Posts Tagged ‘Delta’

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

When do you upgrade?

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

It’s no secret that, in aviation, the captain gets the big bucks and the first offcer gets—well, usually a whole lot less. Further, the pay discrepancy is magnified even more in smaller equipment.

By that I mean, the smaller the aircraft, the worse the FO pay is. When Beech 1900s ruled the commuter skies, top FO pay often did not go above $20-24 a flight hour; captains could top out at $40-plus at the right company. While there is still a noticeable discrepancy in pay even on the heavy iron, for the FO it isn’t nearly as significant an issue. Good luck find anyone who feels sympathy for the person who’s earning the top FO pay on a Delta ($160) or a United ($130) 747.

At the regionals, FO pay tops out in the ballpark of $45-$48 an hour, depending on whether  the RJ in question seats 50 or 70, and that top pay is usually in the eighth year of service, give or take. An equivalent captain is making $70 an hour, or close to it.

Given the financial incentive, should one upgrade as soon as possible? Well, that depends….

There are three issues that are hard to ignore: money, PIC time, and seniority unknowns.

Considering that so many pilots make such a huge investment in their careers, there is often a strong urge—if not need—to upgrade just so that the bills can be paid, or at least paid more easily (a problem made worse with student loans and/or credit card debt). You may just want to go from an apartment to a house or get a better car. Family issues factor in as well, especially if young kids are running around your house.

Pilot-in-command (PIC) time is probably as much of a motivator as anything, especially at the regional level. At the majors, most FOs have plenty of PIC time in their logbooks from previous jobs, and unless they are planning to switch carriers, the need for PIC time doesn’t usually enter the equation. Besides, PIC time is unusual in that its value doesn’t really change over time. While there is a difference between turboprop versus turbo-jet PIC, it’s not a major issue, and all another carrier wants to see is that you have exercised the responsibilities of the position without having an incident or an accident.

If you want to move on from a regional or a commuter, PIC time becomes a huge focus, because it takes so long to get it. Depending on who you want to fly for, you will need at least 1,000 hours and often 1,500 or more. Every leg you fly will help chip away at that goal.

Seniority is another issue that must be considered. It’s possible that a bid will open up that you can hold for whatever reason. Maybe guys just senior to you are finally getting the left seat, or maybe a spot will open up in the most junior, undesirable domicile. But seniority is not always hard and fast. With almost every upgrade class, you will notice that the slots don’t fill just based on seniority. You may see a few where a junior pilot unexpectedly gets the coveted captain position. Often, what happens is that pilots may have other reasons that prevent them from bidding a class. Remember, training is almost as long as new-hire training—at least three weeks, if not four or more, depending on sim and line check airman availability. Pilots may gamble and skip a class because of family commitments, weddings, vacations, et cetera. Or, they may be married such that the money isn’t an issue and they decide to wait for quality of life.

But skipping a class is a gamble for two reasons. First, if the upgrades suddenly stop, you may have to wait years for another chance. When things are slow, airlines wait longer than they should to upgrade captains because of the cost. Second, you may think you can hold a bid that is more to your liking, only to find out that some of those senior hold-outs are now taking the first available class. I’ve seen both issues really hit people, the first example being the more common.

To use my own company, for example, we had a very junior and less-than-desirable domicile at John F. Kennedy International. The main hub was a far more optimal place to be based for a number of reasons. JFK simply had way too much that was not in its favor: It’s expensive, delays were a huge issue, the commute can be difficult, the airspace is challenging, and did I mention that it’s expensive? That’s especially true if you are on reserve.

A number of our FOs who had the seniority to upgrade chose not to, opting instead for quality of life. They wanted to avoid reserve as a captain, and figured they’d wait until they could hold a regular line with a predictable schedule. Further, many did not want to commute. So…they waited.

When the economy hit the skids, so did their advancement. Yes, they were home more. Yes, they had more days off. Yes, they spent more time with their families. But, they topped out on the FO pay scale, and they did not get that coveted PIC time, and now many of them are having great difficulty moving on because they can’t differentiate themselves from other applicants. They face the risk of having to go to another regional, or overseas, in order to advance their career (these tend to be pilots who do not want to move overseas). While the most junior captains often lived a life of misery on reserve, they continued to add PIC time to their logbooks, and recruiters admire the resilience of someone who is willing to sacrifice so much to get their dream job. Believe me, at some point, upgrading is not about the money.

Deciding when to upgrade is a personal choice. You have to be emotionally mature to handle the responsibility. You need to have not only the skills, but also the confidence to use those skills along with good judgment. You need to be able to admit when you need help, as well as when you have made a mistake. If you have not had a chance to fly a lot in various weather conditions, then you need to get that experience in dealing with thunderstorms, icing, and everything in between.

In the future, you will be required to have 1,000 hours in the right seat before upgrading. In today’s environment, that’s a given, but as we begin to see the pipeline to the majors open, there was a built-in risk of seeing very junior and very inexperienced FOs begin to move into the left seat. The new rules will help minimize that.

Upgrading is not as easy as it seems. Quality of life on reserve (if you can’t hold a line) or even as a junior line-holder takes a big hit. It can be as much of an adjustment for the family as it is for the pilot. The new responsibility can be intimidating. When I upgraded, I went for being home 12-16 days a month to being home for six, and it was a jolt for my wife. I had to work holidays again, and I missed a lot of family events. We didn’t have kids, but she did get pregnant, and she had to handle most of that on her own.

But the rewards are many, and the personal growth is very rewarding. When, and if, you are ready, make the leap.—Chip Wright

Some meandering thoughts

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

It doesn’t take long in any industry, I suppose, to notice certain trends and oddities. My wife is a teacher, and the stories she has of parents and students are enough to make you shake your head. Put together, they are somewhere between a riotous TV sitcom and pure Shakespearean tragedy. My father was an attorney, and the tales of idiocy that he would bring home would make you question the entire human condition.

Being a pilot isn’t any different. I was recently reminded of this when it comes to tourists, especially those from other countries. As a little background, I am huge baseball fan, but not just of the modern game. I love the history, of reading about the great players of years gone by that I never got to see. Of particular interest to me several years ago was the period of integration and the “Wait til next year” era of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Bums, as you may know, had an era of remarkable success on the field, but like Cinderella going to the dance, they just couldn’t beat the clock. Instead, they were beaten consistently in the World Series by the Yankees…until 1955, when they won their only title before moving to LA.

As a fan of the history of the game, I own two Brooklyn Dodgers hats with the distinctive “B” on the front.

On a bus ride recently from the hotel to the airport in Detroit, I saw a young lady from Japan. Delta has a large presence in the Asian country, and a large number of Japanese folks travel through DTW. Many are business travelers (especially for Toyota), and others are tourists. The Japanese tourists are as easy to pick out as it gets: They take pictures of everything! The airport, the airplane, the pilots (me included), sites that catch their attention, food, and anything with Mickey Mouse. Further, they keep detailed logs about everything they’ve seen, and they do so with the seriousness of a student studying for finals. Sometimes, I think we both need to take a lesson from each other…

As for the young gal on the bus, she was wearing a pink and black baseball cap. As many Americans do—and I don’t know why they do this, so if you can explain it to me, please do—the bill of the cap was still flat, and it still had the various this-is-a-new-hat stickers on it. And it had the unmistakable and distinctive “B” of the Dodgers. I didn’t get a chance to speak with her, so I don’t know if she thought it was a Red Sox cap, or if she just got it because she liked it. But it was yet another indicator of just how much the rest of the world looks to Americans for inspiration, style (they do this at their own risk), social norms (ditto), and the ability to make of yourself what you can. This young lady may have been an avid baseball fan herself—the Japanese love the game and have produced a number of exceptional major leaguers, including some signed by the (LA) Dodgers.

I’ve flown with so many foreign-born pilots that I’ve lost count, but the common message that they have is that no other country affords the aviation freedom and opportunity that the United States does, and we do it cheaper than they do. I was struck too by the realization that, in this country, we need to do everything we can to keep that dream alive not just for other nationals, but for ourselves and our kids. She, after all, was counting on a pilot most likely born in the United States to take her home. And we are counting on being able to do that in the future, as well as bringing her back to spend her money in the U.S.—be it at Disney World, a baseball game, or a hat store.

But I still don’t know why she was wearing those stickers…so keep flying, so we can get her back here and ask her.–By Chip Wright

The number two radio

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I’ve been asked before what we do with the second radio on airliners, so I’m here to tell you (this assumes an aircraft with two required radios and a backup). Are you ready? It depends….

If the airplane is equipped with ACARS (Aircraft Crew Alerting and Reporting System, sort of an in-flight email/fax system), most of the time you will monitor 121.5. If the airplane is not ACARS equipped, or if the ACARS is out of service, the procedures will vary a bit from company to company, but most of the time, you will monitor a designated company radio frequency.

Since my airline flies for Delta, we monitor the Atlanta Radio network. That way Delta can spy on us, plus it saves having to build our own network nationwide, which would make it harder for Delta to spy on us. We have available to us a map that shows what frequency we are supposed to use in a given area. There are approximately eight or nine airborne sections of the United States, plus a few each in Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, et cetera. Because the FARs require that an airline be capable of contacting any airplane at any time, crews must monitor a designated company frequency or have functional alternative, such as ACARS.

There are also a number of locations where dial-up ground frequencies are available.

Our network is guaranteed to work above a certain altitude, again, per the FARs.

As for when the number two radio is used, well, this is the “it depends” area. We can use the company frequency for a number of things: calling for weather updates, advising the company of a hold or delay or a diversion, discussing maintenance issues with the dispatcher or mechanic, passenger service issues, or any number of emergencies or critical events. It can be a little disconcerting to hear a full-blown emergency in progress, especially if you happen to be on the same ATC frequency as the crew that is in distress. But it’s also good to see how others handle certain situations to compare to your own methodology.

Company radio is only supposed to be used for company, flight-specific information, but it isn’t unusual for someone to request football scores or election results. Occasionally, a pair of pilots will recognize each others’ voice on the ATC frequency, and they will switch an air-to-air frequency on the number two radio to chat for a couple of minutes. Not exactly what’s supposed to be done, but it is never for very long, and for the most part it’s no-harm, no-foul.

Closer to the airport, each station has its own frequency, similar to an FBO. Crews will call “in range” anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes out, workload permitting. This is an opportunity to verify the gate and relay any specific needs, which might be mundane (bags of ice) to the more important customer needs (wheelchairs). It’s also a chance to give a station a heads up on any potential delays or issues for the outbound flight.

In short, the number two radio is often used exactly as you use it today in general aviation. With two pilots–especially when something is going wrong–it can be your most valuable asset. In fact, the FARs require at least two functioning primary radios, so if one of them fails, you aren’t going anywhere. It’s that important.–Chip Wright