Monday, August 03, 2009

Experience Counts

Over the last week there's been a tremendous outpouring of opinion among pilots regarding the proposed legislation I wrote about in my last post. The most controversial aspect is (predictably) the proposal to require all airline pilots to possess Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificates within three years. A fair amount of the opinion I've heard on the web boards, in person, and in the comments on the blog is negative. The two primary objections to the proposal that I've heard are that it represents an undue burden to newer pilots and that increasing experience won't do anything to improve safety. The first argument is understandable and not entirely without merit, but a close examination of conditions in the industry and a peek at future trends ought to ease concerns. The second argument I take much greater issue with; whether advanced out of ignorance or cynical self-interest, it is the same dangerously flawed trope that's never far from the lips of the most noxious CEOs in the airline business. It deserves a spirited rebuttal.

A lot of the alarm being voiced over requiring an ATP for airline newhires comes from those with significantly less experience, particularly those who've already invested a lot of money in training and are now trying to build flight time. I'm sympathetic to these pilots' concerns; having been in their shoes not so long ago, I'm not inclined to pull up the ladder behind me. There are too many people in aviation who are willing to throw those below them to the wolves; it is the exact attitude that gave birth to the cancer that is destroying our profession from the bottom up.

Times are tough for everyone in aviation right now. The major and regional airlines, fractionals, charter operators, and corporate outfits have all laid off thousands of pilots, including several of my friends. I'm still somewhat doubtful that my own job will survive this downturn; reportedly, WidgetCo and RedCo are collectively overstaffed for this winter by as many as 1200 pilots. For those just starting out, openings for the traditional timebuilding jobs are in short supply and competition is fierce. Even those with one of the coveted instructing jobs might not be building very much time: the sorry state of the airlines has killed career-oriented flight training and the economy isn't encouraging anyone to take up an expensive flying hobby, either. On the face of it, adding more restrictions does seem like kicking a guy when he's already down.

The unfortunate reality is that things are so bad right now that this law, if passed, isn't likely to affect anybody currently in aviation, or at least those well along in their training. The few airlines doing limited hiring (including mine) have extremely high competitive minimums. I don't think it's going to change anytime soon. There isn't any attrition at the regionals, and they're not going to grow any further; some will shrink significantly as major airlines attempt to reduce 50-seat lift. There are already many well-qualified airline pilots on the street, and it will get far, far worse if one or more major airlines goes out of business or is acquired this winter. The bottom line is that if you don't already have significant airline experience, you will not likely be hired at an airline in the United States for at least several years whether this law passes or not.

Things will eventually turn around; I personally think that the economy will recover enough to support airline growth at about the same time retirements resume after five years of stagnation, around 2011-12. Once the majors start hiring in large numbers, it's going to cause regional airline attrition to skyrocket. Initially, competitive hiring minimums will stay high as the regionals work through a large backlog of highly qualified pilots (which includes furloughees and those who've been building flight time steadily from now until then). Those currently finding it so difficult to build time will then find timebuilding jobs much easier to come by (assuming they haven't already thrown in the towel). I suspect that even without the proposed law, competitive minimums will remain at or above 1500 hours by the time most of today's commercial pilots reach the regional airlines.

The change of law will primarily affect those who begin training between now and ~2013, particularly those who jump in at the beginning of the next hiring cycle. Absent any changes to legal requirements, the relative lack of new pilots in the intervening years will cause competitive minimums to fall from 1500+ hours to 250 hours very quickly, just as happened in 2006. I'll get to why that would be a very bad thing in a minute, but now I wish to address whether requiring these future pilots to build 1500 hours represents an undue burden. Firstly, they will have entered aviation and paid for their training knowing the 1500 hour requirement. Secondly, the ability to be hired by any airline with less than 1500 hours is a historical anomaly that has only happened a few times throughout the last fifty years. Finally, it is likely that timebuilding jobs will be much more available than today (and better paid!) to those who build their time during the next shortage.

The suggestion that increasing newhire experience will not improve safety puzzles me. For the most part, I've seen it not from aviation newbies but from moderately experienced pilots who were hired at the airlines with low time during the last five years. I can understand why industry groups would fight against the requirement tooth-and-nail, but what motivation can these pilots have? Pride? A wish to justify the route they took to the airlines? I don't blame anybody for accepting a First Officer position with low time; I surely would have done so if I'd had the opportunity. To subsequently claim that the practice was just as safe as hiring more experienced candidates, however, bespeaks ignorance that hints at some of the limitations of inexperience.

I've heard three primary arguments in favor of this assertion. The first is based on personal experience and goes something like "I hired on at XYZ Airlines with 300 hours and didn't have a problem in training or on the line." Obviously, self-critique isn't the best means of judging these things; I'd prefer the opinions of check airmen and the Captains flying with the low-timers. But let's assume that our debate partner's check airmen and Captains agree that he exhibited superior aeronautical knowledge and skill as a low-time new-hire. There isn't a direct parallel to safety here. How many unusual situations happened in this pilot's early career? How many tough decisions? How many times did he have to challenge an off-the-reservation Captain? How many emergencies? Probably few, if any; I've only had a small handful in 4000 hours of airline flying. Airline flying is pretty uneventful most of the time and real tests of one's worth as a pilot come infrequently. It's very possible, even probable, that a low-time pilot will not be truly tested before he gains some experience. One cannot extrapolate this stroke of luck across the industry, because over thousands of flights per day things do happen, and any system that puts thousands of inexperienced pilots in the right seat is guaranteeing that some of them will be called upon in a dicey situation. I haven't flown with many low-time First Officers but some of my friends have, and they generally agree that most of them are fine in normal situations but many are virtually useless when things go wrong. It's not that they're bad pilots, they just haven't experienced many similar situations in their careers yet.

A frequent corollary to the above argument is "I flight instructed for 300 hours, and I fail to see how another 1000 hours of pattern work would have made me a safer pilot." If those 700 hours were flown in the same pattern with the same perfect weather and the same infallible student in a perfectly trustworthy airplane, that might be a good point. The reality is that one will encounter a wide variety of challenging situations in those 1000 hours which will develop decision-making skills, sound judgment, and practice in keeping one's composure in a bind. I scared myself and learned important lessons many, many more times in 2000 hours of instructing and freight dogging than I have in the 4000 hours since; those lessons could fill an entire post. It's worth noting that those who denigrate the value of timebuilding are generally those who didn't do a great deal of it.

The second common argument is that various organizations have employed 250-hour pilots with great success; the most common examples given are the major airlines back in the 60s, the U.S. military, and major airlines in Europe. All three are really apples-to-oranges comparisons. In the case of the major airlines of yesterday (who, by the way, weren't exactly shining examples of aviation safety), new-hires generally spent several years observing experienced pilots as flight engineers, and then moved to the right seat under the tutelage of experienced Captains. The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marines do put pilots with as little as 200 hours in command of high-performance fighter jets, but only after a very intensive,lengthy, and costly screening, selection, and training process that weeds out the majority of candidates and leaves only the cream of the crop. The European airlines have a fairly stringent selection process, many do their own ab-initio training, and all require an ATP. Yes, it's a "frozen ATPL" until the pilot builds enough flight time - but unlike the FAA ATP, the flight time is the easy part of earning a JAA ATP. Their ATP is all about demonstrating a command of aviation knowledge far superior to that of most regional newhires in the US (and actually, many Captains as well).

If the regional airlines in the U.S. screened their 250-hour candidates intensively, put them through a lengthy, costly, and difficult training program, required them to demonstrate a knowledge level equivalent to JAA ATPL standards, had them observe line operations for a while, and then paired them with experienced Captains, the above comparisons would be valid and I wouldn't be writing this post because I wouldn't see a problem with 250 hour First Officers. The regional airlines of 2005-07 did none of the above and industry trends suggest that it will be even worse in the next shortage. If regionals were willing to take essentially anyone with a pulse and a commercial certificate after a three-hour interview process, rush them through a training program designed for much more experienced pilots, and throw them on the line after the minimum legal IOE to fly with 2000-hour Captains who just upgraded, what will they do in a deeper and more prolonged shortage at a time when the regionals aren't making the large guaranteed profits of 2005-07? Many industry players have been pushing for the FAA to adopt the Multi-Crew Pilot certificate (MPL) concept developed by ICAO, which would put "pilots" with less than 120 hours of actual flight time into the right seat of airliners. They wouldn't be legal to act as pilot-in-command of a Cessna 150, yet are somehow expected to pull their weight as part of a well-functioning airline crew. If this law does not pass, you can be sure that the RAA will be pushing hard for MPL during the next shortage.

The final argument I've seen is that the airline accident record does not support the idea that inexperienced pilots pose a significant safety risk. Its supporters are quick to point out that both pilots in Colgan 3407 had flight time exceeding ATP minimums, or that the majority of pilot-error airline accidents involve experienced pilots. First off, airline accidents happen so infrequently that accident data alone is a pretty poor metric of aviation safety trends, particularly those involving fairly short-term phenomenon like the three year span in which widespread hiring of pilots with less than ATP minimums was pervasive. Secondly, low-time pilots made up a fairly small portion of all pilots even at airlines that extensively engaged in the practice of hiring low-timers due to the rapid accumulation of flight time, making statistical analysis on the basis of accident rates all the more problematic. I'd be much more interested in a study involving ASAP, NASA, and FOQA data, but no such study has been done.

As for Colgan 3407, I'd argue that experience did play a role, along with many other factors. True, both CA Renslow and FO Shaw had well above ATP minimums, but CA Renslow was fairly inexperienced for a PIC of a 76-seat airliner. That was a direct consequence of Colgan hiring him direct from Gulfstream with 600 hours, very little of which was prior PIC time. It's impossible to know for sure, but one can't help but wonder if more real-world experience before the airlines would have made a difference. Airline flying is an efficient breeder of complacency if one lets his guard down. I know that in my own case, getting bit by complacency a few times early on made me much more wary of it later in my career. The US Navy cited complacency as a primary culprit in their study of aircraft accidents that found Navy pilots were most dangerous between 700 and 900 hours of total time.

There actually is one argument against the new regulation that I find credible. If the law changes, it's possible that at the height of the next shortage, regional airlines will be so desperate for candidates with 1500 hours that they'll take anyone with the flight time regardless of prior checkride busts, violations, crashes, etc. The fact that the new legislation addresses hiring standards, as well as the fact that the airlines weren't much more selective than that in the last shortage, makes me less swayed.

47 comments:

amulbunny said...

One of my sons good friends is in the program at UND-GF and hopes someday to fly the 787. I hope by the time he graduates there will be some jobs for him to get his ATP experience.
Thanks for the good info.

siouxpilot said...

Good post as well. Right now I'm instructing building time in Grand Forks, ND. I was hoping not to have to spend to many more winters here but the way things are going it appears I might have to.

Check out my blog about my flight instructing stories.
http://rightseatpilot.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

All the CRM training in the world can't seem to fix arrogant captains; they are still just despicable mice that will eat their young just to hold on to their jobs. So you have 1500 more hours than the FO, so you obviously have seen everything and know all. Yeah, right!

How much experience can somebody get? What's next, you have to survive two actual engine failures to be man enough to fly 121? What if I get 1500 $100 hamburgering and the guy next to me gets his flying single pilot IFR in the Northeast without autopilot or GPS? Yeah, boy! I have the same experience he does! Cool, dude!!

Also, instructing some non-English speaking foreign kids at UND (UND now has more contract foreign students than undergraduate students) is not going to make you any better of a pilot. Just look at UND's accident record. Didn't two of their senior instructors just wreck a super cub tying to land in a five-knot crosswind or something?

Please, check your attitude at the door. Some of us have bills to pay and instructing for 5-10 years just isn't going to cut it, especially when there are no instructing jobs, and that is only going to get worse if this unthinkable law is passed because NO ONE in their right mind will want to be an airline pilot. Invest $100,000+ for 20 years of making $19,000, followed by who-knows-what after the majors slash wages? If if pay at the regionals goes up, it will never be enough to cover all the years as an instructor.

And please, a couple of regional crashes in ten years? That is not a big enough reason to go this far. I'm sure one of these 250 hour FO's wouldn't pull a Tenerife. How many hours did that guy have again? Oh yeah, forgot that one, didn't you! Would you support a cap on ATP hours because of the old guys that screw up, too? I doubt it!

Please, don't forget where you came from.

Sam said...

Good lord, I still have sore wrists of typing up that monster post. If you read everything I wrote & all you can conclude is that I'm some arrogant SOB who thinks he's infallible and wants to pull the rug out from under newer pilots, nothing I type here is going to change your mind.

Particularly since I DO tend to be an arrogant SOB toward anonymous flamebaiters.

Rob said...

In Australia almost all airline applicants will have a ATPL(f) and have spent 5 to 7 years in GA and they manage to support families.

If there is a will there is a way. Sam can you go into more detail about the diferences between a FAA and JAA/ICAO ATPL? I am surprised to hear they are that different.

Cap'n Crunch (European Airline Pilot) said...

Please don't be fooled into thinking the European system is any better, its certainly not. The theory exams maybe harder but these days but the answers can be learnt straight from a website/CDRom.

The way its going over here, is for wanabee pilots (200hours) to buy a type rating and pay an airline to sit in the right hand seat of their jet for 500 hours. So basically wealth, not ability, that often determines who becomes an F/O.

This also leads to a situation where airlines who partake in these hour building schemes, have their qualified First Officers sat at home whilst the hour building wannabee gets his 500 hours before joining the job queue. I doubt whether US pilot unions would allow this practice to go on over there?

I would certainly like to see the ATPL rule brought into the JAA states. Sadly, I'm sure we are not too far away from our own Colganair style accident this side of the pond, although unfortunately it will be on something 737/A320 size.

Gareth said...

You may find this interesting.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/world_news_america/8186753.stm

Anonymous said...

Gareth - I thought you'd beat me to it. Same story - different slant...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8186690.stm

Also, this from Aviation Week:

http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_generic.jsp?channel=awst&id=news/aw080309p3.xml&headline=Congress Seeks to Upgrade Pilot, Hiring Requirements

ISH

Daireus said...

Sam thanks for your amazing posts. I have been reading them since I started teaching about two years ago. I have to say I cant agree with you more about experience you gain from instructing. I am pushing 2000 hours after about two years and find the experience invaluable.

I tell anyone who wants to fast track it to slow down and teach first. You will be a much better pilot/person for it.

That being said I really do want a Jet but I'm looking to go 135 instead. Still wont be much in the way of jobs there for a long time either.

Funny that some people think you make less instructing than flying for a 121. I make WAY more then my friends at the regionals, even some of the guys that have been there for 3+ years.

More experience & more money = good idea.

Keep up the good work.

Gene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gene said...

I started reading this post shifting in my chair a bit, but you made good arguments, Sam. Well thought out, logical, and valid. Great post. Great points.

sounddoc said...

Sam, what would you say to someone in my position? I am a ~145 hour pilot about to start my instrument rating - all Part 61 for now. I had plans of doing CPL through MEII + a couple hundred ME hours at a 141 school in a little less than a year's time, effectively (and quite happily) giving up my current "career" to fly for a living (please no lectures on what it's really like from the peanut gallery - i know already - cubicle life and corporate politics aren't much different.) I know if I stay part 61, it'll take years to get everything accomplished, but I'd like to take advantage of the next hiring boom. Sometimes career pilots touting the virtues of part 61 schools forget that it's very hard to financially support building more than 60-80 hours _in_one_year_alone_ in addition to the bi-polar weather in new england. So, I'm saving every month the money which doesn't get burned in a lycoming, and hopefully will be able to not float a loan for the rest of my life - that's to say if the regs are changed, that it'll even be worth it. My worst fear is that my VERY expensive hobby stays just that. I'd greatly value your opinions on this, if you have the time. Alternatively to the regionals, and excuse my ignorance, what exactly defines "Airline pilot" in the FARs? parts 121 and 125? Would part 135 jobs be effected by this? Again, sorry if this distinction has been laid out previously.

Kyle said...

Great post Sam! Cleared up a lot of confusion for me. Wouldn't mind hearing about some of your experiences and lessons learned while instructing and flying freight if you ever feel like posting about that! It would definitely help others see just how valuable that time can be. Thanks for such great posts!

GreenPilot said...

hiding behind the veil of internet anonomitity certainly isn't admirable. no regrets for trading in my stable career to pursue aviation SO FAR-that could drastically change if it's as you say. one can only hope there'll be a flight instructing job SOMEWHERE for me when I'm finished in 5 months.

Jerel said...

Hey, Sam! Nice post--very thorough and informative. I trust that you've really done you homework on the issue, as I follow your blog quite religously--quite frankly, I'm a fan!

But I gotta ask, why so much disdain for your fellow pilot who's managed to become an airline pilot with less than 1,500 hrs total-time? Are they not worthy? Have they not earned the opportunity to be an airline pilot like you or I? What basis do you have as to whether or not one pilot should be more qualified to work at an airline over another? As a fellow airline pilot, we were all "low-timers" at one point, why not focus our energies on providing quality training, better crew rest requirements, better working rules, better pay, etc.?

You and I both work for a regional airline doing more or less the exact same job as a pilot working for a Major or Legacy carrier--and yet we're forced to "start" out here, as oppossed to the Delta's and Southwest's of the industry? But why? Is it because we're really not as good as they are--is it really because we lack the experience to do their jobs. How much harder do they have it over us? We fly more legs than they do in any given day, make more takeoffs and landings in a day than most of them do, and just plain work harder than they do, all for less money. Is it because we're not experienced enough, or worthy enough, to work there?

By supporting this proposed legislation you're more or less creating yet another barrier for other pilots to get ahead in their careers--similar what we've done between Regional and Major/Legacy carriers. We're good enough to work for "NewCo.", but not "Mainline"!

It comes across as petty to assume a 500 hr pilot can't fly an airplane as well, or can't handle an emergency situation as you or I could, just because they only possess 500 hrs. It's the quality of the experience that matters, not the quantity.

Where's the love, man? Where's the love?

James said...

Jerel, regional captains that were hired when 1500 hours was the minimum simply love to bash low-time regional FO's because they are jealous of them. The regional captains missed the boat on getting a seniority slot at a younger age, they had to flight instruct longer, and they didn't get to fly 121 as quickly in their careers. The regional captains say that these low-time FO's have a bad "attitude," when in fact they just have a prejudice against low-time FO's. The regional captains feel that they, with their 1000 more hours than the FO's, are far superior. Hah!

Pilots make me want to puke; they are always circling their wagons but they always fire inward. Maybe, one of these days, they will flip their wagons around and actually help themselves as a whole, and not just try to screw other pilots.

Anonymous said...

Worth still mentioning that FO Shaw *did* flight instruct in Seattle, although I'm not sure how much. From what I'm told, she was regarded as not exceptionally good and bragged about how she had connections at Alaska to fly for them.

Anonymous said...

A lot of good pilots can't teach worth crap... goes the other way, too.

Mark Richards said...

Training teaches you the systems. Experience provides a real-world place to apply the learning. But I think there's something missing, something experience may or may not give you: the ability to remain focused, think clearly, and act decisively when faced with a situation that may have ultimate consequences for you and those right behind.

We should be worried that government, ever-ready with a large mallet when a tack hammer would do, will bludgeon the life out of Aviation. Experience does not necessarily equate to proper incident handling, which is my take as to why crews with much greater "experience" do stupid things and go boom.

If there is such as thing, I'd want every crew member responsible for my safety as a passenger to have passed the "Sully School of Crisis Management".

As a former Ambulance EMT (although this doesn't come close to a flight crew in distress) I know what it means to lose your cool, and how doing so can screw the pooch.

What might Sam say on this topic?

Sullenberger put it in an interview, and I paraphrase here, "I had to work hard to control my bodily reaction to fear so it would not interfere with what I had to do".

Awareness is everything.

I'm eager to read if there's specific training along these lines and if so what it's like. Perhaps a topic for Sam to consider?

Anonymous said...

The defensive comments posted by the low time pilots (and “low time pilot” is not a derogatory remark ... we were all low time pilots at one time) speak to the problems of inexperience. When you first build up some initial experience and reach a high level of understanding of the very complex technical aspects of operating a high performance jet (or turboprop) and have demonstrated a high level of proficiency in operating the aircraft and handling what’s thrown at you in the simulator, pilots naturally feel that they have "arrived" and are now professional pilots on equal footing with their more experienced brethren. The pilot with 1000 or 2000 hours will be able to recite air regulations, systems knowledge and procedures much more quickly than many of the captains he flies with. Pilots will never know as much, so far as book smarts go, as they do in these early years. Given all this, it’s no wonder these pilots think they have as much or more skill than the grizzled old timers they fly with from time to time (and FYI, a grizzled old timer is someone with tens of thousands of hours not 3000). We all have gone through this phase to some extent in our early years but trust me, no matter how sharp you are now, no matter how perfectly you fly a V1 cut, no matter how calm and collected you are during emergencies in the sim, (or what you consider to be difficult situations in the real world), 5, 10, 15 and 20 years from now, you will be a MUCH better pilot. You will be able to sniff out trouble and avoid it before it happens, you will able to decide when you should take time to analyse a situation and when you need to react (not to mention be able to react correctly), you will be able to make decisions, react and improvise SO MUCH better than you do now. No matter how good you are now, you will improve immensely and understand your job much more completely.

What Sam is pointing out, is that requiring 1500 hours for a new hire (and by extension causing upgrading pilots to gain more experience), will mean that the flying public will have a flight crew that has at least made a MINIMAL start towards refining some of these skills that are the true mark of a professional. To suggest that a 250 hour or even 1000 hour pilot has equal experience and maturity as pilots with years of real world flying and decision making under their belts is only made by someone who has not gone very far in this journey. We all have felt like you did, and trust me, 10 years from now you will understand what I am talking about. You will look back and realize how much you had to learn and more importantly, you’ll realize how much more you have yet to learn. You’ll see.

Jerel said...

Anonymous, I agree with most of what you have written wholeheartedly; namely, that we tend to become better pilots the more we fly and learn along the way. But to deny someone who has earned the privilege to fly for a living (i.e. a Commercial certificate) the opportunity to do so, solely because they possess less than 1,500 hrs of flight experience, is just wrong. There's so many more variables involved than just the quantity of hours attained. Besides, every company sets their criteria for hiring and if they want 1,500 hr pilots, they'll state that in their job requirements, as they already do.

Once hired, new-hires must pass written and performance tests further demonstrating their stated ability. Finally, all new-hires must fly with and be signed-off by a Line Check Airmen and then put on probation for further evaluation. Now, I understand that there are shady airlines with poor business practices and ethics, but there are good one's out there, as well. If companies are taking short cuts and putting their customer's lives at risk, then that needs to be addressed accordingly. Pilot's are paid to fly the aircraft, not run the company.

So, again, I say there just isn't any basis for discriminating against a pilot who has earned the privilege to fly for a living and has demonstrated the capability to fly compentently, safely, and professionally for any flying position they may qualify for. Now who they choose to work for and remain with once hired is another issue.

Sam said...

It's obvious that this is a sensitive subject & emotions are running high; I think a few people have misinterpreted things that I said and attached connotations that weren't in my original words. I thought about it overnight and was going to reply this morning, only to find that Anonymous 9:04 had done so much more clearly and elegantly than I would have. I'll add my two cents to the several dollars of worth he/she's added to this discussion.

Jerel, you ask where's the love; it's in the four years and 500 posts of this blog. A good part of my readership is newer pilots and those considering taking it up as a career, and a major purpose for the blog's existence is to provide them with meaningful information. I harbor no ill will towards newer pilots nor do I look down on them; I clearly remember being a low-timer in the fairly recent past & not really knowing anyone in the industry & not having any very good sources of information outside of those who stood to make a profit from me. I don't want to exclude newer pilots from my career, I want to give them a hand up while educating them on some of the problems within the profession and what can be done to make it better.

That does NOT include unlimited support for pilots with the legal minimum experience flying paying passengers around. It's not good for safety & it's not good for the profession. Again, it's not that these are *bad* pilots, it's that they are *incomplete* pilots. The knowledge is there and the flying skill is there, but experience is a very important third ingredient as Anonymous 9:04 described above.

Note that it's not just me & Anonymous that are saying that experience makes a more complete pilot: the airlines tacitly agree by raising their minimums and hiring the most experienced guys and gals when there's a surplus of available pilots. Why would they do that? Are they just being petty and discriminatory, as you suggest I am being? Or do they actually see value in experience? The only time competitive minimums go below ATP minimums is when there aren't enough pilots with that time who are willing to work for their wages. It's proof that airline management is willing to sacrifice a margin of safety to keep costs down; it saddens me that there are pilots who wholeheartedly agree with them in doing so.

Now, to those who suggest that 1500 hours is an arbitrary number that doesn't account for quality of time, well, I agree. 1500 hours that consists of a mix of banner towing, instructing, skydiver hauling, and freight dogging in a wide variety of aircraft and weather is undoubtedly more valuable than 1500 hours of $100 hamburger runs in Arizona. *Either* is going to be better than 250 hours and little experience on one's own though. Actually, 1500 hours probably is a bit of overkill, if I were writing the regulation I probably would have made the minimums 1000/100. Politics is the art of the possible, though. I'd much rather have Congress go into overkill mode and require an ATP than have them do nothing and have a longer repeat of 2007 in 2013-15.

One last point, Jarel: nobody is denying anyone the right to make a living with their commercial certificate. Putting restrictions on what it can be used for isn't the same thing; the FAA presently doesn't allow a CPL to be used for flying as a PIC of an aircraft over 12,500 lbs, for example. Right now it's the labor market that's making a CPL essentially useless for many people; once that turns around, there will be many ways to make a living with a CPL whether 121 SIC is allowed or not.

James- Despite the vitrol of your post there's one thing you said I agree with, regarding pilots circling the wagons & firing the wrong way. When you find yourself on the same side of an issue as people like Roger Cohen and Jon Orenstein, though, perhaps you ought to ask yourself just who is doing the inward firing.

Sam said...

Kyle-Good idea for a post, that might be my next. I've already written about many of these experiences but they are scattered around the blog and a summary might not be a bad thing.

Jerel said...

So what you're saying then is if your goal is to be an airline pilot and the company you want to work for is hiring, one has to turn them down because of a "supply-demand" issue? Every industry out there has similar hiring practices, whether it be higher/lower pay or job requirements, etc., but for some reason, airlines can't? When the supply of pilots are good, of course they'll ask for higher qualifications--any company that's looking to compete and survive in their industry will. They want the best and they want to be the best.

When the choices are few then, I suppose the best option for them is just to throw their hands up and say "oh well, I really want pilots with 'X' amount of hours, but they're all hired by someone else now. I guess I'll just go out of business, since I can't hire them; but even though there are pilots out there that I could hire, I really, really, really, want the most experienced ones, so I'll just forego hiring anyone at all with less time than what I really, really want and just go out of business!" Yeah, that'll happen. Because that's just how the real world works. *sarcasm*

For professional pilots, the airline's are just another job opportunity to do what you love and make a living at it. Nothing more, nothing less. This whole notion that being an airline pilot is reserved for only the elite of the elite of all pilots in the world is nuts!!--I'd say that job would go to our US military, if I had to put that title out there.

So, I stand by what I've stated before: There just isn't any basis for discriminating against (thus limiting) a pilot who has earned the privilege to fly for a living and has demonstrated the capability to fly compentently, safely, and professionally for any flying position they may qualify for. I won't stand by and banner-tow, flight instruct, freight dawg-it, pay to time build, etc., any longer than I need to if my goal to fly for an airline. I'm going to achieve my goal as soon as the opportunity allows for it.

Jerel said...

So what you're saying then is if your goal is to be an airline pilot and the company you want to work for is hiring, one has to turn them down because of a "supply-demand" issue? Every industry out there has similar hiring practices, whether it be higher/lower pay or job requirements, etc., but for some reason, airlines can't? When the supply of pilots are good, of course they'll ask for higher qualifications--any company that's looking to compete and survive in their industry will. They want the best and they want to be the best.

When the choices are few then, I suppose the best option for them is just to throw their hands up and say "oh well, I really want pilots with 'X' amount of hours, but they're all hired by someone else now. I guess I'll just go out of business, since I can't hire them; but even though there are pilots out there that I could hire, I really, really, really, want the most experienced ones, so I'll just forego hiring anyone at all with less time than what I really, really want and just go out of business!" Yeah, that'll happen. Because that's just how the real world works. *sarcasm*

For professional pilots, the airline's are just another job opportunity to do what you love and make a better living at it than some other flying jobs out there. Nothing more, nothing less. This whole notion that being an airline pilot is so much more than what it really is, is nuts!! If I hadn't gotten in when the opportunity allowed, I'd be sitting the sidelines, not building up my seniority, making less money than I do right now, doing more work than I do right now, in a flying job with no benefits to boot.

So, I stand by what I've stated before: There just isn't any basis for discriminating against (thus limiting) a pilot who has earned the privilege to fly for a living and has demonstrated the capability to fly compentently, safely, and professionally for any flying position they may qualify for. I wouldn't expect anyone to stand by and banner-tow, flight instruct, freight dawg-it, pay to time-build, etc., any longer than they needed to if their goal was to fly for an airline. When it comes to having success, I say achieve your goal as soon as the opportunity allows for it.

Anonymous said...

Pinnacle chief: Flight 3407 pilot should not have been flying

http://www.buffalonews.com/home/story/755989.html

Ron said...

I sense a strong feeling of entitlement from some who feel they've "paid their dues" and should have access to a jet cockpit and decent paycheck based on that criteria.

I may be in the minority, but for me this is all about the journey rather than the destination. If I focus too much on the "goal", I only assure that I won't enjoy my flying nearly as much as I do now because I'll be preoccupied with the next step.

The bottom line is that much of this stuff is beyond our control. At the risk of stating the obvious, the economy in general (and our industry in particular) is in the dumps. And as long as it remains so, pilots are going to back up like a clogged drain.

I've got 4300 hours. 1000+ multi-turbine PIC. 1000 tailwheel. 700 high performance aerobatic. 1500 dual given. 500 night. 250 instrument. 2000 cross country. I fly warbirds, experimentals, competitive aerobatics, turbines, and everything in between. The list goes on.

The point is, that wouldn't even get me an interview with a Subpart K operation right now. There just aren't many jobs out at the moment. But much like the stock market when the Dow hit 6400, in retrospect it would have been a great time to invest. The same is true here. Eventually things will turn around and jobs will open for those of us who remain.

I'm using the time to broaden my experience, enjoy my flying time, and position myself the best way I can for whatever opportunities present themselves in the future.

--Ron

Sam said...

When the choices are few then, I suppose the best option for them is just to throw their hands up and say "oh well, I really want pilots with 'X' amount of hours, but they're all hired by someone else now. I guess I'll just go out of business, since I can't hire them; but even though there are pilots out there that I could hire, I really, really, really, want the most experienced ones, so I'll just forego hiring anyone at all with less time than what I really, really want and just go out of business!" Yeah, that'll happen. Because that's just how the real world works. *sarcasm*

You seem to be implying that airlines hire 250 hour pilots during "shortages" because that's their only choice. Incorrect. The only thing that the airlines ran short of in 2007 were experienced pilots willing to work for the wages they were offering. There are 130,000 commercial pilots in the US (and another 144,000 ATPs). There are about 90k airline jobs in all, under 30k of which are at the regionals. The regionals could have chosen to increase pay to attract the experienced candidates; they chose instead to hire right at the legal minimums. Not all airlines did this, just the worst-paid, most abusive ones. Doing so allowed them to continue undercutting other, better-paying carriers. I don't blame pilots who went to these places; as you point out, there are great personal advantages to getting a seniority slot early on. I do blame a management team that would sacrifice experience & safety for money, and I blame a system that places the legal minimums so low that they can get away with it.

So, I stand by what I've stated before: There just isn't any basis for discriminating against (thus limiting) a pilot who has earned the privilege to fly for a living and has demonstrated the capability to fly compentently, safely, and professionally for any flying position they may qualify for. I wouldn't expect anyone to stand by and banner-tow, flight instruct, freight dawg-it, pay to time-build, etc., any longer than they needed to if their goal was to fly for an airline. When it comes to having success, I say achieve your goal as soon as the opportunity allows for it.

I'm not expecting anyone to do those things longer than they need to, either. You're missing my point entirely. I'm not blaming you or any other low-timer for taking advantage of the rare opportunity afforded them. Where we diverge is the phrase "any position they may qualify for." The whole point here is changing the minimum qualifications for FAR 121 SIC. Of course I wouldn't discriminate against someone applying for a job they qualified for. I think in the case of regionals, those minimum qualifications need to be higher. Most of the time it won't make a difference because competitive qualifications are usually higher than ATP mins anyways. In times of shortages, however, it will force airlines to attract experienced candidates through better pay rather than enticing inexperienced candidates with a shortcut to seniority. I fail to see how anybody who calls themselves a professional pilot, who is concerned with safety and the betterment of our profession, can have a problem with that.

GreenPilot said...

that's the beauty of a free market economy; without minimums (1,500 hrs and ATP license), obviously regionals will keep their pay levels as low as possible, because there will always be rookie pilots like myself eager to fly for $14 an hour and the monster $1.25 hourly per diem. that'll never change, unless, like you said, government forces regionals to up their pay scales in hopes of attracting more experienced pilots.

whether or not this legislation gets passes is a moot point for someone who already has the hours and the ATP. clearly, the pilots who stand to lose the most are those of us who are either in the middle of training or those with 500-1000 hours in the bank but are currently furloughed. the likely scenario I'm facing is attempting to build flight hours while answering phones at an FBO because there are no more students willing to endure these brutal job prospects.

love your insightful posts, but you sure did open up a mammoth can of worms! keep up the informative writing Sam.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, it feels like having the goalpost moved on you when you've already started your flight training. This will definitely make it even more impossible for me to get an hour building job, as others who beat me to the punch in training will be the only ones doing any instructing or freight dogging for a long, long time til they get to 1500 hours.

greg said...

The nature of this profession the goal post will always be moving as competitive minimums will cycle frequently. What this will do is set the minimum range it moves.

What every here keeps failing to notice. Most freight jobs pay more than what new regional FOs make. This isn't punishing new pilots or causing them to slum around. This is allowing pilots to gain valuable experience before flying my family and everyone else's family. And they can make a descent wage while doing so.

greg said...

And getting to 1,500 hours does not take a long time. Only a couple years of flying for a living and you will be there.

sounddoc said...

The problem for guys like me (low hours, no ratings) isn't building hours, its how to fly for a living. This is something that's going to need to be addressed in a couple years. I could slowly pace through my CPL but what then? The job market for pilots unable to fly for the airlines / regionals will be flooded. We'll be cut-throat for CFI jobs. Aviation should remain a viable career path, not become a priveledge for those who can afford it - I.e. those who can afford to build post-cpl hours on their own dime.

Jerel said...


You seem to be implying that airlines hire 250 hour pilots during "shortages" because that's their only choice. Incorrect. The only thing that the airlines ran short of in 2007 were experienced pilots willing to work for the wages they were offering.


No, I'm not implying that--that's more or less exactly what happened. My guess is that they had at least those two choices: 1) to hire lower time pilots, or 2) to increase wages. To increase pilot wages would of been counter-productive, I think, in their ability to compete, since other airlines would probably not have done the same thing, making any particular airline that did, less competitive. You have already mentioned this point, though, yet I did want to address it myself, as well.


I don't blame pilots who went to these places; as you point out, there are great personal advantages to getting a seniority slot early on. I do blame a management team that would sacrifice experience & safety for money, and I blame a system that places the legal minimums so low that they can get away with it.


Alas, I agree with you on this matter. My main concern, though, was to ensure that low-time pilots (those with less than 1,500 hrs total time) we're not to be made scapegoats in the matter. My brief intercommunication with you through this blog has given me a broader sense of where you stand on these issues, and I believe you and I really do stand for the same cause. Lately, I've come across so many disrepectful comments and negative perspectives of low-timers, as if there's a hint of jealousy and contempt in what they think or say about them, that I cannot help but take personal offense to it. I began to believe that your original blog post was just a carefully crafted way to put down low-time new-hire pilots at regional airlines and to somehow blame them for what transpired--again, I understand now that that was not your intent.


In times of shortages, however, it will force airlines to attract experienced candidates through better pay rather than enticing inexperienced candidates with a shortcut to seniority. I fail to see how anybody who calls themselves a professional pilot, who is concerned with safety and the betterment of our profession, can have a problem with that.


So, again, I think we really do stand for the same things, and for those reasons mentioned above, I would never want to stand in the way of legislation, or other forms of progress, that would make our profession a much more desirable entity to be apart of. So, no, I really don't harbor any ill will towards you, or have any problems with you, or for what you are trying to accomplish. Hopefully you'll understand that in the recent past, since the birth of this topic of raising hiring minimums, that I've read and heard so many negative comments towards regional airline first officers that do not possess 1,500 hours or more, that I've just been rubbed the wrong way and put on the defensive. It's despicable to me that any fellow pilot in our profession would look upon another fellow pilot with such regard and disrespect.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a little background information about myself: I currently have over 2,300 hours total time with about 450 hours of dual-given from flight instructing. I crossed-over into flying professionally after leaving the service, and have been a certificated pilot since 1993. I was hired at my airline with a smidge over 700 hours total time and about 145 hours multi-engine. I may jinks myself by saying this, but to this day, I have never had any flying accidents or incidents--and don't plan too, either. :0) I love what I do and take my job and career to heart. I encourage everyone out there who's interested in flying to give it a try--there's nothing else out there quite like it!

Thanks, again, Sam! And keep up the nice work!

Rob said...

I don't know the American aviation scene but surely there are more GA jobs out there than instructing, Charter, Airwork etc. etc.

You might not have an 'outback' like we do but surely there are plenty of GA companies that operate C206s that hire fresh CPLs (when there is a boom or more experienced when there is a slump - but you cant bitch about that, that's aviation for you).

Why is there such a focus of CFI jobs in the US, is there less other GA in the states?

Sam said...

Jerel, while the aviation forums have been great for increasing the flow of information among pilots scattered around the industry, they've also resulted in a real coarsening of dialogue, a destruction of professional respect, a hardening of positions, the spread of stereotypes... it's unfortunate. Some places are worse than others, I haven't been able to stomach flightinfo for a few years now.

Thanks for keeping it civil here (unlike a few of the other commenters). I suspect that there are a lot of arguments where the combatants would find that they agree on a lot more than they disagree on, if only they could keep the dialogue from spiraling downward into a poo-flinging match.

Anon 2:47 & sounddoc- Honestly guys, that's going to be a major problem whether the requirement is changed or not. Either way, I think you guys are going to have to figure out a way to make a living flying until 2012-13 unless things change for the better a lot quicker than I'm expecting. I feel bad saying it, it sucks, and if I were in your place I'm not sure what I'd do. It's a brutal time in a famously brutal industry. My hope is that we can drastically improve life at the regionals by the time you guys get here. Fixing pay, particularly junior FO pay, has to be priority one. This law passing is honestly our best chance at getting the leverage needed to make that happen in a long time.

Sam said...

BTW, sounddoc, I didn't ignore your initial comment asking what I'd do in your situation, I was thinking it over and then got sidetracked with my last few monster comments. My full response is probably going to require a full-length post, but I'll give you the short version of it right now.

First, don't be in too much of a rush because if the job market is as bad as my other commenters are reporting, you'll go into debt rushing through your 141 program only to find yourself with a brand spanking new commercial that's going to be all but useless for a few years. IF you are able to stomach your current job for another few years and build 60-80 hours a year while remaining debt-free, you'll likely get your commercial & CFI around the time that timebuilding jobs start opening up, which should position you well for getting on with an airline during the next boom. As to that bipolar New England weather, a few seasons of that is going to turn you into a much better pilot than 5 months in AZ. That's actually something you can point to in interviews, something that gives you a leg up on the next guy. In the meantime, keep yourself motivated and use the extra time effectively by getting your hands on every aviation text and book you can and study relentlessly. Part 61 doesn't spoon-feed knowledge in the way that many 141 programs do, but a motivated, disciplined pilot can come out of Part 61 with just as good of a knowledge base as any 141 guy (or better, actually). Likewise, network with as many airline pilots as you can in the meantime. Big flight schools like to tout their bridge programs and preferential hiring agreements with various airlines, but the reality is that it's hand-delivered resumes that stand the best chance of landing you an interview, particularly in hard times. Knowing a lot of people will give you a big leg up.

Anyways, that's my two cents - take it or leave it :-). I will be writing a full-length post soon on what pilots in training and the early stages of timebuilding can do to survive this downturn.

Anonymous said...

Since I finished my training the only way to survive the downturn was to fall back on other skills. I know of only a couple guys that got jobs, both with aerial survey(c-172) and they both are laid off now during the offseason. They both have about 600 more hours than me, but my job pays well and I have built a financial cushion for myself. I think I made the best of the situation and actually have set myself up well to be comfortable at my first flying job whenever that time comes. If they were to pass the 1500 hour requirement I think the unintended consequences would be enormous. I enivison any outfit that could going to single-pilot operations and having time builders pay to sit in the right seat. The free market is simply to adaptable to not figure out a way to operate most efficiently in any set of rules. Also, eliminating one of your alternatives to make a living after earning your commercial certificate and inviting more government regulations into your profession doesn't seem like it would turn out to well.

Anonymous said...

Rob 8:25

Here in the US I don't think there is as much GA as you think. Since the entire country is covered in pretty decent infrastructure (good network of highways and roads) the need to aviate things around is not as great due to the fact that much of the need for transport can be covered via roads. In Seattle where I used to live we had Kenmore Air, a small airline that operated DHC-2 Beaver seaplanes and a handful of C208s but this was a very unique situation. Not to mention that I think many of the Kenmore pilots were very senior and highly experienced probably because they loved flying in the area. Although there are probably other air taxi type operations around, they are extremely few and far between as far as I know.

The outback is a very unique place with a large land mass and practically no civilization. Aviation is needed there because of the lack of infrastructure and distances involved. Except for perhaps Alaska (where many smaller GA-style air taxi ops are conducted) there are no such places in the US.

Norman

greg said...

Anonymous,

You might be surprised by the amount of freight outfits in the Seattle area alone. In Seattle you do have Kenmore but also have Aeroflight, Airpac, and Ameriflight. If you stretch your wings just a bit further across washington and down into Portland that list gets even bigger.

Anonymous said...

http://www.airpacairlines.com/employment.php

Requirements: Since we are flying FAR Part 135 IFR, single pilot, the FAA requires 1200 TT, 75 hours of instrument time and 100 hours of night time.
Great for building the last 300 hours!

sounddoc said...

Sam, thanks so much for the response. I've already got one connection, a childhood friend, FO on an erj135 for AE, as well as my first instructor from 12 years ago who now flies caravans for a small cargo outfit in the south (pt135 connection!) as far as reading, studying and sucking down all things aviation - well how do you think i found your blog! :) Yes, for now I'll stay in the 9-5 drudgery of subways and newspapers, sitting in AC wondering what the weather is really like outside and brutal office politics for those couple hours a weekend where i can leave it all behind on the ground, choosing my own schedule and destination. i'm thinking less about 141 schools now, other than possibly an ME rating and time-building at some point. Looking forward to that post about those of us just starting out if you get the time. Most blogs / forums on the internet are geared either towards those already flying for a living, or those flying for recreation, but not those trying to forge a career. I'm sure they're out there...or maybe that's my cue to start one?

cheers - and thanks again for the wonderful and informative blog - looking forward to all the future posts!

Olmy said...

This is the anonymous 9:04 from a few days ago. Just realized I could enter a name. I tried to be a little more concise this time but failed. Oh well. Here it is if you feel like reading....

One other point I wanted to make to the lower time guys about experience is this. While right now I know all you want to do is to get started at an airline, keep in mind that you can short change yourself if you are “lucky” enough to go straight into a right seat job. The unspoken reasoning behind hiring more experienced pilots is not that you will get a more experience First Officer; it’s that you will get a more experienced Captain once the upgrade comes along (even if it’s years in the future). The most important thing to understand about this type of flying is what a horrible training ground an airline is. Consider the challenges you face on a day to day basis flying a high performance jet or turbo prop with a state of the art auto pilot and avionics suite, auto generated takeoff and landing performance calculations, not to mention dispatchers to flight plan for you (and more importantly revise your flight plan midflight when things don’t go according to plan) plus mechanics at your beckon call in flight (via radio and acars) and on the ground. Now, I don’t want to minimise the challenges that exist in line flying, because they are still very real, but for 99.9% of your airline career, they are predictable and structured. You always tend to know exactly what you should do. For example, something on your airplane breaks, an EICAS message appears. You have a QRH with specific instructions on what to do and you then call your maintenance department for their 2 cents. Or the airport you are heading to has been shut down by thunderstorms. You call your dispatcher, who tells you the best place to go. You figure out where that is by punching it into the FIX page on your FMS and then orient yourself to it by looking at your Navigational Display or MFD. Or consider your engine bursting into flames at V1. How many times have you practiced that? Now consider all of these scenarios in a Navajo or Caravan.

These situations, at an airline, never require you to think your own way out of an unforeseen problem. They don’t require the kind of creative thinking that Sully had to do, or the DHL crew who landed an A300 with no flight controls after being hit by a missile in Iraq. If you go straight into airline flying, you will never know this type of thinking. If you fly a Navajo or Caravan full of boxes, or even tow banners or flight instruct, you will HAVE to think for yourself, and you will have experiences (most of them momentarily terrifying) that will have a lasting effect on your flying and how you think your way through problems. When you later fly the line, you will have a much better sense of how bad things COULD get, even though they almost never do. And when you go Captain, and have to think your way out of a bind that no one ever imagined, and that no one can help you through, like the one Sully found himself in, you will have a MUCH better chance of thinking your way out of it.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to feed your family and get to a point in your career where you can have a normal, stable life. You got to take the airline job when it comes along. But don’t downplay the importance of the time you fly before getting that big job. Most importantly, don’t waste this time. Try to find the most challenging time building work you can. It might save a lot of people’s lives someday.

Sam said...

Olmy- Another great comment, you think & write well.

Back when I was at Horizon, they started doing scenarios during our training-in-lieu-of-a-PC sim sessions that involved complex scenarios that the QRH didn't cover and required good systems knowledge and creative thinking to survive. I described two such scenarios here. Before doing them, our instructor made the point that 80% of airline accidents involving a systems failure were not things like V1 cuts or engine fires, they were things that nobody had thought to develop procedures for or didn't think could happen. While people might think that a Sully/DHL scenario hardly ever happens, there are a fair amount of less publicized nasty incidents that end well thanks to a well trained, experienced crew. A few that come to mind are the Midwest 717 that had an uncommanded thrust reverser deployment on rotation, the TWA MD80 that had an abrupt, complete electrical emergency in night IMC over the Rockies, or the NW 742 that had a triple INS failure in low IFR. I can certainly see how having some time outside the structured airline environment could help a pilot survive scenarios like these.

BTW, between overworked/understaffed dispatch & MX departments, inexperienced dispatchers, and unwieldy communication systems, *some* regionals have quite a bit less of a support system than you describe. Still, things are considerably more structured than in the Part 91/135 world. It can lull one into complacency, and it can hide brewing trouble if one's not looking for it.

greg said...

Yes, the 135 carriers you mentioned have to require the 135 single pilot IFR mins. That is why most people instruct to get to 1,200 hours. It sounds like the new law will also require a certain amount of multi-engine time, which makes these cargo operators another good step.

Ivan said...

I'm a 100hr vfr guy who's on the fence about doing other things in aviation and keeping flying as a hobby or plowing on, hoping to do the 121 thing someday, as flying's my passion. Those 2 things are very different, and that's why i hold the position i do. I'm in favor of this legislature because i believe there are too many jets right now, especially rj's in the system. Their entire industry is diluted by too much capacity. We need less flying, better profit margins which will in turn trickle down into better working conditions for 121 guys. Even w/ the 65's finally leaving in 2011-2012 i still doubt there'll be a shortage of qualified 121 applications to fill those positions, there'll be less OF those positions to be filled as capacity is continually taken out of the system. Even IF there IS a shortage, that's a great thing. Simple supply/demand will dictate improved working conditions and better pay when you finally DO make it to the 121 level. Right now there's too many guys willing to work for peanuts and it's killing the career.

I guess what i'm saying is that i'm fine just keeping my flying as a hobby if things continue the way they are, i hope there's more like me because the guys that DO decide to continue to do the 121 thing will be better off w/ out low time guys like me basically choosing to work for nothing just so i can fly a jet and in so doing, shoot myself, those behind, and those in front of me in the foot. If i do decide to continue on towards the 121, then per this legisture, there'll be a smaller amount of well qualified applicants which will hopefully keep the floor high, none of this <$20,000 first year pay b.s. This trickles down to the [career] cfi's who will hopefully also benefit w/ better pay, and trickles up as well in legacy guys not seeing their pay and benefits lower towards regional levels.

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