Posts Tagged ‘professional pilots’

The hardest parts of the job

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

My dad was an attorney, and I distinctly remember periods of time when he did a lot of traveling, and times when he worked a lot of weekends. Because he litigated cases, he spent a lot of time in court, and those weekend work sessions were often spent preparing for a trial that was either upcoming or ongoing.

As I got older, I asked him a lot of questions, and one of them was, “What’s the hardest part of your job?” His answer generally was getting ready for certain trials.

When I got established in my career, I was often confronted with the same question. As I suspect my dad also experienced, one answer didn’t always do the question justice. Here are three main challenges, any of which might stand on its own.

  • Training. This refers to either initial training or training on new equipment. My first training event was definitely my worst. I had no idea what I was in for, let alone what I was doing. It was overwhelming and hard. However, future events were made easier by the knowledge of how to handle it. But some pilots have never learned to relax in or enjoy training, and they get extremely stressed. Some pilots become physically ill before returning to the simulator for recurrent training. Good study habits are the best tonic for making it through training unscathed.
  • The schedules. Pilots get a lot of time off, but we’re also gone a lot. We’re away from home for two or more weeks a month. We never know our schedules more than six weeks in advance, and if your seniority is bad, you’ll be working every weekend and holiday. I prefer working weekends because it’s easier to get errands done during the week, but with kids, weekends are the best times to be off.
  • The other problem with the schedules is the constant adventure of living out of a suitcase. You can either love it or tolerate it and be OK, but if you hate it, your career as a pilot will be short. It isn’t unusual to wake up in a hotel and have no idea where you are. In fact, I’ve woken up in my own bed and found myself momentarily confused.
  • Time away from family. If I had to pick one thing, this would be it. You miss a lot as a pilot, especially when your kids are younger. Some pilots have never been home for Christmas, and that’s hard. It’s no fun missing your kids’ activities or games or big school events, but it is part of the deal, unfortunately. Spouses need to be on board with it or resentment becomes an issue. Sometimes, you just want to be home to soothe hurt feelings or to fix a broken toy.

The job has a lot of benefits, and it’s a lot of fun. But it has its challenges and pitfalls. You’re gone a lot, but you’re home a lot. The time away from your family is only equaled by the fact that when you’re home, you’re home, and not working (unlike my dad). In the end, it’s what you decide to make it.—Chip Wright

The basics of ETOPS

Monday, January 12th, 2015

Aviation is about many things, and one of those things is the pursuit of reliability. Starting with the earliest engines and airframes, the pioneers of the industry have been in constant pursuit of making everything as dependable as possible. In the modern era of flying, this has produced two things: mounds of red tape and bureaucracy, and very dependable processes, airplanes—and engines.

If you’ve ever conducted any international travel, you’ll notice that more and more international flying is done in airplanes with only two engines. After the 747, the next generation of wide-body aircraft to enter service all had either two or three engines: the DC-10, the L-1011, the 757/767, and in the last few decades the 777 and 787. The cost advantages are obvious, but what about safety concerns? After all, if two engines are good, then three or four must be better, right?

The FAA and its foreign counterparts have adapted to the world of long-range flying by creating a program called Extended (Twin) Operations, or ETOPS. ETOPS programs can be established for airplanes with any number of engines, but we’ll stick with the twin-engine derivative here. With an ETOPS program, airlines are able to establish that they can operate twin-engine aircraft for long distances over water with the equivalent safety margins as for a four engine jet.

There are rules that must be followed. One of the most important is that of maintenance. With an ETOPS program, the FARs require that certain procedures be followed if maintenance is being conducted on matching parts. For instance, if a mechanic changes the oil on the left engine, he is not allowed to perform the same task on the right engine. The theory is that if that mechanic makes a mistake or is sloppy in his work, it is best to isolate the possibility of the same negative consequence occurring twice on the same plane. This rule applies to a number of tasks in the routine maintenance of the airplane. It applies to work on the tires and landing gear, engines, and several other systems with duplication.

There are other requirements for ETOPS as well. Because participants must be able to travel great distances over water, communication needs change. There are multiple options to establish and maintain adequate communications. The most common is the high-frequency (HF) radio, which works by bouncing the signal off of the atmosphere, and as a result depends on the weather for a good signal. Another option is the satellite phone, which can also suffer from occasional signal reliability and is expensive to operate. ACARS (Aircraft Communication and Reporting System) is also common, and acts essentially as an onboard email, text, and fax system.

The most obvious need on long ETOPS flights is for extra fuel, and there are a number of FARs and exemptions that can be used to set forth a particular airline’s fuel requirements. But, when comparing the alternate fuel requirements for flight of similar distances over land and water, the water route will carry more fuel and thus will cost more.

ETOPS is generally required for twinjet airplanes when the airplane will be more than 60 minutes from an adequate airport, where the word “adequate” generally means just a runway. It doesn’t need to be new or fancy or even have a ground-based approach. It just needs to be a concrete or asphalt strip long enough to safely land an airplane in the most dire circumstances. A flight operating under an ETOPS flight plan can be dispatched for varying lengths of time. An ETOPS 120 flight is one that will be 120 minutes, or two hours, from an airport at some point in its journey.

It is not uncommon to see 737s with ETOPS approval for flights across the Gulf of Mexico or from the northeast to the Caribbean. The longest stretch of pure open-water flying in the world is between Hawaii and California, and the 737 is a common airplane for the route.

ETOPS adds several layers of safety and protection for passengers and crew, and while it’s a cumbersome process, it pays dividends. Just in the last few weeks, a Delta 757 diverted to Iwo Jima in the Pacific en route to Guam. Iwo Jima is a common alternate for Pacific flights. In this case, the system proved once again that it works as intended—red tape and all.—Chip Wright

When does the interview end?

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Several friends of mine recently interviewed at a legacy carrier. Three of them interviewed on the same day, back to back to back. I spoke to two of them afterwards, and each was lamenting the fate of the third: In their minds, it was pre-ordained what was going to happen.

In the brief period of time that all three were together in the lobby, one of them was not-so-quietly disparaging his own performance. Now, bear in mind that he wasn’t saying anything negative about the company or the process they used for the interview. Far from it.

The interview was a two-part process. The first part was the actual interview between the candidate and the interviewers, in this case a captain and a representative from human resources. There’s a break between them as people trade places. The fellow in question completed his interview first out of the three, and he was chatting with the other two before leaving to go back to the hotel.

While talking, he was second-guessing his answers to the questions he was asked and openly talking about how poorly he had flown the simulator. Here’s the catch: He really had no idea how his performance compared to anybody else’s. It’s quite possible that he was average or above. The problem with airline sim rides is that they are almost always performed on equipment that you have never flown, so the evaluation is made with that in mind. It’s almost like grading on a curve.

As for the interview itself, chances are that he went in with a lack of confidence to begin with, as though he was expecting to do poorly. While he was in the lobby, he didn’t take into account that the process was still going on, though in a more passive way. The secretary heard him, and at least one of the other folks participating in the hiring process heard him.

In the end, he didn’t get the job. The other two pilots did, and each relayed to me their belief that this individual had done himself some damage by being so self-critical, which also came across as a lack of confidence.

Years ago, at another legacy carrier, a pilot had been provided the standard round-trip transportation to the interview and had received a complimentary first class upgrade on the way to the interview. The interview itself went extremely well, to the point that the interviewer relates that this pilot was one of the few who would have made a lasting impression even without this story. His job offer was ready to go in the mail (this was pre-email) the next day.

At the airport, he was under the impression that he was entitled—entitled!—to a first class seat for the return trip simply because a gate agent in his home town was kind enough to extend one to him as a courtesy on the first flight. He apparently launched into a tirade and caused such a scene that he was denied boarding until a later flight. His reservation stipulated that he was a pilot applicant, and the agent, who was furious, couldn’t call the recruiters soon enough. His offer was rescinded, and a multi-million-dollar career was lost.

Interviews for any airline—major, regional, passenger, or cargo—do not end until you are either hired or are “regretfully informed.” Even while you are waiting for your answer, you should consider it an open process, because if anybody knows about your interview, they can always make a phone call or send an email. Be confident, be nice, and assume that “Big Brother” is watching. He (or she) just might 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

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

Lost logs, messy logs

Monday, July 14th, 2014

05465_LogbooksOne of the worst things that can happen to a pilot is to lose a logbook, especially  a logbook that is fat with hours and experience. It doesn’t matter how it happens, so you need to have a plan.

If you use an electronic logbook and don’t back it up somewhere, you can be in the same bad way. The advantages of electronic logs is that you can back them up more easily; you can save screen shots; and you can copy them to a spreadsheet.

There are a couple of options if you lose a logbook. If you have a copy of your most recent FAA form 8710, you are off to a good start. The FAA will allow you to use the 8710 in lieu of a logbook because you are required to fill in the various flight times for each certificate or rating evaluation. This alone makes it worth using the 8710 to record all of the times that it has blocks for, even if they don’t apply to your particular checkride. Make a copy of it and keep it in a safe place.

Another option to use Excel to produce a duplication of your logbook page. I use the program to do all of the math, and then transfer it to the paper log. I don’t have the desire for an electronic logbook, but this allows me to take away all of the math errors while keeping accurate times for the various airplanes I have flown.

Another logbook issue is that of the messy log. It’s generally frowned upon to have a log that has a lot of white-out, scratches, et cetera, but  most of us have a few pages somewhere with mistakes that needed fixing. If that happens, use a single line to mark out the error, initial, and neatly correct it.

If you have a page with a major snafu, mark the page with an asterisk, then move to the most recent page and use fresh lines to fix the mistake. It will help if you put page numbers on the pages so that you can reference the area where you need to fix a mistake. I ran into this a few years ago when I realized I had made a couple of major math mistakes. Once I sorted it out, I went to the first blank line, made the appropriate notations, and started over on a fresh page. That’s also what drove me to do the Excel plan. Sorry, no e-logs for me!

Logbook entries should be recorded neatly. If you are looking for a job, an interviewer should have no trouble deciphering your writing. Try to use the same color ink, and more important, keep it up to date. As for avoiding issues with losing it, take a picture every couple of pages, especially if something important happens, such as a new rating or certificate. If you use the summary pages in the back—and you should—then take a picture each time you update one of them as well.

Your logbook is much more than a personal diary. It’s a regulatory requirement, and trying to reconstruct it with receipts or memory is hard. Keep it up to date, so that if you do lose it, you can start up from scratch with as little lost as possible.—Chip Wright

Airline pay practices

Monday, July 7th, 2014

dollar signA post on a recent online thread about the airlines asked about the way pilots get paid—specifically, the fact that we don’t get paid for all of the time we spend not flying. It’s a good question, and one that is often not completely understood. Here is an abbreviated answer.

There actually is a history behind why are paid the way we are. When the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) first started, one of its goals was to have pilots treated—and paid—like professionals. There are generally three “professions” in the classic sense: doctors, lawyers, and accountants, all of whom are at some point paid by the hour (surgeons are paid by the procedure).

ALPA was aiming for the same level of recognition for pilots. Even if you accept that pilots are really more like a trade or a craft (which, in reality, is what we are), tradesmen and craftsmen also tend to get paid by the hour. Think of your local electrician, plumber, carpenter, et cetera. There may be a service fee involved, but almost all charge some sort of hourly rate.

That said, as professionals, we are getting paid only when we are practicing the “craft” of flying, which is generally defined as brake release to brake set.
Over time, the union contracts at the majors addressed the issue of unproductive trips with trip-and-duty rigs. With the trip rig, you are guaranteed to be paid one hour of pay for so many hours of time away from base (TAFB), which also determines per diem for most pilots.

A good trip rig is one hour of pay for every 3.5 hours away from base (1:3.5). The duty rig looks at each day of work on the trip, and it pays you a minimum of so many hours of pay per day (5.0 hours being considered a historically good number). At the end of the trip or the month, you look back and take the greater of the trip rig, the min day values, or the actual hours flown, and that’s what you get paid.

An extreme example is a trip I flew recently. It was a five-day trip that began with a deadhead. I flew three legs over the next four days that were worth 10 hours, but because of the minimum day credit, I got 25 hours of pay. Unfortunately, there is no other way to build the trip. Without the rig, it could only be flown by reserves, who wouldn’t be able to do anything else for those five days.

Other unions followed suit, and once one company jumped on the bandwagon, it made it easier for others to do the same.

Most regionals don’t get any kind of rig. When I was at Comair, we had rigs that were based on a look back at the end of the month (as opposed to using the rig to look forward, which would force more days off when your schedule is actually built). Even with a look-back rig, I had many months where the rig paid me extra money. Unfortunately, there has been relatively little success in getting rigs at the regionals. The companies tend to cry wolf, and claim that it will cost them too much money, and the pilots tend to accept a slightly higher pay rate in lieu of the rigs, especially since no pilot at a regional ever thinks s/he will be at that regional long enough to care.

Done correctly, trip-and-duty rigs incentivize both management and the pilots. For the company, there is a motive to make the trips as productive as possible (or, alternatively, where they have no choice, to minimize crappy trips). For the pilot, not only are there more days off, but you usually will lose some money on a sick call, because you often only get paid for the block time, not the lost “soft” time, thus minimizing the need for extra reserves. In theory, the rigs force the company to optimize trips as well as individual duty periods, which should lead to a decrease in fatigue. The concept of the rig precedes the jet age, so in that respect it’s a bit dated.

The fractionals often pay a monthly salary, which is then used to work backward to compute an hourly rate for various penalties that the company must pay. Pilots—especially (but not only) ALPA—have historically fought against salaries for fear that there will be fewer opportunities to make extra money, and the company will try extract more flying from the pilot, thus decreasing the cost per hour of the pilot, and decreasing the number of jobs at a given carrier.

Airline pay actually is pretty complicated, and it takes effort to keep up with it. But, once you understand it, you have an easier time of making sure you are getting what you are owed.—By Chip Wright