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A former Trafford College student has put his aviation training to the test by flying crucial medical items across the world to help fight the Covid pandemic in the UK. 

Senior First Officer Nick Lee was selected by Virgin Atlantic for the 26-hour flights to pick up an average of 16 tonnes of essential items per trip from Shanghai, flying in shifts with other pilots due to disembarkation restrictions. 

The cargo-only flights were chartered by the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS throughout May, June and July to transport ventilators, masks, shields, gloves, overalls and eye protectors.  

While on secondment from long-haul passenger journeys, the 26-year-old became one of the first British pilots to resume flights to China with Virgin Atlantic, which received special dispensation in order to deliver more than 43 million items of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the UK. 

The former North Cestrian School pupil, whose family are from Sale, said: “They were long days, but they were very rewarding. The flights were part of how we could help the NHS and key workers out by doing what we could during this time of need. They were very important to me and are memories that will certainly last a lifetime.” 

Nick gained distinctions in Aviation Operations at Trafford College, while training for his private pilot licence at Barton Airfield. The aviation enthusiast would often catch aircraft on camera at Manchester Airport with his fellow students around his studies, going on to accrue flight hours in Florida, Bournemouth and Dublin in addition to passing a staggering 14 exams as part of his flight training at Oxford Aviation Academy. 

Nick has since worked for Ryanair on short haul and for TUI Airlines over longer distances before joining Virgin Atlantic earlier this year, with an ambition to become captain for a long-haul flight company. 

“The elements of the Aviation Operations course that stood out most for me were the tours of the airports in Majorca, Manchester and Faro, but the part of my training at Trafford College that has stuck with me throughout my entire career was the module on safety in airports, handling and in cargo, which still form an integral part of the essential training we do each year,” he said. 

Over the last six years as a pilot, Nick has visited over 200 airports in more than 100 countries, looking after the safety of as many as 325 passengers at any one given time. 

Aviation Operations tutor Colette Ryder said: “We are immensely proud of the vital role Nick has played in delivering essential PPE items to the nation. When Nick was at the College we knew he would go far in fulfilling his dreams to become a pilot as he displayed such spark, drive and determination in his learning. We are so pleased to have been able to count Nick among our most hard-working and dedicated students.”