Friday, May 04, 2007

Still Employed

Two constants of an airline pilot's career are training and checking. You undergo training when you're first hired, when you upgrade, any time you transition to different equipment, plus the occasional refresher. And then, you're always being checked to make sure you paid attention in training and haven't forgotten the material since. Most pilots that I know prefer training to checking. With training you get the pleasure of learning something new that might prove useful on the line, and there's not quite the same sense of your career being in jeopardy that comes with a proficiency check.

I've never failed a checkride in my life, and I still don't like them. I know that if I fail, the retraining and rechecking is going to be a pain, plus there'd be the stigma and self-doubt that accompanies a failed checkride, so there's a fair amount of pressure. The added stress actually improves my performance, I think, but it doesn't make me like the experience any better. Fortunately, first officers only have to take proficiency checks once every two years. It'd normally be every year, but the FAA lets us substitute training for pro checks every other checkride. The actual flying involved is actually much harder than a procheck (see my last example), but the atmosphere is much more relaxed and the emphasis is on learning.

Shortly before my recent training-in-lieu session, the company issued a bulletin titled "Training-in-lieu Completion Standards," which made it clear that TIL was no longer the non-jeopardy event it had traditionally been:
"Although a Training in Lieu (T/I/L) event is not considered a formal evaluation, the completion standards for the event are the same as for a Proficiency Check. A pilot must demonstrate the same level of performance in each maneuver that is expected on a Proficiency Check in order to complete the session with a MEETS
STANDARDS grade...At the end of the T/I/L session, each pilot must have demonstrated the same level of performance/judgment required on a Proficiency Check."
The bulletin caused a stir among the pilot group, especially those of us scheduled for TIL in the near future. What did it mean? Would the instructors really be holding us to ATP standards on outlandish scenarios like the ones we'd faced on previous training sessions? And why the change?

The backstory leaked out. Apparently a crew had showed up for a training-in-lieu session completely unprepared - no studying, flying skills rusty. Because training-in-lieu had a reputation as a "free pass," they essentially blew it off. The instructor was incensed and graded them "Does Not Meet Standards;" the crew protested that it was training, not checking, and therefore they couldn't fail. The company issued the bulletin to clarify the matter and to warn crews to take the TIL sessions seriously. Really, most of us already were; you don't want to make yourself look like an incompetent boob in the sim even if your career isn't on the line. It only took one lazy crew to screw things up for the rest of us - and I'd be one of the first guinea pigs for the "new" training-in-lieu.

It turns out that I had nothing to worry about. The session was just like my last TIL, except the scenarios weren't quite as outlandishly complicated as last time. The flying was a little harder than your standard proficiency check, but the instructor made it clear that we weren't expected to fly perfect on the advanced scenarios; these really were for the purpose of learning. The captain and I both flew fine and I came out of it feeling like I'd added something to my proverbial bag of tricks. With another pass, I'm still employed for another year. Yay! :)


Anonymous said...

Sam, came across your blog while researching a (much needed) career change. I'm considering flying as an option, and have found your site to be an invaluable source of information on what it's like to be a career pilot. I just finished reading the entire site from your first post in Feb '05 and I have to say it's given me tremendous insight into the field of aviation. I was intrigued, frightened, concerned, inspired - but best of all, informed. Having read all of your posts, I actually feel like I have lived the life of a pilot - without taking any of the risks myself! Many thanks for the hard work and effort you've put in to the site, and I'll be checking in regularly as I consider a career in aviation.

Anonymous said...

Sam, can you tell us what the sim scenarious are like? Actually, what's the sim like in general?

Dan Felton said...

Hi Sam,

I've just read your memoirs of ADP with much interest. In fact I discovered your blog whilst googling for ADP - I had no idea it had ceased operating.

Actually I was a student there, firstly in 1996, again in 1997 and then finally in September 2003 I did a multi-comm-instrument all done and dusted within about 3 weeks. Incidentally I'm from England.

I recall much of the trauma that the instructors faced on a daily basis. In fact I think that you guy's in particular deserve medals for noble-mindedness and bravery!! What you said about the schedule brings back a memory of how, on the day of my checkride, myself and examiner (Norm Robinson?) were left sipping coffee outside the hanger for nearly three hours waiting for a seneca which had been "penciled over" to somebody else! Well in any case I passed but at the time I expected it to be scrubbed.

I remember that they had some particularly long-time students struggling with the IFR side of things. There was a Chinese (or Taiwanese) girl who'd become longer serving than her instructors (or so I was told).

I rated Mark and his approach to customers. he seemed unflappable(?). I recall Jason who worked on the from desk (I'm not sure if he worked ther when you did) but I do recall you wife Dawn. She often drew the short straw in having to collect me and my fellow students from "the residence" in La Verne.

Well, it's been interesting reading. I hope your having a good time flying. Feel free to drop me an e.mail. All the best.

Dan Felton

Wade said...

Hey Sam, I'm a former employee of ADP and current employee of Piedmont. I'm looking for contact info for Mark Webster. If you have any I would appreciate it. Thanks
Wade Fikse

Sam said...

Eek! I fell behind on comments.

Anonymous #1: Aww, you're too kind. I just got the warm fuzzies! Hope you continue to enjoy the blog :-)

Anonymous #2: Well, actually the instructors have asked us to not reveal the sim scenarios so that their future victims have to figure things out for themselves, and since a number of colleagues read this blog, I'd better stay mum. Feel free to email me if you'd like to hear specifics.

The sim itself is quite an amazing piece of technology. Every control and system is reproduced with utmost accuracy...even the way systems interact with each other is so faithful to the original that they've found the solutions to long-standing Megawhacker systems bugs in the sim! That said, it does not feel quite the same as the real airplane. The pitch feel in particular is weird...but then again, so is the pitch feel on the real airplane (it's all artificial). You get used to it quickly but it can make the first few minutes a tad wobbly.

Oh yeah. The rudder and elevator trip moves a lot slower in the sim than in the airplane. You'd be surprised what a big difference that actually is. You use a lot of trim in flying the Megawhacker.

Dan Felton: I was actually instructing at ADP for a short time during Sept 2003, it was after I quit at AEX but before I went to Ameriflight. Dawn was indeed working the desk then, she thinks she remembers you but isn't sure without seeing a picture. The taiwanese girl you're thinking of was Mary...she outlasted many instructors. Nice girl, though. And yeah, Mark was really an outstanding manager...was definately limited by the resources he had to work with.

Wade: I actually just got Mark's phone number and am going to give him a call within a few days. If I'm able to reach him, I'll email the number to you.

Wade said...

Thanks alot Sam. The sooner the better. I'm filling out PRIA info for a Southwest interview this month.