Posts Tagged ‘career pilot’

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

Letters of recommendation

Monday, 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

Pilot taxes

Tuesday, 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

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

Calling home for weather

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you bring to the table?

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Every airline pilot can fly—or at least it’s assumed that they can. When you are pursuing a job, the basic assumption is that you can aviate with a certain degree of competency, and that you are trainable. The real question for many interviewers is simple: What else do you bring to the table? What skills do you have? What problems can you help us solve?

Pilots are an amazing bunch of people. The wealth of talent and knowledge in other fields that I have seen in this industry never fails to amaze me. One young lady at Comair was not only going through the stress of new-hire training, but she also took the bar exam during training. I can’t imagine such a divergent set of demands on her time. I’ve known pilots who have been lawyers, pharmacists, insurance agents, and members of all kinds of music bands. Many are mechanics, and a lot own their own businesses outside of flying.

When you are interviewing for any flying job, be it for an airline or a corporation or a sky-diving job, don’t hesitate to mention your other skills and attributes. Often, that kind of flexibility will pay off, and it may be just what the employer is looking for. In fact, the smaller the company, the more important it is for you to be a jack-of-all-trades. A great example is AOPA. Not all of the employees are pilots, but all of the pilots can do more than fly.

If you get hired by a regional but aspire to a major, one of the best things you can do is to get involved in other “stuff.” There are usually all kinds of arenas you can dive into. You might help in the training department with rewriting or doing initial writing of material; safety departments need all kinds of inputs; ASAP and FOQA programs need people to do data analysis, interviews, and interfacing with other airlines. The list goes on. You should fly as much as you can, because if you want to get to a major, you’ll need to average at least 200 to 300 hours a year, but you can still make a meaningful contribution outside of the cockpit.

Another area where you can volunteer is with the pilots’ union. Much of what the union does mirrors the company structure, especially in safety and training, and airlines and the unions often work hand in hand on major initiatives. Depending on the position you volunteer for, the union may pay for advanced training in such areas as accident investigation or aeromedical services. All of these will round you out as an individual and make your resume shine. Further, you will be marketable as more than a pilot. I know of two that were union safety volunteers that went on to work for the NTSB. Another got a prestigious job with Boeing, and yet another went to the MITRE Corporation. And, of course, many realized their dreams and went on to fly at the majors.

Ask yourself what you bring to the table that someone else doesn’t. If the answer is not as fulfilling as you’d like it to be, start working on changing that. You can focus on aviation or non-aviation pursuits and interests, but the big thing is to just get started. To borrow from the old Army ad campaign, you need to be all you can be, and that does not just mean as a pilot.—Chip Wright

That wasn’t in the brochure

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Every job has its upsides and downsides. Flying is no different. I recall a conversation with a friend of mine in which we were both lamenting something common between our companies. I don’t remember what it was, and it doesn’t really matter. But he summed it up very eloquently: “this was not in the brochure!” I couldn’t help but laugh. Fifteen years in the business has shown me any number of learning experiences…many of which are not in any brochure or would find their way into a Chamber of Commerce commercial.

For instance, when I first got into this business, I had the illusion that all of my trips would take me to exotic locales on a gorgeous beaches surrounded by a bevy of Victoria’s Secret models. The sun would always shine, the ride would always be smooth, and I would get paid truckloads of money. It didn’t help that when I started, I was based in Orlando, and I spent a lot of time going to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, the Bahamas and Key West. Further, I went to college in Florida, and most of my airline travels as a consumer had been to and from the Sunshine State. I got spoiled rotten and quickly.

Fast forward just a few years later, when I’d transferred to Cincinnati. Cold weather ops took on a new meaning. Deicing became a routine part of my work day, and at times the snow would fall so fast that we would not only deice, but we’d be forced to re-deice. More times than I care to remember trucks would run out of deice fluid, or would break down. A new truck has to be called, and the fluid heated (to 140 degrees F). If it happens halfway through the process, then it all has to be started over. Since we deice with the APU shut down (to avoid flooding the APU), the air conditioning is turned off and the airplane gets cold quickly. You can easily fall an hour or two behind before you have flown a single leg of the trip. It makes for long days indeed.

Hotels can often drive crews crazy as well. They can be noisy, either inside (New Year’s Eve is an awful time to fly a trip, not because of the holiday, but because of the disruption to your sleep) or out. Fire alarms go off unexpectedly. I was in a hotel when a bomb threat was called in. Renovations cause issues as well. The biggest hotel issue for airline crews, though, is unreliable transportation. Don’t get me started on that one.

Weather in general will make you shake your head. I fly in weather now that at one time would have been unthinkable. I’ve been in or through more hurricanes than I can count. I’ve had one severe icing encounter, dealt with a extreme turbulence, and picked my way through, over, around, and under enough storms for a lifetime. There is an expression that line pilots use: “It doesn’t matter what the Weather Channel shows….we’re going.” That turns out to be true more often than not. We may wait for the weather to pass, but we usually go.

I once had to go from Cincy to Indy, a flight that is normally less than 20 minutes. But because of a line of storms, we had to fly due south to Memphis, turn west through a break in the line, and head back north. Even if we could have turned early, we would have had to hold because we needed to burn enough fuel to get down to our max landing weight. Low visibility, high winds, and storms on the field are all that usually force cancellations, but more are caused by airplanes that need to divert, which forces the airlines to modify the schedule.

Mechanicals are another story. I once spent 12 hours at O’Hare waiting for a new tire that somehow got lost. Don’t ask…I just work here.

What gets you through these days? Two things. First, they are so rare on the whole. Second, the guy or gal sitting next to me. You have to have a sense of humor—sometimes gallows humor. Bellyaching isn’t going to improve anything, and you have to take the bad with the good, especially when you are getting paid for it. Besides, in my opinion, the good far outweighs the bad.

But I sure do miss my beachside hotels, especially in the winter…–Chip Wright