Posts Tagged ‘career pilots’

The challenges of too much information

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

I sometimes miss the old days of preflight planning. In the not-so-distant past, my airline preflight planning was amazingly simple. I’d turn on the Weather Channel, see what was going on, and then head to the airport.

Once I was there, I’d get my dispatch release and look at the radar and satellite images. If I had any other questions or concerns, I’d talk them over with the dispatcher. The whole process took amazingly little time on most days.

At my current airline, much more has been put back into the hands of the pilots. With the proliferation of electronic flight bags (EFBs) on iPads and tablets, preflight planning has gone to a new level, but the convenience is also exacerbated by the time required to look at all of the available information. It seems that it takes me longer than ever to get all of the “necessary” stuff done.

After I download the release and the flight plan, I start looking at the weather, and at times it’s information overload. There is the regular weather from the WSI app that we use, which has so many tools that I’m still learning about them after years of use. Then there is the abundance of information from the Jeppesen FlightDeck Pro app, which can be a nice complement to WSI, but it sometimes provides contradictory information.

Once I have the weather, it’s a matter of getting the information from it that I need. This time of year, icing information is critical, especially on the arrival and departure. Turbulence is another critical area. Not only is it critical to find the most comfortable ride for our passengers, but we also need to be in the smoothest air possible for our flight attendants. When they are out of their seats—especially when they are conducting their service—they are very prone to injury. Even when they’re given a heads up, they need time to stow the carts and buckle in. Turbulence-related injuries have been a major area of concern in the airlines for several years, and it’s often the first point of discussion when the crew comes together before the flight.

Storms are always a matter of concern, because every deviation we make affects our fuel planning. Most of the time, this is addressed by the dispatcher, but sometimes the captain wants more fuel. It’s a balancing act with extra fuel, because fuel costs money, and the more fuel you have, the heavier the airplane is, so the more fuel (and the more money) you burn.

The more information I have, the more I seem to want. However, at some point I have to accept what I have and move on to actually operating the flight. I know I’ve done my due diligence, and everything either works out or it doesn’t.

And if anybody wants to question my decision making, I can just show them the massive amount of intel I’ve collected on my iPad.–Chip Wright

How NOT to network

Friday, February 5th, 2016

networkingI’ve written several blog posts about networking, and what is involved in creating a good network. This time, I want to emphasize what is not networking.

In review, a good network is a group of friends or colleagues who can provide you with tips and information in your pursuit of a job. In the ideal case, they can walk into the office of a direct supervisor or the human resources folks, hand them your resume, and make a strong case for hiring you. And in the ideal case, that’s exactly what will happen.

Creating that network requires effort. You need to keep in touch with people when it isn’t always convenient, and you need to make sure that you keep those people apprised of changes in your status or qualifications.

So what is the “improper” way to network?

In the airlines, a lot of folks meet other pilots via the jump seat (the extra seat in the cockpit that pilots sometimes need to use while coming and going to work) or spending time in the airport. If you have another pilot sitting in your jump seat as he commutes on your flight, that does not constitute “flying with you.” It’s inappropriate to ask him to use that flight as a means to say that he’s flown with you so that he can write you a letter of recommendation. I’ve been asked to do that before, and the answer is always no, especially when we don’t work for the same airline. I’m not suggesting that such arrangements haven’t been used before, but that doesn’t make it right.

Spending five minutes eating lunch with another pilot in an airport deli is not a network either. If the pilot volunteers to help you, that’s one thing. But to blatantly ask with no real relationship established is sure to backfire far more often than it succeeds.

Losing track of someone and asking them months or years down the road, out of the blue, hardly counts as well. Likewise, asking for help from someone who is not in your desired line of work is also risky. They don’t know nearly enough about the ins and outs of being a pilot to be able to speak honestly about you or the job, and it puts them in a bad spot of things don’t work out. It’s one thing to ask for a character reference from a nonpilot, but that’s as far as it should go.

I recently rode home on the jump seat of another carrier. The crew did some bellyaching that was borderline unprofessional, but not unusual. We spent some time talking in cruise, as they were peppering me with questions about the company, rumors, et cetera. At one point, one of them came right out and asked for my help with a letter. It didn’t sit well with me, and I politely declined, saying that it was my personal policy not to write letters unless I had actually flown and worked with an individual. That said, I offered to provide my contact info if he wanted to keep in touch; he declined. I think he realized that he had crossed the line as far as I was concerned.

Networking is such a critical skill, but it’s really one of common sense. Be polite, be genuine, and keep in touch. It’s really that simple. Anything else is pandering, and it often fails miserably.—Chip Wright

JetBlue’s new ab initio program

Monday, December 7th, 2015

JetBlue has recently announced that it would begin an ab inito pilot training program, which it hopes to kick off in 2016. The company said that the program was not founded because of any impending pilot shortage, but that claim that is dubious at best. While the details are sparse, the apparent structure of the program will be similar to the multi-crew pilot certificate that certain European carriers use.

JetBlueThe multi-pilot license (MPL) works by training candidates with no flight time whatsoever ab initio (“from the beginning”), using simulators for the majority of training. The intent is to immerse students into the crewed cockpit concept as early as possible. Once the basics are mastered, candidates spend large chunks of time flying “flights” that are similar to line operations, but with all manner of problems and issues introduced. Everything from medical emergencies to cabin fires is fair game, and students are required to respond accordingly.

Under a traditional MPL program, pilots will only be qualified to fly certain airline equipment. Depending on how the program is structured, it’s quite possible that a pilot will be fully qualified in the Embraer E-190 (which is the only plane that JetBlue is proposing right now), but would not be able to rent a Cessna 172 at the local FBO.

As noted, the details are scant, and the FAA has to weigh in on JetBlue’s proposal. The early word is that pilots would still get some traditional certificates (probably private, commercial, and instrument), and would then transition to the airline training environment, which would result in an ATP. JetBlue has said that pilots would work with “partners” to get the requisite experience, but it’s unclear if that means sending pilots to work at another flight school, or if they would be sponsored to work for a regional for a while.

So, is this program worth considering for the airline pilot wanna be? That’s a good question, and it’s worth studying when the details are available. While JetBlue has claimed that it will make the monetary investment, nothing is free. It’s a safe bet that there will be some kind of contract required to make sure that pilots don’t get the training and then bolt. Such contracts can be a pair of golden handcuffs.

An alternative possibility is that JetBlue is going to propose a program to the FAA in which the successful candidates will not be eligible to fly for anyone else, thus rendering moot the fear that a pilot will jump ship to a better employment opportunity at another airline (i.e., a non-compete clause). That said, I still suspect a contract will be required in case the candidate decides that instead of flying airplanes, he or she would rather pursue a different line of work.

At present, there are plenty of regional airline pilots that JetBlue can choose from, and the pilots at JetBlue recently voted to join ALPA; negotiations for their first collective bargaining unit are under way, and it’s safe to assume that there will be across-the-board improvements, which will further enhance the appeal of the airline as a place to work. This program is clearly—despite the company denials—a strategy for getting ahead of the pilot shortage while controlling the training of future pilots.

But will it work? Will it last? My early guess is that it will have mixed results at best. Training is expensive, and in this case, there will not only have to be training costs covered, but likely some basic living expenses as well. The core business is still to run an airline, and it will take an awful lot of ticket sales to train a pilot.

While candidates will be exposed to a lot of JetBlue Kool Aid, at some point they will begin to learn to decipher the difference between what the company says and reality, and let’s face it: No matter how great any company is, no company is perfect. Further, smart individuals are only going to be willing to sign contracts with certain limits and restrictions on their ability to move on, and there will always be a few who manage to walk away unscathed.

This presents an interesting situation for airlines. From a competitive standpoint, if nobody else follows suit, JetBlue may have to give this up just because of the cost. Shareholders want to see a return on their investment, and they may not like this idea.

Time will tell if this will be a success. If it is, JetBlue management will look like geniuses. If not, it’s an expensive failure to absorb.—Chip Wright

Can you prepare for class?

Monday, November 9th, 2015

It’s one thing to hear the training is like drinking from a fire hose, but it’s another to actually live that. What can you do to make the transition easier?

Most airlines do almost nothing to provide materials that you can study in advance. At a carrier where your equipment won’t be decided until you get to class and bid on it, this carries slightly more logic (but not much more). At carriers where the equipment is a foregone conclusion, it doesn’t make much sense at all. There is certainly material that could be provided to you for study that won’t violate security-sensitive rules established in the wake of September 11, 2001.

But, since that information from your future employer won’t be coming, you are on your own. If you are indeed going to a company where the equipment is already known, you can try to get your hands on the memory items and limitations that you will be expected to memorize. If you have a friend at that carrier, great. If not, find one.

Another thing you can start learning are some of the complex weather rules. While many of these don’t change from one carrier to the next, every airline has certain rules that are specific to that carrier. Alternatively, not every carrier is able to get all of the various exemptions, so what is in effect at one won’t necessarily be at another. Unless you can get the actual information from someone currently employed there, don’t assume that anything generic will work.

Airplane systems are usually fairly consistent, but every airline teaches them differently. Airline A may put a lot of emphasis on one system that Airline B appears to gloss over. Further, there can be differences based on certain avionics and/or engine packages. Again, if it doesn’t come from the source, be careful. Most of the major systems, such as flight controls, pressurization, fire suppression, and hydraulic will be the same from one carrier to the next for a given fleet, but instead of committing a lot of information to memory, concentrate instead on a more superficial familiarity that will make it easier to absorb the details later.

Even if the systems are consistent, the operational philosophies will vary from one carrier to another. For example, I flew the CRJ for 14 years, and I sat on the jump seat of several carriers that also flew it. At Comair, walking away from the airplane with the auxiliary power unit running was to risk your job. At another carrier, this was standard practice. On the other hand, we had much more lenient restrictions on taking off with the brakes above a certain temperature than a different carrier I rode on did. None was “wrong”; we all just did it differently.

If you can get current information about your soon-to-be employer, the best way to prepare for class is to stick with memory items and limitations and weather policies, and perhaps a general understanding of FAR 117. Everything else will fall into place later. More accurately, it will come from the fire hose later.—Chip Wright

Disability insurance

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

When you’re in your 20s and 30s, it’s hard to imagine that your health will ever be seriously affected by anything. It’s bad enough to imagine getting cancer or a sleep disorder, but what about something less serious, such as a broken bone (or two or three)?

Pilots are unique in that our health affects both our direct and our legal ability to report for work. Something as simple as back pain can keep us at home. We are bound by the terms of our medical certificate to be of sound mind and body. If you work in an office and break your leg or your arm, you can still come to work. You may even be just as productive and as efficient with the injury as you are without it.

Not so with flying. If you break a leg skiing or an arm playing softball, you’re grounded until it heals. Further, if your medical expires during your injury, you will likely need a flight physical to return to work. If you don’t have sufficient sick time in your leave bank, you could face a financial strain. Most airlines only allow a sick time accrual rate of a few hours a month.

I don’t want to sound like a salesman, but I’ll take the risk. If you get hired by an airline, opt into whatever short- and long-term disability insurance the company and/or the union offers. Rates are based on age, so it’s cheaper when you’re younger, which is also when you’re not so well paid. It’s an investment that is worth making in yourself.

Over my career I’ve seen young and old pilots be out of work for extended periods of time through no fault of their own. One, in his late 20s, was out over a year because of a severe automobile accident. One was out for two months with a broken leg that was slow to heal. Another was out for nearly two years with a form of liver cancer. A number have been incapacitated by mental health issues and/or alcoholism. In the last couple of years, the FAA has attempted to crack down on overweight pilots. If they ever succeed in doing this, a large percentage of us will be looking at long periods of time off while we try to shed the extra weight.

As a professional pilot, take nothing for granted—especially your health. Get the STD/LTD coverage early, and keep it. With any luck, you’ll never need to thank me for it. But if you do, at least you won’t have to worry about coming up with the money for a stamp.–Chip Wright

Where are they?

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

womens-pilot-shirts-MZMy first real aviation boss, who also became one of my instructors as I added ratings, and later a friend with whom I argued feverishly at times. One former girlfriend (and her mother). Two of my students. A small number of my first officers, and only two of the captains I flew with at my first airline, and so far, none at my current one. Only a few of the pilots in my current base, out of a total of nearly 200.

And that pretty much sums up the majority of women I’ve known in aviation. There just haven’t been that many of them. Supposedly, the FAA register of pilots is made up of around 600,000 pilots, depending on how you do the math. Of those, only 30,000 or so—a measly 5 percent—are women. Five percent! That’s an abomination. It’s also a huge marketing opportunity for general aviation, flight schools, et cetera. The ratio at major aviation colleges often isn’t much better.

I have two daughters, and they have grown up with me being a pilot. They have traveled with me (and because of me), and they’ve seen the benefits of aviation, both in the practical sense and as a means of making a living. If I had to buy all the seats we’ve used, my bill would be triple the national debt. They’ve sat in my cockpits and ridden on my flights for fun, out of convenience, and out of necessity. They have both at times talked of following in my footsteps—maybe not to fly for a career, but to take advantage of the opportunities that being able to fly offers. They often don’t understand why more people don’t fly more often.

They’ve also asked me why more women don’t fly. It’s rare enough that they definitely notice when they have a female crew member. When they recently rode on a 747 with a female captain, they thought it was the “coolest thing ever”—but it also made them mad that there aren’t more of women commanding 747s and 380s.

It bothers me, too. The female pilots I’ve flown with have been among the best I’ve flown with, male or female. One of them, who is one of my best friends and can fly circles around most other pilots, is on the short list (four or five) of people I’d like to have in my airplane in the direst of emergencies.

We need women in aviation. It’s hard enough to be involved in an activity of any sort when it is as expensive and time-consuming as flying. If you don’t have the support of the people in your life, it becomes a dream that can quickly die on the vine. For many of us, those people include or spouses, mothers, daughters, and girlfriends. That alone should be reason enough to involve them.

But it’s more than that. Women are more frequently earning more money, and they need a place to spend it, and they need goals to pursue. Why are we not doing more to entice them to learning to fly? They don’t all need to be on the track to be airline pilots or G-V pilots for a Fortune 500 company. They can fly sport planes, or ultralights, or a Cirrus to visit Mom and Dad. We just need to get them to the airport and introduce them to what we already know, and then let them fully embrace it on their own terms.

Two of the best aerobatic pilots in the world are women. One you’ve heard of: Patty Wagstaff, who can do things with a, airplane that would make most of us sick. The other is Katie Higgins, the first woman to fly with the Blue Angels. Women have commanded the space shuttle and spent months on the space station. At small airports, however, too many are relegated to working at the counter, and not enough are flying or working on the airplanes. Oh, I should mention: Two of the best mechanics at my first airline were ladies.

Women I’ve spoken to have told me that they have a few reasons for not flying: If the airlines are the issue, they are conflicted by the schedules and time away from the kids they want to raise. If it’s general aviation, they are often afraid that they will be treated the same way they often are when they need to get their car fixed (ripped off, played for dumb, sexually harassed, and assumed to be out of their element); and they often don’t have a mentor to guide them. Their perceptions may not be accurate, so it’s up to us to prove that those perceptions are wrong, and make them feel welcome.

We can all do more, and we need to. If we had as many female pilots as male pilots, the pilot population would more than double. Think about the opportunity that presents. Think about opportunity, period. As a group, let’s find a way to provide it to the women in our lives that might enjoy aviation, and let’s do it the same way we want it done for ourselves: honestly, respectfully, and with open arms.—Chip Wright

Scheduling cancellations

Monday, June 29th, 2015

This is the last in a short series of blog posts that covers just a few of the business practices employed by the airlines. In the first two I discussed ticket pricing and oversold flights. In this one, we’re going to cover another headline-making topic. It happens every year with snow storms in the winter and thunderstorms (or worse) in the summer: Airline flights get cancelled by the hundreds. How do the decisions get made?

The process has changed a bit because of two relatively new rules. The first was the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights. This is the law that arose because of the JetBlue delayed-flight fiasco in 2007. Passengers were stuck on planes for more than 10 hours, and years of frustration finally bubbled over. The rule that was eventually passed assessed fines of as much as $27,500 per passenger for delays exceeding three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights. Many predicted that the new rule would lead to far greater numbers of flights being cancelled ahead of bad weather. Those predictions have been borne out.

The second rule that has changed the way airlines handle cancellations is FAR 117, the new airline pilot duty and rest limits that came out of the Colgan Air 3407 crash in Buffalo, New York. Pilots are much more limited in what they can legally do when delays begin to build up. Further, they are required to have more rest, and more importantly, more rest “behind the door”—that is, rest that is computed based on actually getting to the hotel. There is no more any resting during the van ride to the hotel. This has had huge implications on operational practices.

Taking into account these two rules, the airlines study a number of factors in determining which flights to cancel. Cost is always the bottom line.

“Cost” is measured several ways. High-revenue/high-value customers (or flights) are protected as much as possible, whether domestic or international. Airplane maintenance schedules play a much bigger role than most would imagine, whether it is schedule maintenance or getting the plane in place to fix a single item that needs repair (not every type of spare part is kept in every location). International flights also get a premium because of the expenses involved in accommodating so many people. Also, the rules for inconveniencing passengers vary by country, and in several, the rules are much more passenger-friendly than in the United States.

As you might imagine, having aircraft and crews out of position plays a major role the decision-making process. As weather changes and airlines are forced to deal with diversions, they are sometimes caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place because the weather frequently determines whether or not it is best to continue the flight to the original destination, or to move the airplane to another location to help recover the schedule.

A number of factors go into this kind of decision: airport curfews; crew legality; airplane legality (maintenance again); the availability of alternate transportation for passengers; the availability of hotel rooms; even the availability of fuel.

The overwhelming majority of these decisions are handled by sophisticated computer programs that automatically rebook passengers. However, sometimes the decisions are manually manipulated or controlled. Even when you work in such an environment, it’s easy to scratch your head and ask, “Why are they doing it this way?” Often, there is a big picture involved, and you have no idea how all of the pieces will fit together. You just find yourself hoping that your own inconveniences are minimized!—Chip Wright

Oversold flights

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

In my last blog post, I said that I was going to deviate a bit from my normal career advice in order to cover a few points in the actual business of running an airline. After all, if you’re going to work for one, it helps to understand the how’s and why’s of some of what airlines do. This time, I’d like to delve into another not-clearly-understood practice: overselling flights.

There is no question that it is one of the most frustrating business practices in the United States. Airlines routinely sell more tickets than they have seats (except for jetBlue, which makes a point of not doing this).

This doesn’t happen anywhere else, or at least not by design for a time-sensitive product. It’s one thing for Apple to run out of new phones or tablets because demand exceeds production capability. But those products are not as subject to meeting a need based on a time factor.

A seat on an airplane, however, is about as time-sensitive as it gets, especially if it’s important. And let’s face it, it’s always important to the person getting—or about to get—screwed. I can’t help you feel better when it happens to you, but I can at least give you a bit of insight.

Airlines oversell for one simple reason: because they can. Generally speaking, they know that a certain number of people are not going to show up. We’re not talking about missed connections; we’re talking about the traveler—usually a business traveler—who doesn’t show for one reason or another. Those travelers make up a percentage of the seats on a given airplane, and it is that percentage that is usually—but not always—oversold.

If an airline has data that says that 10 passengers on flight 123 from ABC to XYZ don’t show up on a consistent basis, they will oversell by (usually) no more than that number, and often by less than that number. On the days when everyone shows, they then figure out what to do.

So, how do they determine who is going to get stuck? Each carrier has its own formula to follow, but it usually consists of some mix of the following (not necessarily in this order, and not limited to this list): last ticket sold; cheapest ticket sold; connecting versus non-connecting passengers; vacation package bought from the airline; the last person checked in; does the person getting bumped live locally (thus saving the airline a hotel room)?

The airline may also take into account that the next person who should be losing a seat may be part of a group of passengers, yet they only need to lose one passenger total. Unfortunately, you’ll never know. One thing you can count on: Unaccompanied minors are almost never denied boarding.

How can you fight back if it happens to you? It helps if you can argue persuasively that your travel plans will be unduly disrupted. For instance, if you are trying to make a cruise, you may be able to avoid being pulled. Likewise if you are connecting to an international flight, especially one that doesn’t run every day. Otherwise, you’re at the airline’s mercy.

There is one exception to the above rule of overselling by the number of no-shows, and that is the issue of performance. Sometimes, the airplane isn’t necessarily oversold, but the flight can’t meet performance requirements (usually related to single-engine climb) because of hot temperatures/short runways or runway contamination (snow or standing water).

Other times it may be because the flight is carrying an abnormal amount of fuel for the alternate, or because it’s overweight because of excessive bags or mail. As sharp as the airline reservation computer programs are, they often can’t take such random events into account well enough to try to control sales and loads.

One last trick: If you want to know if a flight is oversold, go through the act of buying a ticket on that flight the day before or the morning of, and see if one is available on the airline’s website. And then just hope that if it is oversold, it isn’t your number that comes up.—Chip Wright

A (very) brief explanation of ticket prices

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

I’m going to stray a little bit from my typical career advice, and I’m going to discuss a few of the airline business practices that tend to drive everyone crazy. One of those is the issue of ticket prices.

As most of you know, airline ticket prices can vary wildly even on the same flight. It’s very possible to have two passengers sitting next to each other who paid a difference of hundreds of dollars for their tickets. What gives?

512px-NWA_Airline_Ticket_JL2703First of all, it helps if you think of an airplane as a venue for a concert or a baseball game. When you buy tickets to a game, you expect to pay more for a better seat, such as one behind home plate or along one of the baselines. You expect to pay less to sit in the “nosebleed” section.

Flights are similar. First class, business class, and seats with extra legroom demand a higher fare because of the benefits or added comfort of sitting in those seats. That’s simple enough. But what drives the rest of the pricing differences?

American Airlines, under Robert Crandall, perfected the use of modern pricing algorithms (it’s actually a trick he learned working for, of all places, Hallmark). With today’s computerized reservations systems, airlines use sophisticated computer models to adjust the pricing of every seat as soon as a seat is sold. This is one reason why it costs less to buy a seat well in advance of the flight.

The airline already knows what the basic cost of a flight will be, and therefore how much it needs to sell each seat to make money on that flight, which allows it to set the basic fare.

Next, it needs to collect all of the various fees and taxes that might be required—landing fees, passenger facility charges, security fees, et cetera. These can easily add more than $100 to the price of a ticket.

As soon as seats begin to sell, prices begin to change. (In fact, if you use the same computer to check the prices of a flight several times, the website can [and often will] use the cookie it has placed on your computer to gauge your interest and raise the fare.) Prices also change as the date of the flight gets closer.

Because airlines get most of their revenue from business travelers, the prices go up quite dramatically within 14 to 21 days of a flight, since this is when business travelers buy most of their tickets. This is similar to the concert or ball game analogy: Supply has diminished, and demand often rises. The airline is, in effect, scalping its own seats, and it is doing so to its best customers, because roughly 5% of the passengers provide almost 95% of the revenue.

Something else is at play as well. The airline doesn’t collect nearly the revenue from leisure travelers as it does from business travelers on a per-seat basis. So, if the mix gets slightly out of whack, ticket prices will move, especially if the “out of whack” portion of the equation means that more leisure travelers are buying tickets than usual. In addition, if passengers are using frequent flyer miles to buy the seat, either prices will increase or the number of seats available for redeeming miles will decrease or even disappear (think of Hawaii).

Just like a concert or a ball game, there can be a last-minute deal, and it can be great one for the consumer. The Yankees may sell a few tickets in the second or even third inning, but an airline can never sell a seat on a given flight once that flight has left the gate, and even the Yankees won’t sell tickets after the fourth inning or so. Therefore, sometimes they will offer steep discounts just to fill the seat at the last minute.

Ticket prices are maddening at times, but there really is a method to the madness, and a madness to the method. Or something like that!—Chip Wright

Writing letters of recommendation

Monday, May 4th, 2015

As the airlines begin to hire, many pilots will be on both ends of a common act: letters of recommendation. You will at some point need to ask for some, and at some point you will likely be asked to provide some. For many, the actual request turns out to be the easy part. We’ll assume for the sake of discussion that you have no problem writing a letter for the person asking for one.

When it comes to writing the letter, there isn’t necessarily a formula per se, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, if the person uses a nickname, start by using the formal name, and revert to the nickname later. This lets the reader know that the applicant may go by more than one name, and also that you know the person fairly closely.

Second, letters of recommendations for pilots need to cover two distinct areas. You need to talk about the applicant as a person, and you need to discuss his or her flying skills. It doesn’t really matter which comes first, as long as you do both. I prefer to cover the flying skills first, since that’s what the company is most interested in. Discuss your subject’s basic stick-and-rudder skills, as well as instrument skills and, if appropriate, deeper knowledge of technical material and/or aircraft systems. This may only be appropriate if the person has flown some something fairly sophisticated, such as a turboprop or a jet, or if he or she has developed a reputation as an instructor or teacher in that airplane.

When discussing the person as an individual, it’s important that you think like a recruiter. If you’re writing for a pilot applying to a regional, this may even be more important. The pilot will be spending an awful of time in a small space with one other person on trips that might last as long as six days. It is imperative that he or she be able to get along with a multitude of personalities. Conflict simply isn’t acceptable. When you’re describing the person, concentrate on what makes him or her a positive influence, whether it’s a sense of humor, a way with words, or an ability to laugh at himself.

One of the most important items in a letter of recommendation is the quality of the writing. It is imperative that you use good grammar and sentence structure. Spelling and punctuation count. If you are not a strong writer, ask for help from someone who can provide it. The worst thing you can do is provide a poorly written letter to someone looking for work, because it will reflect on that person as well as you.

This is a two-way street. When you ask for a letter, you need to make sure that one written on your behalf meets the same basic guidelines. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to decide whether to keep it or politely ask the writer to redo it. Just make sure that you won’t be offending your friend!

Another common mistake involves writing letters for pilots seeking interviews or jobs with multiple companies. You need to make sure that a letter for airline X does not mention airline Y. It happens, and it leads to quite a bit of embarrassment. Put the letters in separate envelopes and label them accordingly. If you’re writing for one of the airlines that uses airlineapps.com, ask the applicant to log on and read your letters to make sure you got the right airline matched up with the right letter.

Asking for and writing letters of recommendation are important pieces of the job hunting puzzle. Being asked to write one is an honor, and you should treat it accordingly. It’s also a favor you may need the other person to return, so do it well.—Chip Wright