Posts Tagged ‘regional airlines’

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

Check your work

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the zeal to get a job, it’s easy to get a bit ahead of yourself. Or to just do something dumb. An urban myth has made the rounds for years about a pilot who really wanted to work for UPS, and when he sent in his application, he did it via FedEx. Or vice versa.

The point is, you don’t drink Coke in a Pepsi plant, and you don’t use the biggest rival of the company you want to work for to advertise your desires.

A friend recently asked someone to help him get a job by carrying his resume directly to the head of pilot recruiting. The “someone” didn’t think it was his responsibility to proofread the resume, and just handed it in. Under the heading of Career Objective, the pilot had put that he wanted to work for another carrier. The “someone,” whom I also know, got a phone call from the recruiters explaining what happened, and felt extremely embarrassed. The applicant had burned a bridge that he couldn’t afford to lose. He too felt ashamed.

In this age of point-and-click, it’s ever more important to proofread everything you send, because once it’s on the internet, the damage is done. A number of regionals use airlineapps.com as their portal. For the most part, it’s an easy website to use, but as you start targeting airlines and soliciting references, you need to be extremely careful that you don’t target Airline B by telling them you want to work for Airline A. When you ask people for references, make sure you request both a generic letter of reference as well as one that is specific to a given company.

Application websites can be long and tedious. But you have to jump through the hoops, and it is critical that you follow your old math teachers’ advice and check your work. Print out the application before you send it. Have someone else proofread it for you. Once you are finished, set it aside for a day or so, and then read it with fresh eyes. Make sure that all of your flight times are accurate, dates are correct, and anything with an expiration date is up to snuff.

You need to do the same thing with your resumes. If you go to a job fair and you are targeting a specific airline, make sure you hand them the correct resume! If you need to use a generic one, that’s fine. Better safe than sorry!

In fact, you should keep a generic resume handy that you continuously update, and use that as a basis for printing copies for specific airlines. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to use an accordion file to store all of your information for each airline—printed applications, resumes, contacts, information from their websites, et cetera.

As you work your way up the chain of companies, recognize that people know each other, and they talk to each other. If you are sloppy at one company, don’t be surprised if the HR person has discussed you with a cohort elsewhere. Also, pilots who work in recruiting at a regional will often move into similar work when they go to a major. You want to leave the most positive impression that you can.

And the opposite is true, as the story above proves. Eventually, someone is going to ask you for a hand in finding work. Make sure that anything that passes through your hands is not going to make you look bad—whether it’s as simple as putting down the wrong company or something more complex, like an obvious lie. Use your discretion, and remember, just because someone asks for your help doesn’t mean you have to say yes. If you don’t want the confrontation of saying, “No,” you can be vague and say something like, “I don’t have a lot of sway around here,” or “If you’re competitive, you’ll get the call.”

Think of each interaction, whether in person or via the ‘net, as a one-shot opportunity to make the impression you want to make. You may not get a second chance.—Chip Wright

Filling the gap

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Check Out ChecklistMuch has been made of the new federal aviation regulations that require new airline pilots to have at least 1,500 hours. This is really no different than the way the old supply-and-demand system used to work. By that I mean that fewer than 20 years ago, a budding airline pilot wasn’t getting hired unless his or her logbook showed this kind of time or close to it. It’s only been in the last 10 to 12 years that we saw the serious decline in total hours among new-hire pilots—to the point that they were getting hired at 250 hours of total time.

If you are looking to get hired at the regionals, the best route to the 1,500 hours is flight instructing (this assumes you don’t qualify for one of the total time reductions). As a busy CFI, you can rack up 700 to 800 hours a year, and you can do it without paying for it. That alone will give you an idea of how much you can expect to fly as a professional pilot. Regional pilots can expect to average 800 hours a year once they are no longer on reserve.

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, back in the day, teaching is what we did to earn our time.

What’s more important is that you find a way to take advantage of that gap in hours. If you have students who can afford it or are adventurous, try to arrange for some fairly long cross-country trips. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you try to rip someone off or take advantage of them, but if you can meet a legitimate teaching need while fulfilling other obligations, you might be able to reach a mutually beneficial end point.

For example, I had a student who wanted to go to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh one year, and he wanted to take his girlfriend and a buddy. They were retired, and affording it was not a concern. The only airplane that would work was a twin-engine Piper Aztec. As a result, my boss and I went along, and so did my girlfriend. The airplane was loaded up, and off we went. I flew the entire trip and picked up a dozen or so hours of much-needed multiengine time, along with great cross-country and real IFR experience, and it didn’t cost me a dime except for my food. My student even covered my housing.

The following year, I had another student who had bought a warbird Cessna 172 and wanted to fly to Oshkosh. Once again, I was intimately involved in the planning and logistics. She flew under Foggles for most of the round trip, and this time I also got paid for the time I was there (I was busy enough at the school that I couldn’t afford to leave and not get paid for missed work).

Advertise your services to local newspapers that need aerial photos, and look for opportunities to fly actual IFR as much as possible. Go into complex airspace, and get some night experience. If you have a client who is buying an airplane (or delivering one), try to get a ride.

The gap between getting your commercial and CFI is your chance to shine. Do what you can to make your experience stand out. This will not only help you get a job, but it will also help prevent burnout and boredom from doing the same thing every day. Polish your customer service skills and expand your knowledge. Be ready and able to answer any questions any client or student might have, especially if they are in the market to buy an airplane.

It sounds daunting to get the 1,500 hours to get hired, and if you need to pay-as-you-go, it is. But if you can get paid and get great experience, then it’s not only doable, it’s fun, exciting, and a grand opportunity. Take advantage of it!—By Chip Wright

Lifestyles: The regionals

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Regional jetYou spend every free moment thinking about flying, or actually flying, or studying flying, or actually thinking about studying flying—maybe even while flying. Your hours slowly build, your certificates and ratings begin to pile up. First is the private, then the instrument, then your commercial, and your CFI. You live sparsely and spend the same, minimizing your expenditures while trying to maximize your income. You provide the best service and instruction you can, being fair to your customers and yourself, and in time collect your multiengine credentials. You make mistakes, scare yourself (and others), and learn more about flying while working as a CFI than you will for the rest of your career. Always focused, you can sense that your opportunity as an airline pilot or a charter pilot is within reach.

What will it be like?

The routine at the regionals is, in many ways, different than it is at the majors. Because the regionals feed to the hubs of their partners, they often provide a frequency of service to the smaller cities that the majors cannot match. Towns like Des Moines, Iowa; Richmond, Virginia; Albany, New York; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are the bread and butter of the regionals. The majors may bring in the occasional 737 or MD-80, but the RJ (in some variant) is king here, sometimes for as few as two flights a day, and often for as many as seven.

As a regional pilot, you will spend your days bouncing in and out of one or more hubs, connecting people to larger aircraft bound elsewhere or bringing them to a meeting or home. There are some point-to-point city pairs, but not as many as there used to be. Some cities, like Raleigh, are mini-focus cities for multiple carriers. You will typically fly trips that range from one to four days (usually three days or four), though a few are five days. You may start early in the morning or sometime after lunch. Frequently you will stick with an “AM” or a “PM” schedule, but not always. On reserve, the one day, two-leg out-and-back may turn into a six-day trip. As a line holder, you will generally fly for three to four days and be off for three to four days. Usually there is a long block of seven or as many as 10 days off somewhere in the month.

On the same day you may fly from the warm beaches of Miami to the frigid winters of Green Bay, stopping to deice, or even being forced to re-deice somewhere along the way. You will learn to deal with broken airplanes, rushed passengers and gate agents, and tired flight attendants. You will learn to eat faster than a Marine in battle, and to time your walk-around so you don’t have to stand on a ramp in the rain. You will average at least four flights a day, and  at times you will do as many as eight, and you will feel exhausted when you do.

You will learn that the names of the days no longer matter. You are on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

You will sleep in a different hotel each night, and you will learn to pack your bags efficiently and only unpack what you must. You will need a few months to figure out how to pack for yourself: winter clothes versus summer, workout attire, your iPod, and whatever personal items you deem to be critical to making life on the road just a bit easier. You will learn to pack your suitcase so that you can fit it into an overhead compartment on any airplane.

Some nights you will go to bed late and wake up all too early. On others, you will be done flying by noon and start again the next evening. You will learn by necessity how to constantly juggle your sleep patterns. There will be some nights when you sleep like a newborn baby and others where, for no explainable reason, you will not be able to sleep a wink no matter how exhausted you are. Soon, you will know where the best hidden jewels for restaurants are, and you will try to bid your schedule accordingly. At times you will forget where you are.

You will learn to maximize your time off to get as much done as possible. Laundry, dry cleaning, and errands all need to be completed ASAP on your return home. You will pay the bills, get used to your own bed again, get used to sleeping with your spouse or partner again, and finally get the lawn mowed just as your neighbors are organizing a homeowner’s intervention. Soon, you realize you are wise to have a set of clothes ready to go at home so you can swap clean and dirty in a pinch if you don’t have the time or energy to do laundry. If you commute—and odds are good that at some point you will have to—you will check the flights to get you back to work. You may need to book your hotel room for the night before or after your trip.

It is a rhythm. It isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always fun. But most of the time, it is. When you are home, you are home. There is no work, and your time is your own. And soon, you are watching your logbook fill up, and you are anticipating two more milestones: captain, and an offer from a major.—Chip Wright

Record foul-ups

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

A friend of mine was recently terminated while in training with a regional airline. In the regional sector, it’s not unusual for an airline to terminate a new-hire without giving a specific reason. That was the case here, and the only explanation he received was that “there was something in [your] application.”

That’s vague, and he was convinced that it was bogus. One of the reasons he was so sure is that he had been employed by another airline for over a decade with no problems. He had disclosed his lone Part 121 checkride failure. But, just to be sure, he began a dialogue with the FAA. He was shocked at what he found.

To make a long story short, he had started an oral exam for a checkride, but he had been sick. The event was going well, but he had to bail out because of his illness. The next day, he finished the oral (and passed), and took the checkride (and not only passed, but got high praise from the examiner). However, that event was almost 20 years ago, and he had forgotten that he had signed a second 8710 for the oral. The first one was recorded as a failed event. Right or wrong, agree or disagree—that’s what went into his file.

Fast forward to now. The records that he had in his possession prior to starting this job did not include the 8710s and did not indicate that he had a failure of a checkride (remember, it was the oral, not the ride), and it cost him.

The lesson from this for any pilot is two-fold: Never lie on an application, because it will be found. He didn’t lie; he simply didn’t realize the full ramification of what was going on when it happened. But, the point is the same. If you try to hide something, it’s going to get uncovered. Second, when you start the process of applying to airlines, whether it’s a regional, a major, a foreign carrier, or anything in between, get in touch with the FAA in Oklahoma City, and get copies of everything that might be in your file. Ask questions.

You should keep your own detailed records with regard to ratings, certificates, et cetera. Whenever you take a checkride, make a note of the date, time, place, and examiner. If there is a mistake found later, you will know where to start. In this case, the school was long gone, and the examiner had passed away.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not impossible to get a job with checkride failures, even after the Colgan accident. The thing to remember is that you need to fully disclose your past, and you need to own up to your mistakes. If you aren’t sure of something, get it taken care of.

In a case like this, if it happens to you, your best recourse is to write a detailed description of everything that happened. As you apply to airlines, you can attach this to your application or take a copy to the interview.—Chip Wright

Questions to ask during an airline interview

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

An airline job interview is generally a one-way conversation, with the airline asking all the questions, and you doing your best to get the job. However, you should also be ready and willing to ask certain questions that will affect your future. This short list of questions will not get you “in trouble,” and it will show that you are truly interested in the industry.

  • Q: What will be the impact of FAR 117 on your operation?

If this isn’t addressed in a briefing before your interview, it’s a good question to ask, because many airlines, including regionals, are still coming to grips with the full impact of the rules. Every regional will be required to add staffing to the pilot ranks. The real question is by how much. Ten to 15 percent seems to be a good gauge for now, but each one is different. They may need to alter the schedules in ways not anticipated. My own guess is that it will force them to go to an AM-PM model, but that’s just one option. A simple reason for you to ask is to find out how long you will be on reserve.

  • Q: What will 117 do to reserve requirements?

Reserve status for an airline is one of the least desirable schedules in the industry, so most pilots want to get off reserve and become a line-holder as quickly as possible. Is the airline you are interviewing with planning to increase reserve numbers? Do they know?

  • Q: What will happen when your contract with your major airline expires?

It’s a fair question to ask a regional when the contracts with its major partner expire, and if the expiration date is close, to ask if the contract has been renewed. If it isn’t renewed, can the regional find someplace to put the airplanes to use? If the answer is no, you may not have a job for long. Most fee-for-departure contracts are for 10 years or more, so keep that in mind as you search for work.

  • Q: What is the future of XXX domicile?

This is a question you only want to ask regarding the smallest domicile, or one that is shrinking. If it’s a base at a non-hub airport, definitely ask—these are the ones that are most likely on the chopping block. You’ll probably need to read between the lines or pay as much attention to what they don’t tell you as to what they do, but if there is any chance you are going to be based at a small domicile or are considering moving to one, ask.

  • Q: What are the long-term fleet plans?

As the 50-seat fleet ages and gets retired (driven by both age and by scope clauses in the contracts of major airline pilots), regionals need to be ready to move on to Plan B. Some will thrive with 50-seaters, but most will not. You owe it to yourself to find out what the firm plans are going forward. You should know this before you show up, but getting current information will make your own decision making process a little bit easier.

These are just a few questions you can ask. If you have friends at the company, they can give you some more questions to ask that are pertinent and appropriate. Go in armed, and know exactly what information you need or want to make your own decisions easier to make, especially if you are facing the possibility of getting multiple job offers.—Chip Wright

Should you move for a regional?

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

U haul truckThis is a tough subject. Most people would rather not have to commute to work, and commuting for pilots is different than it is for any other job. One of the advantages to being an airline pilot is the option of living just about anywhere you want to live. However, it isn’t all peaches and cream either.

Having been a commuter and a noncommuter, I’m here to tell you that if you can avoid commuting, life is much, much better. I have lived as close as 10 minutes to the airport, and being able to leave my house 30 minutes before I am scheduled to report is wonderful. I’ve also had to commute to New York, which is notorious for its traffic problems. There were times when I had to leave my house in the morning for a trip that started the next afternoon because the flights were full, which meant that I lost a day and half of my time with my family. The same has happened getting home.

It’s one thing to move for a job that should be a career. But few pilots catch on with a regional figuring that it will be their final stop. This makes the decision to move even more difficult. A low-time pilot is going to be at a regional for several years, and that might be an argument in favor of moving. However, most crew bases are in busy hubs, where housing is more expensive. If you can find the right suburb, you can get lucky, especially if you are willing to drive a bit longer to get to work.

Commuting on reserve is even more challenging, and it can be frustrating as you spend days in a crash pad waiting to go to work—days that could have been spent at home.

Further, if you are hired by a regional that serves one major, you may be hired by another major, and find yourself in a city that suddenly becomes much more difficult to get to and from because of the change in your pass benefits.

If you are facing a two-leg commute, or heaven forbid, a three-leg commute, consider moving closer to work. Even if you aren’t dealing with a multi-stop commute, you may live somewhere with sparse service or frequently full flights. In this case, an option would be to move to a city that has a lot of service to (and from) multiple hubs.

A good example is Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, which is served by just about every significant airline, and to multiple hub cities for each one. It’s in a good geographic location for commuting up and down the East Coast as well as to the Midwest.

The same could be said for Indianapolis, Indiana, or St. Louis, Missouri. While it is common for pilots to live in Florida, Florida has its own challenges, namely that so many pilots and flight attendants live there. Also, the Sunshine State goes through periods of the year where getting to and from work is extremely difficult because of Spring Break, a Super Bowl, or the Daytona 500. The more senior you are, the easier it is. As a new hire, it’s tough.

Finding a city that is a happy medium is the best bet, especially if you could be happy there if you get your dream job with the major airline of choice. If you are only renting, my advice would be to move at first, with the possibility of commuting later. If you are fixated on buying somewhere, at least wait until you know the realities of the job and the real estate markets for where you want to live.

Deciding to move is not always an easy choice, and it definitely isn’t an easy task. But move slowly and deliberately so that you can make the best decision.—Chip Wright

Don’t assume

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I’ve been doing this aviation thing now for a long time. Twenty-two years, in fact. I may not always know what I don’t know, but I do know what I know. One thing I know is that I tend to take certain things for granted. In the airlines, there are certain industry standards in the way things are done, and having been part of the system now for nearly 17 years, I know that I can fly with a pilot from just about any airline, and we would be able to fly from A to B with much less stress and uncertainty than you would be inclined to think. Why? Because as a group, the airlines have adopted so many of the same procedures, policies, etc.

This was driven home to me recently while in training for my new job. Prior to the simulator events, which are four-hour sessions during which two pilots each fly for two hours, we were in fixed training devices (FTDs) for a single two-hour session per pair of pilots.

Four of us took the opportunity to watch each other in pairs. My partner and I came from different regional airlines, and although there were differences, we fell into an immediate pattern of doing things the way we always had. The similarities were stunning. The real learning was learning the new airplane and company specifics, not the generalities.

Compare that to the two pilots that we were splitting time with. Both were ex-military, and one had flown very little time in crewed aircraft (he flew a lot of fighters). Neither was at all familiar with Jeppessen charts, which may not sound like a big deal, but to a pilot who has not been exposed to them, it can be very frustrating trying to find a chart for Houston Intercontinental but not realizing that you are looking at Houston Hobby. Everything about Jepps is different from government charts.

There were other challenges as well. The checklist procedures and protocols were different, as was the compressed time schedule. While the military has schedules and can be in a frenetic pace during combat operations, the airlines run on a schedule that is often cast in stone, and minutes lost equal money lost. Profit is critical, and the effects down the line of running late are drilled into your head early in the game. Safety is never sacrificed, but in the back of your head, you know that someone is watching to see if you will be on time.

We all had to learn some new ways of doing things, but I had forgotten just how much I take for granted simply because I have lived this life for so long. I know, for example, that there are certain certification standards that drive designs, and often times the same part is used in multiple models of aircraft (ice detectors are a good example). Emergency equipment (and its location) is mostly homogenized with some exceptions for over-water flying. Radio techniques and practices are well established.

The two pilots in question both adapted quickly and well, and they will be assimilated into the ranks in short order. But it was still interesting to watch them have to pick up so much information that my partner and I just…well, had. They commented a couple of times about it, and picked our brains for little stuff. Our goal was to make them realize that there are no dumb questions, and I believe we succeeded. I’m glad that my foundation was already set, as I had enough to worry about for myself.

Some lessons in life are worth reinforcing, and in this case, it’s simple: Don’t assume that we all have the same foundation, and offer what help you can.—Chip Wright

The pilot shortage is gaining attention

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story this week about the impending lack of qualified pilots. The story cited three major causes:  the Age 65 mandatory retirement age, which goes into full effect this year; the change in rest requirements that will require pilots to get more rest on overnights, and will thus lead to a need for more pilots to staff the airline; and the new certification requirements that will require pilots to have 1,500 hours before getting an airline job.

Let’s be clear about one thing. This shortage was going to happen anyway because of the Age 65 rule. It used to be age 60, but five years ago, a deal was made to allow the older pilots to continue flying as a concession for terminating their pension plans (there was no provision that allowed pilots to collect full Social Security at age 60).

Make no mistake that the airlines knew that this shortage of pilots was coming had the retirement age not been raised. The retirement age was not raised  because people suddenly had an epiphany about the overall health of the pilot population being good enough to allow pilots to fly to 60. It was a quid pro quo that simultaneously brought the United States in line with what other nations do and kicked a staffing problem down the road.

Jump ahead to where we are today, which, like the fiscal cliff, is “down the road.” There are fewer students aspiring to be professional pilots in the pipeline thanks to the staggering cost of acquiring all of the ratings and requirements to become an airline pilot. The military is no longer the source of pilots it was, and as the story pointed out, many Americans have gone overseas to fly. The salaries that can be earned overseas are phenomenal, and considering the tax advantages combined with some companies providing globally accepted health insurance, it’s a tempting move for many. More overseas jobs are not requiring pilots to move, and those that do often provide subsidized housing and education for children.

The shortage we have here is indeed aggravated by the changes in the rest rules and the experience requirements for airline new hires, but as I said, it would have happened anyway. Hiring is picking up for more than just attrition. The regionals have always been able to plan on attrition to the majors, but now they must beef up staffing for the rest rules. The good news in this is that the airlines that have historically overworked their employees will no longer be able to get away with such practices. Quality of life will dramatically improve.

For those who are planning to fly professionally, going from 250 hours to 1,500 will take about two years of full-time flight instructing, give or take. As happened in the last major wave of continuous hiring that ended about four years ago, those pilots ready to take the next step will find that their timing will probably never be better. Folks who are considering flying as a career still need to do their own risk-benefit analysis based on their age and where they are in their flight training, but for pilots who are under 25, single, with no criminal record, and (especially) a college degree the sky may literally be the limit.

Some may disagree with me, but I also believe that pay and benefits will get better out of necessity at the regional level. Even with the shrinking RJ fleet, airlines still need pilots. A comment in the Journal story said that it would take six months to develop a solution to the problem, but four years to execute it. Part of that solution will have to be making ALL flying financially attractive. The question for potential pilots is this: Where in that solution do you fit?—By Chip Wright