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Tag: professional pilots (page 1 of 12)

GA Strong: Pilots come together to help each other in extraordinary times

2020  has certainly been interesting thus far. I remember sitting down to create my calendar of events in December 2019 for the coming year of aviation events looking forward to traveling monthly. When AOPA, EAA and SNF made the tough choices to forgo their annual events to help keep us safe and reduce exposure to COVID-19, my delete button has been smoking from overuse.

Social Flight Live one of the many online offerings available now

In March and April I was heartened to see that thought leaders, local and state associations, and national groups began to make online content available, in most cases free of charge. This has been so valuable since I never could have attended these safety seminars and presentations from all across the country. I had the pleasure of being on Social Flight Live with Martha King, Pia Bergqvist, and Julie Clark discussing what inspired us to learn to fly and advance to being pro pilots.  The industry pivot toward virtual meetings and accessible content has given all an opportunity to set a goal to tackle a written exam, explore varied aspects of aviation, and educate ourselves all from the comfort of home or hangar.

It is June, and many of us are starting to fly more while maintaining safeguards for each other’s health. Early in the year I was getting ready to schedule my commercial certificate check ride. I have just now been able to get the check ride scheduled. My instructor is located in the LA Basin. It is a quick hop from my home on the Central Coast of California to Fullerton Airport. Recently I went down for a weekend of training and was pleased to see that General Aviation is waking back up, and with that awakening comes demonstrations of the interconnection of all pilots.

GA traffic starting to pick up in the LA Basin

I had worked a full clinical day [as a psychotherapist] and headed down to the airport for the one-hour late afternoon flight. After I landed, my CFI – Mike – picked me up and told me that several of my friends were at the airport planning a trip across the country to replace their cancelled Oshkosh plans.

We stopped by to say hello. It was fun to see a group of pilots with IPad in their laps talking about the best routes, fuel stops, restaurants etc. I even piped up about several airports that I always go to on my sojourn: St. John’s, Arizona; Wayne, Nebraska; Woodward, Texas; Ft. Guernsey, Wyoming. There were old-timers, younger pilots and lots of conversation, anticipation, and energy.

On the way out of the airport I found out that a fellow Mooney pilot was in a pickle. His plane was out of annual and he was not able to fly due to an injury. Mike asked if we could fly Maggie to Van Nuys, pick up the airplane [with ferry permit] and make the short hop to Whiteman Airport with the Mooneys. I have only been in to historic Van Nuys a few times for CalPilot events so I agreed straight off. Later Mike and I decided we would depart Van Nuys in formation and fly to Whiteman then break off for landing. We talked with Michael the aircraft owner, and the plan was set for a morning departure over to Van Nuys.

Van Nuys is a great airport. The VNY Prop Park is nestled behind the large FBOs. At the onset of this blog I mentioned the interconnections of General Aviation. Here are some of the 6-degrees of separation: I am a Vice President of California Pilots Association. VNY Prop is a CalPilots Chapter. Instructor Mike is an officer in the Fullerton Pilots Association [also a CalPilots Chapter]. Michael, the aircraft owner, is an active member of the GA community in SoCal. He is a member of SoCal Pilots Association and the founding member of the West Coast Mooney Club, which is hosting a Mooney convention in Sunriver, Oregon in late August. I recommended Kevin Schiff, the mechanic in Whiteman to Michael, as Kevin finished the annual on my Mooney earlier this year. However we all met, it was lovely to be able to help someone in my GA family out. I would highly suggest that you look for ways to stay connected to our aviation family. When non-aviation folks ask me “Aren’t you afraid you will have a problem somewhere along the way?” about flying from California to Oshkosh every year, I always say “no.” This is because if I put the word out that I need help in Yankton, South Dakota; West Jordan, Utah; Chicago, Illinois or anywhere in between, I know my GA family would help. In a way, I think the quarantine has been so hard on us because as pilots we are used to being interdependent and interconnected. We might give ourselves a hard time about lean-of-peak or a less than stellar landing, but we would also give each other the shirt off our backs.

These two are ready for some formation flight.

After arriving in Van Nuys we spent some time on the ground for inspection, orientation [to the ferry airplane], brief of the formation flight, taxi, then the short hop to Whiteman. I have to say that taking off in formation 16R was a hoot! After landing we taxied to Kevin’s hangar. Michael had already arrived in his car. We got the airplane in the hangar and then made our way for some commercial flight training and lunch.

Finding an open restaurant proved to be a challenge as 5 or 6 were already closed for the day. We flew to French Valley airport in Temecula. The airport is in excellent condition, had awesome fuel prices and a great place for lunch. It felt good to fill up with fuel and good food. While there we ran into a few other pilots that we knew and spent some time talking about the state of commercial aviation, GA and online education.

 

8s on pylons, chandelles, steep spiral, steep descent. Calgon take me away.

After practicing chandelles, steep descents, and 8s on pylons it was time to be done for the day. On the way back to Fullerton, Mike and I talked about charitable flying we enjoyed through Angel Flight, LightHawk, and Pilots n Paws. Also how much we were going to miss loading KOSH in our flight plans.

Though some things change, many remain the same

At the end of the day I was tired, but it was a happy tired. Being a student again for my commercial certificate is tough. It is hard to let yourself be a learner, to make mistakes and grow. It has been challenging to ask for help, but every time I do, I am met with a smile and the word “yes”. With the lack of flying events and travel, I am able to complete my commercial certificate and will move on to the multi-commercial add-on in late July.

Online education gives us all the ability to learn, ask questions and participate in our GA community while home. Continue to be on the look out for ways to be of assistance to others in our aviation family. Unfortunately many airports are under attack from encroachment and developers now that we aren’t flying as much. Join your local and state aviation associations and be a part of the solution. In many ways we are all feeling the effects of our world right now. Please know that we will all get through this time together. We are GA strong.

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial and multi-engine. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter. Jolie is a nationally published aviation writer. Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Bad overnights

It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while, you have a layover that is just an awful experience. I’ve had a handful in the years since I started doing this.

Most of the time, it comes down to personal comfort. Air conditioning that doesn’t work isn’t all that uncommon, and in the summer, that can make for a long night as you try to sleep and not sweat like you’re camping in the Sahara.

Noise is another common issue, especially around raucous holidays like New Year’s or the Fourth of July. But it’s also an issue with everything from family reunions to weddings to a hotel full of kids in town for a sporting tournament. Loud arguments—or the opposite—in the room next door can also be an issue.

The one thing about noise, though, is the hotel will almost always do whatever they can to contain it or stop it. Crews are generally supposed to be placed in pre-designated places, such as the upper floors or the longest walk from the elevator, all in the hopes of keeping noise down. In my experience, the worst times for noise are when you need to go to bed much earlier than usual because of an early wake-up or a long day coming up. The hotel also knows that if noise is affecting one person, it’s probably affecting others (or will), and they won’t hesitate to call the police if necessary.

I’ve had two memorable experiences with middle-of-the-night fire alarms as well. One was in Raleigh-Durham in the summer, so at least it was comfortable outside. The hotel was one that often had a majority of its rooms used by crews from different airlines, and this was one of those nights. We were outside for well over an hour, from about 2:30 to 3:30 a.m., and all of us were upset. Some of us never got back to sleep. I can’t speak for the other carriers, but ours wound up with a number of fatigue calls that cancelled flights the next day because so many people hadn’t been able to get adequate rest.

The second one was in Buffalo in March, and the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament was going on. Several of the teams were in the hotel, and the rumor was that the alarm was pulled by a student from another school in hopes of affecting the games. This one also lasted about an hour.

One night that didn’t affect me so much did affect my crew as well as most of the hotel. It was the night of the time change in the spring, and the computer in the hotel that handled the wakeup calls malfunctioned, and phones all throughout the building began ringing in the middle of the night, and then an hour earlier than scheduled. I hadn’t checked my phone (this was in the pre-smart-phone era) before I went to bed, and it was just as well: It had been unplugged by a previous guest. Mine never rang, but when I got downstairs, my crew had been there an hour because they couldn’t sleep, and a dozen other guests were ready to tar and feather the poor guy working the desk. But I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Most of the time, sleep comes fairly easily, and occasionally you wake up with no idea where you are. But, as with any other job, bad nights are going to happen. It just feels worse when it happens on the road. That said, there’s always the next night’s hotel to catch up on your sleep.—Chip Wright

The smallest airplanes are getting bigger

When I first started to do any kind of regular travel, let alone fly for a living, turboprops were very common. Dash 8s, Brasilias, ATRs, Saab 340s, and the venerable Beech 1900 were ubiquitous in small towns all over America. Some of the flights were part of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, and they were subsidized by Uncle Sam in order to provide some degree of air and mail service to the various Smallvilles of the USA.

Passengers, however, never did love the “puddle jumpers.” They were loud, they shook, they vibrated, and they were perceived to be less safe. After deregulation, small commuters sprouted and eventually began to work hand-in-glove with the jet drivers to produce the current hub-and-spoke system, while in some cases marketing a few flights on their own.

In the 1990s the concept of the regional jet gained steam, and while pundits and critics said it was doomed to failure—too few seats and too high an operating cost—the RJ revolutionized travel. The days of the turboprop were numbered, and by 9/11, with a spike in fuel prices and change in travel demand, the turboprop was on its last legs. Fifty-seaters dominated, because of comfort and speed, but those same high fuel costs became an issue for the RJs as well, and the real push for larger small jets began.

Nowadays, as we wade through the COVID-19 pandemic, the 50-seaters by Bombardier and Embraer are the airplanes facing demise. Some have been converted into corporate jets or cargo planes, but most are being sent to the desert. The CR7 and CR9 are now the Bombardier mainstays (the verdict is still out on the C-Series, since sold to Airbus and marketed as the A-220), while Embraer is making the most of its E-Jet series. Both have become major players, to the point that Boeing felt it necessary to buy a portion of Embraer and Airbus of Bombardier.

It’s interesting to see how the smallest airplanes have become bigger. Turboprops with 19 seats didn’t require a flight attendant, and they were cheap to operate. But jets offered far more opportunity and a better experience for the passenger at a premium price. The race now is to determine if there is a true market need for something in the 100-seat range, similar to the old DC-9s and early 737s. There doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus, and airlines would rather fill  up an  airplane up and leave folks behind than fly even one empty seat.

(The same thing has also happened on the other end of the spectrum: The A-380 has proved to be a flop, and the 747 is being phased out of passenger service in favor of smaller, lower-cost twinjets like the 777 and 787.)

As the E-190 appears to be near the end of its run in the United States—American announced plans to park theirs, and jetBlue has been planning to do so for some time—the smallest mainline jets will be the 737-700/A-319 variants, which seat 120-137, depending on configuration. The gap between large RJs and small mainline jets will be either a target of opportunity or a bit of a no-man’s land as we move forward.

For pilots, it means that more and more will get their introduction to airline flying in some of the most sophisticated aircraft in the sky, and not in the old steam-gauge turboprops.—Chip Wright

Coronavirus recovery

In 25 years of airline flying, I’ve either been involved in or observed  several full or partial shutdowns of airlines or the industry as a whole.

In 2001, I was employed at Comair for the pilot strike, and the shutdown of the airline was an organized, four-day process as the company moved to get airplanes and crews in position before the pilots would stop flying. A few months later, we were part of the industrywide immediate cessation of operations when the tragic events of September 11, 2001, occurred.

The following year Comair also weathered a scheduling computer system crash over the Christmas holidays that was anything but orderly. In addition, I’ve watched strikes at other airlines take place, and I’ve seen the fallout of employee job actions, failed websites, and the grounding of fleets of airplanes at unexpected times.

All of these events led to the inevitable restart of operations of some sort, and in the case of 9/11, the spool-up was also followed by the near retirement of fleets of airplanes, mostly the venerable 727.

As we work our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are witnessing similar events. We can use these to get a bit of an idea of how the industry will begin the return to service. The closest comparable event is 9/11, and that isn’t even all that close in terms of the damage. Every airplane in the United States was grounded, but only for four days. The rest of the world continued to fly, and even though demand was diminished when flights resumed, it was better than it is now.

C-19 has stopped travel around the world. At one point, 16,000 of the world’s 24,000 airliners were parked at airports around the globe. Entire airlines were shut down or announced that they had or planned to go out of business. People stopped buying tickets, and fewer people flew in a month than normally fly on a single day. Flights in April and early May were averaging 10 or so people.

As in 2001, airlines began announcing  plans to eliminate entire fleets of airplanes. In the United States, Delta and American announced retirements of multiple fleets, to include the MD-88/90, A-330, 757, 777 and E-190, with rumors of the B-717 also being put to bed. Eliminating these airframes will reduce costs dramatically with respect to spare parts, fuel, training, and the occasional equipment swap. Carriers in other countries are planning to park the A-380, the world’s largest airplane, and one that never really found a niche.

In the last few days, there have been some signs of optimism. Ticket sales starting in July have begun to show some positive activity, and passengers are showing a bit more tolerance for close-to-the-neighbor seating in order to get where they need to go. United has quietly made plans to bring more than 60 airplanes out of storage for the July schedule, and Southwest is strategically adding flights as well. While all of the airlines have announced plans to emerge in the fall “at least” 30 percent smaller, it’s clear that they will take into account demand for travel as they add flights and try to bring the daily cash burn to at least zero.

As we move into the fall, everyone will be holding their collective breath on two fronts: How many employees might be furloughed, and how severe might a second wave of C-19 turn out to be? Furloughs are on everyone’s mind right now, and most recognize that the airlines will probably have no choice. But if demand continues to rise at a somewhat predictable pace, hopefully any time on the unemployment lines will be short. The larger issue is the unknown of the resurgence of the virus this fall and how people might react to it.

Some travel will be lost for good, and many leisure trips won’t be taken. But business travelers will continue to fly, and the airlines will adapt to the new demands and whatever cleaning procedures will be ongoing. Ticket prices will undoubtedly rise. More airplanes will come out of storage, but not all. An airline or two may fail, victim of too many dollars going out and not enough coming in. But in time, the system will work itself out. It always does.—Chip Wright

Don’t judge a book by its cover; promote aviation to adults and kids

On Cinco de Mayo I had the pleasure of sharing the “screen” with Julie Clark, Martha King and Pia Bergqvist on Social Flight Live as we each talked about our aviation careers. As we were preparing for the show I found it interesting that we all had very different entrées into aviation. Three of us were children of pilots and one sort of stumbled into aviation by happy coincidence. After the show, [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MWq3crzMMs&t=11s ] I thought about the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover, you might miss out on an amazing story.” I wonder if we should re-think our approach to inspiring the love of flight, promoting aviation, and protecting airports.

We always love showing off our airplanes to wide-eyed tots, but perhaps it is the adults we should be pursuing.

So pull up a chair and listen to the stories of four women with wildly different backgrounds who became pilots from their teens to their forties.

Teenager

Julie Clark 18 years

It is hard to think about the small family of female airshow performers without thinking of Julie Clark who has been gracing the skies for decades. What is lesser known is that she had to tell a few white lies to find her way to the blue skies.

Julie started flying lessons while attending University of California Santa Barbara at age 18. Julie was taking lessons on the sly, not telling her Aunt and Uncle who were her guardians, after her parents passed away. The only ones that knew about her clandestine flight lessons were a few of her Alpha Pi sorority sisters. Julie says that she spent her book money on flight lessons in a Cessna 150. I think we can all agree that we are glad she did.

20-Somethings

Martha King, 24 years

Martha learned to fly when she was 24 years old. She recalls she was generally not aware of private aviation. Martha’s father was a pilot in the military, but she did not have a passion for it from early on. But her boyfriend John was in love with flying—he used to fly with his father, and with some family friends. After they got married and finally had both some time and some money, John said he wanted to finish getting his pilot’s certificate. Although Martha knew nothing about the process, she said, “I was not going to stay at home while he was out at the airport having fun!” So the couple bought a Cherokee 140 [pictured] and got their certificates together—2 days apart. They did their flight training at Speedway Airport (now gone) and Eagle Creek Airpark in Indianapolis.

It would be hard to imagine aviation education without Martha and John King. So hats off to John for pursuing his pilot’s certificate and to Martha for seizing the opportunity for a lifetime of fun flying.

 

Pia Bergqvist, 29 years

An 8-year-old Pia Bergqvist was smitten with aviation after a visit to Kallinge AFB in Ronneby, Sweden with her friend whose father was based there. That is when she first laid eyes on the Saab JA-37 Viggen Jet.

Pia’s Uncle was a charter pilot in Sweden, and she flew with him once. She remembered that her Uncle went to the US to get his license. She had never heard of little private planes until moved to Switzerland at 19 yrs. old.  The idea of going to the US seemed too difficult. Further complicating matters she had never even seen a woman pilot. Her desire was there but there was no clear path to get to her goal.

Pia came to the US in August of 1997 [Brentwood, CA]. Pia worked on the USC campus. It was there she befriended a female student who was a flight attendant for Delta, who was working her way through dental school. Pia told her she wanted to be a pilot but that it wasn’t possible, as there weren’t any female pilots. Her new friend told her “yes, there are female pilots and it is possible!” At age 29 Pia went to Santa Monica’s Justice Aviation for her PPL.

Fabulous 40s

 Jolie Lucas, 40 years

I was raised in a General Aviation-savvy family. We drove a modest car, but always had a small plane in the hangar. My Dad was a primary trainer in the Army Air Corps [WWII] at Rankin Field in the Boeing Stearman. We flew, as a family in our Bellanca, then a Mooney to Seattle, WA or Indiana annually.

In 2002 airport day at Jackson/Westover, CA coincided with our Lucas family reunion. While up at the airport my Dad landed in his Mooney, my brother in his Bonanza, and I thought, “What the heck am I waiting for?” I was married, worked full-time as a psychotherapist and had three children, but I decided it was my turn to learn and grow. When I returned home to Hood River, Oregon I called the airport and started lessons. Within three months I was the proud owner of a PPL.

I love seeing the fly-over events happening across our country to honor those first responders, medical workers, and essential workers who are serving us during the pandemic. Over the past weeks many of us made our way to get a glimpse of those magnificent jets. I do think that seeing some GA airplanes buzzing around might give folks joy right now too, assuming you are safe to do so. If you are able to fly, do so. It will be good for you and who knows, you might inspire someone on the ground to look up how to become a pilot.

When aviation events resume, and they will someday, please consider talking to ADULTS about becoming pilots. Don’t get me wrong; I will always talk to kids about becoming pilots and mechanics. But think about it for a moment, the seven year old you are talking to will have a ten year lag before they can become licensed. However that child’s mother, father, or even grandparent could start flight lessons right away given some motivation. Imagine if Pia never ran into the flight attendant who told her she could become a pilot.

 

I got my license when I was 40 years old, and in 2020 I will complete my commercial and commercial multi-engine add on. The first 40 years of my life were awesome. I earned my degrees, had my children, and bought my first home. I believe the second half of life can be more exciting than the first.

 

 

Pilots make up 2/10 of 1% of the population.

Let’s work together to increase that number and land our dreams.

 

 

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial and multi-engine. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter. Jolie is a nationally published aviation writer. Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Preparing for the post-COVID job market

As the airlines begin to regroup to adapt to the new realities of a COVID-19 world, pilots who are trying to get into the industry must surely be confused and even discouraged, which is perfectly understandable.

But the world still needs airlines, and airlines still need pilots, and low-time pilots still need jobs. There is no sugar-coating the fact that low-time pilots will be delayed in getting that first job and those precious FAR 121 turbine hours. But those opportunities will come.

For now, you need to keep your applications up to date, current, and accurate. You also need to stay in touch with your network and follow up any rumors to cut through to the facts and truth of what is going on. Bad information is acidic, and it won’t do you any good at all. Seek out the truth, and keep your ears to the ground for opportunities and openings.

In the interim, fly as often as you can, and if you’re a CFI, look for any teaching opportunities that might arise. There may not be many, but it may not be as bad as you might think. You can also look for opportunities to take airplanes up for owners just to fly them, and if you can work a deal to get an airplane to fly on the cheap, this would be the time to build some hours and stay current.

What you can’t do is just give up. Even if you have to shift gears into other work for a while, you need to keep your sights on your goals and dreams and continue in the direction you have worked so hard for. The industry has been through upheaval before—nothing like this, to be sure—and it will eventually turn the corner. The strong will survive, and there may even be some new entrants if carriers fail and leave assets to reuse. But people and cargo are going to need to be moved.

Even if you’re outside of the industry, you can work on currency and maintaining a list of good contacts while staying abreast of what is going on. Once the economies around the world get a foothold, the return to growth is likely to be steady, if not quick. Nobody knows when that will happen.

But you do have the choice to be ready versus being left behind.—Chip Wright

A rough winter

As I write this, I am home dealing with round two of a wicked cold that is wreaking havoc this year. Where I live, it has become so pervasive that schools are closing because of high absentee rates, and some are dealing with a lingering cough that lasts for weeks, if not months. On the news, all the talk is about the coronavirus, while online there are jokes about corona virus being cured with a slice of lime. Personally, I’m feeling pretty miserable, and I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

All kidding aside, this brings up the point that flying while sick is not a good idea. It can be dangerous (think: blown ear drums, vomiting, et cetera), inconsiderate, and illegal, since the FAA demands that you not do anything in violation of your medical. Certain medications may render you unable to fly for awhile as well.

Flying while sick also degrades your performance, and you never know when you’re going to need to bring your A game. While a desk-bound person or a sales rep or a number of other professions can get by with someone not feeling well, pilots may need to react to an emergency in a three-dimensional environment in very trying conditions. If you are sick or dizzy or sneezing or in a state of fatigue because  you are sick, your judgment is likely to be impaired and your reaction times diminished.

No matter where you are in your flying career, it would be a good idea to review your immunization records. In the last several years, there have been a number of sudden and unexpected changes in requirements for proof of vaccinations from certain diseases in certain countries. Recently, the Marshall Islands implemented a requirement for proof of measles vaccinations for crew members. If you’re considering a flying career that will cross borders, take the time to visit the State Department and Centers for Disease Control websites to see what shots they recommend getting for certain geographic regions. Diplomatic sites for the specific countries can also provide useful information. (This isn’t intended to start or engage in the argument of being in favor of or against the practice of vaccinations, but if crew members can’t or are not willing to show compliance with the laws of nations they may reasonably be expected to visit, then they may be denying themselves the possibility of employment, or risking a termination.)

Flying sick is also a pretty good way to make sure that you stay sicker longer. Staying home and resting is a better idea than trying to power through anything, even a common cold. When you do have to go to work, be a little more aware of basic hygiene practices such as washing your hands with soap, and using hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. Use sick time for the intended purpose, and you’ll be fine. Back in the day, airlines—especially the regionals—were known for draconian sick leave policies. Those days are (largely) gone, as airlines now recognize that brining your illness to work is never the better solution.

Ask me how I know this…—Chip Wright

Buddy pass tips

One of the benefits of working for the airlines is the free and reduced-cost flights for yourself, your family, or your friends. Generally called buddy passes, you can offer your friends or friends of friends tickets that are essentially stand-by for pennies on the dollar. The common misunderstandings are that a buddy pass is a real ticket (it isn’t); and you can dress and behave pretty much like a normal person while flying on a buddy pass. Not so.

Buddy passes are offered as a stand-by option, which means that if the person wanting travel isn’t too picky, he or she will get a seat on a flight, assuming that there is one. Buddy pass travelers are the last on the list of priorities, and how those priorities are prioritized depends on each airline. The rules of engagement here are important, and it’s critical that you know what those rules are. You need to be able to discuss them intelligently, and be able to answer all of the expected (and a few unexpected) questions.

First and foremost: There are no guarantees. Buddy pass travelers get a seat if one is available, and that often means waiting until the boarding door closes—and even then they can lose their seat at the last minute. In fact, they can be on the airplane, buckled in, and ready to go, only to find out that they are being pulled off for a revenue passenger.  And they need to conduct themselves with grace and dignity and not get visibly upset.

The dress code is a major area of conflict. A few years ago, United Airlines was in the news for kicking a buddy pass passenger off because the passenger was wearing a miniskirt. The airline was in the right, and Twitter was in the wrong.

Now, keep in mind, it doesn’t matter one whit if you agree or disagree with the rules of a given airline. You simply have to follow them. If you’re going to allow others to use your buddy passes, PRINT OUT THE DRESS CODE and hand it to them! Quiz them on it!

One common strategy is to list a buddy pass rider for first class, no matter what, because you can always be bumped from first down to coach, but you can almost never be bumped up from coach to first. That means telling your friends (or soon to be ex-friends) that they need to dress and be prepared for a first-class seat just in case. If your friends can’t comply, then either don’t give them a buddy pass, or don’t list them for first class.

What is frustrating is that gate agents are not always consistent in their enforcement of the rules, and some can even be a bit overly zealous. But if you meet both the spirit and the letter of the law, you should be fine.

Another important lesson is this: Make sure that your riders can carry out the listing process on their own without having to call you every time something changes. Pass riding can be very fluid, and you can’t be expected to give up too much of your valuable time trying to get someone a ride.

Passes can be great, but they aren’t for everyone. Choose wisely and choose carefully. And brief in full!—Chip Wright

Human factors assumptions, part 2

The Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashes have brought some attention to the relatively recent concept of multi-crew pilot license (MPL) certification.

The MPL was designed as a work-around for the traditional pilot training tracks that don’t include the military. Instead of following the current private/instrument/commercial/multiengine progression that thousands of us have done in the past, the MPL works by getting some basic private pilot-like training done in a single engine airplane, with perhaps a bit of instrument training as well. But the overwhelming percentage of the training is conducted in a simulator or fixed training device specific to the aircraft that the candidate will be flying. In other words, an MPL candidate for the 737 would get the majority of his or her training in the 737, and only the 737.

On paper, this can be attractive, because a few hundred hours of dedicated time spent learning to fly and handle one aircraft can be performed in a structured, building-block methodology. Over time, more and more complex situations can be introduced and responses evaluated and repeated, if necessary.

But this also leaves a lot out. Simulators, for example, are terrible replicators of weather. Becoming weather-savvy is something that can really only be learned from experience, not from reading it in a book or watching a video. Complex air traffic control communications are also difficult-to-impossible to work into a simulator, especially if English is not your first language, or one you speak fluently.

An MPL might produce a pilot who is book-smart and a checklist-monkey when he or she gets in the airplane, but you can’t buy experience. And with such a narrow scope of knowledge from which to draw, you may not have the tricks or the know-how to handle complex events that may not have been covered in the box.

Pilots who gain experience by building time in a variety of flying opportunities are like putting together a much more valuable box of tools to draw upon when things go south. Further, they are doing so in a real-world setting that truly tests their grit, stamina, and threshold for stress. No amount of MPL simulator training is ever going to provide the same thing, no matter how diligent the efforts at realism.

If the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accident reports come down on the validity and quality of training, even if only remotely, let’s hope that the MPL concept is at least paused or reconsidered. Additional real airplane training might cost more up front, but it will be cheaper in the long run, for there is no substitute for real experience in anything.—Chip Wright

Sim seat-fill

No pilot wants to be under the scrutiny of an examiner or an instructor any more than is absolutely necessary. However, airliners require two pilots, and that means any training in the sim also requires two pilots. Most of the time, pilots are paired with another student, and each gets equal time to practice whatever is on the schedule.

But, as the saying goes, best laid plans… Occasionally, a pilot is not paired up with another student. This may be attributable to an odd number of trainees, or because one student needs to be held back for remedial training, or one quits or gets fired or is sick, et cetera. And some airlines—increasingly fewer do this, but it still happens—won’t let two pilots who have been training together take a checkride together. When this happens, the training department needs to use what is often termed a seat-fill, which is another pilot brought in to occupy the second seat and perform accordingly.

Most of the time, seat-fill pilots are stand-by instructors, but when they aren’t available, local pilots near the training center usually get the call. Sometimes the airline is required to use reserve pilots, but often, lineholders can make themselves available as well, using whatever sign-up process is available.

The immediate question is, why would anyone want to do this, and is there a jeopardy component to this? Well, yes, you are in a jeopardy situation, which means that if you perform in such a fashion that you would have failed your own checkride, you can find yourself effectively grounded until you’ve been retrained. That, however, is rare.

Most pilots volunteer for seat-fill because they consider it an easy way to make some extra money on a day off without having to go to the airport or spend a night away from home. It’s also a great way to stay sharp on procedures in the sim that you don’t get to do very often. Last, but not least, you get to know most of the instructors and examiners, and they get to know you, so when you go in for your training, you are much less nervous and more comfortable than you might otherwise have been. Taking that a step further, you might get the benefit of the doubt if you make a mistake or two during your own ride that might have been cause for concern previously.

Another benefit to doing a lot of seat-fill is the networking that can take place. If you’re interested in getting into the training department, this a great way to show your bona fides in terms of your preparation, readiness, willingness to help a new hire, and the like. The truth is, there is no downside to doing the seat-fill if you can. If your schedule is flexible, and you live near the training center, take advantage of the opportunities that seat-filling provides, especially as your own checkride approaches. Extra training, extra cash, and more confidence: It’s a lot more upside than down!—Chip Wright

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