Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

So long, Neil

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

121012transatlanticA few years ago I met a pilot named Neil Bradon.

Neil stands six feet something. He hails from the United Kingdom. And he loves aviation.

Neil loves flying so much that, after trying for years to get a license in Europe, he took a job with Intel Corp. here in the states so that he could train quickly and efficiently in the bright sunshine of Arizona. He earned a U.S. pilot certificate in 2012.

Though his stateside gig was time-limited, Neil wasted absolutely none of that time. He flew as much as possible; he took friends and family flying; he made scores of new aviation friends through Facebook and Twitter. He went to AOPA Summit in Palm Springs, Calif. (that’s where we met; the photo is of Neil standing next to AOPA’s Sweepstakes Husky). He went to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. He is a tireless advocate of general aviation, and his excitement about any chance to get up in the air is refreshing and a joy to experience.

Neil goes back home on May 28. He has pledged to fly practically right up until the moment he has to board the much bigger aircraft that will take him back across the ocean.

He wrote this on Facebook recently:

“Next time you visit the airport, take time to say hello to fellow pilots. You might just inspire someone to push a little bit further with their flying adventures.

“After landing today I spoke to a C152 pilot. He asked me where I had been today and told him I had landed at Portland International (KPDX). This blew him away. Could see his eyes light up. He told me that was his dream but in the year since getting his ticket he has yet to take that dream flight. I explained to him how easy it was with a little bit of planning. I encouraged him to think about taking the flight one day. Dreams can come true.

“The U.S. has something special in terms of GA. After I leave on the 25th for Europe, I wish you all good luck fighting to keep what you have. Godspeed my aviation friends.”

The United States does indeed have something special when it comes to general aviation, and sometimes we don’t appreciate it until we view it through someone else’s eyes. In the meantime, Godspeed Neil! I hope you come back to the states sometime. I’m sure there will be empty right seats in airplanes waiting for you all across this nation.—Jill W. Tallman

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Filling the gap

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Check Out ChecklistMuch has been made of the new federal aviation regulations that require new airline pilots to have at least 1,500 hours. This is really no different than the way the old supply-and-demand system used to work. By that I mean that fewer than 20 years ago, a budding airline pilot wasn’t getting hired unless his or her logbook showed this kind of time or close to it. It’s only been in the last 10 to 12 years that we saw the serious decline in total hours among new-hire pilots—to the point that they were getting hired at 250 hours of total time.

If you are looking to get hired at the regionals, the best route to the 1,500 hours is flight instructing (this assumes you don’t qualify for one of the total time reductions). As a busy CFI, you can rack up 700 to 800 hours a year, and you can do it without paying for it. That alone will give you an idea of how much you can expect to fly as a professional pilot. Regional pilots can expect to average 800 hours a year once they are no longer on reserve.

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, back in the day, teaching is what we did to earn our time.

What’s more important is that you find a way to take advantage of that gap in hours. If you have students who can afford it or are adventurous, try to arrange for some fairly long cross-country trips. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you try to rip someone off or take advantage of them, but if you can meet a legitimate teaching need while fulfilling other obligations, you might be able to reach a mutually beneficial end point.

For example, I had a student who wanted to go to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh one year, and he wanted to take his girlfriend and a buddy. They were retired, and affording it was not a concern. The only airplane that would work was a twin-engine Piper Aztec. As a result, my boss and I went along, and so did my girlfriend. The airplane was loaded up, and off we went. I flew the entire trip and picked up a dozen or so hours of much-needed multiengine time, along with great cross-country and real IFR experience, and it didn’t cost me a dime except for my food. My student even covered my housing.

The following year, I had another student who had bought a warbird Cessna 172 and wanted to fly to Oshkosh. Once again, I was intimately involved in the planning and logistics. She flew under Foggles for most of the round trip, and this time I also got paid for the time I was there (I was busy enough at the school that I couldn’t afford to leave and not get paid for missed work).

Advertise your services to local newspapers that need aerial photos, and look for opportunities to fly actual IFR as much as possible. Go into complex airspace, and get some night experience. If you have a client who is buying an airplane (or delivering one), try to get a ride.

The gap between getting your commercial and CFI is your chance to shine. Do what you can to make your experience stand out. This will not only help you get a job, but it will also help prevent burnout and boredom from doing the same thing every day. Polish your customer service skills and expand your knowledge. Be ready and able to answer any questions any client or student might have, especially if they are in the market to buy an airplane.

It sounds daunting to get the 1,500 hours to get hired, and if you need to pay-as-you-go, it is. But if you can get paid and get great experience, then it’s not only doable, it’s fun, exciting, and a grand opportunity. Take advantage of it!—By Chip Wright

FAQ: How to join our Facebook chats

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Long-time Facebook friends of Flight Training magazine know that on the first Tuesday of each month at 3 p.m. Eastern, we host a live chat through our Facebook page. This lets us chat in real time with you. We use CoverItLive as the chat interface. It’s lots of fun, and we always have a great discussion.

This year we got an exciting new sponsor, Aircraft Spruce & Specialty, which is providing a $50 gift card for each chat. That means one of you can win a $50 gift card just for showing up and participating! You’ll find a lot of great pilot gear on their website. (And if you should want to “like” their Facebook page, that’d be nice, too.)

Our chat sponsor

Our chat sponsor

This FAQ should help you find us and get chatting to increase your chances of being the lucky recipient.

Q. When is the chat?

A. It’s always the first Tuesday of the month, and always at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Q. How will I know it’s coming?

A. If you’re like me, you have to make yourself a note on Outlook. But CoverItLive has a function where you can send yourself an email reminder. You can set it for a day, an hour, a half-hour, or 15 minutes before the chat. Click here. 

Q. How do I get to the chat?

A. There are two ways—and here’s where it gets a little confusing interesting.

  1. Click this icon if using a computer.

    Click this icon if using a computer.

    If viewing the chat on a computer, we recommend you just click the chat icon in the timeline on our Facebook page. That takes you directly to the CoverItLive window. You won’t see anything except the chat topic until the chat actually starts. Once it starts, you’ll see a window that lets you type your comments and hit “send.”

  2. If using a smartphone, we recommend you to go this URL. This is a direct URL for our CoverItLive window.
  3. If you can’t get to us through the chat icon, try using the direct URL.
  4. If using an iPad, either way should work.

Q. OK. I got to the chat, but I don’t see a window. What do I do now?

A. Check your screen resolution. It should be set to the highest resolution. Alternatively, use another browser. Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox work well; Internet Explorer and AOL, not so much.

Q. Do I have to be logged in?

A. No.

Q. I got to the chat and it has started, but it still says it is waiting. What do I do?

A. Refresh the screen; if a box pops up asking if you’re sure you want to leave the page, say “yes.”

Q. OK, I’m in the chat! I can see questions and answers from other people, but you haven’t posted my question. Why is that?

A. It takes us a certain amount of time to respond to each question. And, depending on the number of comments and the complexity of the topic, we may not be able to post each and every question or comment. We’ll do our best, though.

Q. I have a question, but it’s not about what the topic of the chat is. Can I post it anyway?

A. Of course, as long as it’s related to flight training or flying.

Q. I’m in the chat, but it seems to be frozen. What do I do?

A. Try refreshing your screen.

We look forward to chatting with you! If you have any other issues with the chat that weren’t addressed here, please email me (jill.tallman@aopa.org).—Jill W. Tallman

 

 

Operations specifications

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

If you talk to pilots from different airlines, it becomes pretty apparent that they are very different in many ways, and in other ways, they are exactly the same. The reason is that they each must operate under their specified operations specifications, commonly called their ops specs.

Every Part 135 and 121 airline has an ops spec, which is essentially the blueprint that has been approved by the FAA for that airline. Ops spec C55, for example, deals with certain required weather criteria for determining the suitability/requirement for an alternate.

Every airline has some form of C55, but there may be exceptions within the ops specs. The details are negotiated between the airline and the principal operations inspector, or POI, the individual at the FAA who is responsible for the oversight of the airline. As you might imagine, that alone is a huge job, and it’s one that requires a staff of experts in all areas of airline operations. There are folks who work in flight operations, maintenance, in flight (the flight attendants), security—you name it. The POI is the head honcho.

How much latitude an airline gets depends on a number of things. If the POI is comfortable with the managers of the airline, he or she is more likely to grant some leeway and relax some of the restrictions. However, if the airline is fairly new, or has a questionable safety record, or is staffed by relatively inexperienced pilots, expect the requirements to be a bit tighter. Likewise, if the company is mature and has a long history of solid operations, you’ll see less resistance in doing more complex operations.

Some POIs are just conservative and are very reluctant to approve of changes that the airline believes it needs. Others are pretty progressive. The pace at which airlines are moving toward electronic flight bags, or EFBs, often is a reflection of the personalities of the POIs and whether they are willing to do away with paper charts.

Another good example might be Category II ILS approaches. CAT II approaches are much riskier than CAT I, and they have a slew of extra maintenance requirements, along with pilot training needs that need to be met. Financially, it’s an expensive program to have, and so many regional airlines opt not to pursue the CAT II certification, even if the equipment is capable. I was at Comair for nearly 10 years before we finally pursued CAT II operations. When we started doing a lot of flights into Atlanta, we experienced a lot of delays, cancellations, and diversions caused by fog that had the ILS approaches down to CAT II. Delta owned us, and finally agreed that it was costing more money not to have the option than we were saving, and the investment was made.

But we didn’t just start flying 1,200-foot runway visual range (RVR) approaches right away. We had to train pilots, dispatchers, and mechanics.The pilots had to fly a certain number of approaches at 1,600 RVR to test the equipment in the airplanes in real-world conditions. It was months before we could fly CAT II without restriction.

Ops specs also spell out everything from approval for EFBs to what airports an airline can use, and for what purpose. Some airports may not be approved for regular service but can be used for refueling or diversions. Still others can’t be used at all except in an emergency.

If you pursue an airline career, you will become intimately familiar with ops specs, POIs, and the relationship they have with your carrier. Most sections of the ops specs will mean little to you as a pilot. Others will be your bread and butter, and you’ll memorize them chapter and verse. After all, we’re talking about the FAA here!

Fly safe!—Chip Wright

The training wall

Monday, April 21st, 2014

06-496_SimmCommThe worst part about transitioning to a new flying job is the training. Specifically, the sim training. It’s in the sim that you begin putting all of the pieces together from the previous weeks. The company operations manual, the procedures, the systems—it all comes together here.

In many ways, it’s no different than other training you have taken on during your climb up the aviation ladder. The hardest part in the private syllabus is learning to land. In the instrument, it used to be the NDB approach; now it’s making sure you hit the right button at the right time on the GPS. In the commercial, it’s…well, the commercial is pretty easy. For the CFI it’s mastering the right seat while learning to talk, teach, and fly at the same time. In each of these, at some point you have to combine the physical skills with the academic knowledge required.

In airline or corporate flying, it’s no different. Sort of.

The difference is that you have a defined period of time to put it all together. Usually there are anywhere from six to eight sim sessions for training. There is a bit of a movement afoot to integrate procedures training in a non-moving sim sooner, so that the students have the ability to practice more and master the basics. But at some point you are in “the box” and under the gun for a fairly short period of time, and it’s intense.

When I was a new hire in my first airline job, I was told that it was Sim 3 or 4 that caused everyone to take a giant step backwards. My instructor was right. On Sim 4, I forgot how to fly. I was awful. It was just a matter of going through the motions. But, the next day, I came back and it was like nothing had happened.

I’ve had the same problem with every training event since. Somewhere in the middle of full-motion sims, I have a day when I’m task-saturated just trying to tie my shoes. At least now I know to expect it, and it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve had instructors critique me by saying, “Well, you’ve mastered the range knob.” That’s like being told that you have mastered the headlights in your car. But on those days when you can’t seem to do anything right, take the positive comments where you can get them.

It isn’t just me. Every sim partner I’ve ever had has had a bad day as well. Fortunately, we’ve never had them on the same day. My most recent sim partner had his bad day the day after mine, and we carried each other through. Another one had hers the day before the checkride, and she was so distraught she didn’t sleep that night. She aced the ride (I knew she would). I used to do a lot of “seat fills,” where I’d sit in to help a student when another pilot wasn’t available. Every time I heard that it was Sim 3 or 4 in the syllabus, I’d brace myself. I was rarely disappointed.

We all hit a wall on occasion, and a good instructor will coach you through. On those days, the learning experience is often just learning how to accept that you aren’t perfect. It’s humbling, and it can even be humiliating. But you just need to shrug it off, get some sleep, recognize what you did right, and come back the next day. That good instructor will encourage you and remind you that you aren’t the first, and you probably aren’t the worst.

And when you do, you often can’t believe that you had so much trouble in the first place.—Chip Wright

Deliver on your word

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

It’s typical of men (or so the experts say) to try and solve problems, to fix things, to make it right. My wife complains about that trait in me all the time. I try to offer suggestions on how else to channel her frustration, without success.

I did learn years ago, though, that there are some problems that I just can’t fix. As a flight instructor, I had a few students who had issues that simply were not going to go away. We either learned to work around the issues, or they switched instructors. One had to quit entirely, but that’s a different story.

At the airlines, a pilot quickly learns that there so many things beyond his baggage handlercontrol that to try to fix everything is futile. If there is anything worse than a failed attempt to fix something, it is a promise unkept. As examples, pilots learn early not to promise that certain bags will make the flight, or connections will be held. Logic doesn’t play here, and often there is a big picture that we don’t see. It might make sense that, since your passengers are connecting to the last flight to Des Moines, the flight is going to be held so that they make the flight. You may not realize that the crew operating that flight is running out of duty time. Or there is weather in Des Moines that they need to race. Or the airplane is scheduled for maintenance in Des Moines that needs every bit of the time allocated. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, and you simply cannot promise the moon.

Nowadays, I don’t pass on information that hasn’t been confirmed by others. Connecting flights are the easy one. Getting that information confirmed is black and white. But when bags are pulled off for weight-and-balance purposes, I don’t pretend to know which ones will stay and which ones will go. I did that—once—and it was the one time that agents on the ground totally screwed up, the wrong bags got pulled, and the passengers went berserk. They had every right to, but now they were mad at the wrong person (me), which means that they channeled some of their complaints to the wrong department (the chief pilots and flight ops), which only slowed down the ultimate creation of a resolution to their satisfaction.

The lesson? Choose your words carefully, and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. It sounds simple, but think of the companies that have built their name on a simple premise. UPS, FedEx, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and others have a simple end-product that they offer, and when it does not materialize, they are blistered. People get angry or even irrational, even if the failure is beyond their control.

If you can really fix something, great. If you can’t, don’t say you can. If you say you’ll try, then do so. It’s true in many aspects of your life, but it’s most assuredly true in aviation, where not only are the expectations high, but so are the costs of failure.—Chip Wright

Upgrading to bigger and faster airplanes

Friday, April 4th, 2014

John Mahany has been flying for more than 30 years. He is a CFI and has corporate, airline, and charter experience, and also spent four and one-half years flying in Alaska. He currently is a King Air instructor at FlightSafety International in Long Beach, Calif.—Ed.

06-493 Baron G58Nearly every pilot aspires to move up, or upgrade to bigger, faster airplanes at some point. After all, isn’t that one of the main reasons why we fly? To get there faster, and carry more payload, right?

Upgrading to “bigger and faster” is relative. It depends on what you are flying now, and what you have in mind. If you are a new private pilot who has been flying a Cessna 150/152 or similar for primary training, you might simply want to move up to a 172 or Piper Warrior/Archer to carry more passengers and bags, as well as the ability to go farther, faster.

On the other hand, you might already be an aircraft owner and are using your airplane for business or personal transportation; it may be time for you to step up to a bigger airplane. It all depends on your mission. This could mean stepping up to turbocharging, multiengine, or even a turboprop or entry level jet (very light jet, aka VLJ). Simply stated, the bigger the step, the more there is. What kind of flying do you need to do? What are your requirements for speed, range, and payload? That will define what you need to consider.

Moving up from a typical two-place trainer to a Cessna 172 or Piper Warrior/Archer is a relatively simple process. There are no endorsements required. You would need to pick up the airplane flight manual (AFM), or information manual, as it might also be called, and spend time reviewing it.

Read it cover to cover. It’s not exciting, but it includes important information about the airplane and its systems. And then schedule time with an instructor, on the ground, first to review the systems and performance as appropriate. Work out a sample weight and balance for a typical flight, as well as for your favorite destination. How much fuel can you take with all the seats filled? You may find that you can’t fill the seats with full fuel, especially on a hot summer day. How much more runway will it take for takeoff and landing on a summer day with a high density altitude?  Every airplane has its limits. Every summer some pilots seem to forget this and have a density altitude related crash on takeoff.

Keep in mind that the performance numbers as given in the POH/AFM are optimistic, generated by the marketing department, designed to sell airplanes. They do not accurately reflect the likely performance of an older, high-time piston engine and the average pilot whose skills are not at the top of his game. They are numbers that a test pilot would get in a new airplane with a new engine. So, conservatively, add at least 10 percent or more to the performance numbers to be more realistic.

Then, with your CFI, go fly for at least an hour and get a feel for it, going through maneuvers, takeoffs, and landings. Especially, work through stalls and slow flight. See how it feels and handles on the back side of the power curve. How does it handle on the stall break? Is it gentle or abrupt? Find out at a safe altitude (at least 3,000 feet agl) with an experienced CFI. You don’t want surprises in the traffic pattern.

Check with your aircraft insurance broker early in the process to find out what training your insurance will require, based on your experience (flight time), before you can fly this airplane. This is important. The FAA stipulates under FAR 61 which certificates and ratings are required to fly a given airplane as the pilot in command. But the insurance company will tell you what you will need before it will insure you to fly this airplane as PIC.

Why? The insurance company writes the checks following an accident or incident. For example, if you are a low-time pilot who wants to step up to a high-performance single (Bonanza or Cirrus) or light twin-engine airplane, insurance may require, after you have completed the formal training, that an experienced mentor pilot or CFI fly or ride with you for 10 to 50 hours or more before “approving” you to fly your airplane alone.

More airplane usually means more engine(s), more horsepower, and more fuel. Translation: more money to operate on an hourly basis. Depending on how high you step up, this will determine the level of training required. I should point out that there are separate endorsements for complex (FAR 61.31 (e)); high-performance, (more than 200 HP) (FAR 61.31 (f)), and high altitude, above FL 250 (FAR 61.31(g)).

If you are moving up to a turbocharged aircraft, you will likely need the high-performance endorsement. You will need to learn how the turbocharging system operates, along with the power settings and operational techniques for that particular engine. When a piston engine is turbocharged, some of the exhaust gases are redirected to a “turbocharger.” In simple terms, a turbocharger consists of an exhaust turbine and an intake compressor (impeller). Hot exhaust gases drive the exhaust turbine, which drives the intake compressor at the same very high rpm. Thus, the density of the intake air and manifold pressure are increased, allowing the engine to deliver more power than it could without a turbocharger.

If you are considering stepping up to multiengine flying, welcome to the world of twin engine operations. Multiengine training typically takes between 10 and 20 hours, depending on your proficiency and where you train. You will be limited to VFR flying unless you also include instrument flying as part of your training and checkride.

Please also understand that a typical light twin has two engines because it needs both engines. If an engine fails, especially on takeoff, you will lose 85 percent of the performance! Unless you are proficient in multiengine, engine-out procedures, the loss of the second engine will only take you to the scene of the accident. Regular, ongoing proficiency training is a must in any light twin. Your insurance will require this.

Upgrading to bigger, faster airplanes is something that nearly every pilot will experience at some point. Find a competent instructor with experience in make and model, and take it a step at a time. Spend the necessary time to become properly acquainted with it, especially learning about any quirks. This will also depend on your experience and what else you have flown. You will be a better, safer pilot for it. We will all benefit from that!—John Mahany

This blog was edited on May 7 to reword the definition of a turbocharger.–Ed.

What is your airplane saying to you?

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Cessna 172 SkyhawkFlying is a sensual experience. Sight, of course, rules the senses, whether in IFR or VFR conditions. Touch and feel play a role as well, but less of one once in cruise and everything is in equilibrium. That’s not to say that they don’t play an important role—I was once alerted that a major hydraulic failure was about to occur by what I felt in the way of vibration through my feet. But behind sight, I believe that sound is critical when it comes to flying. Specifically, the ability to identify certain sounds.

Reference the above hydraulic situation. It started with a vibration we could feel in the floor, but it soon escalated to a sound similar to that of an idling chainsaw. Within a few minutes, we had been alerted via an engine indicating and crew alerting system (EICAS) message what was going on, and the idling sound turned into a high-pitched whine. It was the pump tearing itself apart.

Every airplane has a certain “sound footprint” in each phase of flight. I’ve always been partial to the way an airplane sounds during the takeoff roll. It’s a good time. After all, you’re getting ready to go fly! The engine or engines are at full power, the wheels are spinning up, and the airflow is generating wind noise. There is a certain comfort level that you feel when you know it all sounds the way it should.

When I was a full-time flight instructor, I spent the majority of time in a fleet of Cessna 172s. The Skyhawk has a definite sound that it makes in all phases of flight: takeoff, cruise, descent, slow flight, landing. It makes a certain sound when you allow it to get away from you in a descent. The sound, with practice, will often alert you to a change in your condition—a disturbance in your equilibrium—before your eyes register what the panel says.

To this day, I think I can fly a 172 without even looking at the panel, because the sound talks to you and tells you what you need to know. Given that I have yet to fly a glass-panel Skyhawk, I’m going to need all the help I can get!

In so many ways, your airplane is talking to you. Often, that voice is the sound or sounds you hear. Learn them. Associate each phase of flight with the change in the pitch of that voice. Spend more time looking outside (which is why you probably wanted to learn to fly in the first place).
Take that information, and use it. If all else fails, it may be all you have.—Chip Wright

 

Lifestyles: The majors

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

800px-Southwest_Airlines_Boeing_737-7H4_N231WNMuch of the lifestyle of the regionals carries over to the majors, but there are some differences. The majors tend to utilize airplanes that can fly longer legs, especially newer 737s and larger Airbuses. While the MD-80 still makes its living as a workhorse that flies seven or eight legs a day, the typical crew might only do two or three, maybe four. The 737, on the other hand, can do it all. It can fly short legs and long. Transcons—transcontinental flights—are common.

One of the major differences in flying for a major is the dramatic increase you will see in flying at night. Red-eyes, reverse red-eyes (east to west), or all-night flights to the Caribbean or Latin America are more common. The airlines don’t make money when the airplanes are parked at the gate, and where they can squeeze more revenue by flying at night, they will. Certain flights will not have as many passengers as you might think, but the bellies will be loaded with cargo.

In many ways, the job is easier. There is more automation in the system, so the flight planning and the load planning is more in sync. You don’t put out as many fires related to flight plans and passenger loads not working. There are fewer weight-related issues (this is a huge problem with regional aircraft). More stations have mechanics, so if something needs attention, it doesn’t take as long to get it fixed.

Generally, you will be treated better. It is a sad truth that regional pilots are often treated far worse than they should be—by their managers especially, but also by the passengers, the gate agents, or just about anyone at some point in time who finds you an easy target for their personal issue, whatever it is. It isn’t a universal happening, and it doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen. At the majors, there is much more respect and professionalism shown toward the crews. If you need something, it’s not that hard to get, and that includes the occasional time favor from the chief pilot or even scheduling.

As a regional pilot I was lucky in one respect because the hotels we stayed in were usually top of the line. This isn’t always the case. At the majors, you will stay in better hotels, and you will see more of the downtown areas, which means there is more to see and do.

You will enjoy flying for a company that is in charge of its own product, and not beholden to one that controls your fate.

Commuting is generally easier and the schedules are better, but that need to quickly change your sleep patterns likely will still be there. And, of course, you will be paid more. You might earn in a month what you earned your first year as a regional pilot.

And at some point, you will pass one of your old airplanes on a taxiway, and you will look at it and say, “I remember this one time….” And you will share a story about how much fun it was (or wasn’t) or how much work it was (or wasn’t). You might even miss that old bird. And you will realize that that old bird is what put you here.

You still need to learn to live out of a suitcase and get used to Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 instead of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You will work your share of holidays. But the reward is making it to the top of the mountain. The view is great, the work is fun, and the country, you will realize, is much bigger than you thought.—Chip Wright

Want to be an airline pilot? See our Career Pilot resources page for information that will help you plot the best course.

Pilot taxes

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

I got my annual CD from Turbotax the other day, and it got me thinking about, well, taxes. When you are pilot who flies for hire, there are a number of things to consider. If you are flying as an independent contractor, it’s up to you to make estimated payments. If you are an employee, your employer will deduct your taxes from your paycheck.

As a pilot, you are entitled to deduct certain expenses from your income taxes. While this is not intended to be a tax-advice article, it can point you in the general direction.

The most important point is to document everything. If you have any reason at all to believe that a purchase you are making—be it an item or a service—might be deductible, you should keep your receipt and document what you have bought, when, and where. The IRS provides a fair amount of latitude, and some if it is common sense. As an instructor, the obvious items are things like new headsets, a new kneeboard, and similar items of the sort. The more complicated items are those that also can be used for personal reasons, such as cell phones. For the best advice, talk to a CPA or the local IRS office.

As with many jobs, you will learn that doing your taxes is not going to change much from year to year as far as business expenses and deductions are concerned. If you do your own taxes, you can save some money. In my opinion, it only pays to hire an expert if you are dealing with some complicated items; if you are married to someone who has a fairly high income; or if you have other income that needs to be addressed and accounted for, such as a rental property. It might also pay to have someone talk you through dealing with depreciation if you decide to purchase an aircraft for teaching.

As a general rule, if the item you buy is required for your work, you can likely deduct it. Certain professional organization memberships or periodicals might also apply. If it isn’t required for work, think twice. Again, ask a professional for expert guidance.

Taxes are a hassle we must all deal with, but there are provisions in the tax code that professional pilots can take advantage of. Whether you are self-employed or work for Big Flying School Inc., you can reduce your tax bill legally and smartly, but it all starts with proper documentation and a paper trail….sort of like dealing with the FAA. Be diligent, be smart, and be thorough….just like dealing with the FAA!—Chip Wright