Archive for the ‘Aviation Careers’ Category

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

Upgrading to turbine/turboprop aircraft

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

John Mahany last wrote for the Flight Training blog on upgrading to bigger, faster aircraft. He 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 is a King Air instructor at FlightSafety International in Long Beach, Calif.—Ed.

TBM 300Are you considering taking the big step and moving up to a turbine aircraft? If you decide to step up to a turboprop or VLJ, you will find that your aircraft insurance broker will want a more professional level of training, like that offered by providers of simulator-based training facilities, using flight training devices (FTD). These include SimCom, SimuFlite, and FlightSafety International. There are a few others, as well.

What is the difference between a turbocharged engine and a turboprop? “Turbocharged” refers to piston engines only, whereas a turboprop is a jet engine that turns a propeller. Sometimes it is also called a prop-jet. It’s the same thing.

In a turboprop engine, a turbine (jet) engine shaft is connected to a reduction gear box and propeller governor, which in turn governs propeller speed and operation. A turboprop engine can be normally aspirated or flat-rated, which is the equivalent of turbocharging for a turboprop engine. Turbine engines also are normally aspirated.

Yes, this will cost considerably more, but the airplane also will cost more. It is all relative. Don’t go cheap on the training, and rush through it. It’s your life! Invest in quality training and take the time to learn the airplane. I have met many experienced pilots who are still learning more about the airplane they fly, even at the jet and turboprop level, after many years and thousands of hours experience in type. It really is a never-ending process. A good pilot is always learning.

You might find an instructor who is “insurance approved” to provide training in specific makes/models of aircraft in the airplane. Typically, the type-specific owner groups, such as Cirrus, TBM, and Pilatus, will have this information. But most of the training at this level is done in a simulator/FTD. Mistakes made in turbine powered aircraft can be costly (a hot start on a turbine engine could cost $250,000). It is far better to make mistakes in turbine aircraft in the simulator than in the airplane! You can walk away from the simulator and use it again.

Before considering any of this, it would be wise to take stock of your piloting skills, and consider hiring an instructor to fly with you to evaluate your skill level. Your piloting skills, both VFR and IFR, should be at the Practical Test Standards level for the grade of pilot certificate that you hold. If you are not proficient, that should be addressed first.

You need to be proficient, and it helps to have some recent experience before upgrading. Otherwise you will find yourself “behind” as you go through the training, and it will become much more challenging, as well as frustrating. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read through the Aeronautical Information Manual? You need to have pertinent operational information for IFR procedures at your fingertips!

Good instrument skills are a must, as flying high(er) performance aircraft demands a greater degree of precision. You simply have to be a proficient instrument pilot, and high performance aircraft are flown by the book, also known as the numbers.

The training itself will depend on your experience level. A low-time private pilot upgrading for the first time may find the process more challenging. A bigger, heavier airplane with more horses under the cowl will take some getting used to. As you step up to more complex aircraft, expect the level of difficulty to increase accordingly. As the speed increases, you will learn to think in terms of time rather than distance, and cruising at 120, 150, or 180 knots equates to two to three miles a minute respectively, while 300 knots is five nautical miles per minute. You learn to plan climbs and descents accordingly, and staying ahead of the airplane takes on a new meaning.

When you step up to the world of retractable landing gear, you will learn the procedures for when to raise and lower the landing gear. You do not want to get distracted and forget, which does happen occasionally. There is a saying among those who fly retractable gear airplanes: “There are those who have, and those who will” land gear up. Even professional pilots, especially when flying single pilot, have been known to forget the gear on occasion. You don’t want to join this club.

Information in ground school may seem to come at you in firehose fashion. And, just to add to the complexity, in larger aircraft, typically there is more automation. If you have avoided automation and glass cockpits, they will be hard to avoid when you upgrade. It would be good to learn any advanced avionics such as Garmin G1000 or Avidyne well in advance if possible.

When you upgrade to complex and high-performance aircraft, it will take more time to learn the aircraft systems, aircraft performance, and weight and balance, as well as the procedures and checklists. You will find that the manuals and the AFM/POH for aircraft will vary from one manufacturer to another. Cessna performance charts will look different than Beechcraft performance charts, for example.

When you step up to this level of training, it will be referred to as either initial or recurrent training. Initial training is for a pilot who has not flown a particular airplane (jet/turboprop) before. On the other hand, after you have successfully completed initial training, and you come back for training a year later, this is called recurrent training. This course will be shorter in duration.  To maintain your aircraft insurance, you will have to complete recurrent training annually.

The typical initial ground school and simulator training for a turboprop aircraft will take at least five and possibly 10 days. For turbine/jet training, expect 14 days or longer.  It depends on where you train, and the training program that has been approved for that school or that operator to use. The requirements will vary slightly.

Expect the turboprop ground school to be about 20 hours over a period of three to five days. For smaller turbine/jets (Citation/VLJ), it will depend on the specific jet, but ground school will typically run five to seven days. Bigger transport category jets (Boeing/Gulfstream) will take longer to learn, with ground schools typically taking two to three weeks. Try to arrange to get the manuals/course materials in advance, so you can begin to familiarize yourself with the material.

For most turboprops, initial training typically consists of five simulator sessions. For jets, it could be more. Each simulator session is typically two hours long. This can be a very intense two hours, especially when you are dealing with abnormal and emergency situations. You will probably forget that you are in a simulator, which by its nature is more challenging to fly than the airplane. This is intentional. Simulators are not designed to be a stable platform. If you look away from the panel to reference a checklist or chart, you might look back and find yourself in a climbing or descending turn. This will encourage you to become familiar with and learn to use the autopilot/automation/flight guidance system, as appropriate. When flying single-pilot, the autopilot is your co-pilot.

Once the training is completed, if this is your first time in turbine equipment, jet or turboprop, expect to have an instructor pilot fly with you for some time before you fly solo. You will need to demonstrate single-pilot proficiency. In the VLJ and the Citation I and II, it is possible to earn a single-pilot waiver.

Let’s briefly compare this level of turbine/turboprop training (FAR 61) with charter and airline operations (FAR 121/135), for airline and charter pilots who are upgrading to captain. They are not turned loose as pilot in command at the completion of their simulator training and checkrides. They are then required to complete additional training, called initial operating Experience, or IOE.

This initial operating experience consists of flying with a qualified instructor pilot, or line check airman, for up to 50 hours, and successfully completing what is known as a line check before they are released to fly the line as captain in revenue operations. This is where they finally get a chance to fly the airplane and see how it feels and handle, under the supervision of an experienced captain. Thus, you should expect a similar process yourself.

Whatever you have upgraded to, after the training is completed, no doubt you will be anxious to go fly! I would caution you to start with day VFR first, if possible, before plunging into hard IFR. It is always better to get a feel for the real airplane in day VMC first, and away from other traffic. Have fun and fly safely.—John Mahany

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

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

Cross-marketing flying

Monday, March 10th, 2014

scuba divingI recently touched on the topic of marketing yourself as a CFI. I say “touched” because a 900- word blog simply cannot do the topic justice. Books have been written about it—books geared toward the CFI, no less, and they had far more than 900 words.

But I do want to touch on the concept of cross-marketing. As I mentioned previously, general aviation has not historically done well with marketing efforts, especially flight schools. They tend to rely on walk-ins, word-of-mouth, and website hits. Not many take advantage of cross-marketing with other activities that attract the same demographic as pilots.

The most obvious market is scuba diving. Diving tends to attract relatively well-to-do individuals looking to fulfill “bucket list” goals, or those who are interested in living life from a different perspective. Flying and diving have much in common: Both are three-dimensional activities; both require analysis and planning; both require some specialized equipment; both require a disciplined approach toward safety; and both are best when shared with others. In fact, diving is a highly social activity, much more so than flying is.

Research has shown that as many as 70 percent of pilots are also scuba divers. Note that I did not say that 70 percent of divers are pilots. However, the immediate use of that information is obvious: Divers are a market just waiting to be exploited by you, the instructor-to-be of a bunch of future pilots.

Unlike flying, diving is an industry that is unregulated by the government. It’s largely self-regulated, and there are numerous dive training agencies. The heavy hitter, though, is the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI). Chances are that your local shop is a PADI facility, and if it isn’t, it probably has at least one PADI-certified instructor. PADI is a marketing machine.

As a CFI, you can—and should—try to establish a relationship with your local dive shop. Talk about forming a partnership that might consist of promoting each other’s businesses via brochures or sharing links on each other’s websites. Establish a referral system that provides an incentive for old customers to bring in new customers to either business. If you are not a certified diver, consider becoming one. Even if you are not interested, learn what is required to become a diver, and learn the basics of the training system in use at your local dive shop, be it PADI, NAUI, SSI, et cetera. Understanding the lingo and the training platforms will help you when it comes to talking to potential diving pilots.

Flying and diving are both travel activities. One way to promote both at the same time would be to establish a “flying diving vacation,” such as a trip to a beach that is also a diving hot-spot. Locations like the Gulf Shores, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, Catalina Island, or even Mexico offer much for divers, non-divers, and pilots. A GA pilot can’t fly for pay, but the divers in the airplane can contribute to the cost of the flight by paying for some of the fuel. For divers who have not been exposed to general aviation, it may be a great way to introduce them to the fun and flexibility offered by general aviation airplanes. You and your new dive-shop partner can heavily promote a trip like this. The dive shop can also promote various diving events that will take place once you actually hit the water (with your scuba gear, that is).

This is just one avenue of cross-promotional marketing. There are others, and some will be local to where you live. So, “dive right in,” and start tapping into revenue “pools” that already exist.—Chip Wright