Letters of recommendation

July 21st, 2014

One of the tasks involved in getting a flying job—and many other jobs as well—is that of getting a reference or a letter of recommendation (LOR). Airlines are big on the LOR, because it’s one of the few avenues that they have to find out a little bit about you and whether or not you will fit in. If they choose, they can contact the writer and have a fairly candid conversation about you.

When it comes to asking for a letter, there are some points to consider. Keep a running list of people who know you personally as well as professionally. Some of those who know you professionally may not necessarily be people who have seen you fly. They could be your old boss, a secretary, a mechanic, et cetera.

Then there are those who have flown with you. Throughout your career, you should keep tabs on pilots with whom you have flown, because these pilots can vouch for your skills. The more you have flown with them, the better. If you were in an emergency situation with them, definitely keep in touch with them, as they might be willing to talk about how you handled a real-life pressure situation.

The best folks to have in your corner are those in positions of authority or responsibility: chief Pilots, check airman, sim evaluators/instructors, et cetera. As you move up the chain—especially at the regionals—these relationships become key, and you need to cultivate them. That means you need to make an honest effort to keep in touch. But, they need to be able to attest to your overall flying and decision-making skills.

When the time comes, asking politely is the proper form. Do not just say, “I need a letter…” The chances are that if you think enough of someone to ask them, others do as well. Check airmen and chief pilots are constantly being asked to write letters, and each one takes time.

Ask politely, by saying, “If you don’t mind, I am applying for a position with XXX, and a letter of recommendation from you would sure mean a lot to me.” Once that nicety is over, ask if the writer would mind taking a few minutes to recopy the letter into a generic one. That way, you won’t need to go back and ask for one for every job you are applying to. When I am asked to write LORs, I always provide several generic, non-specific signed copies for the individual to use at multiple organizations.

Recognize as well that the content of the letter is only part of the battle. The quality counts just as much. If you have a letter that simply says, “Billy is a good pilot and a nice guy,” it’s not the same as one that goes into some depth about specific flying examples, your character, your personality, and your work ethic. The deeper the letter, the more effective—and rest assured that HR departments everywhere know how to read between the lines.

It’s perfectly OK to ask someone if he or she would mind being a reference in the future, especially if you are still working toward making yourself competitive for the job you want. Being asked to write an LOR is flattering, so most folks are happy to do it. Just make sure that you allow that person ample time to do the job for you.

LORs can have a huge impact on your ability to get a job. Start early, get many, pick the best, and pay it forward.—Chip Wright

Lost logs, messy logs

July 14th, 2014

05465_LogbooksOne of the worst things that can happen to a pilot is to lose a logbook, especially  a logbook that is fat with hours and experience. It doesn’t matter how it happens, so you need to have a plan.

If you use an electronic logbook and don’t back it up somewhere, you can be in the same bad way. The advantages of electronic logs is that you can back them up more easily; you can save screen shots; and you can copy them to a spreadsheet.

There are a couple of options if you lose a logbook. If you have a copy of your most recent FAA form 8710, you are off to a good start. The FAA will allow you to use the 8710 in lieu of a logbook because you are required to fill in the various flight times for each certificate or rating evaluation. This alone makes it worth using the 8710 to record all of the times that it has blocks for, even if they don’t apply to your particular checkride. Make a copy of it and keep it in a safe place.

Another option to use Excel to produce a duplication of your logbook page. I use the program to do all of the math, and then transfer it to the paper log. I don’t have the desire for an electronic logbook, but this allows me to take away all of the math errors while keeping accurate times for the various airplanes I have flown.

Another logbook issue is that of the messy log. It’s generally frowned upon to have a log that has a lot of white-out, scratches, et cetera, but  most of us have a few pages somewhere with mistakes that needed fixing. If that happens, use a single line to mark out the error, initial, and neatly correct it.

If you have a page with a major snafu, mark the page with an asterisk, then move to the most recent page and use fresh lines to fix the mistake. It will help if you put page numbers on the pages so that you can reference the area where you need to fix a mistake. I ran into this a few years ago when I realized I had made a couple of major math mistakes. Once I sorted it out, I went to the first blank line, made the appropriate notations, and started over on a fresh page. That’s also what drove me to do the Excel plan. Sorry, no e-logs for me!

Logbook entries should be recorded neatly. If you are looking for a job, an interviewer should have no trouble deciphering your writing. Try to use the same color ink, and more important, keep it up to date. As for avoiding issues with losing it, take a picture every couple of pages, especially if something important happens, such as a new rating or certificate. If you use the summary pages in the back—and you should—then take a picture each time you update one of them as well.

Your logbook is much more than a personal diary. It’s a regulatory requirement, and trying to reconstruct it with receipts or memory is hard. Keep it up to date, so that if you do lose it, you can start up from scratch with as little lost as possible.—Chip Wright

Airline pay practices

July 7th, 2014

dollar signA post on a recent online thread about the airlines asked about the way pilots get paid—specifically, the fact that we don’t get paid for all of the time we spend not flying. It’s a good question, and one that is often not completely understood. Here is an abbreviated answer.

There actually is a history behind why are paid the way we are. When the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) first started, one of its goals was to have pilots treated—and paid—like professionals. There are generally three “professions” in the classic sense: doctors, lawyers, and accountants, all of whom are at some point paid by the hour (surgeons are paid by the procedure).

ALPA was aiming for the same level of recognition for pilots. Even if you accept that pilots are really more like a trade or a craft (which, in reality, is what we are), tradesmen and craftsmen also tend to get paid by the hour. Think of your local electrician, plumber, carpenter, et cetera. There may be a service fee involved, but almost all charge some sort of hourly rate.

That said, as professionals, we are getting paid only when we are practicing the “craft” of flying, which is generally defined as brake release to brake set.
Over time, the union contracts at the majors addressed the issue of unproductive trips with trip-and-duty rigs. With the trip rig, you are guaranteed to be paid one hour of pay for so many hours of time away from base (TAFB), which also determines per diem for most pilots.

A good trip rig is one hour of pay for every 3.5 hours away from base (1:3.5). The duty rig looks at each day of work on the trip, and it pays you a minimum of so many hours of pay per day (5.0 hours being considered a historically good number). At the end of the trip or the month, you look back and take the greater of the trip rig, the min day values, or the actual hours flown, and that’s what you get paid.

An extreme example is a trip I flew recently. It was a five-day trip that began with a deadhead. I flew three legs over the next four days that were worth 10 hours, but because of the minimum day credit, I got 25 hours of pay. Unfortunately, there is no other way to build the trip. Without the rig, it could only be flown by reserves, who wouldn’t be able to do anything else for those five days.

Other unions followed suit, and once one company jumped on the bandwagon, it made it easier for others to do the same.

Most regionals don’t get any kind of rig. When I was at Comair, we had rigs that were based on a look back at the end of the month (as opposed to using the rig to look forward, which would force more days off when your schedule is actually built). Even with a look-back rig, I had many months where the rig paid me extra money. Unfortunately, there has been relatively little success in getting rigs at the regionals. The companies tend to cry wolf, and claim that it will cost them too much money, and the pilots tend to accept a slightly higher pay rate in lieu of the rigs, especially since no pilot at a regional ever thinks s/he will be at that regional long enough to care.

Done correctly, trip-and-duty rigs incentivize both management and the pilots. For the company, there is a motive to make the trips as productive as possible (or, alternatively, where they have no choice, to minimize crappy trips). For the pilot, not only are there more days off, but you usually will lose some money on a sick call, because you often only get paid for the block time, not the lost “soft” time, thus minimizing the need for extra reserves. In theory, the rigs force the company to optimize trips as well as individual duty periods, which should lead to a decrease in fatigue. The concept of the rig precedes the jet age, so in that respect it’s a bit dated.

The fractionals often pay a monthly salary, which is then used to work backward to compute an hourly rate for various penalties that the company must pay. Pilots—especially (but not only) ALPA—have historically fought against salaries for fear that there will be fewer opportunities to make extra money, and the company will try extract more flying from the pilot, thus decreasing the cost per hour of the pilot, and decreasing the number of jobs at a given carrier.

Airline pay actually is pretty complicated, and it takes effort to keep up with it. But, once you understand it, you have an easier time of making sure you are getting what you are owed.—By Chip Wright

Catching up with…Amelia Rose Earhart

June 30th, 2014
Amelia Rose Earhart

Amelia Rose Earthart (left) has departed on an around-the-world flight. Photo courtesy Fly with Amelia Foundation.

When Flight Training magazine interviewed Amelia Rose Earhart in 2012, she was a traffic reporter in Denver and a private pilot training for an instrument rating in a Cirrus SR22 Turbo (see “Debrief: Amelia Rose Earhart,” March 2012 Flight Training). At that time, she hoped to fly around the world in 2015, recreating the trip her namesake, Amelia Earhart, did not finish.

Amelia Rose Earhart’s round-the-world journey came together sooner than that; in fact, she launched June 26 from Oakland, Calif., on the first leg. She’s flying a Pilatus PC-12 NG with a co-pilot, Shane Jordan. The trip will take about 17 days. If she completes the trip, she will become the youngest woman to fly around the world in a single-engine aircraft. She plans to award flight scholarships to young women through the nonprofit she founded, the Fly with Amelia Foundation. 

You can follow Earhart’s progress via social media (Twitter: @Amelia_Earhart, #flywithamelia; on Facebook: Amelia Rose Earhart); on Flight Aware (N58NG); and on the Fly With Amelia website. —Jill W. Tallman


Beat the heat

June 27th, 2014

Summer is here—boy, is summer here. After the winter we’ve had, it’s nice to welcome the sunshine. But relentless rays aren’t always a treat when you’re flying–ask any flight instructor.

How can you keep cool while flying? Here are some tips:

  • Water. Can’t say this enough—you need to keep hydrated. Drink water, carry water in the airplane, and drink it while you’re flying.* And when I say water, I mean water. Coffee is not water; it has caffeine, which is a diuretic that can cause you to become dehyrated. Soda is not water; it has sugar, which can make you thirsty. I’m not a fan of sports drinks, but if you are fond of those, by all means. Here’s more on the importance of keeping hydrated.
  • Wet towels. Wear one on your head or around your neck.
  • Loose, lightweight clothing that absorbs perspiration and allows it to evaporate quickly is best. Think cotton, not polyester or wool.
  • Sunblock. This won’t help you keep cool, but you do need to wear it in the cockpit.

*Drinking lots of water in the airplane can lead to the need for a bathroom break. I have a bladder with about a three-hour endurance, so I plan my flights accordingly. Here’s a blog from the male perspective on other ways to handle the problem.

What are your tips for keeping cool? Please share in the comments section and I’ll do a follow-up.—Jill W. Tallman


BFR, airline style

June 24th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of the written word

June 9th, 2014

Orlando Showalter MentoringThey say that the pen is mightier than the sword. Having been stabbed by a pen and poked by a knife, I have learned that taking the phrase literally is at your own risk. But, taken metaphorically, we can apply the wisdom imparted by these words to aviation.

In the early days of flying, a brief walk-around was followed by  starting up the engine, adding some power, and away we go. That still happens to a lesser degree with aircraft like the Piper J-3 Cub, but for the most part we’ve gotten away from such a cavalier approach to making approaches.

Starting with the Boeing B-17, pilots have been conditioned to use a written checklist for nearly every phase of flight. And why not? If we make a grocery list, we don’t have to worry about forgetting the one thing that sent us to the store in the first place. Using a checkbook register keeps our finances organized. I’ve used checklists that had only two items, but they were important items. Quickly done, too.

It’s easy to get complacent in an aircraft with which you are intimately familiar. I have enough hours flying in a pre-GPS, pre-fancy-schmancy 172 that I could undoubtedly walk up to it, get in, start it up, fly it from A to B and back, shut it down, and walk away looking at the checklist. And I used to do that.

Until the day I got a phone call from the flight school informing me that I had left the master switch on and drained the battery.

We are supposed to use the checklists that the manufacturer gives us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tweak them or add to them. Many do. As you fly bigger, faster, more advanced airplanes, there are more checklists. Quick Reference Handbooks (QRHs) are go-to books filled with all manner of checklists for nearly every conceivable scenario. Airlines and flight departments routinely add to them. Mine has included some supplemental information on various approaches (setting up the avionics), de-icing procedures, and other rarely used procedures.

The key here is the initials: QR—Quick Reference. It’s just that. It’s an easy-to-find, easy-to-use cheat sheet to make sure that an expensive airplane doesn’t get damaged by doing something wrong, even if at first glance the pilot believes it is “obvious” what needs to be done.

There are other examples of the written word. Placards are a great example. You are being given free information, right in front of you! Jets and turboprops are loaded with placards. Use them!

Airline pilots typically fly 80 hours a month, and if they skip a checklist, they feel…uncomfortable. They know something isn’t right. They will not feel OK until they know it has been done. So, they do it, even if they’ve done it thousands of times. If a pilot who makes a living flying more hours in a month than most pilots fly in a year is dedicated to the use of the written word to fly safely, shouldn’t we all be the same way?

Even if you have “memorized” the checklist, you need to use it. In fact, when you memorize it, you need it more than ever, because your complacency will eventually catch up to you.

The written word is a powerful tool. Don’t be afraid to use it.—Chip Wright

Check your work

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

Checklists and flows

May 27th, 2014

Driving and flying have some similarities. In both cases, you are responsible for the operation of a heavy piece of machinery that has the potential to hurt you as the operator, as well as others that get in your way. In both cases, poor operating practices can lead to unnecessary outcomes that can create a combination of inconvenience and high out-of-pocket costs. A case in point: Running down a battery. It’s easy to do in a car (leave the door cracked open with the key in the ignition and the dome light on) and in an airplane (leave the master switch on).

When we learn to drive a car, though, we don’t learn to use checklists. We just…do stuff. But think about what you learn fairly early as a driver. You learn to work in a pattern to start up and to shut down the car. Some of us put the seatbelt on before closing the door, some after. Some of us set the parking brake before the car is shut down, some after, and some not at all.

The reality is that we learn to do things in a predictable pattern, or flow, when we drive. We don’t use checklists. Airplanes are different. The environment is three-dimensional versus two-dimensional. Cars do not have retractable landing gear or adjustable propellers. We don’t need to memorize speeds in our cars that affect the operation of certain items like the flaps or the aforementioned retractable gear. Plus, we don’t fly airplanes nearly as often as we drive our cars.

But the idea of a flow is transferable. If you watch pilots in more sophisticated airplanes—especially those with crews of two or more—you will see that they often follow a predictable pattern for each checklist. While companies and manufacturers differ in their philosophies, the flow is a commonly accepted practice.

At its simplest level, a flow is a series of visual and tactile checks that a pilot can use to verify proper switch/lever/button/dial/control position. For example, prior to applying electrical power to a airplane, a pilot might physically touch each switch in the cockpit, or only certain designated switches, to make sure that everything is set just so. This is done primarily to avoid a problem as a result of mechanics doing work on the aircraft and forgetting to return systems to their normal condition. Likewise, after electrical power has been applied to an airplane, the pilot will usually follow a pattern of testing the functionality or set-up of each system.

In each case, the flow is followed by the checklist. It can be done as either a Challenge-and-Response (C/R), in which one pilot reads the checklist line by line and the other responds accordingly, or it can be done as a Read-and-Response (R/R), in which case the pilot who performed the flow reads the checklist aloud and verbalizes that each item is complete. What is very rare is one pilot reading each item, and then doing it. This actually slows things down and increases the risk of an error because of a radio call or other distraction.

Flows transfer well to most general aviation aircraft. In fact, some never really had a checklist (Piper Cub), so a flow is the only option. Flows are not always appropriate, but they can expedite pre-departure checks (runups) and after-landing and shut-down duties.

Work with your CFI to set one up (assuming s/he is game), or carefully practice one yourself using a poster or photo of the cockpit. A flow is not a replacement for the checklist, but merely a tool to use the checklist more efficiently.—Chip Wright

Don’t forget

May 19th, 2014

Cash DrainWhen going flying, don’t forget…

…your headset. Even in a non-radio environment, the noise of the engine will give you a headache.
…your sunglasses, especially if flying into the sun or in instrument meteorological conditions.
…something to write with and to write on. Writing clearances on your arm uses a lot of space. I knew a pilot who used a grease pencil to write on the window, but an FBO may not appreciate this. This fellow owned the airplane.
…something to eat and drink, but make sure you use the restroom first.
…a credit card for fuel.
…your cell phone and a charger in case you get stuck somewhere. Put a flashlight app and an E6B app on your phone.
…to cancel your flight plan on arrival.
…charts. Electronic is great, but paper doesn’t rely on batteries. Either way, have them—and ensure currency.
…your medical, your certificate, the pilot’s operating handbook, and a photo ID.
…to check the weather. Twice. At least.
…a back-up plan, in case the weather forces itself upon thee.
…to take as much fuel as you can.
…a handheld radio with fresh batteries.
…clothes appropriate for the terrain, especially if you are flying over rugged or mountainous terrain.
…at least one flashlight. Even during the day, a flashlight can be handy. See the tip about apps above.
…to check for TFRs, notices to airmen, and pilot reports.
…to untie the airplane from the tie-down. Don’t laugh. It’s happened. Damage can occur to more than your pride. But your pride will be damaged if you do this, because it’s funny to watch.
…to call ahead for overnight parking information, crew car info, et cetera.
…cash for vending machines and to tip the fellow putting fuel in your airplane.
…and most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Flying is fun, and we are privileged and lucky to be able to do it. If it isn’t fun, you need to recapture that feeling—or take a car.—Chip Wright

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