Posts Tagged ‘airline pilot’

A good time to enter

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

As my oldest daughter begins thinking about college, my thoughts can’t help but wander toward the airlines. She has no interest in pursuing a career in aviation, but if she did, things would certainly be in her favor. We are a few years into the beginning of a major hiring boom. The last time this happened, the airlines (the regionals, anyway) were hiring 250-hour pilots, and they couldn’t find them fast enough. The trend was shut down by the increase in the FAA-mandated retirement age from 60 to 65, along with the recession. The 250 zero-to-hero benchmark was done in by the legislation that came out of the Colgan 3407 crash.

Today, the new low-end pilot has 1,500 hours, and regionals are snapping them up as quickly as possible. In fact, airlines are looking for commitments from prospective pilots before they even finish their training, assuming that they meet certain performance standards.

This is a great time to be entering the training realm or the actual job market. The majors are all trying to hire the same 6,000- or 7,000-hour pilots at the regionals whom they consider to be the most qualified. Those pilots will be gone in short order.

Further, the holes in the major airline hiring net are beginning to get a bit smaller. In the last several months, I’ve come across several pilots who were hired or offered interviews and a few years ago these pilots were considered totally undesirable. One has only a two-year college degree (hired by a legacy major). One has only a high-school diploma, but with a lot of other stuff and life experience to bring to the table. The second candidate was offered a chance to begin the interview process but did not get past the initial computerized assessment. The point is, just a year ago, neither would have been considered.

I spend a lot of time in regional jet jump seats commuting to and from work, and another trend has popped up—one that is not new. The majors are paranoid about their affiliated regionals losing pilots, so they appear to have tried to avoid taking as many from those particular regionals as they can. In other words, Delta appears to be trying not to take as many from Compass as they could, and instead chooses pilots from Envoy or PSA. It’s a zero-sum game, since the same pilots will be hired somewhere no matter what.

Another positive change is that the majors are beginning to show a renewed interest in at least interviewing—if not hiring outright—pilots who have no turbine PIC time. That’s happened on occasion in the past, but it’s been rare. Now, it’s becoming more and more common. Just today I heard of a pilot who has an offer from one major, an interview scheduled with another, and is possibly going to hear from two more regarding interviews.

Pilots coming out of the major flight schools in the next couple of years will be able to sort through their options and figure out which job is the best fit for them. There are a number of criteria to use to help make the decision easier (hint: commuting should not factor into the equation). There are already a few small flow-through programs that would allow a pilot to ensure his/her progression to the majors through a certain regional. This practice will only grow as the need for airmen reaches critical mass.

It is indeed a good time to be entering the industry.—Chip Wright

Scatter plans and diversions, Part Two: Looking for lights

Monday, March 7th, 2016

This is Part Two of a three-part post about a single flight from Eagle, Colorado, to Newark, New Jersey, with an unscheduled stop in Albany, New York. Read Part One here. Part Three will appear next week.—Ed.

Thirty minutes after diverting to Albany, New York, we turned final for the ILS 19 at ALB. The visibility had dropped to minimums for the approach, and it was raining. The altimeter was continuing to drop, but the ride on final was surprisingly smooth. The EMB-145 in front of us got in, which was good news. That said, we were primed for a go-around, which would have necessitated at Category II approach on the second try. This was my leg, so I adjusted my seat in order to give myself the best view of the approach lights as soon as possible.

The captain continued making his calls. At 1,000 feet above the airport, I asked him to set the missed approach altitude. I also reviewed the calls for the missed approach out loud for both of our benefit. The 500 foot call is basically an awareness call, and I verified it with a quick glance at my altimeter. Through 400 feet, 300 feet…the captain called “Approaching minimums.” My eyes were fixated outside. Still no ground contact. My hands were ready to disconnect the autopilot and autothrottles, and I quickly did one more mental review of the process.

Suddenly, right in front of us, just as I was turning off the autopilot, the lights came into view, as bright as a Christmas tree. That bought me another 100 feet of legal descent. The autopilot and autothrottles were both off, the runway came into view, and I made one of my better landings.

Now we were up against another clock. Newark was dealing with regular arrivals as well as diversions like ours trying to fit into the arrival flow. Two of us—one flight attendant and me—were potential pumpkins when it came to our duty times. Factoring into this is a cosmic law known as last day/last leg, which states that a trip will go absolutely smoothly until just that time. For reasons known only to the aviation gods, our ACARS (Aircraft Crew Alerting and Reporting System), the computer that communicates with all departments of the company, decided to go on a bit of hiatus. We couldn’t get all of the data we needed to leave. Actually, we couldn’t get any of it. We needed V-speeds, weights, single-engine departure procedures—we needed everything.

Several phone calls between the captain and dispatch took care of most of the issues, and we sorted through the rest on our own. The tower had negotiated an earlier release time for us, and we went to the runway to wait it out. The passengers, meanwhile, were getting antsy. We’d already lost three whose final destination was ALB, and a few more were just running out of patience. We were told to finish taxiing to the runway, but we still had one engine shut down and data to input. I was working as fast as I could.—Chip Wright

Holidays and deadheads

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Airlines pay their pilots and flight attendants to fly. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Schedules are drastically altered around certain holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Flights are added, flights are dropped, and schedules are heavily modified. It’s common for crews to spend two nights in some cities when the service is reduced or the equipment that is used to operate the flight is up- or downsized.

The result of this is an enormous amount of deadheading, which is the practice of having crews ride in the cabin with the passengers. It’s never an ideal solution, because the seats are taken out of inventory and can’t be sold. Worse, sometimes the seats have already been sold and passengers have to be bumped, which is never a pleasant outcome for anyone.

Deadheading also is expensive because the crew has to be paid, though some airlines only pay half or three-quarters for time spent dead-heading. Still, it’s an expense, and it adds up. Further, there is also the ramification of FAR Part 117. In days past, the time spent dead-heading did not punish the airline with regards to flight hours lost. Now, deadheading is treated the same as flying when it comes to time spent at work and on duty, so the airlines have to be careful how the dead-heads are scheduled; productivity is lost.

It’s also a headache for gate agents, and it can become one for other crews. Often, certain dead events are considered critical, and if a crew is coming in late from one flight, another may have to be delayed while waiting for the DH crew to show. I’ve been on both ends of this sort of deal, and it’s not a lot of fun. Airlines opt for the DH plan because (on paper) it can save them money to DH crews around versus paying for extra hotels.

On a similar note, a lot of DHs are created by charters. In the regional jet world, NCAA basketball and baseball charters are fairly common because the 50-seat airplane is a perfect match. Often, a crew will DH into the city where the airplane will be (often on the airplane to be used for the charter) and then fly all night moving a basketball team around. When it works out the way it’s supposed to, the airplane winds up back in the same city in which it started, and the crew eventually does a DH home (usually after a rest period in a hotel). While these trips can cost a company some money on paper, those costs are built into the bill for the charter, and charters are very lucrative.

Holiday DHs are just an unfortunate fact of life for everyone. But, as the running joke goes, deadheading is about as easy as the job gets.—Chip Wright

Probation

Monday, November 30th, 2015

A common question among airline new-hires concerns the probationary year. What exactly is probation, and how does it work?

Because the airlines are heavily unionized, terminating pilots—even for cause—is not always easy. The union will appeal the termination, and more often than not it is able to get the pilot reinstated.

But when it comes to new hires, the rules are a bit different. Airlines make a significant financial investment in recruiting and training a new-hire pilot. The up-front cost to get a person line-qualified can easily approach $100,000. It’s fair for the company to have an opportunity to evaluate whether that pilot is a good fit.

Probation usually covers the first 12 months of employment, assuming no disruptions such as a furlough or family emergency that require time off. A pilot on probation has no recourse if the company invokes termination. But probation is really not as big a deal as people make it sound.

Because the industry is seniority-based, and because employee numbers tend to be chronologically assigned, it’s pretty easy to figure out when you’re dealing with a newbie on probation.

The easiest way to survive that probation is to simply make sure that nobody knows who you are. If you show up on time every time, don’t call in sick, and follow company procedures, you have nothing to worry about. Being on probation is sort of like checking in with ATC and saying that you are a student pilot.

By that I mean is that most captains and fellow first officers will want to do whatever they can to help you. They will gladly answer any questions, show you some tricks of the trade, and help make your life just a bit easier. In fact, you will usually suffer from information overload, and that’s a good thing.

The same holds for your chief pilot. It’s a common joke that the best way to conduct your airline career is to do it in such a fashion that the CP has no idea you were ever there, and that’s true to an extent. Even so, the CP also wants—needs—to see you succeed, because his or her job is to help keep the operation running. If you have any questions or concerns or something you don’t understand, introducing yourself and saying, “I’m a probationary pilot” will immediately let the CP know that you might need “progressive taxi.”

Pilots do get let go on probation, but it’s never malicious. It’s always related to some aspect of job performance or dependability. I know of a first officer who was fired for stealing window shades. Several were terminated because they could not make the transition to the airplane. One was let go because he called in sick, then used his pass privileges to go on vacation. As long as you don’t do anything dumb, and as long as you apply yourself, probation will be a non-event—followed by a nice pay raise!—Chip Wright

Flying like a professional: Talking on the radio

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Orlando Showalter MentoringThere are many marks of a professional that can be attributed to airline pilots—whether it’s the way they wear their uniforms, or brush their hair, or use the checklist. Another one is the way in which they talk on the radio.

The radio is essentially a party line, meaning that everyone on the frequency can hear you. How you conduct yourself says a lot about you.

I’ve been flying now for more than 25 years, and I’ve heard more than a few things that have made me cringe. That isn’t to say that I haven’t heard a few things that were funny, even if they weren’t always appropriate; I have, and I’ve laughed heartily. But I’ve also heard pilots (and even controllers) belch, swear, bloviate, lose their temper, and otherwise make a fool out of themselves.

For many new pilots, using the radio is intimidating and even a bit frightening.

But radio-speak is a skill that gets better with practice, as well as with listening. If you live near a busy airport, one of the best things you can do is turn on a handheld transceiver and listen to a local frequency—especially if it’s for a tower or approach control.

You can achieve the same thing using LiveATC.net, a popular website that has a link to hundreds of live ATC audio streams. You can also study the examples in the Aeronautical Information Manual and the Pilot/Controller Glossary, but it isn’t exactly exciting reading.

Pay attention to the airline pilots. The most professional-sounding ones will speak with an even cadence and tempo, and they will not allow a high level of activity affect the way they transmit. This is important, because a controller doesn’t want to spend a lot of time repeating transmissions—and often does not have that time.

It doesn’t take long to pick up how a few tidbits, such as how a transmission is to be structured; or what commands to expect at a certain time; or when it may be acceptable—even if it isn’t always right—to just respond with a call sign or some other verbal shorthand. You’ll also learn that the true professionals limit themselves to what needs to be said and do not add extraneous filler to their transmissions. It isn’t necessary, and it doesn’t help anyone.

Talking like a professional and sounding like one is not hard, but it does take practice. Listening to LiveATC or a handheld will help tremendously. Practice giving your responses in your car, where nobody can hear you. You’ll get the hang of it before you know it, and when you begin to tackle more complex airspace, you too will sound like a pro.—Chip Wright

Follow the evidence

Friday, March 13th, 2015

It’s happened again. There’s been another accident, this one involving Air Asia. The airplane was en route from Indonesia to Singapore on Dec. 28, 2014, when it crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board.

And, as usual, speculation about the potential cause(s) was immediate and rampant. Some of it was the picture of basic ignorance about aviation. One newscaster was audacious enough to ask if the use of the metric system (for setting the altimeter) might have played a role in the accident. Where do they find these people?

In this case, the immediate culprit of suspicion was the weather, because people could access the satellite images that were taken at the time of the airplane’s disappearance.

The crew in this accident was very experienced, especially the captain. If this was indeed a weather- related accident, it makes you wonder right away how the crew could have allowed themselves to get into that situation. This is a great reminder of what we try to drive home to student and private pilots, not to mention instrument students and pilots, every day: You’re only as good as your last good decision. Penetrating bad weather of any form is a bad idea. Thunderstorms are violent, and they can destroy the best airplanes with surprising efficiency. Flying in precip in freezing temperatures can easily overwhelm a plane with ice, which can not only destroy lift, but add a crippling amount of weight.

It’s important in this accident, as in all others, to allow the experts the latitude to do their jobs and go wherever the evidence leads them. That’s especially true if or when the evidence starts to paint a picture that sullies the reputation of the crew of the plane or the engines or whatever component is involved. When it comes to safety, facts and information are far more important than reputation.
That isn’t to say that anybody should just pile on to the pilots and blame them. Far from it. But all other evidence needs to be excluded.

I have my own theories about what might have happened, but I’m keeping them to myself. One of the difficult facts to reconcile is that I can think of a number of scenarios that might have developed, but they are all very remote, with highly improbable odds. But that’s the case in any accident: Invariably, something happens that shouldn’t have, or the accident would not have occurred in the first place.

My only wish is that the NTSB were involved. They are the best in the world at what they do, and they do a very good job at maintaining impartiality until they have a true bead on the cause. Politics will likely rear its ugly head, and various entities will do whatever they can to shift the blame. To think otherwise would be naïve.

But until the final report is release, remember: none of us “knows what happened.” The ones who do…are dead.—Chip Wright

The back side of the clock

Monday, November 11th, 2013

alarm clock.svgIn my old job, it was unusual for me to fly late at night, with “late” being defined as anything past 10 p.m. With time, I got the seniority to make sure that I didn’t fly at night, as I am a morning person and prefer to just get up, get started, and get the day done. Sometimes, I miss those days…

In my new gig, there is a lot of night flying, including all-night flying. These flights aren’t the classic red-eye, per se, but the effect is the same: You spend a lot of time on the “back side of the clock,” flying between midnight and daybreak. For most of my life, I have not been a real good napper. Getting older helps, but more importantly, I’ve learned to do it out of necessity. On days when I know I’m going to be flying at night, or if I know that there’s even a possibility of flying late, I will force myself to lie down and catch some Zs. It’s a bit easier when I already have an assignment. I will generally lie down in the early afternoon and allocate at least 90 minutes to sleep, and if I can get two hours, I’m ecstatic.

The key is to figure out what works best for you. I’ve asked a lot of people how they do it, and everyone seems have a slightly different methodology (except for those who have no methodology). For me, if I can go to bed shortly after my normal lunch time, I don’t feel “rushed” to get some sleep. Sometimes I don’t really sleep, but I can just lie there and rest, and that’s enough. Fortunately, my new home has shutters that allow me to make the room as dark as a dungeon, so it looks and feels like it does when I go to bed at night. I’ve also found that for napping, I sleep better without an alarm. Instead, I have someone in my family wake me up.

By napping early, I can still get up and be somewhat engaged in the goings-on of my household, and it also gives me a chance to come to my senses slowly, take a shower, and maybe even eat something before I go to work. In fact, I try to push lunch back until after I nap, since I know I will get a meal when I’m on the airplane.

Flying at night is against the natural programming of the body, but it can be done. But, to be safe, as the pilot you must make sure that you are properly rested before you go to work. You also need to make sure you don’t aggravate your sleep debt by not sleeping the next day. I always crash the next morning for a few hours, and because I don’t drink caffeine on a regular basis (I don’t drink coffee at all), I can fall asleep more easily than most people, and if I need a soda to keep me awake, I can count on it working.

Staying engaged during the trip also helps. Nothing is as stimulating as a good conversation with the person I am flying with, and that goes a long ways toward passing the time. Sometimes the weather becomes the “stimulant,” but most of the time I just count on having a good rapport with my fellow workers. Good communication is also key in another respect: If you are flying tired, or have not slept well prior to a night flight, you need to convey that so that your fellow pilots can keep an eye on your performance.

Night flying can be fantastic, but it comes with a new set of challenges. Make sure that you are “up” for them!—Chip Wright

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

Pilot dad memories

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Such wonderful stories about pilot dads came to me last week! From an airline pilot dad who taught his daughter to fly to a helicopter pilot dad who took his young son flight-seeing, these flying fathers–and some dads who didn’t fly themselves but nonetheless nurtured the flying passion within their sons and daughters–get our spotlight this week.

  • Molly Flanagan Littlefield learned to fly as a teenager, and her father, Tom Flanagan of Merced, Calif., was her flight instructor. “I remember watching his face in the mirror and seeing the peace he felt while airborne. He would say that flying assured them there was a God,” she writes. In 1979, when she was hired as a pilot for United Airlines, she was certain she wouldn’t make the cut and wanted to quit before she was asked to leave. She called home and talked to her parents. “There was a very long silence on the other end of the phone. Finally Daddy said words that carry me still…’I wouldn’t have let you go if I didn’t think you could do it.'”
  • Meredith Randazzo

    Meredith Randazzo’s father, Ernest R. Dixon, has had a lifelong love of flying, she says. (That’s Meredith at age 5 strapped in a safety seat, getting ready to participate in a flour bombing competition.) Meredith’s dad no longer flies, but she caught the bug and became a naval aviator and served more than eight years with the U.S. Marines as a CH-46E helicopter pilot. “Today my dad’s interest in aviation is as strong as ever and he regularly takes my niece to watch the airplanes take off and land, as he did with me decades ago!”

  • Jay Fleming remembers flying in a helicopter with his father, Jack, as a youngster. “One day, when I was about 5 years old, my dad flew a Robinson R22 from Wiley Post Airport to my grandparents’ property and picked me up to fly back to PWA, where he worked. Many of the neighbors thought my grandpa was being medi-flighted since he had had some health trouble recently.” On another flight when Jay was 14, his dad flew him from Torrance to Malibu and back, pointing out celebrity homes en route. “Thanks to him, I have the desire–not necessarily time or money though–to get a helicopter private pilot certificate.
  • Dr. Harold Brown

    That’s Flight Training Contributor Greg Brown’s father, Dr. Harold Brown, in the photo. He’s kissing the good engine of his Cessna 310 at Santa Maria, Azores Islands, after losing the other one over the Atlantic Ocean in 1962. Greg wrote about the experience in his November 2001 Flying Carpet, “Made My Dad Proud.” If you read the column you’ll find out about the last memorable flight Greg flew with his dad. His upcoming September column will be devoted to a memory of annual family trips in his father’s airplane to visit an uncle who lived on an island in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

  • Jim Mauro flew with his dad, Ben, from age 8 until his college years. “I had the great experiences of flying in Taylorcrafts, Bellancas, Sea-Bee, Grumman Widgeon, and Bonanza. I even flew in an airplane that I think was branded Amphicar, but I’m not sure.”[Editor’s note: Paging Al Marsh! He’s the in-house expert on car-airplane hybrids.] Jim’s dad had a grass strip in Conway, Penn., and was president of the Taylorcraft Corporation during the 1950s and early 1960s, so the aviation force is strong there, as you can see.
  • And finally, Andy Matthews, the co-founder of iFlightPlanner, wrote to pay tribute to his nonpilot dad, Jerry. Andy grew up in a golf-playing family. “A weekend pastime with my parents turned into summer golf camps, junior tournaments, a college golf scholarship, and now I’m humbled to be in my ninth season as a professional golfer who has competed with the best players in the game, all over the world.” So where does flying figure into all this? Well, Andy injured his back a few years ago, and golfing had to be put on the back burner while he recovered. In the meantime, his father suggested that this might be the time to start taking flight lessons. “He was there for my first solo, and he was also in the right seat as my first passenger soon after I got my license,” Andy says. Jerry also noticed all the work that went into planning a cross-country flight–the charts spread out on tables, manuals, notes, and a laptop computer–and “hinted that I needed a more efficient way to plan my flights. That spurred an idea, and with the help of my college roommate from the University of Michigan, we began to lay the foundation for what is now iFlightPlanner.”

Thanks to all who submitted these great stories. If you’d like to salute your dad in the Comments section, please do. I hope everyone had a happy Father’s Day!–Jill W. Tallman