Posts Tagged ‘first officers’

A look back at 2015

Monday, January 11th, 2016

As 2015 settles in the rear-view mirror, it’s a good time to look back and see where we’ve been and where we’re going, in this case as a career field. For years, we’ve heard about the impending shortage of pilots facing the airlines. At long last, it’s here, and it’s a sellers’ market.

With help and backing from their major airline partners—the ones actually paying the bills—the regionals have been forced to dramatically increase pay, and nowhere has this been more important than in the slave wages that had been paid to first- and second-year first officers. For several years, regional airline managers tried to work around their collective bargaining agreements by offering some kind of signing/retention bonus, and for a while this worked. In a few cases, it backfired, because the unions argued that it was a violation of their contracts (it was), and forced the company to stop paying the bonuses and address the issue in collective bargaining, which opens up the entire contract. But that didn’t stop the race to pay, and while some of those bonuses reached $10,000, at least one airline is paying up to $80,000 spread out over four years.

In the last 18 months, regional pay has improved dramatically, with first-year pay averaging around $40,000. This is more than double what it was just a few years ago. Better still, with the majors retiring (and hiring) thousands of pilots, first officers are not looking at the decade-long wait to become captains, which means they will jump fairly soon to the $65,000-$70,000 level of pay if they so choose.

Is there a potential downside to all of this? Perhaps. Because of the severity of the cutbacks on regional flying the last several years, combined with the pay, student starts among those looking to fly professional dropped dramatically. It will take time to play catchup, especially with the new rules put into effect for new pilots to become entry level first officers after the Colgan 3407 accident.

Secondarily, the majors are trying to shed as many 50-seaters as they can, because as cheap as fuel is now, it won’t stay that way, and when it climbs, the 50-seater becomes exponentially more expensive to operate. The move now is toward far more 70- to 76-seat airframes.

For regional pilots, the downside is simple: As regional pay (costs) rise, along with the number of passengers affected, it becomes much more expensive to deal with a cancellation that might be attributed to a lack of crews. At some point, it becomes more economical to have the pilots at the main line fly those larger regional jets. American (via USAirways’ E-190), JetBlue, and Delta have already started to migrate to that model, and it may happen across the rest of industry as well. Time will tell.

Two thousand fifteen, however, was a banner year in many respects, as the airlines hired at a record pace, and 2016 promises more of the same (United alone will bring on 1,000 new pilots in 2016, a number that will likely not change much in the ensuing years). Record profits were recorded thanks to better marketing, the effects of consolidation, cheap fuel, and good winter weather (fewer de-icing events). The pilots at Delta and Southwest recently turned down significant pay raises, signifying that they think more is available, and United’s pilots will be voting on a significant raise in January (it includes language to “snap up” if Delta then tops it).

It’s been a long time coming for this sort of optimism in the airlines, especially at the regionals. Movement will occur, and new jobs will be available. If you’ve been on the fence and are at all qualified, this is a great time to give some serious thought to making the leap.—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

The short list

Monday, August 20th, 2012

As much as pilots like hanging out with pilots, the fact is that in every population group, there is a small percentage that the larger percentage wish just wasn’t there. One of my favorite questions for folks I fly with is, “Who’s the worst captain you’ve ever flown with?” I ask this in part just for my own entertainment, but also because sometimes you can learn something from the stories.

As you might expect, certain names tend to be fairly common, making up what I call the short list. When I was a first officer, there were four or five, maybe 10, names that every FO wanted to avoid. That hasn’t changed much. Sometimes, a name comes up that others are surprised to hear.

When I was flying the right seat, I got stuck flying with a fellow for five days—my first five-day trip. By the end of the second day, I wanted to tar, feather, and set him on fire. We just didn’t get along. He was arrogant, cocky, and totally dismissive of any suggestions from someone who wasn’t…him. At least, that was how he presented himself to me. Others were shocked. Then again, other pilots complained about captains whom I would have been willing to fly with every day. Go figure.

But the one on my short list was also an owner of one of the out-of-nowhere airline pilot training schools that sprung up in the nineties. He quit to go to work for the school full time, and a few years later, one day after taking $80-100 thousand dollar deposits from several students, they shut the doors. It was an evil thing to do, and I hope he’s in jail for it. If he isn’t, I sure hope I never have to fly with him again…because I won’t.

But the list of those captains that people don’t like is so predictable that, as an FO begins to tell me a story, I can write the name down of who I think it is, show him the paper, and be right most of the time. The obvious question is, “What makes these guys so bad?” In a word, it is certain eccentricities. There is usually one trait that becomes overbearing to other crew members.

For instance, one was notorious for wanting certain numbers interpolated to make them as exact as possible. It was a ridiculous task; it wasn’t approved (nor required) by the FAA or the company; and it drove FOs nuts. Another would file ASAP reports over the most mundane items. The chart has a typo? ASAP report! Can’t read the mechanics’ writing? ASAP report! Another simply didn’t handle certain distractions well, would get flustered, then stutter.

A lot of times, it comes down to trust. If a captain is not a confident individual—and by that I mean if he doesn’t really trust his own ability to do his job well or his knowledge of it—he will trust the FO even less and scream and yell and carry on whenever the FO so much as sneezes. The biggest source of contention among FOs is the captain who claims to be standard and fly by the book, and then proceeds to list a series of “except for…” statements. You’re either standard, or you aren’t.

One was unpopular because all he did was break wind…the smelly kind. One would insist on eating tuna out of a can. One gave so many PA speeches it’s a wonder he had time to fly. But all were easy to fly with, and were good pilots and otherwise well liked. It’s the ones who come across as not-so-good that make you shake your heads.

I’ve been on the jumpseat of other airlines, and similar stories have come up. A name gets mentioned, and everyone on the flight deck knows who the individual is. Sometimes that notoriety is good to have, but other times…not so much.

The disappointing thing as a captain is to find out an FO you flew with has turned into one of the guys nobody likes. That makes me feel like I did not do as much as I could have to help mentor that individual. But the fact is that some guys are just destined to be on the short list, and sometimes it’s very predictable. Other times it isn’t, and when it isn’t, you try to explain how easy the guy or gal was to fly with when they were FOs, and you have to really argue your point. All you can do is sigh.

But one my favorite captains once said to me when I was a new hire, “You will learn far more about how to be a good captain from the (unmentionable name goes here) than you will from the good guys. The good guys make it appear so easy and fun because that’s what it should be. The (unmentionable name again goes here) just show you how to make life miserable.” Truer words were never spoken.—Chip Wright