Posts Tagged ‘airlines’

Honesty pays

Monday, December 8th, 2014
"Honesty is the best policy."---Ben Franklin

“Honesty is the best policy.”—Ben Franklin

I’m on my third airline. At each one, the chief pilot(s) have always insisted on just one thing: Never, ever lie to them. The reality, they each said, is that things happen. Sometimes those things result in damaged equipment, damaged airplanes, injuries, or just embarrassment to the pilot group or the company. But, most of the time, anything that was not done with malicious intent or wanton disregard for safety can be dealt with. There may well be punishment—even harsh punishment—but a suspension is by far better than a termination.

I’ve heard several stories about people trying to hide something. One of the worst was a crew that wanted to move an airplane on the ramp. They failed to look outside, and the movement of the airplane caused considerable damage to the cargo bin because the belt loader was still in position. They lied, got caught, and were fired. Another example is of a pilot—a former chief pilot, no less—who lied to the control tower about a non-existent mechanical problem because he wasn’t ready to go. As soon as he was, he took off. The tower wasn’t sure what to make of the situation, and called the company—which happened to have a base at that airport. An investigation ensued, and the pilot was terminated. He was also punished by the FAA.

Contrast that to this. A first officer was doing a walk-around one winter in the middle of nowhere, and it was bitterly cold and windy with blowing snow. In his haste to get back in the airplane and get warm, he did more jogging than walking, and failed to notice that somebody had placed a cover on one of the pitot tubes. This is not common at the airlines, and it was unheard of at this one. However, it happened, and he missed it. At some point during the takeoff—I’ve never been sure if they rejected the takeoff or actually flew a circuit around the pattern, because I’ve heard both versions—the cautions and chimes started, and it was obvious that something was amiss. After returning to the gate, the problem was found, and the flight departed normally.

The FO immediately went to the chief’s office and did the carpet dance, confessing his sins and placing his fate into the hands of the chief. The chief honored his word, and told the FO that he would be suspended for two weeks. However, the FO could pick the two-week period that he wanted off. He chose Christmas, and his request was honored. He missed two weeks of pay, but his honesty was respected, and his kids had Dad home for Christmas.

It doesn’t always have a happy ending. Some pilots are fired just because what they did is so egregious that they can’t be forgiven. But, more often than not, immediate honesty pays off, and the impact on a career is minimal to non-existent. I know one pilot who misunderstood the change in his trip and didn’t show up the next morning, leading to the cancellation of three flights. The chief told him that ordinarily he would have received a two-week suspension, but because of his history, he’d just get a verbal warning. The pilot knew that the real reason he wasn’t being suspended was because of a staffing shortage, which the chief acknowledged. When he asked to be suspended anyway—after all, he’d be off for two weeks—the chief denied him and sent him back to work. Sometimes, you can’t get punished even when you want to be.—Chip Wright

Caution: Think before you type

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Facebook-logo-thumbs-upWe live in a very connected world, and it’s a vastly different one than the one we had just a few years ago. As our electronics have continued to evolve, so have our communications, and the modern age has given birth to social media. Facebook, Twitter, and the apparently unlimited billboard space of the internet have made it possible to express and postulate online in ways that were unimaginable a few years ago.

Every day, it seems, a story comes out about someone getting caught doing something because of social media. People post things that they don’t give a second thought to, and they often should. I have a Facebook page, but I don’t tweet, and aside from this blog, I do very little posting on websites or online bulletin boards.

But I read what others type. Often it’s embarrassing just to see what people write. Never mind the bad grammar and spelling; the language is enough to make a sailor blush. It’s much worse on sites where a person can hide behind a screen name or an avatar.

I bring this up because many folks who might be reading this may be interested in pursuing a career as professional pilot. It’s important to realize that large corporations now have personnel whose sole job is to monitor social media for mention of the company name. This allows them to respond quickly to negative news, to address rumors or incorrect stories—and to see what current and potential employees are saying.

I see stuff online that makes me cringe, and I often wonder how quickly these people would be to use the same words in a face-to-face meeting with those they are criticizing. Criticism is fine—in fact it’s healthy—but there’s a line between being constructive and being mean, slanderous, or worse.

On a local sports radio show recently, the host was having an exchange with a fan of the Bengals after a game that they would have won had the kicker not missed a field goal. The fan’s tweets were vulgar and, one could argue, borderline criminal. The fan—who was brave enough to call in and give his name—found himself in a very embarrassing situation as he tried to defend his actions and words. In short, he couldn’t, and he gave up trying.

I’ve spoken to a number of folks in large companies, including airlines, who have some hard-to-believe stories about applicants, including pilots, who have submitted posts to websites that they probably thought were cute, funny, or clever. Unfortunately, these are folks who have been denied employment because the company simply could not take a chance on whether they would embarrass the airline as employees. Several have fired employees for violating company policy regarding social media. This includes not just words, but also photos.

A person placed under arrest is read the Miranda rights, including the phrase “anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law.” Well, when you put something online, it’s quite possible that you will never have the opportunity to defend yourself in a court of anything. Further, you want to make sure that if you did need to defend yourself, you wouldn’t be embarrassed by your own actions.

Think twice, or even three times, before you post. It may haunt you, even years down the road.—Chip Wright

The major airline hiring wave has begun

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

In the last 18 months, airline hiring has begun to pick up. The majors are hiring steadily, and United alone has announced a need for 1,300 pilots in fewer than two years. American and Delta are also actively hiring. None of this is news.

But, changes are afoot.

Historically, the majors have tried to hire as many pilots as possible who have a lot of FAR Part 121 pilot-in-command (PIC) time. With the advent of the regional jet, the premium moved to turbojet/turbine PIC (TPIC). Further, the airlines made it clear that they wanted a few other items on your resume: a four-year degree was “preferred,” even though it was silently required, and service as a check airman, simulator instructor, chief pilot, or some other work beyond flying the line was a big help. Those qualifications still move you to the front of the line, so to speak.

But the majors are beginning to place a bit less emphasis now on PIC or TPIC time. It still helps to have it, but it isn’t the deal-breaker it used to be. The majors have realized that the recession, the downturn in the airlines, and the change in the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65 has created a large pool of regional airline first officers who, through no fault of their own, did not have the opportunity to upgrade and gain experience as a captain. Further, they recognize that many of these FOs are good pilots and good people who will make excellent employees.

For years, jetBlue has been aggressive in hiring FOs, but the legacy carriers have been much less flexible. That isn’t to say that they didn’t do it, because they did. They just didn’t do it much. That may be starting to change. Longtime FOs are beginning to get interviewed and hired, which is great news. The requirement for the four-year degree has not been relaxed and isn’t likely to be soon, and it also helps to have a record of volunteerism or social activity on your resume. In fact, for an FO to stand out, it’s even more important to do what you can to boost your resume.

What this also means is that RJ captains can’t count on being the only ones to get calls for an interview. The competition for good jobs is heating up, and it’s quite possible that both pilots on an RJ flight deck on a Friday will be interviewing for the same job on a Monday. It’s been a long time since that’s happened. For pilots who are just entering the industry, it means that they don’t necessarily need to bank on a long period of stagnation like pilots did in the 2007-2012 time frame. There is, indeed, hope.

Pilots who have been captains are still at an obvious advantage, and a regional FO should still take an upgrade ASAP if one opens. But the tide is turning, and classes need to be filled. The long-awaited retirement boon at the majors is here, it’s happening, and it’s real. Also real are the opportunities for regional FOs to go to their airline of choice. Attending job fairs is still important, and so is networking. In fact, maybe more so than ever, a network of contacts can make a big difference in getting the job of choice. But for that network to help, you need to get those applications filled out and keep them up to date.—Chip Wright

Just ahead in the December issue

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
Ready to move up in the world?

Ready to move up in the world?

The December issue is our Collegiate/Career issue, and we continue that tradition with feature articles on flying jets and what awaits you when you get that airline job.

We also bring you our comprehensive College Aviation Directory, which lists colleges and universities in the United States that offer an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in an aviation field. If you know a young person who’s thinking about an aviation degree, by all means hand off your issue–or point him or her to this link, where you will find the 2014 directory in .pdf format. We also have a searchable database, located at this link.

But it’s not all big iron and college stuff. We also bring you:

  • The Cowboy Code: Control your horse before it controls you. Striking parallels between learning to fly and learning to ride a horse.
  • Technique: Medical Certification. Not your regular technique article, but an important part of your path to a private pilot certificate nonetheless.
  • Debrief: Howard Wolvington. Meet the FAA’s 2014 Certificated Flight Instructor of the Year.

Our December issue hits digital devices on Oct. 29 and starts in-home delivery Nov. 4. Happy reading! As always, we welcome your letters to the editor (flighttraining@aopa.org).—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.

 

Does it matter how you get your time?

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

10 Ways to ImproveAs airlines begin to spool up their hiring and training, and new commercial pilots are signed off by flight schools, an age-old question has popped up: Do airlines care how you get your time? Specifically, do regional airlines care? Does it matter if you log most of your post-commercial time as a CFI? If so, does it matter what kind of flight school you work in?

The answer is no. The regionals don’t care how you earn that first 1,000 to 1,200 hours. What they do care about is that you have it and that you can document it. Obviously, multiengine time is the most desired time to have, but the days of plentiful FAR Part 135 jobs in piston twins appear to have come and gone. But there are other options for getting time.

Flight instructing is obviously the most common and most time-honored method. Being a CFI will do more for your understanding of the art and craft of flying than you can imagine. Further, your understanding and depth of knowledge about the federal aviation regulations and the Aeronautical Information Manual will never be as good as when you are quoting them verbatim every day.

Depending on where you live (or choose to live), you can also pursue your flight time requirements towing banners. This is generally more common near beach communities, but not always. It’s also got an element of danger in it during the pickup. Many a pilot has earned his basic time flying barefoot in a Cub along a beach. The work can be boring, but in the summer, you can easily log six to eight hours a day, and that time adds up.

Sightseeing flights in popular tourist areas (the Grand Canyon, the Florida Keys, the Rockies) is another avenue for making time, and making time count. A few areas still use pipeline patrols, but these are getting less and less common, and the days of flying a traffic patrol are also coming to an end as more and more cities install cameras on highways. Further, more of these jobs are transitioning to helicopters because of their flexibility and ability to land at the scene of an accident for that “Live at Five” shot.

With regard to flight schools, it doesn’t matter if you work as a CFI in a Part 141 or a Part 61 school. While it’s true that Part 141 schools tend to mimic the airlines with dispatch desks, more rigid scheduling and operational rules, and even flight following, the CFI’s basic tasks don’t change. This is even more true as regional airlines scramble frantically for pilots.

The majors are obviously interested in hiring candidates who have previous Part 121 experience. It used to be that “EFIS and glass” were the big points, but now that every RJ has a glass cockpit, along with many turboprops, the emphasis is on overall 121 experience, with heavy emphasis placed on jet and turbojet pilot-in-command (TPIC) time. Getting hired at the majors from Part 91 and/or 135 corporate positions is harder than it used to be, but it can still be done.

If you’re just starting your career, don’t worry too much about how you get that first 1,200 hours. Just concentrate on getting it, and on getting any multiengine time anywhere you can. Once a regional hires you, the rest will fall into place.—Chip Wright

The interview sim ride

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Tom in simIf you’re looking to fly for an airline or a charter company, one of the hurdles that must be overcome is the interview. Some airlines simply conduct an interview, perhaps one on one or with a panel of people taking turns asking a single candidate questions, or even some combination of the two. Others also assess the candidate’s flying skills using a simulator or a desktop training device, such as a Frasca.

Frequently, it’s the flying session that rattles applicants’ nerves, because you know that the company for whom you want to work is evaluating the actual skills that you will use every day . Worse, you are usually flying an airplane you’ve never flown, or you’re flying a Frasca or a computer programmed for an airplane unlike anything you’ve ever been in before—it’s usually faster, more powerful, and with unfamiliar control inputs.

So, what to do?

If it’s possible to get some prep work in before the interview, by all means do it. If your evaluation will be in a Frasca or something similar, find a facility that offers training in a similar machine. Get a few hours of time in it, and if you have some gouge on what the profile will be, utilize that to tailor your training.

If you can’t find a sim anywhere that is close to what you’ll be flying, do the best you can. Also, ask the airline if it’s possible to come in a day early and do some practice flying on its sim. You can expect to pay a pretty penny for that, but the instructors will usually give you the lowdown on the best techniques for success, and that can be priceless.

As you’re actually flying the profile, remember that the airline isn’t looking for Chuck Yeager. They know that you are (most likely) at a disadvantage, so they are primarily looking at basic flying skills, along with your ability to continually correct any deviations. Further, they want to see the deviations get smaller and smaller as the flight progresses. In other words, they want to see that you are getting a feel for the plane.

If you know that you are struggling, or if you just feel like you’re struggling, start talking. Talk about what is wrong and what you are doing to correct it. This technique will also frequently benefit you by forcing you to expand your scan, and it helps slow things down. You are, essentially, becoming your own CFI for a few minutes. Even if you still can’t get the situation to smooth out as much as you’d like, using this technique will often help sway an evaluator or an interviewer by demonstrating that you know what is happening (or isn’t), and you know where your own weaknesses are. It also helps to convey another important message: You are trainable.

The sim ride is often the worst part of an interview, because it is so subjective, and you are so busy flying that you can’t get any feedback from the evaluator. You can’t read their faces or their body language, and you have no idea how other candidates have performed or will perform. So, in order to maximize your opportunity, do your homework, get some practice, try to relax, and coach yourself—out loud.—Chip Wright

The probationary year

Monday, September 15th, 2014

For new airline pilots, the first year is one with a very steep learning curve. There are myriad new rules, policies, procedures and regulations to learn. On top of all that, you must learn the systems of your new airplane and how to safely fly it. Once you get out on the line, you get to learn the the day-to-day grind of being a pilot, with all of the benefits and pitfalls included therein.

One of the concepts that you are introduced to right away is that of your “probationary year.” In essence, it works like this: Because nearly every airline is unionized, the collective bargaining agreements (contracts) include a grievance process for the pilots to contest certain decisions, including terminations. It usually involves some sort of arbitration process that varies from company to company, but the principle is the same in that the union can fight back if it believes that a pilot was improperly disciplined.

There is one exception, and that is the probationary pilot. Every airline puts new-hire pilots on probation for a period of time, usually 12 months, but a few use six months. When you are on probation, you can be terminated at any time, for any reason, with no recourse.

The intention of the probationary process is for the company to see how the pilot fits in with new co-workers and the work environment. This isn’t to suggest that someone is following you everywhere you go or measuring the length of your pant cuffs above your shoes. Far from it. All that the airline asks is that you keep your nose clean. It’s often said that the best relationship a pilot can have with the chief pilot is no relationship at all. In other words, if the CP doesn’t know who you are, it means you haven’t been in trouble, and that’s good.

Most of the time, there are only three ways you’re going to get in trouble. The first is via another work group, such as the gate agents or flight attendants. The second is through your fellow pilots, i.e., the captains with whom you fly. The third possibility for an early ticket out the door is poor performance in training—in this case, recurrent training. A number of airlines will deliberately schedule new hire pilots for their first recurrent checkride at least a month before their probationary period is up. That way, if the pilot isn’t up to snuff, he or she can be terminated “without cause.”

It’s important to understand, though, that the company will offer retraining or help in nearly every case (even seasoned veterans make mistakes). To get yourself terminated means you showed up totally unprepared or acted inappropriately during training. In my 18 years of airline flying, I’ve never known a pilot who was terminated during the first recurrent training event…but we all worry about it!

While companies will not hesitate to rid themselves of a “problem child” who is on probation, termination is not the first choice. They’ve already made in an investment in you, and they want to see it pay off. However, if the behavior in question is severe enough, or if there is ample reason to question the maturity or judgment of the pilot involved, you can count on turning in your badge.

A few examples of pilots getting terminated early include drinking; theft (one pilot at a previous carrier took the window shades out of the plane and used them in his car—and they had the company name silk-screened on them. The CP wrote down the license plate, and the rest is history); excessive sick calls and/or no-shows; and sexual harassment. All of these are extreme behaviors, and no company would tolerate them.

Probation is a rite of passage for all of us. Fortunately, 99 percent of pilots have no problem at any time during their careers, including in the first year. Those who do generally don’t belong in the front of an airplane in the first place.—Chip Wright

Training contracts

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Embraer 190 AzulAfter spending thousands of dollars on your training, and getting paid an unpredictable income as a flight instructor, you’ve just gotten a call from a regional airline offering you a job. You’ll be flying a new, state-of-the-art regional jet, complete with autothrottles. There is just one minor detail to be discussed: the airline wants you to sign a training contract. It states that if you leave before a specified date, you will be required to repay some or all of the cost of your training—a figure that might exceed $20,000.

What do you do?

Many pilots have just shrugged their shoulders, grabbed a pen—probably with the company logo on it—and signed on the dotted line.

At least two airlines in the United States are using these training contracts today, both of them on the Embraer 170/190 series of jets. The rationale is that cost of training is so high, and the availability of simulator time so low, that they do not have a choice. It is a means of hedging their investment and preventing a pilot from going through training, getting a type rating, and leaving as soon as possible for greener pastures. Those greener pastures are often overseas, where American pilots on the 170/190 step into starting pay that is well north of $100,000 a year, and often includes subsidized housing or a positive space ticket back home once a month. U.S. airlines’ concern abou pilots leaving is not unfounded.

The problem with these contracts is many pilots assume that they aren’t enforceable, especially since they are not a part of any union collective bargaining agreement. However, the airlines are beginning to pursue legal actions against pilots who try to leave early. “Early” is usually defined as two years.
If all goes well, the contract isn’t a problem. With the new rules in effect, a pilot can’t upgrade to captain of a U.S. airline until he or she has at least 1,000 hours as a first officer. Taking into account the time spent in initial training, the typical pilot will hit that 1,000 hours about the time the two-year commitment is up, give or take a few months.

As for the amount to be repaid, it behooves you to pay attention to the details. The contract may allow for prorating the amount owed based on the amount of time serve—but it may not. You may be on the hook for the entire amount if you leave just one day early.

Other details to be studied include your obligations if the company goes out of business or if you are furloughed. Likewise, if you lose your medical, is there any relief available?

Training contracts are not new (“pay-for-training” used to be very common), and they are commonly employed overseas. However, they are not the norm in the United States. I doubt that they will become the norm either, but if you find yourself entertaining—or needing—a job from a company that utilizes such a tool, it is worth discussing the language and commitments with an attorney. As for enforceability, it could cost you a ton of money just to get that question answered. If you’re going to sign one, assume you will have no choice but to honor it.—Chip Wright

Simple terminology

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

When I changed jobs from my previous carrier to my current one, I needed to learn some new lingo. What was frustrating was having to learn new terminology for fairly mundane things.

At my old carrier, a printout of my four-day trip would be called a “DSL,” for daily schedule log. DSL referred to the actual printout, which we carried around to keep track of what we were doing. When talking about the actual flying that we were doing, it was referred to as a trip. Perfectly logical.

My current company, however, commonly refers to trips as “pairings,” because pilots are “paired” with one another…except when they aren’t. We used the word “pairing” at Comair as well, but only in the process of producing the trips, because the tool in the computer program was called a “pairing generator,” which worked with the “trip optimizer.”

Other carriers often refer to trips or pairings as “rotations,” which I assume comes from the original military use of rotating in and out of duty cycles. NetJets often refers to its seven-day excursions as “tours,” which is an interesting way to put it, and is probably the best choice of words for them. At least nobody calls them “sorties.” Yet.

Even something as simple as checklists can be called by various names. I’ve used the “acceptance check” and the “receiving check,” which are essentially the same thing: a checklist to make sure that the airplane is properly configured and set up prior to doing anything else. The “before start” and the “preflight” checklists are also similar, as are “parking” and “terminating,” except when some companies use both for different things.

For pilots on reserve, there is one assignment that is dreaded above all else, and that is the one that has you going to the airport and sitting for a period of hours in case your services are suddenly needed. At Comair, we called in “ready reserve,” but some companies call it “hot standby” (DHL), some call it “airport available,” and my current company uses the term “field standby.” No matter what you call it, it isn’t a lot of fun.

There are different terms for passengers too. At my current carrier, we refer to children as “half-weights.” At Comair, traveling on your day off was considered “non-reving,” because you were flying for free (producing no revenue), but I’ve since learned that it’s OK to say “SA,” for space available travel. Hey, whatever, just get me where I want to go! Pilots can be either “dead-heading” or “repositioning.” Either way, you are riding in the back from one airport to another as a part of your assignment.

Historically, I’ve always referred to a flight that takes off, then needs to return for some reason, as a “diversion” or a “mechanical.” The new term, I’ve come to learn, is “air return,” which strikes me as silly. After all, where else could the airplane be but in the air when it is determined that it needs to return?

The stack of paperwork we got for each flight at Comair was called the “dispatch release,” or just the “release.” It was a bit of a misnomer because the actual release was a couple of pages. The other 30 feet of printout was weather, performance info, et cetera. At my current carrier, this is all referred to as the “flight papers,” which doesn’t sound very professional in my opinion, but it is a much more accurate description of the whole mess.

This just scratches the surface, but it gives you an idea of how an industry that strives for harmonization manages to do all that it can to avoid it. Either way, you need to learn the language and the various ways to refer to the same thing…or to things different.—Chip Wright

The cover letter

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

As you start looking for your first job—or even if it isn’t your first one—you might be working on your resume and cover letter. What goes on a resume is pretty straightforward: It’s a quantitative and qualitative summary of your experience and the skills you bring to the job.

What about the cover letter? What do you put in the cover letter? What do you not put in the cover letter?

Some of the greatest advice I got about cover letters came from someone who makes a living reading them: A cover letter should not just be a regurgitation of your resume. If that’s all it is, then it is a waste of your time and the time of the person reading it.

Instead, your cover letter should be used to talk about what is not in your resume. Use it as a chance to talk about other experiences or skill sets you offer that may not necessarily be a part of the job, but will help contribute to your performance. For instance, if you coach a sports team or volunteer in a local school, you are demonstrating leadership. In fact, any kind of volunteer work should be highlighted, because companies—not just airlines or flight departments—like to see candidates who do something to give back to the community. It might be that you volunteer in a church, at an animal shelter, or a zoo; it doesn’t matter. You are demonstrating a desire to make a difference and a willingness to give your own time.

Mention other achievements or skills that you might be able to offer within the work place. If you are a certified trainer in something (besides flying), it demonstrates a desire to continue learning and pass on what you know. That, too, is impressive and important.

A cover letter is also a great place to briefly (as in two to three sentences) describe why you want to work for that particular company. That’s hard to do on a resume. Maybe you want to work there because your parents did, or because you grew up in the shadow of its headquarters (or, in the case of an airline, in the shadow of one of its hubs). This is your chance to show your loyalty to a company before you ever set foot in the door. It won’t always work, but you have nothing to lose by trying.

If you are still shy of the minimums for a particular company, use the cover letter to explain what you are doing to close the gap, and give an estimate of how long it will take you to get there. Sometimes, just the enthusiasm and work ethic that you demonstrate can be enough to get your foot in the door.

The cover letter is a bit of a lost art, so if you do it well, it will help you stand above the rest. Use it to your advantage, and keep it to a page or less. And whatever you do, don’t just repeat what is on your resume!—Chip Wright