Archive for October, 2013

Questions to ask during an airline interview

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

An airline job interview is generally a one-way conversation, with the airline asking all the questions, and you doing your best to get the job. However, you should also be ready and willing to ask certain questions that will affect your future. This short list of questions will not get you “in trouble,” and it will show that you are truly interested in the industry.

  • Q: What will be the impact of FAR 117 on your operation?

If this isn’t addressed in a briefing before your interview, it’s a good question to ask, because many airlines, including regionals, are still coming to grips with the full impact of the rules. Every regional will be required to add staffing to the pilot ranks. The real question is by how much. Ten to 15 percent seems to be a good gauge for now, but each one is different. They may need to alter the schedules in ways not anticipated. My own guess is that it will force them to go to an AM-PM model, but that’s just one option. A simple reason for you to ask is to find out how long you will be on reserve.

  • Q: What will 117 do to reserve requirements?

Reserve status for an airline is one of the least desirable schedules in the industry, so most pilots want to get off reserve and become a line-holder as quickly as possible. Is the airline you are interviewing with planning to increase reserve numbers? Do they know?

  • Q: What will happen when your contract with your major airline expires?

It’s a fair question to ask a regional when the contracts with its major partner expire, and if the expiration date is close, to ask if the contract has been renewed. If it isn’t renewed, can the regional find someplace to put the airplanes to use? If the answer is no, you may not have a job for long. Most fee-for-departure contracts are for 10 years or more, so keep that in mind as you search for work.

  • Q: What is the future of XXX domicile?

This is a question you only want to ask regarding the smallest domicile, or one that is shrinking. If it’s a base at a non-hub airport, definitely ask—these are the ones that are most likely on the chopping block. You’ll probably need to read between the lines or pay as much attention to what they don’t tell you as to what they do, but if there is any chance you are going to be based at a small domicile or are considering moving to one, ask.

  • Q: What are the long-term fleet plans?

As the 50-seat fleet ages and gets retired (driven by both age and by scope clauses in the contracts of major airline pilots), regionals need to be ready to move on to Plan B. Some will thrive with 50-seaters, but most will not. You owe it to yourself to find out what the firm plans are going forward. You should know this before you show up, but getting current information will make your own decision making process a little bit easier.

These are just a few questions you can ask. If you have friends at the company, they can give you some more questions to ask that are pertinent and appropriate. Go in armed, and know exactly what information you need or want to make your own decisions easier to make, especially if you are facing the possibility of getting multiple job offers.—Chip Wright

Should you move for a regional?

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

U haul truckThis is a tough subject. Most people would rather not have to commute to work, and commuting for pilots is different than it is for any other job. One of the advantages to being an airline pilot is the option of living just about anywhere you want to live. However, it isn’t all peaches and cream either.

Having been a commuter and a noncommuter, I’m here to tell you that if you can avoid commuting, life is much, much better. I have lived as close as 10 minutes to the airport, and being able to leave my house 30 minutes before I am scheduled to report is wonderful. I’ve also had to commute to New York, which is notorious for its traffic problems. There were times when I had to leave my house in the morning for a trip that started the next afternoon because the flights were full, which meant that I lost a day and half of my time with my family. The same has happened getting home.

It’s one thing to move for a job that should be a career. But few pilots catch on with a regional figuring that it will be their final stop. This makes the decision to move even more difficult. A low-time pilot is going to be at a regional for several years, and that might be an argument in favor of moving. However, most crew bases are in busy hubs, where housing is more expensive. If you can find the right suburb, you can get lucky, especially if you are willing to drive a bit longer to get to work.

Commuting on reserve is even more challenging, and it can be frustrating as you spend days in a crash pad waiting to go to work—days that could have been spent at home.

Further, if you are hired by a regional that serves one major, you may be hired by another major, and find yourself in a city that suddenly becomes much more difficult to get to and from because of the change in your pass benefits.

If you are facing a two-leg commute, or heaven forbid, a three-leg commute, consider moving closer to work. Even if you aren’t dealing with a multi-stop commute, you may live somewhere with sparse service or frequently full flights. In this case, an option would be to move to a city that has a lot of service to (and from) multiple hubs.

A good example is Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, which is served by just about every significant airline, and to multiple hub cities for each one. It’s in a good geographic location for commuting up and down the East Coast as well as to the Midwest.

The same could be said for Indianapolis, Indiana, or St. Louis, Missouri. While it is common for pilots to live in Florida, Florida has its own challenges, namely that so many pilots and flight attendants live there. Also, the Sunshine State goes through periods of the year where getting to and from work is extremely difficult because of Spring Break, a Super Bowl, or the Daytona 500. The more senior you are, the easier it is. As a new hire, it’s tough.

Finding a city that is a happy medium is the best bet, especially if you could be happy there if you get your dream job with the major airline of choice. If you are only renting, my advice would be to move at first, with the possibility of commuting later. If you are fixated on buying somewhere, at least wait until you know the realities of the job and the real estate markets for where you want to live.

Deciding to move is not always an easy choice, and it definitely isn’t an easy task. But move slowly and deliberately so that you can make the best decision.—Chip Wright

What’s on your aviation to-do list?

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Cessna 182 SkylaneAs fall gets into full swing here in the Mid-Atlantic, there’s plenty of good flying weather ahead. My aviation friends’ Facebook feeds (and likely yours) are full of wonderful photos. Cruising along enjoying the fall colors; exploring new airports; discovering a weekend getaway–the list of possibilities is only limited by our fuel budgets.

I’m reminded that the year is drawing to a close. But instead of regretting the flying I didn’t achieve this year, I look back on what I did manage to accomplish, and relish making plans for 2014.

You may be plugging away at your pilot certificate. But it’s never too soon to start compiling that wish list—a new set of goals for when you have achieved this more immediate prize of being let loose in the sky.

Some new pilots move immediately to learning mode once more, striving for a new certificate or rating. If that’s your plan, my hat’s off to you. A good pilot is always learning.

But if your immediate desire is simply to enjoy your new privileges, that’s great. After all, you’re working hard for this ticket. You will most assuredly deserve some fun at the end of the long road!

So plan now for what you want to do with your pilot certificate. Pick a destination, an event (AirVenture, anyone?), a type of flying (aerobatic? floats?), a new skill, an air race, or a humanitarian flight. Picture that goal, and envision yourself smack in the middle of it, with a big smile on your face.

What’s on your aviation to-do list for 2014? Please share in the comments. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some flight planning.—Jill W. Tallman

Calling home for weather

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

There are a handful of approved weather sources that pilots and airlines can use. Approved, that is, by the FAA. There are countless that are not approved, such as Weather Underground, the Weather Channel, and my favorite: calling home.

Airlines use dispatchers to disseminate weather info to the flight crews. The dispatchers in turn use approved sources of meteorological information to develop big weather pictures. But, as any rational person knows, the best tool for analyzing nearby weather is to look out the window. The next best tool is to call someone who can actually look out the window where you want to go.

At my previous job, the dispatchers did not have a real good view out the window because of the design characteristics of the building they used. Even during a bad storm, if I called them, I would get the computerized information, which wasn’t always as new as I wanted it to be. Quite often, I would call my wife or a few other people who lived in specific locations and could give me an immediate sense of what was going on. My father used to get mildly amused when I’d call him for updated info if I was in his neck of the woods.

Officially, I could not/cannot use this information to plan my flight, or determine a suitable alternate, or do much of anything other than to say that I talked to my family. But for getting immediate, accurate information, it works, even if it isn’t “officially” accurate. My dad was especially helpful because, as a pilot himself, he knew what I wanted to know. My wife was a great source of severe weather input because we lived so close to the airport.

Even now, living in another location in the middle of the Pacific, my wife is a good source of here-and-now information—especially with rapidly changing rain conditions. I am not a captain, so I’m not the one who ultimately makes the decision about what’s going to happen, but being able to talk to someone who is “in the know” provides a bit of comfort. It may not be a true pilot report as defined by the FAA, but it is a pirep of another sort: People In REal (close) Proximity.

Again, it isn’t official, and it can’t be used in a court of…well, anything, but talking to people who are really there can be useful. Just use such information as a supplement to the official version, to help build the best big-picture view you can get.—Chip Wright

Under pressure

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

My flight to North Carolina this past weekend was one of those scenarios that causes me to have anxiety dreams about flying days before the actual event.

I had signed on to join Pilots’n'Paws’ “Operation Special Delivery” fall flyout. This fine organization helps to connect pilots with animal shelters around the country. The volunteers pull dogs, cats, rabbits, and other small animals out of high-kill animal shelters; pilots sign up to fly them to rescues and, hopefully, new homes. Once or twice a year, Pilots’n'Paws puts together a large event and moves hundreds of animals in a day. Last weekend’s big flyout originated in Hinesville, Georgia.

Jewel (left) and Pink get a ride to a new home, thanks to Pilots 'n' Paws.

Jewel (left) and Pink get a ride to a new home, thanks to Pilots ‘n’ Paws.

My Piper Cherokee 140 gets a little uncomfortable after three hours. Rather than fly all the way to Hinesville, I opted to go to Pinehurst, N.C.—about three hours from Maryland via Cherokee—where I would pick up dogs from another pilot, and fly them back up to West Point, Va. A third pilot would be waiting at West Point to transport the dogs to an airport in New Jersey.

So far so good. I’m instrument-rated but not current, so the next step was to keep fingers crossed that the weather would cooperate.

I asked my daughter, Maddie, if she would like to join me for the dog run, and for once her jam-packed college senior schedule permitted it. Things were coming together! Except…

We are getting a lot of morning fog in Maryland. If I tried to launch Saturday morning for North Carolina, I might be grounded for who knows how long until the fog burned off, and it would put the third leg of the long day behind schedule. OK, I’d fly down Friday afternoon, get a hotel room, and be at the Pinehurst airport as early as needed. Except…

My daughter said she’d leave College Park by 2 p.m. With luck on our side, we’d launch from Frederick no later than 4 p.m. I didn’t want to land at a strange airport at night.

I could feel the pressure of the mission mounting. If I wasn’t able to get to North Carolina, the chain would be broken and the dogs would have to be moved to other airplanes. But I would have my daughter on board, so it was crucial that I not allow get-there-itis to overwhelm my decision-making process.

At some point that week, I previewed the forthcoming Air Safety Institute online

The author (right) and her daughter, Maddie, on the final leg of a Pilots 'n' Paws run.

The author (right) and her daughter, Maddie, on the final leg of a Pilots ‘n’ Paws run.

course, Weatherwise: VFR into IMC. This great new course, optimized for use on the iPad, is coming out soon. It includes a video snippet with our own Rod Machado talking about how to break the mission mind-set. Rod said something to the effect of, “Don’t ask yourself what you have to lose by not flying; ask yourself what you have to gain.”

With those words, everything came into focus, and the pressure eased. If morning fog created a delay, so be it. I could launch late, or I could cancel altogether. Cancelling the flight would be hard, but if it had to be done, I would have the conviction to do it.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to cancel. We were able to make the flight down to North Carolina on Friday with plenty of daylight to spare. On Saturday, we were at the airport bright and early—but our Georgia pilots were grounded because of morning fog, so we had a pleasant wait at a nice FBO while Pilots’n'Paws volunteers provided a free lunch. The only downsides to the day were unseasonable heat and haze (90 degrees!) that made it rough on the poor dogs while we were on the ground.

In the end, I transported two dogs, enjoyed a wonderful weekend with my daughter, and worked through a go/no-go scenario with tools that will serve me on flights to come. It doesn’t get much better than that.—Jill W. Tallman

You don’t always get what you want…but sometimes…you get what you need

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Jean Moule last wrote about African-American pilot Bessie Coleman for the Flight Training blog. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

Jean Moule smiles during a flight lesson.

Jean Moule smiles during a flight lesson.

I walked into the Salem Flight Training office to begin my 10 to 12 flight lesson. I was surprised to see Mark instead of Steve. “Steve had some work for the state,” Mark said when he saw my expression.

A bit surprised because I had let Steve know that, as my first instructor, I preferred him and he had simply cancelled or changed a flight before if he was not available.

Yet…my now flying addiction caused me to take a deep breath and go for it.

Since I have had two substitutes, at first I did not connect that, Ah ha…this is the guy that I almost flew with in February…when we did not even get off the ground…because of my poor taxiing…or  so I thought!

We talk about our plan for this time. Mark suggests that I fly to the Corvallis Airport because he knows I have not landed elsewhere. “I am not ready for that,” I say. It is empowering, in a way, to speak to someone who has not flown hours with me and needs my input to know my perceived skills.

Mark sends me to preflight the airplane and we begin the routine…the one that usually has me work myself into a snag at something I know fairly well.

I manage to misplace my radio call cheat sheet. I decide to take the high road, “Guess I will have to get this out of my head this time,” I say. And then, at least twice, instructor points to the N-number right before me above the instruments. That is one piece of information I do not need to have in my brain…of course I should know it after 12 hours in this airplane. Brain freeze and a live radio connection is an incredible eraser.

Preliminaries done, we taxi. I am getting better at taxiing because now I connect that a slight brake allows the wheels to rotate in the direction you want to go. “Like a Caterpillar tractor,” my husband explained. As if I had any experience with them either.

So, we head to the runway. I do the radio calls and take off with just a bit of voice control from Mark. We head south. I circle over Education Hall at Oregon State University. My, what a perspective of the place where I worked so long and seldom visit in my retirement schedule of classes.

Mark takes photos. I enjoy the views and then we head east. For the first time I take the airplane up to 5,000 feet so that we are above the 4,200-foot Snow Peak that marks the high point of the area where my husband worked as a forester for 36 years.

We circle the forest below. The old growth fir trees that we see taller than the others are what is called “The Park” on the 12,000-acre Avery Property. The trees are about 500 years old.

We head down toward the ridge that runs under our property. I delight in showing Mark things on the ground that I know and he does not: Richardson Gap and the towns of Mill City and Lyons. It is difficult to find my house within the square of tall firs that grow up around it.

Then we head toward highway 22, the known road that leads back toward the airport.

While I have learned how to better trim the airplane to keep from tense and unnecessary tightness on the controls, we have been in the air over an hour and I am a bit tired. I think of asking Mark to land the airplane. There is so much to do, or so it still seems to me: Call the tower once at 10 miles and again when requested. Make sure no radio traffic is directed at you. Think of your approach into the pattern. Begin to get lower and slower. Lower those flaps. Adjust to the winds. Watch for other traffic. Et cetera.

 While I know that Steve has some sense of what I can begin to handle with his help, I don’t know how my growing knowledge and skills will come together with Mark as we land with him doing some of the work. I decide to just ask him to do it all. But oh! Am I surprised! As Mark takes over the landing and I feel his hands and feet on the controls….I actually find anger rising up within me. Wait, I think, wait! I want to land this plane!  “Give me something to do,” I say with a rise in my voice. Mark releases the yoke to me and talks me down.

Wow, what did I learn from this different instructor besides to focus on the N number right in front of me when making a radio call? I learned that….I want to fly this airplane….myself…

Two weeks later…My flight instructor and I had exchanged emails and I said that, weather permitting, I would like to fly over the mountains to Sisters and back and my husband would go with me. Steve says, “Weather permitting, going to Sisters is fine with me. There is a disadvantage in that you will grow more as a pilot by working on pilot skills rather than doing cross-country flights.”

Weather was not permitting according to my standard briefing, and then Steve called because he was not even sure the low scattered clouds over the Salem field would allow for our flight at all. Since I had to drive through Salem anyway, on my way from an overnight and appointments in Portland, I stopped.

Steve decided it was perfect for touch and gos near the airport. We went over the pattern and the radio calls. I find out he has eight or nine in mind, and I have two or three! We discussed which parts of this I would do. There is so much to consider: radio calls to tower, elevation, airspeed, carburator heat, flaps up or down, turns, flight path, other planes, yipes! Take off, do a circle, touch down, and then put full power on and take off again! We did this four times and I told him it was enough for me though he had more in mind.

My flight lesson on that Wednesday keeps me smiling: scary, challenging, learning, and fun. It was like a roller coaster and merry-go-round combined. I just start to giggle every time I think about it! My adrenaline rush for at least two weeks.—Jean Moule

Airline charters

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

It’s well known that the airlines fly people from A to B, be it on business trips, honeymoons, going to a funeral, or on a family vacation. What you may not realize is that the airlines also do an awful lot of charter work. The major carriers—especially the legacy carriers—do a significant amount of charter work for college and professional sports teams, and the revenue is significant. Because a team or a group is leasing the whole airplane, the cost is not cheap. The money they pay has to cover not only the cost of the flight(s) in question, but also the cost of repositioning the airplane.

For example, when I was at Comair, we flew a ton of NCAA basketball charters for both men’s and women’s teams. When I first upgraded to captain, the going rate for the airplane was roughly $10,000 an hour. On a typical charter, the crew that would actually operate the flight would either report to work in base or dead-head on the last flight out to an outstation. They would then take the airplane and ferry to the pick-up point. For the University of Maryland, that might mean riding on a flight to Buffalo, and then taking the empty airplane to Syracuse. When the team had finished the game and the press conference, they’d be brought to the airport. We’d then take them to Washington National Airport or Thurgood Marshall-Baltimore Washington International and drop them off. We’d then ferry the airplane back to Buffalo. The fees the team paid not only had to cover the cost of the ride home, but also the cost of the empty segments.

Charters add an interesting mix to the everyday flying. In the example above, the flying took place mostly at night. The same is true in season for baseball teams, the NBA, and the NHL. Football is different, since there is only one game a week, and the teams travel either one or two days ahead of schedule, depending on the time changes. During spring training, baseball teams will often travel during the day. We also did a lot of NASCAR charters, moving the support crews and mechanics around.

Football teams tend to stick with the legacy carriers because they will have access to narrow-body equipment for flights under three hours or so, and they can use a wide-body for flights more than three hours. They also have more people and equipment involved.

There are other charters that pop up as well. Before the spike in oil prices that began in 2001, we used to do a lot of gambling charters to casinos, especially in the South. In fact, I did a couple of three-day weekend trips that consisted of nothing but gambling charters. Those trips can be a lot of fun, because the leader of the trip will often use the public address system to have games and contests in flight, and will sometimes include the crew in the festivities.

There are two major downsides to the charter work: getting groups to honor the schedule, which can lead to a lot of sitting around and late departures, and the fact that most of the time you’re working on the backside of the clock. Getting teams to honor the schedule is easier when they are dealing with an airline versus a true charter company, because they understand that the airplane is due back in service the next day, and the contract calls for a pretty stiff penalty if they horse around with the schedule (overtime games are exempt).

The upside is that sports teams tend to cater a lot of food, so you can eat well for free. Also, you can meet some pretty interesting or famous people. Charters are also a nice break from the routine of line flying, and they can be a lot of fun. While some corporations will arrange for charters (we did one for several years during a major banking merger as employees shuttled between the two headquarters), those are fairly rare, but they do tend to be on RJ-sized equipment. If you head to the airlines thinking that all you will do will be based on the timetables, you will be in for a surprise…but you might also come away with a few autographs in your logbook that you weren’t expecting.—Chip Wright