Deliver on your word

April 8th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upgrading to bigger and faster airplanes

April 4th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your airplane saying to you?

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

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.

The old guy on a windy day

March 24th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about a flight lesson in which she invited along her college professor. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published
writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

When and where will I fly? What kind of airplane and with whom? I have not found a regular airplane, CFI, flight school, or field since my one-year favorite shop closed. But it is March, and I am determined to fly at least once a month. I schedule with Lee in Independence. Great instructor and cool airplane.

In the cold wind coming cross-wise onto the airfield, we sit in the cockpit

flight training blog grumman

The Grumman

going over the instrument panel of a Grumman Tiger AA5B owned by Jeanne’s Flight School. We look at the checklist and Lee answers questions, even before we go into the building to grab headsets and begin to check the checklist. Ah, I see. One removes one’s hearing aids before putting on the headsets. Got it.

Except for a glider, this is my first time in a low-wing airplane with a sliding canopy.  Feels sort of like a luxury convertible car, tufted fabric seats and all. I told my CFI—my OLD CFI, ’cause that is what his car license plate says—that it reminded me of the time I drove my father’s Maserati. Fits and feels a bit like a glove.

After I made my first radio call at a field without a tower, we were soon

flight training blog jean moule

Jean and Lee

airborne. I enjoyed the handling of the Grumman very much. I hadn’t done any maneuvers in the air in a while. Mostly I just wanted to fly at the controls over the landscape. Lee encouraged me. Play with it, he said. I did a few steep turns and practiced power-off and power-on stalls. A nice review of some basics and I learned much because the airplane was new to me. Just a smooth little airplane with a great view.

We tootled over the Willamette River between Amity to the north and Camp Adair to the south. We stayed between the West Salem hills and the beginnings of the coast range. The cumulus clouds at about 5,000 feet and the late afternoon light toward 5 p.m. gave wonderful definition to the sky and the patterned fields, trees, and standing water. OK, got that needed dose of airtime.

It was a high-wind day, so I turned the ailerons into the wind for taxiing and did a crab on final before landing sideslip to align to the runway.

I smiled as Lee backed the airplane into the hangar of a house on the large Grumman at duskairpark residential grid of runways and roads. I remember laughing the first time I saw homes with hangars. Here there are 200. What a community.

My only frown for the day was noting that Lee, like some, charged for ground school, while many instructors base their fee on the Hobbs time on the airplane. My lesson here: It is good to ask before you begin. Then the ending conversation is serious fun too.

I happily headed home, an hour drive away. I had just finished one story on CD and popped a new one into the player. The story opens with a man preflighting a Cessna. Cool, I think. I just flew and now I get a story about flying! Only, in the story, the airplane crashes. It is more ironic than a downer for me. I know it is a story, and I also remember the wise advice of my first flight instructor: Rather than get rattled by news of any crash or airplane incident, try to dig and find out what happened. This has led me to understand that most accidents in small airplanes are caused by pilot error. And two of them are at the top of my list to simply avoid.

First check, and if necessary, double-check that fuel. I remember checking the fuel with a CFI in California. There was plenty for the flight, however the company wanted the airplane full and sent the truck over to fill it. After the top-off, at the CFI’s instruction, we checked the fuel again for water and actual amount. I appreciated the reminder that the pilot in command is ultimately responsible. I will also remember to check that fuel cap and think carefully about the distance and wind direction I plan to fly.

The other caution I have firmly in my mind is to stay away from sketchy weather—which is what did in the pilot in the story I listened to. He was in just too much of a hurry and flew into weather, instrument rating aside, that his airplane could not handle.

While I have much to learn, that advice to check out incident details keeps me ready to take to the air, air sorrows for others in story or for real, not keeping me away.

And of course, having really old CFIs who are solid pilots still in one piece, helps.—Jean Moule

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Pilot taxes

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

Back to basics with Nancy Narco

March 12th, 2014

Nancy Narco.No matter how many advances we make in aviation, many things remain the same. The avionics we used today could be utterly foreign to someone who flew in the 1950s—but the troubleshooting tips still apply.

I was paging through a bound volume of back issues of AOPA Pilot, looking for a specific article, when I came across Nancy Narco. Quick history lesson: Narco Avionics used to be one of the names in aviation communications and navigation equipment, much as Bendix/King and Garmin are today. Your trainer might sport a Narco radio. You’ll likely see advertisements for Narco units on eBay and Barnstormers. The company went out of business in 2011.

Nancy Narco seems as though she might have been the Betty Crocker of avionics. She appeared in Narco advertisements in the 1950s and 1960s, running a sort of advice column (“Nancy Narco says”) alongside the main ad copy enticing readers to purchase transmitters, receivers, automatic direction finders, and whatever else was then state of the art.

My eye fell on this one from February 1959, titled “FAT.” Nancy wasn’t giving out weight management advice–she was sharing a memory tip on how to troubleshoot radio issues.

  • F for frequency: Check proper channel and transmitter selector switch. (Nancy notes that “more and more aircraft” are equipped with two or more transmitters, so then—as now—it was a good idea to make sure you weren’t transmitting on Comm 2 instead of Comm 1.)
  • A for audio. Check receiver volume and audio function switch to be sure you can hear OK.
  • T for tuning. Be sure you’ve tuned the proper frequency—I think we’ve all done that at least once or twice.

Nancy is no more, but I like her common-sense approach. I’ll share some of her other words of wisdom in upcoming blogs.—-Jill W. Tallman

P.S. Here’s a really good breakdown of whether avionics have risen in cost as dramatically as aircraft, presented by Bruce Williams on his blog Bruceair.com.

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Cross-marketing flying

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

The perfect CFI

March 6th, 2014

what makes a good flight instructor?We asked the Flight Training Facebook friends to tell us one thing they love about their flight instructors. Judging from their comments, we think we could cook up the perfect CFI using these ingredients. Flight instructors, do you see yourself in these comments?

Two parts great teacher:

“Dana Holliday, because he LOVES his job and flies for the fun of it. Not because he needs to stay current or earn more hours.”—Phillip J. Maschke

“Scott McManus at Wings of Eagles Everything Aviation at Huntsville International Airpor; he inspires confidence, cheerfully adapts his teaching style to my learning style…”—Andrea Atwood

“Harold Price @GGP he loves to teach and talk aviation.”—John Peters

 Two parts experience

“His skills, both as pilot and instructor and obvious love of flying make him a joy to work with!”–Andrea Atwood, talking about Scott McManus

“Thessa at Universal Flight Training, professional and very patient. Demands precision and provides the student the tools to be precise.”—Mark Gatz

“David Hersman at Eagles’ Wings Flight Training, been there for years with 8,000+ hours in his C150. Really knows his stuff!”—Joel Thomas

A side of safety

“Capt Bundock, plants the discipline of flying from scratch. ‘Never change your attitude with the trimmer’”—Martin Asare

The patience of Job

“Terry Anderson at Flyboys, 6A2……he’s an awesome teacher and is very patient with his students…really glad I found him!”—Scott Beard

“Stuart Cook at Skyward Aviation, Santa Monica, CA. Smart, patient, great at explaining and teaching, calm and a great person!”—Renee Engel

“My instructor was an older woman named Rose. She flew for the Army Air Corps and taught her son who became a commercial pilot. Great gal and patient with a then young woman with more bravery than brains. :)—Suzanne Day
 
 “Ben Chapman and Kendall Young! I’m taking more time than usual to get my private pilot’s license and they have been very patient with me!”—Chris Nolen
“Allan C. Burke a great Christian man with patience and a great friend.”—Nick Reed

A bit of fun, just for good measure

“Jonathan Bishop from Cal Airways flight school Hayward, CA. Very passionate about aviation I’ve learned so much plus he makes ground school and flying fun.”—Anthony Hayes

“Paul Jacob, patient , smart. And fun to fly with him.”—Michael McShane

“Tristan Wright @ Skywings Okotoks, flexible schedule and doesn’t mind repeating briefs or flights to ensure I got it. We even did a ‘let’s just fly for fun’ day instead of a lesson.”—Robert Manahan

If you missed the original Facebook post and would like to salute your flight instructor, please do so in the Comments. Or, add your own thoughts about what makes the perfect flight instructor!—Jill W. Tallman
 
Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Lifestyles: The regionals

March 3rd, 2014

Regional jetYou spend every free moment thinking about flying, or actually flying, or studying flying, or actually thinking about studying flying—maybe even while flying. Your hours slowly build, your certificates and ratings begin to pile up. First is the private, then the instrument, then your commercial, and your CFI. You live sparsely and spend the same, minimizing your expenditures while trying to maximize your income. You provide the best service and instruction you can, being fair to your customers and yourself, and in time collect your multiengine credentials. You make mistakes, scare yourself (and others), and learn more about flying while working as a CFI than you will for the rest of your career. Always focused, you can sense that your opportunity as an airline pilot or a charter pilot is within reach.

What will it be like?

The routine at the regionals is, in many ways, different than it is at the majors. Because the regionals feed to the hubs of their partners, they often provide a frequency of service to the smaller cities that the majors cannot match. Towns like Des Moines, Iowa; Richmond, Virginia; Albany, New York; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are the bread and butter of the regionals. The majors may bring in the occasional 737 or MD-80, but the RJ (in some variant) is king here, sometimes for as few as two flights a day, and often for as many as seven.

As a regional pilot, you will spend your days bouncing in and out of one or more hubs, connecting people to larger aircraft bound elsewhere or bringing them to a meeting or home. There are some point-to-point city pairs, but not as many as there used to be. Some cities, like Raleigh, are mini-focus cities for multiple carriers. You will typically fly trips that range from one to four days (usually three days or four), though a few are five days. You may start early in the morning or sometime after lunch. Frequently you will stick with an “AM” or a “PM” schedule, but not always. On reserve, the one day, two-leg out-and-back may turn into a six-day trip. As a line holder, you will generally fly for three to four days and be off for three to four days. Usually there is a long block of seven or as many as 10 days off somewhere in the month.

On the same day you may fly from the warm beaches of Miami to the frigid winters of Green Bay, stopping to deice, or even being forced to re-deice somewhere along the way. You will learn to deal with broken airplanes, rushed passengers and gate agents, and tired flight attendants. You will learn to eat faster than a Marine in battle, and to time your walk-around so you don’t have to stand on a ramp in the rain. You will average at least four flights a day, and  at times you will do as many as eight, and you will feel exhausted when you do.

You will learn that the names of the days no longer matter. You are on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

You will sleep in a different hotel each night, and you will learn to pack your bags efficiently and only unpack what you must. You will need a few months to figure out how to pack for yourself: winter clothes versus summer, workout attire, your iPod, and whatever personal items you deem to be critical to making life on the road just a bit easier. You will learn to pack your suitcase so that you can fit it into an overhead compartment on any airplane.

Some nights you will go to bed late and wake up all too early. On others, you will be done flying by noon and start again the next evening. You will learn by necessity how to constantly juggle your sleep patterns. There will be some nights when you sleep like a newborn baby and others where, for no explainable reason, you will not be able to sleep a wink no matter how exhausted you are. Soon, you will know where the best hidden jewels for restaurants are, and you will try to bid your schedule accordingly. At times you will forget where you are.

You will learn to maximize your time off to get as much done as possible. Laundry, dry cleaning, and errands all need to be completed ASAP on your return home. You will pay the bills, get used to your own bed again, get used to sleeping with your spouse or partner again, and finally get the lawn mowed just as your neighbors are organizing a homeowner’s intervention. Soon, you realize you are wise to have a set of clothes ready to go at home so you can swap clean and dirty in a pinch if you don’t have the time or energy to do laundry. If you commute—and odds are good that at some point you will have to—you will check the flights to get you back to work. You may need to book your hotel room for the night before or after your trip.

It is a rhythm. It isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always fun. But most of the time, it is. When you are home, you are home. There is no work, and your time is your own. And soon, you are watching your logbook fill up, and you are anticipating two more milestones: captain, and an offer from a major.—Chip Wright