge his own way of doing things so that he can tailor his teaching style to the individual needs of his students. He says, “I say to myself, ‘what do I need to do as an Instructor to make you a safe pilot, more competent, more capable?’ It’s not about me, it’s about you as the student, and so I will tailor my teaching style to match your unique learning style and capabilities.” This, he says, is his true joy. When a student is able to grasp a difficult concept or think differently and breakthrough with a skill they may have been struggling with - this is where he finds his greatest fulfilment.
Michael lives locally in the Macedon Ranges, and when he’s not buzzing around the skies at Riddell, or teaching some of Australia’s finest Airline Captains, he can be found wandering the fairways of the Gisborne Golf Club looking for his golf ball, or sitting at his black grand piano knocking out a couple of tunes.