Category: Areas of Study

Why IFR Flight Training Should Come After Your License

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Any pilot who has been flying for a while has experienced flights delays due to weather conditions, and without having an instrument rating, those delays can stretch into hours or even into days. These delays can cause many pilots to make go no-go decisions that are not so good. So the benefit of a pilot having an instrument rating is that it increases the number of good choices available to him or her. Although most pilots eventually earn an instrument rating, a smaller number of them maintain instrument currency, so when a student is contemplating IFR flight training, it is best to know in advance what kind of instrument pilot he or she intends to be. If the goal is to be an instrument pilot in name only, then all the IFR flight training needs is to accomplish is passing the check ride. However, if the student wants to be an active instrument pilot rather than a victim of the risks, it is necessary to progress well beyond the basic IFR flight training requirements. Instrument flying is demanding and it requires active thinking, because when a pilot earns an instrument rating he or she is authorized to evaluate weather, dispatch the flight, and then fly the airplane within the same air traffic control system and weather systems that the two-crew turbine aircraft are using.

In essence, weather and VFR flying is a relatively simple and straight-forward [black and white] process which involves flying visually while avoiding the clouds and areas of poor visibility. However, weather for IFR flying enters into a more gray area which involves actually flying in the weather rather than flying to avoid the weather. This makes knowledge about the weather that much more significant. It is critical that students learn as much about the weather as they do about the elements or mechanics of instrument flying. Those pilots who believe that they can be fed weather data for IFR flights by an FSS are the pilots who typically find themselves in trouble due to unanticipated or deteriorating weather conditions. Passing the FAA’s knowledge test does not provide a pilot with sufficient [theoretical] knowledge on weather, which is why it is imperative that students find a flight instructor who is willing to fly in actual conditions on training flights. This will help to acquire the practical experience that will allow student pilots to understand the correlation between the information provided by a weather briefing and the actual weather conditions.

One means of examining the potential value of an instrument rating is to fly hypothetical flights by checking the weather to see if a trip could be flown in VFR conditions. If the answer is “no,” then examine the weather for a hypothetical IRF flight between the two points. There are several elements of weather than impact IFR flights: clouds, ice, turbulence, precipitation, convection, fog, low ceilings, low visibilities, and winds aloft so that only through study and actual practical experience can students learn to weigh each of these elements that could affect their flying. The FAA allows pilots to earn an instrument rating with 125 hours of flight time, which might be sufficient for full-time students who are pursuing positions as airline first officers. But for pilots who want to be able to fly single-pilot IFR in light airplanes, those FAA requirements tend to be inadequate.

Summary of the FAA requirements for an IFR Rating

Pre-Flight Review: Review all information and goals associated with the upcoming flight as well as how to achieve them whether in actual or simulated IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions), such as WFKART: weather, fuel requirements, know ATC delays, alternates, runway lengths, and takeoff and landing distances. If the flight planning includes shooting some approaches, it becomes necessary to brief those approaches and the missed approaches several times before the flight.

Ground School: This is the most cost-effective environment in which to ask questions of the flight instructor which can assume multiple formats, such as one-on-one dialogues, group classes, videos, or interactive DVDs or a combination thereof. To maximize learning within the shortest period of time, it is important to combine the ground school [theoretical] concurrently with the [practical] flight training.

Hood Work: Provides practical experience when no clouds are available. Hoods assume many shapes and sizes, and they are a regular part of the instrument training to block the students’ view of the horizon which only allows them to see the instruments on the flight deck. The purpose of the hood is to expose students to the forces of flight which can lead to various types of disorientation so that the experience teaches students to deny their body sensations and only trust the instruments on the flight deck.

Instrument Cross-Country: Most of the IFR flight training will typically occur near the students’ home airport, but the cross-country phase of the training will take the students out of the familiar which is when flight planning really begins to pay off. The pre-flight review allows the students to remain ahead of the airplane and enjoy the arrival at the pre-determined destination without having looked out the window. Attempting this in a vehicle is not recommended….

Check Ride Preparation: Once all of the ground school and flight time requirements have been met, the flight instructor will provide the students with a ground review which is when the students have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the instruments and how they function as well as how they fail. The students must also demonstrate a familiarity with the FAA IFR regulations and how the system functions which is followed by a simulated check ride with the instructor. During this lesson, the students must adequately perform all flight procedures, maneuvers, and a number of instrument approaches to progress onto the next step of the process.

Instrument Rating Practical Test: This exam encompasses all the aeronautical information that the students have learned up to this point, and the students have the option to ride with a Designated Pilot Examiner or an FAA Inspector.

Once the students have passed the check ride, they are issued an instrument rating and are now allowed to file and fly in IMC. This allows the pilot to have a greater degree of freedom and feeling of self-confidence.

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Featured Image by Ryan Blanding

How Crew Resource Management Makes Flying Safer

Vern Weiss

On December 29, 1972, an Eastern Airlines Lockheed L-1011 with 176 people aboard crashed in Florida’s Everglades only 3 minutes from touching down at Miami International Airport. Three flight crew members, the Captain, First Officer and Flight Engineer became focused on a landing gear indicator light bulb that was not illuminated. As the airplane descended rapidly the three pilots continued to fuss with the indicator lamp. This marked the beginning of a series of horrible aviation accidents in the 1970s involving highly trained, professional flight crews.

The Beginning of Crew Resource Management

Something had to be done and that same year a British aviation psychiatrist and professor, Elwyn Edwards, developed the beginnings of, what originally was called, “Cockpit Resource Management” that since has been expanded. CRM now includes crew members including flight attendants, on or off duty aboard an aircraft as well as others on the ground and today is known as Crew Resource Management. Little by little, Dr. Edwards’ concepts have been built-upon and enhanced culminating in a comprehensive study and proposal by NASA in 1979. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been instrumental in mandating CRM training and vigilance in aviation and has encouraged worldwide government aviation agencies like the FAA to comply with their CRM standards and protocols.

The NASA studies resulted in the belief that the primary cause of aircraft accidents was human errors created from interpersonal communication, leadership and decision-making problems. As defined, Crew Resource Management is a methodology in which the resources of equipment, procedures and people are collectively utilized as needed to safely complete every flying task. The individual components of CRM resources are communications, situational awareness, problem solving, decision making, and teamwork.

How Crew Resource Management Works

You are driving on a busy expressway. The sun is in your eyes. As you attempt to put them on you drop your sunglasses and they slide to the passenger side floor of the car. You should:

  • A. Forget about retrieving your sunglasses and continue driving even though the sun occasionally blinds your vision so your passenger doesn’t think you’re a wimp.
  • B. Pull over on the shoulder to safely retrieve the sunglasses before pulling back onto the busy highway.
  • C. To demonstrate your prowess as a driver, you reach down to the passengers’ side and grab your
    sunglasses.
  • D. You ask your passenger to hand you your sunglasses.

Obviously, answer “D” is best because it allows you to remain focused on control of the vehicle while using someone who is not otherwise busy to complete the task. This example is the essence of what Crew Resource Management is all about.

CRM is not about technical knowledge and the skill of flying an aircraft. It is he interpersonal and cognitive processes of situational awareness, communication, problem solving, decision making and working as a team.

Situational awareness is knowing what is going on around you and recognizing your place in the “big picture.” Walk through any Walmart and you’ll see any number of examples of people who lack situational awareness. As you walk down one aisle suddenly some guy who had stooped down to look at canned prunes stands up and immediately backs into you without looking up first. He had no idea that there could possibly have been anyone behind him even though your grocery cart wheels can be heard for miles around as you approached him. We don’t know where his head was but maybe that’s why he’s buying the prunes.

A flight attendant in the cabin of an airliner with passengersDon’t get me started on those myopic customers walking around glued to their iPhones, although they are great fun to watch when they walk into a clothing rack or knock over a display of ketchup bottles.
Crew Resource Management applies all the resourceful assistance each crew member requires to safely and efficiently perform flight operations. It includes all direct and peripheral personnel. Besides the immediate flight crew, it can include other pilots who are riding as passengers, jump- seaters, flight attendants, mechanics that may be on board; via radio, utilizing air traffic controllers, company dispatchers and pilots of other aircraft. For instance, you hear an aircraft ahead of you report that it flew through a large flock of birds. Use this information for your own benefit. “Old thinking” was that a pilot must be a “super pilot” and be able to do it all without asking for help. Not so. But pilots who are act autonomously and are unwilling to accept outside help tend to make big mistakes.

Crew Resource Management starts with receiving information, analyzing then making it meaningful. From this, analysis of all the choices enables the best decision out of possible alternatives. The consideration of various alternatives should include any available information, knowledge, prior experience, expectation, context, goals and greatest possibility of a successful outcome. There are times when decisions have to be made quickly, such as when an evasive maneuver is necessary to avoid a mid-air collision. In these instances you must fall back on training and procedures. In the example just cited…traffic at 12 o’clock and closing in on you fast, you veer to the right as per the Aeronautical Information Manual. But what if the bonehead closing on you veers the wrong direction and turns left? You must be willing to amend your response now. This is one of those extreme situations that fortunately does not arise very often. Most situations afford enough time to consult the non-flying pilot. There may be considerations that occur to that pilot that you omitted in your decision and the other pilot’s input will make the final decision a better one. Brittle methods practiced for years and unwillingness to consider others’ suggestions and unwillingness to do nothing have been diminished thanks to CRM, which is a giant leap forward in enhanced safety.

What Would You Do?

You’re headed straight for a black cloud. To its left is a blacker one. To your right the clouds are even blacker than the one on your left. Ah! No sweat…do a one-eighty, right? But the front is moving rapidly and has closed off everything behind you. Probably doing nothing and staying on course is one of the choices. Of course, there’s other things that can be tried like changing altitudes (the middle third of a cumulonimbus is usually where the most violent weather is found), slow up so you don’t hit the “potholes” so hard once you’re in the cloud. Ask your non-flying pilot to check on ride reports ahead of you. Maybe the blackest cloud wasn’t all that bad as reported by an aircraft immediately in front of you. What’s the radar show? Turn on your ADF receiver and watch the needle swing. It points to the area of strongest static caused by lightning discharges. Cinch up your seat belt and tell your passengers to do the same. If you have auto-ignition, turn it on. Follow the procedures in the checklist for turbulence and heavy precipitation penetration. And ask you non-flying pilot what he or she thinks. Maybe the non-flying pilot is more skilled at use of the radar than you and can “see” where the passage ahead would be better. Crew Resource Management uses everything at your disposal.

An important component of CRM is use of standardized checklists for normal, abnormal and emergency operations. When pilots start creating impromptu procedures things can turn ugly real fast. Checklists are developed, tested, re-tested, evaluated and authorized from manufacturers and the FAA have worked out the kinks. Obviously, if one pilot starts extemporaneously throwing switches, the other pilot won’t have a clue as to what his partner is attempting to achieve. Checklists. Checklists. Checklists.

A United Airlines airliner taking offLong overdue, awareness of fatigue and workload have fortunately become important considerations the last few years. There are times when the cockpit gets very busy and at those times both pilots should be sharply attentive. Even though one pilot may be listening to, say, the ATIS frequency and not monitoring the active ARTCC frequency, that pilot should continue to monitor that frequency in case something transpires that require urgency in getting back “into the loop.” Even ATC has changed their policies on issuing clearances, recognizing that pilot workload and information retention has its limits. ATC will not issue a clearance with more than 2 numbers at a time. If they want you to turn left to a heading of 160, descend to 4,000 feet and slow to 230 knots, they’ say, “Ercoupe 38 X-ray, turn left heading 1-6-0, descend to 4,000.” You respond with the read back. Then they call you and say, “Ercoupe 28-X-ray slow to 230 knots.”1

As aviation has developed, automation has increasingly become more integrated into the pilot’s world. Flight management systems (FMS) and a myriad of aircraft-specific enhancements like auto-throttles, thrust management systems and FADEC-controlled engines, to name a few, have placed more importance on staying on top of what’s going on. While the civilian perceives automation on an airplane as something that makes less work for pilots, it’s actually the opposite. In fact, automation requires more vigilance than non-automation, so pilots must now be more in a systems management role than switch-and-control manipulation role. This makes it imperative that Crew Resource Management be applied to inputs, outputs, programming and cross-checking of all automatic systems.

Simply stated, Crew Resource Management is two or more people performing as one. Pilots utilizing CRM help each other by filling in any voids when tasks mount up and one person can’t do the job without sacrificing attention to the airplane. As mentioned earlier, CRM involves people other than the pilots as well. An example is approaching an airport with deteriorating weather. One of the pilots could direct his or her attention to switching radio frequencies to get a weather update, however both pilots may be very busy. The ATC controller has access to the same weather information that pilots can get from the ATIS, so why not just key the microphone and say, “Approach (control)…you got the latest weather for Booger International?”

Done.

Personal Experience with Crew Resource Management

Some years ago I was flying with another pilot who consistently demonstrated acute and superb skills. One Monday morning, we took off to start a trip and he seemed uncharacteristically “behind” the airplane. I thought his unusual sloppy and lethargic performance was maybe just that this was a very early morning departure and he “wasn’t awake yet.” Second leg of the trip, he was flying the approach and the profile for an ILS was at glide slope intercept to call for landing gear down and full flaps. Glide slope intercept came and he started to descend which, of course built up speed rapidly. He then started reducing the power to counteract the speed. Something was wrong. I said, “Gary, you ready for the gear and flaps?” Breaking his reverie he responded, “OH! Oh yeah…uh…gear down…uh full flaps…uh… and the before landing checklist.” We completed the approach and landing without further incident. After shutting down the aircraft and putting our other duties behind us I asked him if everything is alright. He said, “Well, no. On Friday my mom passed away and yesterday my dad had a heart attack and died.” Whoa! What was this man doing flying an airplane? We were not in a position where I could initiate a crew change but I did convince him to blow off the rest of the trip when we got back to our domicile and replace him with another crew member. I wish I had known before we had even started that morning so I could have intervened. Knowing the stress he was experiencing, at the very least my CRM observations would have been heightened to watch for mistakes and omissions earlier. The goal of CRM is for two people to act as one well-tuned machine.

My first exposure to CRM was my first job as a whipping-boy/corporate co-pilot in a two-pilot turboprop. The guy I worked for was a jerk. But I sucked-it up because I needed to build flight time if I was going to make a career in aviation. One night he ordered me to get him a cup of coffee. The galley was toward the rear of the passenger cabin so I responded dutifully. Just as I returned with his %&*# cup of coffee we flew into an area of turbulence. I am standing there holding his cup of coffee and he turns to me and barks, “NOT NOW! Do something…GET RID OF IT!” I was not a coffee drinker but the only thing I could think to do as we were getting the you-know-what kicked out of us was to drink the coffee quickly. I wanted to puke. In retrospect perhaps my choice to alleviate the problem created by the captain’s cup filled with coffee in some abstract way was a bit of CRM. I also know that that first cup of coffee I drank lead me to try it again and that now I am a die-hard coffee drinker.

So the moral of the story is Crew Resource Management is beneficial to pilots because it enhances safety and allows us to discover coffee.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Footnote:

1 – Ercoupe? 230 knots? I’m joking, right?

Sources:

Advisory Circular for Air Operators, “Training Programme for Crew Resource Management,” International Civil Aviation Organization, 2013.

Internet Website: http://www.crewresourcemanagement.net/information-processing/decision-making

Featured Image: Kent Wien

Pilot Career: What Will You Carry in Your Backpack?

When packing a backpack for a camp-out, Boy Scouts keep in mind the motto “Be Prepared.” It’s a good motto for a pilot career too.

Vern Weiss

Do you want to know who makes good pilots? Mechanics. They know aircraft systems inside and out and, as pilots, often pull a rabbit out of a hat in an emergency. They know the nuances and intricacies of systems beyond the level of many pilots. Pilots responsibly grind through emergency checklists until the last item is completed. When the checklist is done, that’s it. The End. But a mechanic knows all those little weird-isms of valves, solenoids, doohickeys, thingamabobs and thingamajigs. When a checklist hasn’t fixed a problem they tap into their knowledge from back in their troubleshooting days “working the floor” and, as pilots faced with inflight emergencies they sometimes devise impromptu procedures that can make them heroes.

Pilots make extraordinarily good instructors. Don’t waste my time with a teacher who’s never “been there, done that.” They’re good because they are calm and confident about their abilities. They’re knowledgeable because they’ve flown, over and over, the scenarios they’re teaching. Weak instructors get rattled (“Ohmygosh!Ohmygosh!Ohmygosh!”) and can make a big deal big deals out of nothing. Experienced pilots can separate the wheat from the chaff and impart to students the important stuff patiently, in real-world terms and in an orderly fashion.

Many dispatchers (also called flight controllers) are pilots, either private or possess some degree of commercial training. This provides them with perceptions, common sense and judgment that is worth a lot in the planning and decision-making they do. Dispatchers are unsung heroes. It’s dispatchers who respond to unplanned crises and quickly respond with safe and legal alternatives for a flight crew. When pilots radio them with some problem, the pilots look to the dispatchers for solutions often requiring a bucket-load of calculation and research. You can’t do that if you don’t know your stuff and know it well.

Maybe you can see where I am going here. The more talents you have, the better you will be at your job and the more your window of opportunities will expand, too. Pilots who have non-aviation schooling in professions dealing with numbers are outstanding with performance charts. Flight attendants who have a background in elementary education handle the broad spectrum of passenger personalities and problems on an airplane well.

The Unpredictable “What If?” of a Pilot Career

There’s another very important reason to be dualistic, the unknown. What if you train as a pilot, immerse yourself in your pilot career and then, wham-o…you lose your medical and can no longer fly. Or what if you train to be a mechanic and your airline is gobbled up by a bigger airline and closes your maintenance base? You’ve got 9 kids in school, a house you love that you paid-off last week and your wife bursts into tears at any suggestion of leaving the community. What’s more, you’re only 3 years from being fully vested in the airline’s retirement plan and you really want to stay with the company rather than lose those benefits.

Or maybe you became an engineer and after a few years have grown to be bored by it and would like to try something else. Defining yourself by one job classification is the same as backing yourself into a corner. Pilots are taught to always have a back-up plan which is sound thinking whether you’re a pilot or in any other career. One of the best aviation ground schools I have ever been in was taught by a pilot who had lost his medical but had a degree in law. Not having a medical did not preclude him from teaching in the simulator but, holy cow his presentations in ground school interpreting the regulations were academy award winning.

Spirit of St. Louis aviator Charles Lindbergh was once asked by his son what career field he should choose. Lindbergh’s answer was to do something no one else was doing. This tangential strategy can be applied to one’s own career by preparing for your chosen pilot career but also working on something else perhaps unrelated to it. It’s not uncommon to find mechanics who are also real estate agents or pilots who are accountants. If you are training in any field of aviation and your school is affiliated with a college it is worth looking into a degree in something else while finishing your aviation training. You’ll have the added benefit of accumulating college credit toward your degree for your aviation training. For pilots it’s worth mentioning here that most airlines don’t care what your college major is, they just want a degree.

There are things that can happen short of a catastrophe that having experience in or knowledge about other areas might prove to be a lifesaver to get you over a rough patch. I know an airline pilot who broke his arm and couldn’t fly. It wasn’t permanent but he’d be out for several months so he took a temporary assignment in crew scheduling. Another pilot was furloughed and worked on the ramp. When he was recalled to flying status he told me he’d have to renew his gym membership because he’d never been in that good of shape. One pilot with whom I have worked had a degree in education and worked as a substitute teacher on days off. If things went sour in his pilot career he could always return to the classroom full time. Cockpits are full of real estate agents, lawyers, building contractors, writers, radio announcers, you name it. Captain Jim Tilmon spent 29 years with American Airlines. On his days off for over 25 years he “moonlighted” on Chicago television as an on-camera meteorologist. His degree was in music.1

Whether you want to do something to fulfill personal or professional initiatives on your days off or just want something to keep in your back pocket as a hedge against unemployment, it’s not a bad idea to be thinking about back-ups.

As a flight attendant your airline experience would be appealing in any hospitality career field, restaurants, hotels et cetera.. And mechanics often use their skills in automobile repair. Although it’s nice to rake in a little extra “funny money” in a sideline, if the bottom should fall out of your airline job there’s peace of mind knowing you can do something else.

Up until now we’ve been gloomily musing about alternatives in the event that your chosen pilot career interest is taken from you. But there are other reasons for a back up plan that are not necessarily due to misfortune. A colleague of mine was looking to hire a manager of standards for his airline. He was inundated with applications from pilots who had passed retirement age. In spite of the accepted hyperbole that seems to surround any discussion about retirement, retired airline jocks no longer allowed to fly begged him to “get me out of the house.” “I can’t stand the boredom.” “I miss the airlines.” Retirement isn’t for everybody and while some employees dream of the day their lives become filled up with fishing poles, rocking chairs and motor homes, others don’t. A former pilot with 30 years and 30,000 hours of Part 121 experience is perfectly suited to set and supervise the technical intricacies of airline standards and one of them ended up being his choice. The airline benefited by filling the position with someone of vast experience while an ex- pilot no longer felt cut adrift and is able to keep his juices flowing.

Let’s talk about moonlighting. Some airlines have strict policies prohibiting outside employment. You certainly don’t want to jeopardize a solid high $$$ job by picking up (what may amount to) loose change on days off.

Two cautions should be mentioned here. Aside from most airlines prohibiting its pilots from outside flying for compensation there’s other risks. Under FAA Part 121 you are limited to flying 100 hours per month and 1,000 hours per year. Any flying you do outside of the airline must be reported and included in those maximums or you are violating the regs. Airline do not look kindly on pilots running up against the 30 hours in 7 days regulations either. Say you fly for a local company on your day off and earlier this week you flew 3 hours one day. The next trip sequence that begins tomorrow on your airline schedule is built to 28 hours. Legally you must drop some portion of your schedule to be legal. With your outside flying, you’d end up flying 31 hours in 7 days and that’s a no-no. In airline vernacular not being able to fly because you’ve flown the legal limit is known as “timing out.” Sometimes “timing out” is unavoidable such as when delays bloat the legal schedule and 28 hours becomes more. In those cases the airline must remove you from finishing your trip schedule. They do not like doing this but they recognize it as being just one of those unavoidable things that can be caused by weather, ramp delays and so forth. However your outside flying would not be received by your employer with the same yielding attitude.

Another risk of outside flying is involvement in an incident, accident or violation. The serious ramifications to your airline job should be obvious. What a sorry situation you’d create for yourself to get caught-up in some violation that puts a substantial airline job on the chopping block.

Naturally a potential injury is something no one wants but becoming injured on a second job is probably worse because it is avoidable. One pilot for a major airline (with a strict policy against outside flying) was moonlighting as a fill-in pilot on a private corporation’s jet. After completing a short trip the pilot was helping the tug driver hook-up the tow bar to push the jet into the hangar. Long story/short…the pilot’s hand got jammed while fastening the tow bar to the tug and was crushed. After re-constructive surgeries and a year of physical therapy the pilot got his medical back but the airline fired him. In this same vein, a mechanic who gets hurt working part time on somebody’s car is taking a chances. So, although many airline employees do have gigs on the side, most are careful about risk-taking and stay comfortably far away from any window of vulnerability. There is no reason to be too scared to get out of bed in the morning; just use common sense and be careful. It is something to keep in mind.

There are no guarantees, assurances or absolutes in a pilot career. Even as you are preparing for what hopefully will be a successful pilot career it’s a good idea to keep a backup plan in mind just in case your career needs that first aid kit that is found in the Boy Scout’s backpack.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Sources:

1 – http://www.tilmongroup.com/images/JAT%20Full%20Bio%20January%202013.pdf

ATP Certification: Is It Really “King of the Hill”?

Wilson Gilliam Jr.

When a pilot opens his or her certificate wallet, the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate is usually the one on top. It is a diamond on a black cloth. ATP certification is a significant accomplishment, as the requirements for both the written and practical tests are demanding.

I could have used all of that ATP weight shift knowledge when Target Stores hired us to fly tours around the parking lot of a grand opening in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Passengers of all sizes stepped up to be next on board and I (the pilot) just kept waving them on. I do remember politely gesturing for one excited, portly gentleman to move to the back of the group until I had burned off a little more fuel. Every take-off was a running, bumpy, pavement scratching event and the two-seat helicopter strained to clear the rooftop shingles of a nearby apartment complex. That’s the takeoff over 100 foot obstacle problem on the ATP test.

Some professional pilots never venture into ATP training. This could be due to the relatively high costs of flight training and a necessity to generate some income to offset those expenses.
According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, ATP pilots slightly outnumber those with commercial ratings. This means that nearly fifty-percent of pilots with “for hire” airmen certificates do not have ATP certification.

It’s important to note that an increasing number of employers require the ATP. This requirement seems to be more prevalent in the fixed-wing world. Helicopter operators have a focus on “type of operation” experience but are now beginning to require ATP certification as well. In any case, planning a long-term aviation career without ATP certification could reduce your competitiveness with other job candidates.

Should a pilot attempt ATP training as soon as they are eligible? Of course, this is a personal choice and is regulated by the experience requirements in Federal Air Regulations (FARs), Part 61. ATP training is a definite plus. The route to getting the experience required for certification can be varied. I suggest becoming a CFI/CFII first.

I earned my ATP rotorcraft helicopter rating license well after I had been teaching flight students of various experience levels. In my estimation, both the CFI and the ATP are important for different reasons.

I realized that I didn’t know much about flying until I started providing flight instruction. When an instructor becomes more comfortable in the cockpit, threats to safety stress levels begin to subside and openness to outside stimuli is heightened. Stress creates a narrowing of focus, understanding and reactionary response.

Unnecessary stress in the aircraft can interfere with teacher or student learning. I can remember when I was taking fixed-wing lessons, trying to earn my initial instrument rating in a Beechcraft Sundowner. My instructor had just taken a new pilot position with one of the local commuter airlines. Like many students, I remember having trouble visualizing my position when entering holding patterns. To be honest, all of the VOR radial dialing and cross-checking left me thoroughly confused most of the time. Out of the corner of my foggles, I could see my head shaking instructor. The thought of a new career was apparently blinding my CFII to my primal difficulties with direct, parallel and yes, good old teardrop maneuvers. Stress increases, attention is focused on the threat and the student (me, in this case) doesn’t learn, nearing resignation.

As a new flight instructor gains confidence, aircraft control stressors are reduced and a whole new world of sensory data opens up. The instructor should be prepared for this new experience and realize that that it is an unbelievable learning opportunity. Being able to see most of the flight environment simultaneously permits the new instructor to recognize control input lag versus performance, traffic conflicts and allows some forecast of student accident chain potential.
This is why an experienced flight instructor makes an excellent ATP. A flight instructor combines the developed ability to discern multiple input channels with well-honed aircraft control skills. I contend that simple, point A to B commercial experience counted toward the ATP experience requirements is inferior to comparable hours of dual instruction given. For highly developed situational awareness and control skills, consider becoming a flight instructor prior to training for the ATP.

The additional knowledge gained from ATP training challenges the pilot to think on many different levels at once. The ATP experience is an opportunity for increased situational awareness. Rote learning becomes less prevalent as causal relationships and risk mitigation becomes the norm.
Choosing an experienced and dedicated flight school is another important step in the ATP process. Some of the most proficient students I’ve ever taught started with me with zero experience and became ATP certificate holders. But, they all had one thing in common – they were all flight instructors for at least one year.

ATP certification doesn’t guarantee that you will be a great pilot. Some of the best have never held an ATP. If you decide that the ATP is for you, consider becoming a CFI/CFII first. Absorb your world for a single year and then get your ATP. I think you will find that this approach is within a few degrees of being perfect.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Featured Image by Jonathan Gross

Sport Pilot Training: Everything You Need to Know

John Peltier

Want to fly around for simple travel and sightseeing but don’t have the resources to obtain a private pilot’s license? Or perhaps you can’t get the medical certificate for your private pilot but can still safely operate an aircraft. Go through sport pilot training instead!

What Can You Do as a Sport Pilot

The sport pilot rating can be very confusing to many people, even current pilots and flight instructors. It’s that “in-between” area between flying ultralights and being a full-blown private pilot.

A sport pilot can fly any aircraft categorized as a “light sport” aircraft. These aircraft weigh less than 1,320 pounds, cannot cruise faster than 120 knots, and only have seating for one passenger in addition to the pilot. There are a few other technical requirements, but these are the basics to be considered a light-sport aircraft. Examples of light-sport aircraft include the popular & timeless J-2 Cub, Aeronca Champ, the newer Cessna Skycatcher, certain gyroplanes, balloons, and gliders.

As a sport pilot, you can use your driver’s license to fly you and a friend around uncontrolled airspace during the day, under 10,000’, and in visibility greater than three miles.

Additional endorsements are available for sport pilots to be allowed to fly in certain controlled airspace and in varying light-sport aircraft.

Eligibility Requirements for Sport Pilot Training

In order to start your sport pilot training, you must have at least a valid U.S. driver’s license. Except if you’re training to fly gliders or balloons – no driver’s license is required. If you’re using a driver’s license, you’ll need to comply with any restrictions issued under this license, such as the requirement to wear corrective lenses.

You may most certainly use an FAA medical certificate instead of a driver’s license, but be careful if you don’t yet have a medical certificate and try to get one. If you apply for a medical certificate but are found ineligible for one, this will disqualify you from getting your sport pilot license. If there is any doubt about your ability to pass an FAA Third Class medical, you may just want to use your driver’s license, so long as you can safely operate an aircraft.

You need to be able to read, write, and understand English.

You’ll need to have reached your 17th birthday when you test for your sport pilot license in anything other than a glider, in which case you only need to be 16 years old. You can start training when you’re 14 for gliders, and 16 for all other aircraft.

Before you can take your practical test you’ll need to take a written knowledge test.

After a certain amount of flight training (20 hours in airplanes & gyroplanes, 10 hours in gliders) you’ll be eligible to take the final practical test with an FAA examiner.

What to Expect in Sport Pilot Training

Sport pilots still need to know the basic “rules of the road” in order to safely operate an aircraft in American skies. Your sport pilot training will start with ground instruction on some of these subjects. Some of the sport pilot ground training subjects include:

  • The FAA regulations applicable to sport pilot privileges and operations
  • Visual navigation using aeronautical charts
  • Basic weather theory as it applies to aviation
  • Understanding of aircraft systems
  • Aeronautical decision making

With the right attitude, you’ll be able to hang out in the pilot’s lounge in airports across the country and participate in discussions about these subjects! Not to mention being able to safely and effectively operate your aircraft.

You’ll also be getting up in the air for some flight instruction concurrent with most of your ground training. Depending on which aircraft category you want to get certified in, and how fast you pick things up, this could be anywhere from ten to twenty lessons.

In airplanes, for example, you’ll need a total of 20 hours flight time (half of what is required to be a private pilot). This is broken down into 15 hours of flight lessons with a flight instructor and 5 hours of solo flight.

Your first few lessons will be all about familiarizing yourself with the airplane – preflight, controls, and postflight. Once you have a foundation of these things, then your instructor will take you through basic maneuvers during your next few lessons. These topics will include takeoff, maneuvering with reference to objects on the ground, and landing. You may even get surprised with an emergency procedure or two.

At that point, you should be ready to solo! Your first solo will be limited to flying around the airport, but after that you’ll be on your own “cross-country”! This solo cross-country flight must be a minimum of 75 miles. During these 75 miles, you’ll be making a landing at a second airport other than your home base, and have one segment of the cross-country longer than 25 miles. It’s an awesome feeling!

Other airplane requirements are a total of ten takeoffs and landings to a full stop and two hours of cross-country flight training with an instructor (you’ll do this before your cross-country solo).

Once you’ve completed all of the above sport pilot training you’ll be ready for your practical test, so long as you’ve already taken your knowledge test. The knowledge test is a written test at an FAA testing center with questions related to what you learned during your ground training.

The practical test, also known as the “checkride”, is with an FAA examiner. He or she will quiz you orally before your flight on those subjects you learned in ground training, then you’ll go on out for your flight! Just imagine that it’s just another flight with your instructor. The examiner will want to see you preflight the aircraft, crank it up, takeoff, perform some basic flight maneuvers, stalls, an emergency procedure, then come back and land. That’s all there is to it! You’re now a certified sport pilot!

Restrictions on Sport Pilots You Need to Know

Some of the basic restrictions have already been outlined, like airspeed limits and altitude limits.

You also cannot operate in any controlled airspace as a basic sport pilot. That is to say, around small airports with control towers or in airspace around larger airports like Los Angeles. However – there is a provision to allow sport pilots to fly in this airspace. All it takes is some extra training and an endorsement from an instructor. You’ll learn more about using the radios, navigation, controlled airport operations, and the FAA regulations as they relate to controlled airspace.

This endorsement is really not difficult to obtain and it really opens up your options for flying!

There are many other restrictions outlined in the Federal Aviation Regulations (Part 61.315 if you’re interested). Here are some highlights from the long list:

  • You can only fly one passenger, and you may split operating costs evenly among the two of you (your passenger cannot pay more than an equal share)
  • You cannot fly to further your own business
  • You cannot fly at night
  • You cannot fly greater than 2,000 feet above the ground
Should You Pursue Sport Pilot Training?

If you want to experience the freedom of flight but can’t make the commitment for private pilot training, then absolutely go for it! Just realize that while it’s a fast-track to being a pilot, flying is a very serious business with risks. Treat is as such and you’ll be glad you did!

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Featured Image by Chris Happel

IOE, AQP, FOQA, CRM, etc: The ABCs of Airline Training Programs

Airlines are integrating new curricula and shifting the focus of airline training programs more towards enhanced safety.

Vern Weiss

Some day I should experience a different career just to see if other fields are as crazy with initialisms, acronyms and abbreviations as aviation. I’ll bet not. For the benefit of the purist, an initialism is not the same thing as an acronym. Each letter is spoken separately representing the first letter of a phrase like “FAA” (pronounced “eff-ay-ay”). Whereas an acronym is a spoken word comprised of the first letters of a phrase such as METAR (pronounced “mee-tahr) which, in everyday conversation amongst pilot buddies, would be pronounced (of course) météorologique régulière pour l’aviation. OK, so the translation isn’t as straightforward as FUBAR and SNAFU. But you must agree aviation has a bucket-load of ’em and the movers-and-shakers in aviation have been buying up all the available consonants and vowels that they can.

An Overview of Airline Training Programs

Airline training programs pretty much follow the same pattern regardless of which offers you a job. New hires start out in ground school learning about systems specific to the aircraft they’ll fly. Then comes simulator training and, depending on the simulator which is available for your particular aircraft, a short period of actual flight training might be required.1

A Boeing 747 instrument pane; at night - The ABCs of Airline Training Programs

Photo by: wilco737

Once completing the ground and simulator training phases there remains a final component in the sequence of airline training programs: Initial Operating Experience (IOE, sometimes called just “OE”). This stage of training is every bit as important as the others and, yes, there have been pilots who made it through ground and simulator training but could not get through IOE; but that is rare. As an airline pilot, every change you make in aircraft and every time you upgrade, you are required to complete IOE with a company check airman. IOE actually takes place during scheduled flights carrying paying passengers and you perform the duties of a regular first officer. The check airman (who doubles as the flight’s captain) will watch you carefully and provide instruction, tips and guide you through the myriad of procedural tasks you must perform. Think of it as “on the job airline training programs.” Even when you upgrade to captain it will be necessary for you to complete IOE. The check airman has the prerogative and obligation to terminate IOE at any time if it becomes apparent that you are a weak candidate and it’s probable that improvement is not anticipated. IOE typically consists of ten to twenty hours of flying spread out over the course of three to five regularly-scheduled multi-day line trips.

The Tenerife Airport Disaster and Introduction of CRM

In 1977, two Boeing 747s collided on a runway in the Canary Islands at Tenerife. The airport was cloaked in fog and neither aircraft’s pilots could see the other nor could the air traffic controller see either aircraft. There were language and phraseology misinterpretations and the long- and short- of it is that one of the 747s began its take-off roll while the second 747 was still on the runway. Nearly 600 people died in the Tenerife disaster. As a result of the Tenerife crash, NASA began studying the role cockpit communications played in accidents as well as the rigid authoritarian hierarchy and situational awareness existing on airline flight decks. By the early 1980s a new concept, “cockpit resource management”2 became accepted worldwide to minimize and, hopefully, eliminate those behaviors that contribute to accidents. CRM is now an important component of airline training programs and FAA Part 142 schools are including it in their programs designed for Part 91 corporate and Part 135 air taxi operators. At the core of CRM is sound reasoning: Speak up if you see or suspect something is wrong, verify, help each other; common sense basics like “drink your milk” and “don’t run with scissors.” Many improvements have appeared as a result of CRM even outside the aircraft. As an example, prior to CRM awareness air traffic controllers would rattle off a string of instructions. Now they limit the numbers given in clearances to pilots. Instead of “TransAir 257 turn left heading 2-6-0, descend to 2-5-0 and slow to 190 knots.” Did he say descend to Flight Level 2-6-0, turn to a 190 degree heading and slow to 250 knots?” No. So now they issue only two numerical components and, only after you read it back correctly, will they issue you the third piece of the instructions with which they want you to comply.

CRM is now integral to new-hire and re-currency training programs. It defines how the two-person flight crew interacts in the spirit of unity and cooperation. It can get real busy on the flight deck of an airliner, especially approaching the destination. Captains and First Officers commonly alternate flying each leg. The PF (Pilot-Flying) just flies. Period. The PNF (Pilot-Not Flying) does all the radio work. But approaching your destination, there are many other duties required of the PNF: Company Operations is waiting for your radio call with your ETA info, maintenance status and in return advise you of your parking gate. The PNF must also obtain the weather from the ATIS (or ACARS if equipped) and calculate landing data and target speeds for the approach. The PNF is real busy. Meanwhile the air traffic controllers seem to continually be calling with headings and altitudes as they line you up for the approach. You can’t do it all. Enter CRM. Even though the PF’s duty is only to fly the airplane, everything might be under control and you will be excused to go off the controller’s frequency to take care of all those things while the PF handles any calls from the controllers.

A flight attendant and passengers on an airliner - The ABCs of Airline Training Programs

Photo by: Kevin Morris

Or the flight attendant calls and says there’s an unruly passenger and the captain is the PF on that leg. He feels comfortable being alone during this portion of the flight and can handle the radio easily while managing the airplane. Even though he’s the ultimate authority for the flight and usually the one to handle such problems, he also knows you are brand new on the job and it will also start getting busy soon. His evaluation of the situation leads him to decide not to leave you alone handling the radio and the imminent flurry of flight instructions, so he delegates the responsibility of your going back to settle the problem. Before you remove your headset you say, “I’m off the radio” and he says, “I got the radio.” Anyone observing this exchange might think it should have been obvious to both of you who was listening and who wasn’t. But it’s verification that he’s now handling his and your tasks and you are excused.

Or the air traffic controller issues a clearance to turn to 320° but the pilot who’s flying makes no attempt to change the aircraft heading. The non-flying pilot leans over toward the flying pilot and says, “Um, Jim…did you copy he wants a turn to three-two-zero?” “Oh gosh! I was daydreaming!”

That’s CRM.

The Advanced Qualification Program

In the last 15 years a new pilot training concept has been introduced with increasing use among most major and a growing number of regional airlines. The Advanced Qualification Program (AQP) is a voluntary departure from traditional FAA Part 121 and 135 pilot training methods. Once an air carrier submits and receives FAA approval for their AQP program, pilots can be trained using innovative, non-traditional means so long as their proficiency meets or exceeds the level resulting from traditional curricula. FAA Advisory Circular 120-54 states that in an AQP program, pilots are trained to a standard of proficiency on all objectives and it is not necessary to verify proficiency by checking every such item on every check ride. Rather, the proficiency evaluation may consist of a sampling of one of several similar items.3 The benefit of the AQP program is that it can reduce training time and cost. More flexibility is permitted to introduce new technologies and equipment, operations and training techniques without conflicting with the literal interpretation of regulations and/or protracted approval protocols. Proficiency tasks can be consolidated in an AQP. As an example, outside of an AQP pilots must demonstrate non-precision approaches during each proficiency check. This means VOR, NDB and localizer approaches must each be flown. Under an approved AQP a pilot need only demonstrate one of these types of nonprecision approaches.

Advanced Qualification Programs place heavy emphasis on Crew Resource Management. In the “old days,” the mentality leaned toward pilots showing that they could be “loaded up” during an emergency and handle it all. AQP’s attention is on safety, efficiency and utilizing all of the resources (including other crew members) in dealing with emergencies as well as non-emergency situations.

What is FOQA?

Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) is an acronym pronounced “foh-kwah.” It’s not a training term but is a significant tool in the development of airline training programs. FOQA centers on Flight Data Monitoring4 whereby equipment monitors and records sensor parameters as an aircraft moves. In turn, this data is downloaded and analyzed to determine operational problems, maintenance issues and reveal areas where cost could be reduced. The overall goal of FOQA programs is to improve safety but often Flight Data Monitoring reveals problems that would not otherwise be known in the way aircraft are handled. Here’s an example: There may be an instrument departure that requires an aircraft reaching 3,000 feet by the time it is 5 miles from the airport. FOQA analysts notice that airline pilots consistently violate this requirement and routinely reach only 2,700 feet by the time they pass the 5 mile point. To fix this performance deficiency, the airline implements changing it’s training procedures to include a departing airplane leveling off at an interim altitude to allow it to accelerate to a predetermined speed, then continue its climb. The additional speed and momentum gained in a momentary level-off might be all that is needed to achieve the performance required to comply with the 3,000′ restriction in the departure procedure.

FOQA may also reveal pilots’ violations or mishandling of the aircraft. This probably explains why the program doesn’t enjoy unanimous enthusiasm although checks and balances are built into data collection to protect anonymity to a certain degree. FOQA exists for what its name implies, quality assurance.

In Conclusion

There was a time, not so very long ago, that pilot training was somewhat inconsistent and check-ride maneuvers spontaneous. Ask someone who got their ATP certificate in the 1960s what their check-ride was like. Some of those pilots’ stories about the devious things concocted by their examiners are incredible. Thankfully we have moved beyond such haphazard methods and airline training programs are now more carefully thought out, tried-and-tested and audited to make it more “real world” and safe. Isn’t that the goal of any training?

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Sources and Footnotes:

1 – Flight Simulator Training: Cutting Costs and Improving Skills – STIMulation BY SIMulation Vern Weiss – December 8, 2015.

Older models of aircraft still flown by airlines may breed older types of simulators. Pilot proficiency check rides conducted in Level “C” and Level “D” simulators (if approved and usually are by the FAA under Part 121 Appendix H) can be used for the entire proficiency check. However older simulators that are still be around may require an inflight training session (“3-bounces” or touch-and-goes) in the actual aircraft.

2 – The term “Cockpit Resource Management” later evolved into “Crew Resource Management” because the concept was extended beyond pilots to other flight crew members and the cockpit was more often called the “flight deck” on airline transports.

3 – https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/training/aqp/more/background/

4 – Many pilots prefer the derisive term, “the snitch.”

Bush Pilot Training and Mud Flying – Say Again?

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

Often pilots who fly small to medium-sized aircraft as a means of amassing hours to vie for positions with the airlines and cargo planes are likely to become bored with consistently flying prescribed routes and filing the same flight plans. In comparison, there is a category of pilots who enjoys the challenge of flying in adverse conditions and who does not care about earning a large salary: bush pilots. They are highly respected for their flying skills which include the ability to avoid flying by the numbers and to use unregistered airfields or no airfields at all; in essence, it requires the mastery of the “flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” technique. At first glance, it appears to be dangerous and disconcerting, but with the proper bush pilot training, it is neither.

The realities of becoming a bush pilot may be summed up as follows:

  • Being away from home for long periods of time.
  • Expecting to live in accommodations that range from the more traditional hotels or motels to camping out in the back of the aircraft.
  • Existing on a more modest salary.

The journey to becoming a bush pilot begins with obtaining a PPL (a private pilot’s license) and subsequently obtaining CPL (commercial pilot’s license). If as a bush pilot, you plan on ferrying passengers, an ATPL (air traffic pilot’s license) is required and this can take up to five years if it is taken on a part-time basis. The financial investment can range from $10,000.00 up to $50,000.00 depending upon how intensive the pilot’s attention is to the course as well as how cheaply an aircraft and an instructor can be retained. Passing the theoretical portion of the bush pilot training demands a significant amount of studying and writing of exams while passing the practical portion of the bush pilot training demands the ability to cope with abnormal conditions, such as removing ice from the control surfaces of the aircraft because it was frozen overnight. Flying in rural settings in Africa sometimes requires overcoming conditions generated by the indigenous wildlife, such as when the tires on the aircraft needed to be changed because the lions had chewed them up, or the pilot needed to make an extra pass to chase the elephants off the runway prior to landing.

Obviously, before a pilot can be paid for any type of flying, he or she must meet the FAA’s minimum requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English
  • Have at least a PPL or higher pilot’s license certificate from the FAA
  • Have a minimum of 250 hours of flying experience
  • Have your logbook endorsed by a CFI (certified flight instructor) to confirm the aforementioned ratings and experience
  • Pass all practical and theoretical tests to earn a commercial pilot’s license. Most flight programs that offer commercial pilot’s training, offer a program for students to earn this type of certificate.

Some bush pilots at an airport, fueling their aircraft - Bush Pilot Training

Once the commercial pilot’s license has been obtained, there are specialized flight schools that offer bush pilot training which typically includes training to fly aircraft that are equipped with floats, skis or tundra wheels since [even unregulated] airports, landing strips, roads, and other vestiges of civilization are virtually nonexistent in the bush. These flight schools provide training in abnormal conditions, including landing on lakes, gravel bars on riverbanks, and frozen lakes during the winter months. In Alaska, it is not uncommon to travel by snowmobiles during the winter due to a lack of roads and waterways that have frozen solid.

The choice of environment in which the bush pilot chooses to fly determines what type of aircraft and type of work he or she will be flying, as well as the demands of the required courses and flying lessons, which can range from a few hours to a week. On an average, a ski plane and a glacier landing training class will take five hours at a cost of approximately $1800.00, and will include two nights of lodging. In comparison, a sea-plane refresher course will cost approximately $180.00 per hour while a bush and mountain flying course will take five hours of ground school and five hours of flight time costing approximately $1400.00 with two nights of lodging. An advanced bush pilot training course can require up to five days, including five to seven hours of ground school plus five to seven hours of flight time that covers mountain flying, river landings, and high altitude lakes. Learning to fly under such extreme conditions challenges and sharpens a pilot’s skills to enable him or her to expertly function in the remote sections of Alaska, Canada, or in other off-airport conditions. He or she will learn to take off and land under conditions that conventional pilots consider to be impossible or extremely dangerous, as well as learn precision flying which develops the ability to take off and land in very confined spaces safely and confidently (Pieterse, 2008).

In 1932, extreme conditions in Alaska once again indicated that “ingenuity is the mother of invention” when Alaskan aviators invented “mud flying” during a medical emergency. Bush pilot Jerry Jones was able to land on a glacier with skis but a lack of snow would not permit him to take off again. The local fire department lent its assistance by flooding the dirt runway at the airport with its fire hoses which transformed it into mud thereby allowing the pilot to take off. A similar situation played out in Valdez, South America in 1933 when bush pilot Bob Reeve aided in opening up access to the mining of the mineral riches in a nearby area which required landing when the snow was absent to locate the quartz deposits. Approximately two miles from Valdez, he located a tide-water area that at low tide offered a flat surface composed of fine clay silt and wet goose grass where he could land his Fairchild 51 on skis. By keeping the skis on year-round which facilitated the mudflat innovative landing, Reeve was able to encourage the Valdez boom even further. Reeve continued to fly on the mudflats in Valdez until World War II when he supported the military in Northway and the Aleutian Islands (Mondor, 2015).

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Sources and References:

Mondor, C. (2015). “When Alaska Aviators Invented Mud Flying.” Retrieved on February 6, 2016

Pieterse, C. (2008). “How to Become a Bush Pilot.” Retrieved on February 6, 2016

Commercial Pilot Requirements: Everything You Need to Know

John Peltier

It’s easy to get discouraged from pursuing your dreams when you take a quick glance at the requirements to be a commercial pilot. I went through the same thing. But you know what? It’s really not as hard as it seems. Here we’ll break down the commercial pilot requirements, both from a regulatory perspective and also a practical perspective.

FAA Commercial Pilot Requirements

Here it is, interpreted straight from Federal Aviation Regulations Part 61, Subpart F.

General Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to be a commercial pilot, a candidate must be 18 years of age. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be 18 to start your training – you just have to be 18 years old by the time you go take your practical test. It is possible to get your commercial pilot license the day you turn 18 if you work hard at meeting all of your flight experience for the commercial pilot requirements before you turn 18.

You must also be able to read, write, and speak the English language. There is a provision for those with certain disabilities. For example, if a learning disability prevents proper writing, the FAA may still grant the commercial pilot license with certain restrictions.

A female flight instructor in an airplane cockpit - Commercial Pilot Requirements

Photo by: H Michael Miley

You’ll also need to be endorsed by an authorized flight instructor. The instructor is giving you their blessing that you are prepared to take the required exams. It is possible to learn all of your ground knowledge through self-study, but this doesn’t mean you won’t be spending time in ground school with an instructor. They’ll still need to evaluate all of your knowledge (and they will find holes!) before sending you off for your tests. The endorsements are required before taking your written “knowledge” test and also before taking your practical test – the “final exam”.

While you may be able to do most of your ground training on your own, the flight standards are high and the flight training will need to be done with an authorized instructor. Meaning you can’t take your buddy who is a licensed helicopter pilot, go out flying every day in an airplane, and log training towards your commercial pilot requirements for an airplane.

You will also need to meet aeronautical experience requirements. Put simply, the FAA will not grant a commercial license to a pilot who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the air. It takes a lot of flight time in different flight conditions to obtain skills necessary to be a competent commercial pilot. These are the aeronautical experience requirements – flight time in different conditions, and they’ll be discussed shortly.

As previously mentioned, you’ll need to pass a practical test. This involves an oral exam with an FAA flight examiner and then a flight where you will show him that you are ready to be a pilot at the commercial level.

It should also go without saying that to get a commercial pilot license, you need to hold at least a private pilot license first.

The final paragraph of Part 61.123, Eligibility Requirements, states that you must comply with the sections of these regulations that apply to the aircraft category and class rating. Things like don’t fly while intoxicated, maintain an appropriate medical clearance, wear oxygen masks when required, etc.

Specific Commercial Pilot Requirements

You’ll need to have a good understanding of many different aeronautical subjects. FAR Part 61.125 lists areas of aeronautical knowledge required for a commercial pilot applicant. These are the knowledge areas you’ll be tested on for both your written knowledge test and the oral practical test. I won’t list them all here; the entire list is available in FAR Part 61.125. They include all Federal Aviation Regulations that pertain to commercial pilot operations in your aircraft category and class, accident reporting requirements, aerodynamics, weather, aeronautical decision-making, and night operations.

An R22 Instrument panel - Commercial Pilot Requirements

Photo by: Marg

Now on to the flight proficiency part of commercial pilot requirements. Part 61.127 is about flight proficiency – these are the areas of flight training that you’ll need to do with an authorized instructor. The FAA examiner will test you on these procedures during your practical test. Again, the list is extensive so we’ll just list a few things here. They include: preflight procedures, performance maneuvers, navigation, ground reference maneuvers, and emergency operations. There are different commercial pilot requirements based on if you are pursuing a license in single-engine airplanes, multi-engine airplanes, rotorcraft, powered-lift, gliders, airships, or balloons. Some people pick up these skills right away while others may take a little extra training – be prepared for this and don’t get discouraged!

You will also need to have logged a certain amount of flight time under various conditions. FAR Part 61.29 lists these requirements, and again, they vary between different aircraft categories and classes. Except for gliders, airships, and balloons, they do all require that you log at least 100 hours of pilot-in-command time. This is probably the biggest requirement to get past due to the investment in time and money required. You’ll also need a number of cross-country hours – 50 for airplanes, 10 for helicopters. The FAA also requires a minimum of 20 hours of training with an instructor in the areas of flight proficiency mentioned in the previous paragraph. The good thing is that these will all count towards your 100 hours!

Other Commercial Pilot Requirements

Now that we got all the dry requirements out of the way, let’s quickly discuss other responsibilities of becoming a commercial pilot.

The hard work, dedication, and studying will never end. It’s especially intense while you’re going through your training, but that won’t be the end of it. You’ll constantly have to stay abreast of new technologies and regulations, and study up on the things you may have forgotten. I make it a point to go back and study a subject once a week. It could be airspace weather minimums, emergency procedures, or physiology. The FAA grants you the privilege of flying other people around in compensation for money. Isn’t that amazing? Don’t abuse this privilege and don’t take it lightly.

Along with this is maintaining a clean life outside of your flying as well. Stay out of trouble with the law and don’t do anything to jeopardize your medical clearance. Your job will depend on this!

In Conclusion

Becoming a commercial pilot requires a significant investment in both time and money. Be sure that you’re capable of meeting these requirements before starting your training.

This just about sums up the commercial pilot requirements! There’s just something special about flying – once you get the taste of it, it’ll stick with you forever. And to be paid to do this?! Only in dreams, right? Well, now that you’re starting the journey to become a commercial pilot, that’s one dream that can come true.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

The Questions to Ask When Choosing a Flight School

Early in childhood, most of us were taught these basic types of questions and how to apply them in any given situation. When it comes to choosing a flight school, these old friends will not lead you astray. Selecting where to do your pilot training is a serious endeavor that can be tedious, confusing, and often overwhelming. My goal, however, is that you walk away from this article feeling a bit more prepared when taking the first steps toward your next aviation adventure, whatever and whenever that may be.

Choosing a Flight School: The Who

Do your best to meet several flight instructors, including those who would likely be assigned to you. If the Chief Instructor Pilot is available to discuss their programs, that’s even better. Try to speak with some of the office staff and aircraft maintainers, as well. Talk to them about their backgrounds, ask all your questions, and don’t be afraid to get their opinion on the company and training programs. You would be surprised the kinds of insight people will offer when given the opportunity.

Choosing a Flight School: The What

A Cessna 172 Skyhawk in flight.

Take a good look at the aircraft you’ll be flying, as well as the number of aircraft available versus the number flown on a daily basis. Having twenty aircraft means very little if only three of them are airworthy, and should be looked at as a red flag. Inside the aircraft of today’s schools, the systems and equipment can vary greatly. Do the majority of aircraft have glass cockpits or steam gauges? Dual GPS or a single VOR? Are you looking to be trained only in aircraft with new digital, glass cockpits? The options will be many, so have an idea of your equipment desires before you venture out.

Choosing a Flight School: The When

A student’s pace in training can largely be determined by availability, both on the part of the instructor and the student. Ask about CFI-to-Student ratios, and be honest with yourself about your own availability. Perhaps your planned schedule only allows for early morning flights on the weekends, which the school may or may not be able to support. These will be some of the factors that determine your expectations for the pace at which you complete training. Be justifiably leery of any school whose main attraction is a shortest-time-to-ratings mantra; effective instruction will be inherently efficient and should establish a reasonable pace unique to every student.

Choosing a Flight School: The Where

Is the airport in a remote location? Is it near an International Airport? Is it based at an International Airport? Are there other flight schools at the same airport, adding to the daily traffic density? How will those factors affect your training and do they align with your desires as a student pilot? Some students seek the structure and added rigor of Class Bravo airspace, while others may want the quiet radios of a small, hometown airstrip. Ask to see the briefing rooms where you’ll do ground training, as well as maintenance spaces and administrative offices. You’ll be spending a good amount of time, and money, so get to know the facilities.

Choosing a Flight School: The Why

One of the most efficient questions you can ask a prospective school is “Why should I choose your flight school over every other flight school?” This is where doing your homework and visiting multiple schools if your local area affords it, can really pay dividends. No flight school should be shy about answering this question. In fact, one would hope to hear a prideful undertone in their response.

Choosing a Flight School: The Howchoosing a flight school

The final two questions are a culmination of everything we have discussed. Often times the first and most decisiveaspect of flight training is “How much will it cost?” A valid concern considering the cost of present day flight training. Get specifics in writing for aircraft (including variously equipped), instructors, ground school, written exam and checkride fees, required vs. desired training supplies, security badge fees, and any other school-specific costs. This will be one of the best ways to compare apples-to-apples between various locations.

The last question, and in my opinion far and away the most important: How did you feel? Every flight school is different, from the people to the aircraft to the fabric on the chairs in the lobby. It is of the utmost importance that you not only feel comfortable and safe in the environment but that you get a deeper, internal sense of “this is the right place for me”. I would offer the flight school should feel the same way. They should be accepting of and forthcoming regarding your questions and supportive of you choosing what best suits you and your goals as a pilot. If they aren’t, how does that make you feel?

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

The Call: The Moment When Your Childhood Dreams Come True

Getting “The Call” After Your Airline Pilot Training

Making it through the airline pilot selection process is an accomplishment but successfully completing your airline pilot training is nothing short of awesome.

Vern Weiss

You’ve been submitting applications to airlines for over a year and reading doom-and-gloom on pilot blogs, which is beginning to work on your mind. If you allow yourself to believe what you’ve read, you’d give up. “How can I ever hope to get called-in for an airline interview with my experience?” “What do they want? Space shuttle proficiency?” Sheesh! Simply stated, they seek candidates who exhibit the basic skills required for training, good character, “fit in,” sound judgment, common sense, a positive attitude, compliant principles and professional behavior. They just want quality individuals and pursue neither Einsteins nor dim-wits.

airline pilot trainingNext Step in Your Airline Pilot Training: The Interview Process

Since the 1980s, the field of personality and psychological testing has exploded in American business and even job applicants for low-level, non-professional/non-career jobs can be required to undergo such assessments. Major passenger and cargo airlines are most prone for this screening. Small and medium-sized companies are more content with simplicity in their processes.

The interview process for most major carriers tends to follow a similar format. Dinky little airlines may whip you through their process in a day or two while majors may drag it out to 4 or 5 days and spread it out over several months.

If the airline is actively recruiting pilots and after you’ve submitted your on-line application you may hear from them between a couple weeks to couple months later. Major airlines now incorporate personality and psychological testing along with their on-line applications. While applying, you will be invited to click a link for their personality test. The Hogan Personality Inventory and MMPI are two such tests and consist of 400+ questions to sniff out “the REAL you.” Questions are carefully designed to minimize your “outsmarting” the test. If you are going to be invited to continue in their process, you’ll probably hear within a month.

When invited for an interview the airline often furnishes a non-revenue pass for travel; but not always. Plan a back-up in case your flight cancels. If you can, try to arrange things to arrive the night before and stay at a nearby hotel if even at your own expense. Being slam-dunked into an interview by traveling on the same day can frazzle you, which you certainly do not want.

The interview usually starts with a welcome presentation by human resources and flight operations management. You’re then whisked away to a personal interview with an HR person. They’ll go over your application, resume and ask those “gotcha”-type job interview questions like, “Have you ever had a conflict with a supervisor?.” If you have and spill your guts, make sure the noose is cinched up tightly around your neck before they pull the lever.

Company Knowledge: Don’t Leave Home Without It!

It is very important to do some homework and research the airline because they’ll find out if you’re interested enough to do it. Learn all you can. Know the CEO’s name, their stock value, number and types of planes, their history et cetera. Internet search news stories about them in the last year. When asked if you know anything about them they don’t want you to rattle-off a memorized spiel but if you can casually work in some fact about them it shows your interest and makes a positive impression. (Interviewer: “Why do you want to fly for us?” You:Blah-blah-blah-blah and I understand you’ve ordered 40 new 737s early this year which underscores this as a solid, growing company.” Interviewer’s Voice Inside His Head: “H-m-m-m, this guy’s on top of things. I won’t bother asking him anymore about the company. And maybe for lunch today, I’ll order pastrami on rye.” Interviewers are human, too.)

airline pilot trainingThe Pilot Board or Panel Interview

Another component is a pilot board or panel interview. Expect from one to five management pilots to pelt you with scripted questions. They’re probing. They want to see if you can think on your feet. They’re sizing up your personality to see if you’re the type they’d like to be paired with inside a cockpit for long hours. They’re sampling the depth of your aviation knowledge. They may ask you questions that they themselves don’t even know the answer to like, “I see you are now flying a Beech Baron. What is the maximum takeoff weight of that airplane?” Not one of them on that panel may be able to answer that question but you’d better be able to or, at least, can act like you do. Also, you can expect “What would you do if…” judgment questions. Think through your response before opening thy mouth. They’ve interviewed hundreds like you so don’t blow smoke.

The pilot board interview may be when your logbooks will be scrutinized so be sure they are up to date. The person thumbing through them might pick out something to ask you about: “I see you flew into O’Hare three years ago. What did you think about that experience?” On any questions try to be positive. They don’t want to hear that you screwed-up making a taxiway turn, gridlocked 35 airplanes behind you that were waiting to take-off and got so stressed out that you never want to go back. “Um..,” the questioner might say, “we fly into O’Hare.” Oops. Cinch up that noose a little tighter.

Instead, answer temperately with something like, “It was fascinating to watch how ATC can move so many aircraft so efficiently.” Spin things with an “up” tone. Of course, there are things that cannot be spun positively like violations or accidents. Be honest because it is assured that they will check your FAA records before hiring you. There’s probably no such thing as putting a “positive spin” on a blemished record but we make our mistakes and then move on. If skeletons are in your closet, anticipate dreaded, tough questions and develop honest, humble answers. Mistakes and mishaps might be “softened” by admitting their value as a profound lesson burned into your head that ensures your never again allowing them to happen.

Not All Airline Pilot Training is in the Cockpit: Written and Medical Exams

There is usually a written examination consisting of aviation knowledge questions. The questions are often multiple choice and true-false and similar to those found on FAA written examinations. Such tests are administered both on-line or in person during the interview process.

Large carriers customarily put you through a medical examination and, of course, all airlines are mandated to test for drugs and alcohol. Smaller airlines are normally content just with your holding an FAA medical certificate. Although it was common practice not too long ago there could be a psychological assessment done by a “shrink.” Major US airlines have moved away from this but some foreign carriers haven’t. In one such interview of mine, I entered the company psychiatrist’s office. In front of his desk was a blue chair and an orange chair. I don’t know if it was true or not but word from the grapevine was that whichever chair you chose somehow mattered. Since I was hired I guess they wanted pilots who choose blue chairs. Sigh.

One Last Piece of Airline Pilot Training: The Simulator Evaluation

The final component is frequently a flight simulator evaluation though the majors are abandoning them. Smaller airlines generally use a contracted simulator center at a nearby pilot school or Part 142 training company. Though many times smaller carriers use simulators emulating small general aviation twin-engine aircraft, large airlines conduct the assessment in a simulator for one of their aircraft types. You may find comfort knowing that they don’t expect a non-trained pilot to fly the simulator as an experienced one should. However what they do expect to see is good instrument scan, judgment, prioritizing skills, planning and corrective action if something goes wrong. The simulator evaluator may run the simulator by remote control while sitting in the right seat and serving as your co-pilot.

Important: Use the simulator evaluator all you can get away with!

Have him/her adjust your power settings, dial radio and navigation frequencies, run checklists, set flaps and landing gear. Don’t feel rushed. When it’s time to set up for an instrument approach, tell the evaluator to take the controls while you familiarize yourself with the approach procedure. It’s not expected that you would know their emergency procedures but if something happens like an engine fire, order your “co-pilot” to run “the appropriate checklist.” You don’t have to know what the checklist is called; they just want to see a pro-active reaction from you. This isn’t a check-ride, it’s an evaluation to see if you possess core abilities to be “trainable.” Do your best, be respectful and gracious, shake hands and exit the simulator on your wobbly knees. Then hope for the best.

Waiting and Fitting In

Each step in the interview process may be separated by days or weeks. The waiting is agonizing although applicants disqualified during any phase are usually notified quickly.

When I arrived to interview for one of the majors I wore a tan coat with brown pants but noticed that every other pilot wore either a dark blue or black suit. I was also the only one with a mustache. Somehow, even with my colossal blunder, I got through that day and, obviously, when getting called back for Phase II, my mustache was gone and my suit was dark blue. Silly? You bet it is! Maybe it wasn’t even noticed by anyone at the airline. But why blow this opportunity by with something that may be interpreted as not fitting in? Airlines are not interested in pilots who hear a different drummer. They want discipline, consistency, and players who fit in with the team.

airline pilot training

They say there’s a pilot shortage but leave out that the jobs with good, solid companies still get plenty of applicants. It’s smaller airlines flying smaller equipment with less pay that seem to be having the pilot shortage. Many small-to-medium sized airlines are overlooked great places to work. Even if you land a job with a company but cannot see yourself there for the long-term, it’s never a wasted effort. The time and experience you acquire will make you that much more attractive to the good, solid medium-sized and major carriers than you are now.

In Conclusion

Airline pilots must continually prove themselves and the first proving of oneself is the pilot selection process. It’s a compliment just being chosen but then your effort continues. Next comes the interview process. Slaloming around the pitfalls and potholes of the interview to be offered a job is deserving of all the gratification you’ll feel. But the job offer is just a gateway allowing you to be trained. Airline pilot training is demanding and challenging and successful completion provides another well-deserved feeling of accomplishment. Then, as a line pilot, you’ll prove yourself through PCs (Pilot Checks), line checks, annual ground school final exams, upgrades or transition training and, of course, your frequent FAA physical. Some pilots scornfully view these checks as a game of chance with its stakes being their jobs. Others see these re-qualifications as only routine renewals for the privilege of having a pretty cool job. Though periodic checking is an ongoing requisite throughout an airline career you’ll come away from each with a sense of professional recognition and satisfaction.

But the most satisfaction comes during your quiet moments of reflection. Each day of flying presents hundreds, maybe, thousands of things, each one requiring a perfect plan, a perfect response and perfect handling by you. It is then that you’ll understand that each day is really a check-ride and those periodic ones become nothing more than routine formalities demonstrating what you know, what you do and what you are every other day.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Accelerated Flight Training Versus Regular Flight Training

Dr. Mary Ann O’Grady

When considering enrollment in a flight training facility that offers “accelerated flight training” courses that allow you to earn your private pilot’s license or other ratings, such as instrument, commercial or CFI/CFII (flight instructor) within a reduced timeframe [seemingly] in an attempt to save you time and money, reflect upon these questions:

How do accelerated flight training programs compare and contrast with regular flight training programs?

How does the quality of the education compare/contrast between accelerated flight training schools and regular flight training schools?

Do you have what it takes to attend accelerated flight training schools and successfully complete an accelerated flight training program to get your “ticket”?

Accelerated Flight TrainingThe definition of accelerated flight training in comparison to regular flight training suggests that a flight student will be able to complete any one of the pilot training programs within a reduced time frame while still adhering to the number of hours required by the FAA at every one of their FAA certified flight schools. For example, the private pilot license requires a minimum of 40 hours according to parts 61 and 91 of the FARs. This includes 20 hours of “dual” flying with an instructor, 10 hours of “solo” flight time when you will be practicing preflight procedures, airport operations, takeoffs and landings, navigation, flight at various airspeeds, stalls, night operation, and emergency operations. You will also need three hours dual cross-country flying with a destination in excess of 50 miles from their origin, three hours of dual night flying, and three hours of dual flying by instruments only. Your solo flight time includes a minimum of five hours on cross-country flights during which one trip must cover a minimum of 150 miles with landings at three airports.

The aeronautical knowledge required by the FAA in the FARs in addition to the time spent developing your flying skills in the air, includes aerodynamics, aircraft systems, aeronautical decision-making, weather reports and forecasts, planning for the unexpected, aircraft performance, and various methods of navigation that is often dictated by what avionics are available in the flight school’s aircraft as well as what nav aids are located on the airports where you are flying. My suggestion is to take advantage of everything that is available to you rather than developing a penchant for a particular nav aid that may or may not be available to you in the case of an emergency or due to other unforeseen circumstances.

In addition to the ground (classroom) and flight (in the air) training, it is necessary for you to demonstrate your mastery of both the theoretical and practical application of the material by taking and passing a written, oral, and practical flight test with an FAA examiner. Although you must pass the written test by taking advantage of any number of study guides that are available, I caution you that passing the written test alone will not make you a safe and competent pilot. Your flight instructor will guide you in what areas to study as well as where you will find the most up-to-date information which is the ideal way to spend those times when you have IFR conditions and you are working towards becoming a VFR pilot. As one honest flight instructor succinctly told his advanced aviation students: “Yes, I can teach the ATP ground school for taking the written ATP exam in three days, but you will never retain the information.”

If you are considering enrolling in accelerated flight training schools with an accelerated program, be sure to reflect upon whether that program will provide the same quality of instruction that a regular or non-accelerated flight training program does. It is wise to consider the level of flight training or rating that you wish to pursue at this point because they require varying levels of expertise to successfully complete. For example, if you are just entering your initial private pilot training program which will serve as the foundation for all the rest of the ratings that you may decide to pursue, you might want to ensure that it is at the highest level of ground school and practical (in the air) experience. This will maximize your learning of the course materials and developing your skills as PIC (pilot in command). Typically it is better to learn a skill correctly the first time than it is to have to unlearn it and then develop that skill correctly. Perhaps the major consideration when making the decision regarding an accelerated flight training program is whether or not you personally have the temperament and capability to successfully complete such a program to get your “ticket”?

Not every student functions equally as well in a high-stress environment which is usually exacerbated by an accelerated flight training program. In addition, flying has sometimes been described as “hours of boredom occasionally punctuated by several minutes of pure panic.” This is not meant to discourage your decision regarding accelerated flight training schools and accelerated programs. However, when you have flown for thousands of hours, you are bound to encounter challenging situations, such as non-functioning radios, a deterioration in the weather, a malfunctioning flap switch, etc. So, developing confidence in your abilities as a PIC becomes a prime directive where you must be able to make a decision based on the information that you have available to you at that point in time and then stick with it whether you like it or not.

There is one accelerated flight training program that is being advertised on the Internet which purports to be the “fastest, safest and most affordable path to the sky” and that you can “learn to fly as little as 10 days or less” with their accelerated flight training program. They also promise to focus on teaching “in a relaxed, laid back environment.”  One thing that is immediately evident with this program is the lack of the student-centered ideology, and instead a focus on the philosophy, talent, skills, and goals of the owner/CEO.  There is little or no reference to tailoring their instruction to maximize student learning potential and a successful completion of the program.

Accelerated Flight Training

And also keep in mind, the indication of an excellent flight instructor is his or her ability to instill those skills and information in his or her students.

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Flight Attendant Training: It’s More than the Seat Belt Demo

If the public had a clue as to how necessary flight attendants are and how rigorous the airline flight attendant training programs are, they’d can their stupid comments.

Vern Weiss

They are there neither to serve you a beverage nor bring you a pillow. That’s what the airline’s marketing departments tell them they should do but it’s not their function. They are flight attendants … air host and hostesses … stewards and stewardesses and they are there for only one reason: to save your life if something goes horribly wrong. It’s a proud profession and tough to enter and equally tough to do.

Flying as a captain for one airline, I was inbound one night to New York’s LaGuardia airport. With 106 people on board, it was the last leg of a long day that started out in Tampa. Due to a hurricane nudging its way up the East coast all occupants in our plane had enjoyed our flight as much as anyone might being dragged on a pothole-filled street in a bathtub. Passengers were crabby and had been taking it out on the exhausted flight attendants all day. As usual in lousy weather, LaGuardia was stacked up and New York Center moved us from one holding fix to another, ostensibly inching us closer to the airport. Although the flight ordinarily took one hour we had been in the air 2-1/2 hours.

As the air traffic controller issued yet another holding clearance, hail began to pound our fuselage. The flight interphone chimed and I answered. The “B” flight attendant said the gentleman in seat 23-C was having chest pains. As is procedure, she made a PA announcement asking if any medical professionals were on board. No. Meanwhile, the first officer was busy convincing Approach Control to give us priority handling into LaGuardia. The airspace was thick with airplanes, every one of them filled with passengers similarly without cheer. Aircraft in a sorry state like ours get priority so we were cleared to leave the holding pattern for immediate radar vector headings to a “conga line” to join the airplanes on the approach. This would still take us north of New York City but then we’d double back and land to the south.

flight attendant trainingAnother call to the cabin and I could hear babies crying behind the flight attendant’s taught voice and what sounded like a guy angrily yelling. She’s doing all she could but 23-C is now sweating profusely and his color is changing. To my right, the first officer is arranging for an ambulance to meet us on the ground. A lady in 5-B then pushes the flight attendant’s call button. The “A” attendant breaks off the commotion around seat 23-C to check on what 5-B needs. 5-B thinks she’s having a baby. “…make that TWO ambulances.”

We are cleared for the approach…I call for flaps. Behind me, the flight attendants are doing cabin checks in the midst of telling 5-B to breathe while watching 23-C for signs to start CPR. They’re running through the before-landing PA announcement like an auctioneer. “Breathe ma’am!” “Hang on, sir!” Glide slope intercept. “Landing gear down”. Flight attendants rushing around to configure the cabin for landing. “Full flaps.” One last plea to 5-C to “BREATHE!” then the “A” attendant hustles to strap in her seat. Passengers see the parking lot lights at window level. Meanwhile, the “B” attendant loosens 23-C’s shirt collar, adjusts the fresh air directed to his face, scurries to her fold-down seat and straps in. Ten seconds later our main landing gear touches down on runway 22.

For flight attendants, it’s all in a day’s work. And very likely on that flight, there were passengers who went home grousing that the flight attendants didn’t offer drink refills.

So, What Does a Flight Attendant Do?

Let’s cut through it all and talk about why a flight attendant is there in the first place. He or she exists to evacuate the aircraft if something bad happens. When an airplane crashes, ditches, skids off a runway or its cabin fills with smoke, the flight attendants are responsible for getting the passengers out. Don’t rely too much on that doofus occupying the seat next to the emergency exit. Like most passengers he was ignoring the flight attendant’s safety announcement and will probably not be able to figure out how to operate the mechanism anyway. In addition, he’ll be crushed and immobilized by people crowding him against the exit. Add to the mix a fuselage that’s upside-down, in water or filled with smoke or fire and it’s no scenario for an amateur. It is the flight attendants who will get the exits open, escape slides activated and people moved out without life-threatening gridlock in the cabin.

flight attendant training

Photo by roman ring

The FAA manual titled Flight Standards Information System (FSIMS) is a repository containing documentation, interpretation, and guidance for FAA inspectors. It’s used for certification and operations of commercial operators. Although regulations specify the criteria1 and duty/rest periods for flight attendants2 it was not until 1985 that the FAA made a legal interpretation to define the flight attendant’s job.3 And here it is: “Safety briefings, Compliance checks of seat belt fastening, Conducting passenger briefings, Ensuring passenger compliance with stowage of the food and beverage tray, Ensuring passenger compliance with the seatbelt and no smoking placards/lights, Checking for the proper stowage of carry-on baggage, Attending distressed passengers, or Responding to emergency situations.” As you see there’s no mention of providing beverage service or pillows. (Those come from the company’s marketing department.)

Flight attendants (or “FAs”) working for FAA Part 121, 125 or 135 operators fall under strict regulations. This is not the case for a flight attendant working for a Part 91 corporate aviation department. Corporate Part 91 flight attendants very often exist primarily for passenger comfort whereas the air carrier flight attendant is a safety role.

FAs belong to a branch of the Flight Operations department called “inflight.” The phrase “inflight” is used casually to describe those holding the position of a flight attendant (as in saying “Who’s working inflight?” instead of “Who are the flight attendants?”).

Until 2003, FAs were not required to be certificated in the US. The certification process is simple. An air carrier’s Director of Operations confirms that a flight attendant has completed its airline flight attendant training course and submits an application for a Flight Attendant Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency. The certificate need not be carried by the flight attendant but must be produced within 15 days if requested by the FAA or National Transportation Safety Board.4

All About the Airline Flight Attendant Training Programs

So what does the airline flight attendant training program involve? Commercial operators requiring compulsory FAs produce a manual approved word-for-word by the FAA. This “bible” is called the company’s Operations Manual and in it is specified what the company agrees to do to train their inflight personnel. More likely than not, the airline flight attendant training programs greatly exceed the spartan requirements found in the regulations. The Sunday newspapers are full of advertisements from schools offering to train you as a flight attendant. This may make training easier but you will still have to pass the airline flight attendant training program of the specified air carrier for which you are hired.

The training is pretty standard between all airlines with variations necessitated by different aircraft configurations. Some airlines use flight attendants on every type of aircraft they fly while others don’t. Aircraft complexity limits the number that one should fly, but it was more ironed-out in negotiations between the airline and its flight attendants’ union.

Initial airline flight attendant training typically runs run no less than 3 weeks and no more than 8 weeks. The Operations Manual specifies what you will spend in classroom lectures. 95% of your flight attendant training program will be safety-related. You will practice evacuation drills, CPR, and first aid, operation of emergency equipment, safety demonstrations, fire fighting and learn about aviation security. Given the unmindful obsession many passengers have with it, you may be surprised to learn that very little of training is devoted to customer service! It’s very expensive to train flight attendants so the airline wants you producing as soon as possible. So most of what you will learn about passenger amenities comes after you are actually on the job.

Airlines either own their own simulators (or lease them from other companies), and this is where the bulk of your training will occur. You will memorize, practice and be graded on all the announcements but that’s not the “fun stuff.” Your simulator is a mock-up of an actual fuselage. In it, you will experience all sorts of adverse conditions like smoke in the cockpit, severe turbulence, and even ditching. Yep. Be sure to bring a swimsuit because you will evacuate your classmates in a swimming pool built just for this training purpose.

In the last phase of your training, you will be paired with an experienced flight attendant who will fly with you on live, passenger-carrying trips. This final portion of your preparation is called “I.O.E” (Initial Operating Experience). You will work the flight as if you are already qualified but the IOE instructor will be making a final check of your abilities. This ordinarily amounts to a 2 to 4 day trip but can be extended if you need a little more time.

Although fading into obscurity, many airlines still have height and weight requirements. These are not meant to discriminate against anyone. They exist because height and weight may preclude some from being capable of performing the physical demands of their duties. Age requirements are essentially non-existent. In fact, I know a man in his sixties who retired from a career as a bank president! I asked him why he wanted the job of a flight attendant and he said he loved travel, talking to people and hated the rocking chair.

Next time you watch a flight attendant go through their demo with the seat belt and oxygen mask remember that they are even more bored with it than you are, BUT they HAVE to do it. If they don’t, an incognito inspector can bring a violation against them, their airline or even shut down the company. More importantly, someone who IS paying attention may get some vital information that could save their life. Now doesn’t that make drink refills and pillows seem awfully silly?

Get Started With Your Flight Training Today

You can get started today by filling out our online application. If you would like more information, you can call us at (844) 435-9338, or click here to start a live chat with us.

Sources:

1 – Federal Aviation Regulations 14 CFR Part 121 Section 381 Flight Attendants
2 – 14 CFR 121.467 – Flight attendant duty period limitations and rest requirements: Domestic, flag, and supplemental operations
3 – Flight Standards Information System 8900.1 Vol III Chapter 33 Sec. 4 (Para. 3-3513)
4 – http://www.faa.gov/other_visit/aviation_industry/airline_operators/airline_safety/info/all_infos/media/2008/info08016.pdf

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