Archive for the ‘Aviation Careers’ Category

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

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

BFR, airline style

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

The FAA being the FAA, everyone has to train. If you want to fly continuously, you are subjected to a flight review every two years. This was once known as the biennial flight review, and many people still refer to it as a BFR. In the general aviation world, the flight review is a chance to for you to review any area in which you are weak, need to practice, or that the instructor wants to emphasize. There is also a requirement for an hour of review on the ground. In the air, you will be required to demonstrate proficiency based on the level of certificate that you hold. In other words, a private pilot will get more wiggle room than an airline transport pilot (ATP), who is expected to be able to fly with hair-splitting precision.

In the world of larger airplanes such as jets and turboprops, it isn’t unusual to be required to undergo some form of more formal training using a simulator or fixed training device. The reason for this is twofold: safety and cost. Larger airplanes are capable of doing V1 cuts, a procedure in which an engine fails at the worst possible time during the takeoff roll, and the pilot(s) continue(s) to fly the airplane, with the intention of dealing with the issue once airborne (this obviously only works on aircraft with two or more engines). Doing the training in the airplane is risky and expensive.

These recurrent training programs are fairly structured, and the process and expectations are the dictate of the FAA, the insurance companies, the manufacturer, and the training agency.

At the airlines, the process is very similar, and if anything, it is more tightly controlled and regimented. While there are variations from one airline to the next, or even between the various fleets of an airline, the intent and purpose are the same.

In the old days—which was less than 20 years ago—a pilot would show up for his recurrent, and be given an oral that could cover just about anything under the sun….and sometimes did. Assuming he passed, he would then get into the sim and, without much of a chance to warm up, would be asked to demonstrate myriad maneuvers and procedures, some of which were sadistic and hopelessly unrealistic. Think of doing a single engine NDB approach in a gale-force crosswind while spinning a basketball on your finger, Globetrotter-style.

Today, the process is much more humane, and therefore productive. Generally speaking, there is some kind of a thorough briefing that, while not really an oral exam, isn’t really not one either. Thanks to the internet, enough training can be done online throughout the year that the need for a comprehensive oral is mitigated. Instead, the instructors use the time to review procedures that the crew doesn’t see in the airplane very often. They also discuss trends that have been tracked through various tracking and safety monitoring programs: airports with a higher-than-normal rate of unstabilized approaches, for example, or airports with known challenges created by short runways, construction, et cetera. It’s a good back-and-forth, as the students can often bring up-to-date information to the table while learning what problems other pilots have in training.

Most airlines conducty two days of sim training. The first day is a chance to practice certain maneuvers (often called “first look,” since they are scored on the first try), while knocking the rust off of the rarely used skills. The second day is typically a flight that is representative of life on the line, but with a few twists thrown in. There is usually a minor mechanical malfunction to deal with, and in order to keep things interesting, the training department will choose a challenging SID, STAR, or approach to fly, or they will make it interesting with bad weather, tailwinds, et cetera. Typically, there are two of these flights, so each pilot can fly— but not always.

The training typically covers whatever is being emphasized through the online training, so if the company is doing training on the fuel system, generally, the fuel system will have a malfunction in the sim.

Fortunately, airline pilots who fly for fun can substitute the Part 135 or 121 training for the flight review, though many will get the occasional BFR anyway, just to stay sharp in the small airplanes as well.

Training in general has come a long way, and will continue to evolve. Like most pilots, I used to have a bit of a sense of dread. Having been through so many training events now, I still prepare accordingly, but I look forward to the chance to review and refresh, not to mention just learning something new.
But as always, when it’s over, I walk away with a sense of relief, knowing that I am done with it for another year!—Chip Wright

Check your work

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the zeal to get a job, it’s easy to get a bit ahead of yourself. Or to just do something dumb. An urban myth has made the rounds for years about a pilot who really wanted to work for UPS, and when he sent in his application, he did it via FedEx. Or vice versa.

The point is, you don’t drink Coke in a Pepsi plant, and you don’t use the biggest rival of the company you want to work for to advertise your desires.

A friend recently asked someone to help him get a job by carrying his resume directly to the head of pilot recruiting. The “someone” didn’t think it was his responsibility to proofread the resume, and just handed it in. Under the heading of Career Objective, the pilot had put that he wanted to work for another carrier. The “someone,” whom I also know, got a phone call from the recruiters explaining what happened, and felt extremely embarrassed. The applicant had burned a bridge that he couldn’t afford to lose. He too felt ashamed.

In this age of point-and-click, it’s ever more important to proofread everything you send, because once it’s on the internet, the damage is done. A number of regionals use airlineapps.com as their portal. For the most part, it’s an easy website to use, but as you start targeting airlines and soliciting references, you need to be extremely careful that you don’t target Airline B by telling them you want to work for Airline A. When you ask people for references, make sure you request both a generic letter of reference as well as one that is specific to a given company.

Application websites can be long and tedious. But you have to jump through the hoops, and it is critical that you follow your old math teachers’ advice and check your work. Print out the application before you send it. Have someone else proofread it for you. Once you are finished, set it aside for a day or so, and then read it with fresh eyes. Make sure that all of your flight times are accurate, dates are correct, and anything with an expiration date is up to snuff.

You need to do the same thing with your resumes. If you go to a job fair and you are targeting a specific airline, make sure you hand them the correct resume! If you need to use a generic one, that’s fine. Better safe than sorry!

In fact, you should keep a generic resume handy that you continuously update, and use that as a basis for printing copies for specific airlines. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to use an accordion file to store all of your information for each airline—printed applications, resumes, contacts, information from their websites, et cetera.

As you work your way up the chain of companies, recognize that people know each other, and they talk to each other. If you are sloppy at one company, don’t be surprised if the HR person has discussed you with a cohort elsewhere. Also, pilots who work in recruiting at a regional will often move into similar work when they go to a major. You want to leave the most positive impression that you can.

And the opposite is true, as the story above proves. Eventually, someone is going to ask you for a hand in finding work. Make sure that anything that passes through your hands is not going to make you look bad—whether it’s as simple as putting down the wrong company or something more complex, like an obvious lie. Use your discretion, and remember, just because someone asks for your help doesn’t mean you have to say yes. If you don’t want the confrontation of saying, “No,” you can be vague and say something like, “I don’t have a lot of sway around here,” or “If you’re competitive, you’ll get the call.”

Think of each interaction, whether in person or via the ‘net, as a one-shot opportunity to make the impression you want to make. You may not get a second chance.—Chip Wright

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

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