Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Rolling up my sleeves

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014
Not me and not my A&P, but I'm looking forward to performing my first owner-assisted annual.

Not me and not my A&P, but I’m looking forward to my first owner-assisted annual.

Since purchasing my 1964 Piper Cherokee in 2010, I’ve gone through three annuals. The process has been something like this: Gather up the logbooks; hand them over with keys to the A&P; note any squawks to be addressed during the annual; cross fingers and hope for the best; pick up airplane in about a week’s time; write check.

The annuals for my older, piston-powered airplane have been fairly routine and manageable from a budget standpoint. (2013′s was an exception; there was a somewhat complicated airworthiness directive to comply with, plus the discovery that fuel lines in the wings were original–and getting pretty brittle.)

This year I get to roll up my sleeves and help out. The federal aviation regulations permit you to do what’s called an “owner assisted” annual inspection. As an owner who does not have an airframe and powerplant certificate with an inspection authorization rating, I cannot perform any part of the annual inspection. But the FARs do permit me to participate in the maintenance portion under an IA’s supervision and approval. (C. Hall Jones writes a very nice description of the pertinent regulations and requirements in this article.)

How did I get this opportunity? A local flight instructor I’ve known for years recently handed me a new business card. He’s a mechanic–it’s his full-time gig with a government contractor–but I hadn’t known he performed inspections independently. “Would you be up for an owner assist?” I asked. And that’s all it took.

The ball gets rolling this week. I’ll let you know how it goes in an upcoming blog post.—Jill W. Tallman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The probationary year

Monday, September 15th, 2014

For new airline pilots, the first year is one with a very steep learning curve. There are myriad new rules, policies, procedures and regulations to learn. On top of all that, you must learn the systems of your new airplane and how to safely fly it. Once you get out on the line, you get to learn the the day-to-day grind of being a pilot, with all of the benefits and pitfalls included therein.

One of the concepts that you are introduced to right away is that of your “probationary year.” In essence, it works like this: Because nearly every airline is unionized, the collective bargaining agreements (contracts) include a grievance process for the pilots to contest certain decisions, including terminations. It usually involves some sort of arbitration process that varies from company to company, but the principle is the same in that the union can fight back if it believes that a pilot was improperly disciplined.

There is one exception, and that is the probationary pilot. Every airline puts new-hire pilots on probation for a period of time, usually 12 months, but a few use six months. When you are on probation, you can be terminated at any time, for any reason, with no recourse.

The intention of the probationary process is for the company to see how the pilot fits in with new co-workers and the work environment. This isn’t to suggest that someone is following you everywhere you go or measuring the length of your pant cuffs above your shoes. Far from it. All that the airline asks is that you keep your nose clean. It’s often said that the best relationship a pilot can have with the chief pilot is no relationship at all. In other words, if the CP doesn’t know who you are, it means you haven’t been in trouble, and that’s good.

Most of the time, there are only three ways you’re going to get in trouble. The first is via another work group, such as the gate agents or flight attendants. The second is through your fellow pilots, i.e., the captains with whom you fly. The third possibility for an early ticket out the door is poor performance in training—in this case, recurrent training. A number of airlines will deliberately schedule new hire pilots for their first recurrent checkride at least a month before their probationary period is up. That way, if the pilot isn’t up to snuff, he or she can be terminated “without cause.”

It’s important to understand, though, that the company will offer retraining or help in nearly every case (even seasoned veterans make mistakes). To get yourself terminated means you showed up totally unprepared or acted inappropriately during training. In my 18 years of airline flying, I’ve never known a pilot who was terminated during the first recurrent training event…but we all worry about it!

While companies will not hesitate to rid themselves of a “problem child” who is on probation, termination is not the first choice. They’ve already made in an investment in you, and they want to see it pay off. However, if the behavior in question is severe enough, or if there is ample reason to question the maturity or judgment of the pilot involved, you can count on turning in your badge.

A few examples of pilots getting terminated early include drinking; theft (one pilot at a previous carrier took the window shades out of the plane and used them in his car—and they had the company name silk-screened on them. The CP wrote down the license plate, and the rest is history); excessive sick calls and/or no-shows; and sexual harassment. All of these are extreme behaviors, and no company would tolerate them.

Probation is a rite of passage for all of us. Fortunately, 99 percent of pilots have no problem at any time during their careers, including in the first year. Those who do generally don’t belong in the front of an airplane in the first place.—Chip Wright

Training contracts

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Embraer 190 AzulAfter spending thousands of dollars on your training, and getting paid an unpredictable income as a flight instructor, you’ve just gotten a call from a regional airline offering you a job. You’ll be flying a new, state-of-the-art regional jet, complete with autothrottles. There is just one minor detail to be discussed: the airline wants you to sign a training contract. It states that if you leave before a specified date, you will be required to repay some or all of the cost of your training—a figure that might exceed $20,000.

What do you do?

Many pilots have just shrugged their shoulders, grabbed a pen—probably with the company logo on it—and signed on the dotted line.

At least two airlines in the United States are using these training contracts today, both of them on the Embraer 170/190 series of jets. The rationale is that cost of training is so high, and the availability of simulator time so low, that they do not have a choice. It is a means of hedging their investment and preventing a pilot from going through training, getting a type rating, and leaving as soon as possible for greener pastures. Those greener pastures are often overseas, where American pilots on the 170/190 step into starting pay that is well north of $100,000 a year, and often includes subsidized housing or a positive space ticket back home once a month. U.S. airlines’ concern abou pilots leaving is not unfounded.

The problem with these contracts is many pilots assume that they aren’t enforceable, especially since they are not a part of any union collective bargaining agreement. However, the airlines are beginning to pursue legal actions against pilots who try to leave early. “Early” is usually defined as two years.
If all goes well, the contract isn’t a problem. With the new rules in effect, a pilot can’t upgrade to captain of a U.S. airline until he or she has at least 1,000 hours as a first officer. Taking into account the time spent in initial training, the typical pilot will hit that 1,000 hours about the time the two-year commitment is up, give or take a few months.

As for the amount to be repaid, it behooves you to pay attention to the details. The contract may allow for prorating the amount owed based on the amount of time serve—but it may not. You may be on the hook for the entire amount if you leave just one day early.

Other details to be studied include your obligations if the company goes out of business or if you are furloughed. Likewise, if you lose your medical, is there any relief available?

Training contracts are not new (“pay-for-training” used to be very common), and they are commonly employed overseas. However, they are not the norm in the United States. I doubt that they will become the norm either, but if you find yourself entertaining—or needing—a job from a company that utilizes such a tool, it is worth discussing the language and commitments with an attorney. As for enforceability, it could cost you a ton of money just to get that question answered. If you’re going to sign one, assume you will have no choice but to honor it.—Chip Wright

Simple terminology

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

When I changed jobs from my previous carrier to my current one, I needed to learn some new lingo. What was frustrating was having to learn new terminology for fairly mundane things.

At my old carrier, a printout of my four-day trip would be called a “DSL,” for daily schedule log. DSL referred to the actual printout, which we carried around to keep track of what we were doing. When talking about the actual flying that we were doing, it was referred to as a trip. Perfectly logical.

My current company, however, commonly refers to trips as “pairings,” because pilots are “paired” with one another…except when they aren’t. We used the word “pairing” at Comair as well, but only in the process of producing the trips, because the tool in the computer program was called a “pairing generator,” which worked with the “trip optimizer.”

Other carriers often refer to trips or pairings as “rotations,” which I assume comes from the original military use of rotating in and out of duty cycles. NetJets often refers to its seven-day excursions as “tours,” which is an interesting way to put it, and is probably the best choice of words for them. At least nobody calls them “sorties.” Yet.

Even something as simple as checklists can be called by various names. I’ve used the “acceptance check” and the “receiving check,” which are essentially the same thing: a checklist to make sure that the airplane is properly configured and set up prior to doing anything else. The “before start” and the “preflight” checklists are also similar, as are “parking” and “terminating,” except when some companies use both for different things.

For pilots on reserve, there is one assignment that is dreaded above all else, and that is the one that has you going to the airport and sitting for a period of hours in case your services are suddenly needed. At Comair, we called in “ready reserve,” but some companies call it “hot standby” (DHL), some call it “airport available,” and my current company uses the term “field standby.” No matter what you call it, it isn’t a lot of fun.

There are different terms for passengers too. At my current carrier, we refer to children as “half-weights.” At Comair, traveling on your day off was considered “non-reving,” because you were flying for free (producing no revenue), but I’ve since learned that it’s OK to say “SA,” for space available travel. Hey, whatever, just get me where I want to go! Pilots can be either “dead-heading” or “repositioning.” Either way, you are riding in the back from one airport to another as a part of your assignment.

Historically, I’ve always referred to a flight that takes off, then needs to return for some reason, as a “diversion” or a “mechanical.” The new term, I’ve come to learn, is “air return,” which strikes me as silly. After all, where else could the airplane be but in the air when it is determined that it needs to return?

The stack of paperwork we got for each flight at Comair was called the “dispatch release,” or just the “release.” It was a bit of a misnomer because the actual release was a couple of pages. The other 30 feet of printout was weather, performance info, et cetera. At my current carrier, this is all referred to as the “flight papers,” which doesn’t sound very professional in my opinion, but it is a much more accurate description of the whole mess.

This just scratches the surface, but it gives you an idea of how an industry that strives for harmonization manages to do all that it can to avoid it. Either way, you need to learn the language and the various ways to refer to the same thing…or to things different.—Chip Wright

The cover letter

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

As you start looking for your first job—or even if it isn’t your first one—you might be working on your resume and cover letter. What goes on a resume is pretty straightforward: It’s a quantitative and qualitative summary of your experience and the skills you bring to the job.

What about the cover letter? What do you put in the cover letter? What do you not put in the cover letter?

Some of the greatest advice I got about cover letters came from someone who makes a living reading them: A cover letter should not just be a regurgitation of your resume. If that’s all it is, then it is a waste of your time and the time of the person reading it.

Instead, your cover letter should be used to talk about what is not in your resume. Use it as a chance to talk about other experiences or skill sets you offer that may not necessarily be a part of the job, but will help contribute to your performance. For instance, if you coach a sports team or volunteer in a local school, you are demonstrating leadership. In fact, any kind of volunteer work should be highlighted, because companies—not just airlines or flight departments—like to see candidates who do something to give back to the community. It might be that you volunteer in a church, at an animal shelter, or a zoo; it doesn’t matter. You are demonstrating a desire to make a difference and a willingness to give your own time.

Mention other achievements or skills that you might be able to offer within the work place. If you are a certified trainer in something (besides flying), it demonstrates a desire to continue learning and pass on what you know. That, too, is impressive and important.

A cover letter is also a great place to briefly (as in two to three sentences) describe why you want to work for that particular company. That’s hard to do on a resume. Maybe you want to work there because your parents did, or because you grew up in the shadow of its headquarters (or, in the case of an airline, in the shadow of one of its hubs). This is your chance to show your loyalty to a company before you ever set foot in the door. It won’t always work, but you have nothing to lose by trying.

If you are still shy of the minimums for a particular company, use the cover letter to explain what you are doing to close the gap, and give an estimate of how long it will take you to get there. Sometimes, just the enthusiasm and work ethic that you demonstrate can be enough to get your foot in the door.

The cover letter is a bit of a lost art, so if you do it well, it will help you stand above the rest. Use it to your advantage, and keep it to a page or less. And whatever you do, don’t just repeat what is on your resume!—Chip Wright

Teaching your problems

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Cessna 172 LandingThink back to the subject or subjects that gave you the most trouble in school. There was, I’m sure, something that you just could not seem to understand, no matter how hard you tried. It happens to the best of us.

Now, think of where you are in your training. If you’re lucky, things are going well. If not, you may be in one of the inevitable training slumps that we all endure.

Landings are one example. Certain ground reference maneuvers are another, especially some of the commercial maneuvers. The same thing happens in instrument training.

One of the best tools to learn whether or not you fully grasp something is to try to teach it. Sit down with your instructor, or with another pilot, and try to teach the subject that you are struggling to comprehend. This will force you to go through all of the steps, and use the tried-and-true building-block process.

Take Eights on Pylons, which is a ground reference maneuver. With the Eights On, you have to compute your pivotal altitude, which is based on groundspeed. To know what the groundspeed is, you need to have an idea of what the winds are, which might require a check of the weather. Once the pivotal altitude is computed, you need to explain how to set up the maneuver, followed by what is going to happen based on the winds.

When NDB approaches were common, the failure rate on NDB approaches on checkrides was relatively high, because it isn’t the easiest maneuver to fly or understand. But, if you can discuss it and teach it, the NDB approach suddenly becomes much easier, and that kind of confidence is something you want to have when you are flying one in low IFR conditions for the first time—especially if it is the first low IFR approach you are flying by yourself, as it was for me.

It doesn’t matter if the subject is practical or academic. The reality is that somewhere along the way, you will likely have a bump in the road. By trying to teach the topic, you are forced to study it in a different way, and further, you are forced to try to fill in the gaps you have versus just trying to gloss over them.

I’ve used this approach for myself as well as for students with great success, and a good instructor will also let you use it as an opportunity to get the most that you can out of your learning experience.—Chip Wright

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Coming to AirVenture? Come see us!

Thursday, July 24th, 2014
The AOPA tent in 2006. This year's campus will have a main tent and an activities tent.

The AOPA tent in 2006. This year’s campus will have a main tent and an activities tent.

Will you be hanging out with 500,000 of your closest friends next week?

Of course I’m talking about EAA AirVenture, which takes place July 28 through Aug. 3 in Oshkosh, Wis. I’ve written before about why you need to come to Oshkosh (assuming you haven’t made it in the past). And I’ve shared my own tips for first-timers, which you can read here.

For this post, I’ll concentrate on letting you know that AOPA will be there and we sure hope you’ll fit us into your Oshkosh plans. We have a new, expanded exhibit area in a brand-new location—across from the Brown Arch.

At our main tent, you can duck into some air-conditioned shade, renew or check the status of your membership, or bring your questions to any of our knowledgeable staff.

In addition to our main tent, we have a new activities tent, where you can meet airshow champion Patty Wagstaff, talk about current issues with AOPA President Mark Baker, and your kids can play with a Disney’s Planes: Fire and Rescue interactive display. The activities tent is where we’ll be holding educational seminars, including a Rusty Pilots seminar at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 30. (We’ll have coffee and a light breakfast for those who want to know more about how to get back into flying. RSVPs appreciated!)

Don’t miss the chance to take a good look at our Sweepstakes Beech Debonair, which will be on display. This is one special airplane!

Click here for a full schedule of seminars, guest speakers, and more.

Flight Training Editor Ian Twombly and I will be on the grounds. Please say hi; we’d love to meet you, and we want to hear all your flight training stories. Follow me on Twitter (@jtallman1959) and let me know where you are!—Jill W. Tallman

Letters of recommendation

Monday, July 21st, 2014

One of the tasks involved in getting a flying job—and many other jobs as well—is that of getting a reference or a letter of recommendation (LOR). Airlines are big on the LOR, because it’s one of the few avenues that they have to find out a little bit about you and whether or not you will fit in. If they choose, they can contact the writer and have a fairly candid conversation about you.

When it comes to asking for a letter, there are some points to consider. Keep a running list of people who know you personally as well as professionally. Some of those who know you professionally may not necessarily be people who have seen you fly. They could be your old boss, a secretary, a mechanic, et cetera.

Then there are those who have flown with you. Throughout your career, you should keep tabs on pilots with whom you have flown, because these pilots can vouch for your skills. The more you have flown with them, the better. If you were in an emergency situation with them, definitely keep in touch with them, as they might be willing to talk about how you handled a real-life pressure situation.

The best folks to have in your corner are those in positions of authority or responsibility: chief Pilots, check airman, sim evaluators/instructors, et cetera. As you move up the chain—especially at the regionals—these relationships become key, and you need to cultivate them. That means you need to make an honest effort to keep in touch. But, they need to be able to attest to your overall flying and decision-making skills.

When the time comes, asking politely is the proper form. Do not just say, “I need a letter…” The chances are that if you think enough of someone to ask them, others do as well. Check airmen and chief pilots are constantly being asked to write letters, and each one takes time.

Ask politely, by saying, “If you don’t mind, I am applying for a position with XXX, and a letter of recommendation from you would sure mean a lot to me.” Once that nicety is over, ask if the writer would mind taking a few minutes to recopy the letter into a generic one. That way, you won’t need to go back and ask for one for every job you are applying to. When I am asked to write LORs, I always provide several generic, non-specific signed copies for the individual to use at multiple organizations.

Recognize as well that the content of the letter is only part of the battle. The quality counts just as much. If you have a letter that simply says, “Billy is a good pilot and a nice guy,” it’s not the same as one that goes into some depth about specific flying examples, your character, your personality, and your work ethic. The deeper the letter, the more effective—and rest assured that HR departments everywhere know how to read between the lines.

It’s perfectly OK to ask someone if he or she would mind being a reference in the future, especially if you are still working toward making yourself competitive for the job you want. Being asked to write an LOR is flattering, so most folks are happy to do it. Just make sure that you allow that person ample time to do the job for you.

LORs can have a huge impact on your ability to get a job. Start early, get many, pick the best, and pay it forward.—Chip Wright

Lost logs, messy logs

Monday, July 14th, 2014

05465_LogbooksOne of the worst things that can happen to a pilot is to lose a logbook, especially  a logbook that is fat with hours and experience. It doesn’t matter how it happens, so you need to have a plan.

If you use an electronic logbook and don’t back it up somewhere, you can be in the same bad way. The advantages of electronic logs is that you can back them up more easily; you can save screen shots; and you can copy them to a spreadsheet.

There are a couple of options if you lose a logbook. If you have a copy of your most recent FAA form 8710, you are off to a good start. The FAA will allow you to use the 8710 in lieu of a logbook because you are required to fill in the various flight times for each certificate or rating evaluation. This alone makes it worth using the 8710 to record all of the times that it has blocks for, even if they don’t apply to your particular checkride. Make a copy of it and keep it in a safe place.

Another option to use Excel to produce a duplication of your logbook page. I use the program to do all of the math, and then transfer it to the paper log. I don’t have the desire for an electronic logbook, but this allows me to take away all of the math errors while keeping accurate times for the various airplanes I have flown.

Another logbook issue is that of the messy log. It’s generally frowned upon to have a log that has a lot of white-out, scratches, et cetera, but  most of us have a few pages somewhere with mistakes that needed fixing. If that happens, use a single line to mark out the error, initial, and neatly correct it.

If you have a page with a major snafu, mark the page with an asterisk, then move to the most recent page and use fresh lines to fix the mistake. It will help if you put page numbers on the pages so that you can reference the area where you need to fix a mistake. I ran into this a few years ago when I realized I had made a couple of major math mistakes. Once I sorted it out, I went to the first blank line, made the appropriate notations, and started over on a fresh page. That’s also what drove me to do the Excel plan. Sorry, no e-logs for me!

Logbook entries should be recorded neatly. If you are looking for a job, an interviewer should have no trouble deciphering your writing. Try to use the same color ink, and more important, keep it up to date. As for avoiding issues with losing it, take a picture every couple of pages, especially if something important happens, such as a new rating or certificate. If you use the summary pages in the back—and you should—then take a picture each time you update one of them as well.

Your logbook is much more than a personal diary. It’s a regulatory requirement, and trying to reconstruct it with receipts or memory is hard. Keep it up to date, so that if you do lose it, you can start up from scratch with as little lost as possible.—Chip Wright

Airline pay practices

Monday, July 7th, 2014

dollar signA post on a recent online thread about the airlines asked about the way pilots get paid—specifically, the fact that we don’t get paid for all of the time we spend not flying. It’s a good question, and one that is often not completely understood. Here is an abbreviated answer.

There actually is a history behind why are paid the way we are. When the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) first started, one of its goals was to have pilots treated—and paid—like professionals. There are generally three “professions” in the classic sense: doctors, lawyers, and accountants, all of whom are at some point paid by the hour (surgeons are paid by the procedure).

ALPA was aiming for the same level of recognition for pilots. Even if you accept that pilots are really more like a trade or a craft (which, in reality, is what we are), tradesmen and craftsmen also tend to get paid by the hour. Think of your local electrician, plumber, carpenter, et cetera. There may be a service fee involved, but almost all charge some sort of hourly rate.

That said, as professionals, we are getting paid only when we are practicing the “craft” of flying, which is generally defined as brake release to brake set.
Over time, the union contracts at the majors addressed the issue of unproductive trips with trip-and-duty rigs. With the trip rig, you are guaranteed to be paid one hour of pay for so many hours of time away from base (TAFB), which also determines per diem for most pilots.

A good trip rig is one hour of pay for every 3.5 hours away from base (1:3.5). The duty rig looks at each day of work on the trip, and it pays you a minimum of so many hours of pay per day (5.0 hours being considered a historically good number). At the end of the trip or the month, you look back and take the greater of the trip rig, the min day values, or the actual hours flown, and that’s what you get paid.

An extreme example is a trip I flew recently. It was a five-day trip that began with a deadhead. I flew three legs over the next four days that were worth 10 hours, but because of the minimum day credit, I got 25 hours of pay. Unfortunately, there is no other way to build the trip. Without the rig, it could only be flown by reserves, who wouldn’t be able to do anything else for those five days.

Other unions followed suit, and once one company jumped on the bandwagon, it made it easier for others to do the same.

Most regionals don’t get any kind of rig. When I was at Comair, we had rigs that were based on a look back at the end of the month (as opposed to using the rig to look forward, which would force more days off when your schedule is actually built). Even with a look-back rig, I had many months where the rig paid me extra money. Unfortunately, there has been relatively little success in getting rigs at the regionals. The companies tend to cry wolf, and claim that it will cost them too much money, and the pilots tend to accept a slightly higher pay rate in lieu of the rigs, especially since no pilot at a regional ever thinks s/he will be at that regional long enough to care.

Done correctly, trip-and-duty rigs incentivize both management and the pilots. For the company, there is a motive to make the trips as productive as possible (or, alternatively, where they have no choice, to minimize crappy trips). For the pilot, not only are there more days off, but you usually will lose some money on a sick call, because you often only get paid for the block time, not the lost “soft” time, thus minimizing the need for extra reserves. In theory, the rigs force the company to optimize trips as well as individual duty periods, which should lead to a decrease in fatigue. The concept of the rig precedes the jet age, so in that respect it’s a bit dated.

The fractionals often pay a monthly salary, which is then used to work backward to compute an hourly rate for various penalties that the company must pay. Pilots—especially (but not only) ALPA—have historically fought against salaries for fear that there will be fewer opportunities to make extra money, and the company will try extract more flying from the pilot, thus decreasing the cost per hour of the pilot, and decreasing the number of jobs at a given carrier.

Airline pay actually is pretty complicated, and it takes effort to keep up with it. But, once you understand it, you have an easier time of making sure you are getting what you are owed.—By Chip Wright