Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Selling the Dream

I've said it before: many aspiring professional pilots have a skewed view of the profession. They have unrealistic expectations of the time and effort required to become a working pilot, and an overly rosy view of the pay and lifestyle that await them. In my opinion, these attitudes are fostered by the flight training industry. At a time when few people have contacts within the industry to set them straight, flight schools will promise these potential students the sky. There are many variations, but the general theme is this: if you give us enough money, we'll put you on the fast track to the good life.

The following are advertisements in two recent issues of Flying Magazine. The thumbnails are a bit small; click on the pictures to see them close up. Let's do a little fisking, shall we?



First up: All-ATPs. "Direct Track...Accelerated Airline Placement....Fastest Track to a Regional Airline Pilot Job...Build Qualifications Without Flight Instructing." Heh, God forbid that one should lower themselves to flight instructing to "build their qualifications." Of course...if you instruct, you get paid. This way you get to keep shelling out money to build those hours. Convenient how that works, no?



A slightly more illuminative ad from All-ATPs. Check out the incredible cost involved: if you start with zero hours, it takes $77,985 to do all three programs. This leaves you with your Commercial and CFI/II/MEI, plus 600 hours, 190 of which are multi-engine. That qualifies you for an interview with ExpressJet, making $19,800 your first year if they hire you. Funny how the ad doesn't mention that, eh? If they don't hire you, plan on keep shelling out money to get yourself to around 1000 hours - or, gasp, do some instructing so you actually have an aviation job on your resume before you interview with another company.



Ooh, it has the Delta logo on it! Everyone knows that Delta pilots make a ton of money! Heh, perhaps with Delta in bankruptcy they'll redesign this ad next month. Like ALL-ATPs, Delta Academy guarantees a job interview - in this case, with Comair, ASA, American Eagle. etc. What students don't realize is that these airlines hire less than half of the applicants they interview. The airline is simply agreeing to spend a few hours with Acadamy grads, talking and giving them a sim ride. They can then offer a job offer, or not, and the school's obligation is complete.



Besides the interesting concept of affordability, a few things jump out of this ad from Orlando Flight Training. 200 hr Jet First Officer? Are they completely mad? There is not a commercial jet FO is the world with 200 hours. Not one. And "Jet/FO Part 121 certification?" There is no such thing. Under FAR 121, you are qualified in equipment by your airline after they hire you. Even if you have a type rating, you are not Part 121 qualified until you complete that airline's approved syllabus. So basically they used terminology that, while incorrect, is calculated to make a young pilot's drool reflex kick in. Jet! FO! Part 121!



This could be you! In just nine weeks! Standing proudly next to a real jet airplane in snappy uniform, epaulets, and spiffy hat...the dude that guys wanna be and girls wanna be with! All because your nine weeks of training were so powerful. Seriously, this RAA ad is pretty disingenuous with it's claim that your CRJ type rating will "put you on the same level as any high time, experienced applicant." All things being equal, most regionals would far prefer a 2000-hour guy with multi-engine Part 135 experience to a 500 hour kid with a CRJ type rating. I also got a chuckle out of this ad's reference to "that high paying airline career."



This isn't a deceptive ad, I'm just amused that the model from the RAA ad is apparently a 747 captain this time!



My all-time favorite, straight from PanAm International Flight Academy. "Airline Pilot Careers: Fast, Flexible, and For Sure." Excuse me?!? Do they believe that? An airline career is none of those things! It's seldom fast, particularly if a major airline is the intended destination. It's often a very inflexible job. And For Sure? Are they stark raving mad? Tell the thousands of furloughed pilots on the streets that this career is for sure. Tell the pilots whose careers were ended by accidents, enforcement actions, and denied medicals. Tell the flight instructor who's barely making enough money to live on and can't seem to get a lucky break. Fast, Flexible, and For Sure. I hope none of their students actually believe that, because they are being set up for disillusionment and failure.

Jeeze, it's not even a very good alliteration.



Of course, your career will be considerably more for sure if you don't expect to be paid for your commercial flying; even moreso if you pay to do it. Enter Eagle Jet International. You, too, can be a first officer on a Beech 1900, flying freight in godawful weather at all hours of night...for only $13,900 out of pocket! But hey, at least you won't have to flight instruct.



Our final entry, from the late, great, TAB Express. This was another "pay-for-your-job" outfit, with the additional "enticement" of four years' indentured servitude. Either this ad was placed much earlier, or TAB is absolutely shameless, because the venture closed down some time before this ad appeared, before the "airline" flew a single revenue flight. They took a lot of people's money with them, including the deposits of some folks who hadn't even started training. Such are the risks of trying to buy your way out of demeaning jobs like flight instructing, jump flying, banner towing, freight haulting, etc.

Okay, that's enough for tonight. I could go dig up some old "Flight Training" magazines for some real doozies, but you probably get the idea. It's disheartening to see the dishonest way that many flight training organizations sell the airline pilot dream. To be sure, many of these schools have good programs that've helped capable pilots achieve realistic goals. At the same time, though, they've pumped out a number of starry eyed greenhorns who expect a high paying jet job to immediately fall into their lap, and it usually just doesn't happen that way. For that matter, when they do get the job, it's seldom what they expected once the initial glamour wears off.

I know I'm running the risk of sounding bitter with this post. I'm not; despite the perils of this industry, I'm glad I chose this career. I do think, however, that a realistic outlook has made the rough patches that much easier to overcome. And that's part of the reason for this blog: to inject a little realism into aspiring pilots' plans, to provide a counterbalance to the marketing hype. In the next week or two, I'll be posting about the various paths to an airline career, and some of the struggles and pitfalls along the way. Hopefully it'll be useful information to anybody considering a flying career, as well as interesting for those smart enough to stay away but curious enough to read about it!

24 comments:

Yellowbird said...

I always wondered about the RAA/EU guy. He doesn't seem that happy with his position.

Maybe the girl in the Pan Am ad turned him down...

Sam said...

Heh, he seemed to get even grouchier once he upgraded! Reminds me of certain CRJ captains around here... ;)

Aviatrix said...

It's all a scam? Phew. Now I can release the aching regret of "if only I had done my training with one of those guaranteed jobs schools in the United States."

Just once I want to see one of those ads illustrated with a program grad working at the video store in Yellowknife, hoping for a chance to get one of the coveted ramp jobs at a company that often hires from the ramp to the right seat in a twin otter after two winters loading aircraft at 40 below.

Ooh, so much bitterness.

Ron said...

It's ironic that so many people are trying to "make it" without lowering themselves to something as apparently abhorent at instructing.

It's especially so when you consider that many pilots who've 'made it' look back on their CFI days as some of the fun and enjoyable of their careers.

--Ron

CoLite said...

It's the same with the A&P mechanic schools. I've noticed more advertisements on tv as of late promising high paying careers as an A&P mechanic. The last one that i remember (can't remember the school) stated that you can make up to $70,000 as a mechanic while neglecting to mention that the avg mechanic earns under 30,000 a year.

Jim Howard said...

Your overall point is very valid, but you are a tad unfair to AllAtp. They do hire back a lot their graduates to instruct, and a lot of these instructors wind up getting "real jobs". They do get a lot more multi-engine time there than just about anyplace else.

Disclosure: I've trained with AllAtp, but I'm not a professional pilot.

Sam said...

Jim, I've met a number of pilots that trained at All-ATPs, and they were generally quite satisfied with the quality of training they received. I know also, that many of their grads instruct for them and build time that way. But: their ads are promoting a much more, ahem, "direct track" than good ole fashioned hard work...

Herr Gokmop said...

I guess that with all kinds of training, you have to expect some shucking and jiving. Caveat emptor applies in flight training and just about everything else.

Come to think of it, I'm suprised they don't use more "Top Gun" imagery to lure people into thinking that plunking down hard-earned dollars is going to get them dogfighting through the clouds in their very own 747. *Cough*

JR said...

Well, I did ATPs' "Total Twin Training" program in 1993. Seems it worked pretty well: 2 yrs as an air taxi pilot at the Caribbean, (moved back to Europe), 3 yrs as a commuter f/o & captain with J-31/32, 5 yrs as a B-737NG f/o and now, 2 yrs as a captain in B-757. I do not know how "accelerated" my career seems to you guys, but at least I'm happy...

frmrsioux said...

with that being said about the "other" training academys, what is your take on a university education? As a fellow UND grad and being in the real world for a few years, I've seen guys that got their training at mom and pop part61 schools getting better jobs than university grads. I know that our UND education is top notch, but sometimes i wonder if my money would have been better spent the mom and pop route...

Sam said...

JR - Your career progression sounds pretty normal, but a lot slower than All-ATP's would have prospective students believe. I mean, 5 years before you flew a jet? The horror!

In all seriousness, you're happy because you didn't mind working your way up the food chain like the rest of us. But that's not what All-ATPs seems to be promoting these days.

FmrSioux - Although I was pretty happy with UND's flight training, I don't think it gives me any advantage over mom-n-pop'ers. It was mainly convenient that I could do flight training and get a 4-yr degree at the same time, for roughly the cost of doing them seperately. I'll be covering this subject in the upcoming posts on pilot careers...

JR said...

Sam, if flying a jet would have been my only goal, I would have been there only 2 yrs after my "graduation" from ATPs, as I was offered a Lear 55 f/os' position with one business jet operator. But I choose Jetstreams and an airline career instead.

I do believe, that finding that first job is the most critical part of becoming a professional pilot. Without my "extra" multi-engine flight hours, that my All-ATPs "Total Twin Training" provided, I could not have landed in my "first" real paid job as an air taxi, Aztec pilot.

I really do not believe that there are too many guys out there, who take these "direct into big jet" ads seriously. When choosing your flight school, you should engage your brain in the process as well.

Maybe you call those guys who believe all they say in the ads "over optimistic" in the States. We, in Europe, call them just plain Idiots.

Anonymous said...

My situation may be a bit different: I was furloughed after 9/11 and I haven't worked as a pilot since. I've got a fair bit of experience and was considering Eagle Jet pay-for-737-time to get my career back on track; my lack of recency seems to be driving away the HR people in droves! Anyone out there had any experience with EJ?

Anonymous said...

Whats your take on the Mesa Pilot Development Program? I'm currently a multi student there and can tell you first hand the hire rate from the program is around 90%. Yes we are low time CRJ/1900/Dash pilots but many of us didn't chose this route because we abhor flight instructing. In fact all of my classmates are getting CFI/CFII/MEI just incase we don't get hired and will gladly instruct.

Sam said...

Whats your take on the Mesa Pilot Development Program? I'm currently a multi student there and can tell you first hand the hire rate from the program is around 90%. Yes we are low time CRJ/1900/Dash pilots but many of us didn't chose this route because we abhor flight instructing. In fact all of my classmates are getting CFI/CFII/MEI just incase we don't get hired and will gladly instruct.

Okay, it's not that you abhor instructing, it's just that you'd rather go directly to the right seat of a CRJ. And why not? The school certainly isn't going to tell you that you have no business there at 300 hrs. I mean, Jon Ornstein has a heck of a racket going on at Mesa. The man pays his pilots industry-bottom wages, brags about how "cost-effective" they are (see 11/29 AP article), makes record profits off their backs, and has to audacity to call his pilots "overpaid" since "I can still fill ground school classes." Not only that, he has a ready supply of low-time pilots shelling out money for the chance at a $19/hr CRJ job. No, Mesa will be the last to tell you to go get some good flight experience before applying at a regional.

Consider this: the CRJ-900 is basically the same size as a DC-9-20. After all the recent paycuts, 9 year DC9 captains at NWA make $121/hr. Mesa pays their CRJ-900 captain $75/hr. A 9-yr Comair captain makes $85/hr to fly a 70-seat CRJ. And now we see Comair furloughing guys while Mesa adds Delta flying. Next year, Horizon pilots enter pay negotiations, in which it is all but certain the company will pursue concessions. Mesa pilots give them plenty of ammunition by flying 90 seat jets for 10% less than our 74-seat turboprop captains currently make.

Basically, you're looking to work for a man who is helping to destroy this profession. But, I'm probably tilting at windmills here, because if you don't take the job there'll always be someone who will. Enjoy the CRJ.

--SW

Anonymous said...

Believe me, we all know JO is a bottom-feeding dirtbag. I astarted this career late in life and felt that if a program like this existed, I might as well take advantage of it. I'm glad I'll be a pilot finally but I am now seeing the pay to play is bad ju ju.

Anonymous said...

I learned to fly from a retired Colonel in the AF Reserves who had a little flight school to augment his military pension. I thought the training was outstanding. Not only was he a natural teacher but he had lots of little tips & tricks in those pre GPS days. Anyway, he got me through the Commercial and Multi CFII tickets. I got a lot of hours helping him instruct during summer vacations and weekends.

About three years out of college, I thought I would rather fly for a living than be a banker. Anyway, he made about three phone calls to guys he used to serve with and got me into a major as a FO. Became a captain after about 7 years and after 9/11, got recruited by a well-known Asian airline where I fly big iron.

Anyway, the point of the post is that sometimes, mom & pop flying schools are headed by people who know the right people to get you into that all-important first job. Those people know you have received first-rate instruction with no shortcuts. If the owner recommends you, the airline knows that you have the character and no illusions about what your early career will be like.

At least that's my experience.

Great blog, Sam. You sure bring back a lot of memories for me. Keep 'em level.

Anonymous said...

Pay isn't great right from the beginning, but it gets better. Many regional captains are making $70-$80K+. While that may not be a huge salary, it is considered in the top 10% of income in this country. Only 10% of people will ever make $80K or above. People have a scewed view that all pilots are making $300K, but pilots still do well. Some pilots have a scewed view of salaries outside of aviation ,believing it is typical to make $100K+. Not true at all.

Being a pilot is a great job, that you can make a good living at. It just takes a few years of sacrifice to get there.

Wears Boots said...

Rubbish. Go flying only if you want to increase your chances of getting into/passing military flying. Then again remember that an Infantry soldier has often 24 hours per day in contact with the bad guy, whereas a pilot will do it max average 2-3 / 24hours, so why settle for second best ?

Or, go out and make something - build something ! Do something ! Is sitting at Flight Level 290 doing something, making something, being something ??
I know a construction industry guy who just finished building a 52-room motel / convention centre / restruant. It's his - he made it.

Aircraft create turbulence vortexes; thats it. Flying may be interesting, but..... ?
Get out and get stuck into something real.

Oh yes, I've lived both sides of it - and can comment.

Sam said...

Hmm, Boots. So your opinion is that killin' something or buildin' something are the only two things worth doing for a career? If that's your opinion, you're welcome to it, but I don't think you'll find too many people who share it.

By your reasoning both doctors and concert musicians have worthless jobs. "Cellos create sound waves, that's it!"

wears boots said...

Hi Sam, well, I was hoping to collect more bites than that. Still, there's a bit of truth in what I said.
Cello are good, I agree, as long as you don't have to pay for the endorsement.

reyt said...

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JOHN Z said...

Ladies and Gents having read all the above I am still unclear whether there is a program out there, that can give people with low hours a chance to become FO in a jet... (especially for the 35+ yo guys out there... like my self)...

I was seriously considering Eagle Jet International but read several "Dont even think about it" posts that have me all confused and cautious... Any good advice out there??? I want to fly and have not got the leisure of spending the next 10 years instructing... I would if I was 20 or so... HELP Anyone??

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