Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Want a Career as a Pilot? Here are Some Things to Consider

What do you want to be when you 'grow up'?  What do you want your schedule to look like?  How many hours do you want to work each week?  How much effort do you want to put into getting the career of your choice?  How much money do you want to make?  These are all questions many of you probably ask yourself all the time.  Though none of these answers would have changed my mind about becoming an airline pilot, it still would have been nice to have these answers early on in my training.  Following are some things to consider if you want to be a pilot when you grow up.

Training is Expensive
How are you going to pay for training?  Obviously it would be nice to have a close relative willing to pay for it, but how many of us have that?

Apply for as many scholarships as you can.  The more you apply for, the more likely you are to get some.  School counselors should know of some companies to go through, Women in Aviation offers quite a few, or you could do a google search.  As far as searching for them on your own, be careful to apply for ones that are not scams- some websites just want your email so they can send you junk mail.  I applied for many scholarships and received 2.  I was super thankful, but it wasn't enough to pay for everything.

Some schools also offer financial aid.  I was able to get some grants (because I made such little money), subsidized, and unsubsidized loans.  These helped too, but it still wasn't enough for me.

If scholarships and financial aid don't cut it, and you don't have anyone willing to pay the bills, loans are an option.  Read the fine print when you sign for a loan.  Make sure you know what the interest rate is.  Also, if it is an education loan, know that most (at least the ones I had) still had to be paid off even if I passed away and even with NO COSIGNERS.  Crazy!  They'll find someone to pay it off, even if it isn't going to be you.  Because of this, my goal was to pay off my loans as quickly as possible.  In the event something did happen, I didn't want someone else stuck with my debt.
*I'll do a later blog post that explains how I was able to pay off my debt of $50,000 in 3 years on an CFI salary.

How Much Time Can You Commit?
Aviation is not a career that you can slack and still make it.  It is tough; it is competitive; it can be stressful at times; but it is this way because airlines need the best.  If you are not on your A-Game all the time, safety could slip through the cracks.  This career is all about making the best and safest choices, so it will take effort to get where you want to be.

Becoming a pilot is so much more than just flying an airplane (anybody can do that).  To name just a few of the additional items you will need to know--numerous checklists, aircraft systems, weather, regulations, airspace, airspeed limitations, how the body responds to altitude, how to make the correct decisions, etc.  You will spend just as much time in the air as you will on the ground to get a license, and that is a fact!  You need to commit quite a bit of time studying and learning if you want a career in aviation.

The End Goal
What is your end goal?  CFI?  Airlines?  Cargo?  Corporate?  Private?  I had many of these questions early on, so I attended a few aviation conferences where I could meet and speak with others in all of these career fields.  You don't have to decide immediately, but it is nice to know what each one entails so you can find a good fit for you.  I LOVED flight instructing, but for me, I wanted more- I always knew that if I didn't enjoy what I picked I could always go back to flight instructing and be completely happy.

So how did I narrow down my choice?  I don't really enjoy being on call, so I knew that corporate or private might not be a good fit for me.  I also don't like working into the wee hours of the morning, so maybe cargo wasn't the best choice (though it typically pays pretty well).  After speaking with many aviators, I decided the airlines would be the best fit for me.  I only had to be on call for less than a year and I rarely work past midnight, so I'd say I picked what worked best with my goals and priorities.

Network, Network Network!
If you want a career in aviation,  you have to network.  I'm not talking about getting business cards from someone you meet for 5 seconds, I'm talking about people who can vouch for you.  Be kind to your flight instructors, excel on your checkrides, keep in contact with your teachers, always be honest, have integrity, and truly care about those you come in contact with.  If you do this, you will have no problem finding people who can vouch for your character and get you in the 'network.'

When I finally decided to go to the airlines, I had people ask me (who worked at the company I wanted to work for) if they could write me letters of recommendation; I don't say this to brag, but I say this to show the importance of always treating others well and doing your best at all times.  People will appreciate it and will want to help you out when it comes time.

Good luck getting a job at the airlines without networking.  It is first WHO you know, then what you know, and not the other way around.

Being a pilot is a career of 'starting over' every time you switch companies.  It doesn't matter if you were a captain on the 787 and have 50,000 flight hours; if you go to another company, you will start back at the bottom as a first officer.  For this reason, be picky in your company selection.  Don't just go to the first company that will hire you- make sure you can be happy there.  Most people only work for 2-3 airlines in their entire career.

If you decide to work for the airlines, seniority is not your friend in the beginning, but it is awesome once you have some!  You can get the schedules you want, you'll begin to make decent money, and your quality of life will increase dramatically.  Which brings me to my next question...

Quality or Quantity?
What is more important to you- a good quality of life, or more money?  I don't think either answer is right or wrong, it just depends on what your priorities are.  For me, it's always been about quality of life; I would rather have an awesome work schedule and get to see my family as much as possible than to make a few extra bucks.  I plan to stay at the regionals for a few years longer than others because I have such a great schedule that allows me to work but still be true to my priorities.

Being on reserve and having no control over my schedule is one of the hardest things I have ever done; but for others it is no big deal.  In fact, some people bid to be on reserve even if they have the seniority to hold a line!

On the other hand, I've spoken to pilots who don't understand my logic at all; their goal is to upgrade as quickly as possible and then get to the majors asap- because seniority is everything.  The sooner they get to the airline they want to stay at for the rest of their career, the sooner they can start building seniority there.  Some of these pilots only see their families 1-2 days each week because they have crazy reserve schedules and then pick up extra trips to build more time.  Of course there is an end in sight, but it doesn't sound like much fun to me.  However, if that works for you, and you don't mind sacrificing a few years to have the career of a lifetime, then great!  If Quantity is what you want out of life, then go for it!

Flying is an Amazing Career
Like I mentioned earlier, I think flying is the most amazing career!  There are so many different opportunites and career choices to choose from.   If you like to fly, there is a career out there for you.  If you want to look forward to every day you get to work, flying is for you!  If you want a career that is never boring, where you get to meet new people all the time, get to see new places every day, flying is for you!  So what are you waiting for?  Figure out what you want, and then start working towards getting it.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Do a Preflight, Every Time!

In the beginning of my flying career, I did preflights inspections because I was told to, not because I necessarily saw the importance of them.  I trained at a busy flight school with thorough mechanics, so I didn't really see the need of a preflight.  I mean, I don't do a walkaround before I get in my car, why should the airplane be any different?  Needless to say, I realized the error of my ways and do a walkaround every time!

I didn't have anything too eventful happen when I was in training, but that all changed when I got my Certified Flight Instructor's License (CFI).  I don't think it was bad luck, but things were bound to happen with the amount of flying I was doing each day.  My first instance had to do with checking the tire pressure on the walkaround.  I never did that; well, maybe on the day of my checkrides, but never on a normal training flight.  On this particular day, the tire did need a little bit of air, but I looked at it with my eyeballs, called it good, and me and my student were off for the flight lesson.  I don't remember anything about the flight, but I definitely remember the landing!

I was coaching my student through the approach and landing phase, as he was still learning how to successfully land an airplane.  He did a pretty good touchdown, but then forgot to use the appropriate amount of rudder (or so I thought).  We slowly started drifting to the left of the runway with me saying sternly "keep it on the centerline...where are you going?.... the centerline is over there...More Rudder!"  My student's response was "I have full right rudder in!"  I didn't believe him (lots of students say they have the appropriate amount of rudder when they don't), so I pushed on the rudder with him.  He was right!  Full rudder did nothing.  We must have a flat!

Thankfully we landed on the centerline so we had 75' to drift to the left on our 150' wide runway; and Da20s approach at 60 knots so we were barely moving by the time we touched down.  But once we stopped, still on the runway, we couldn't really move forward with our flat tire.  The mechanics had to come out and change the tire for us on the runway.  I felt bad for the few airplanes that had to go around, and for the time the controllers had to spend switching the runway in use, because I knew that if I'd checked the tire pressure on my preflight inspection, I would  have noticed it was low and this whole situation could have been prevented.  Lesson learned!

This next situation never happened to me, but I was up flying once, and I heard ATC say, "Katana 123NH (I don't remember the exact tail number), we just got a call from the fuelers, looks like you left your fuel cap on the ground by your parking spot."  Ooops!  You do not want to be that person, so make sure you do a walkaround, and check the fuel cap.  I can only imagine how unnerving that would be to do a steep turn and see your fuel gauge drop to zero.  No thanks!  I'll take the 5 minutes and do a preflight walkaroud!

I know sometimes it may be freezing outside, or outrageously hot, or maybe you are short on time, but you will never regret the time you took to do a thorough preflight.   You will only regret the times when something negative happened because you forgot to.  So do a preflight, every time!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Be an A+ Flight Instructor

A great flight instructor has the ability to do so much good; a bad flight instructor has the ability to do so much damage.  I never had a bad flight instructor myself, but once I started teaching and doing stage checks, I could tell immediately which instructors were there for the hours and which instructors were there to help (the money and hours was just an added bonus for them).  If you are training to be a CFI or already are, strive to be the best at your job and treat your students the way you would want to be treated.

Because I feel it is so important to be a great flight instructor, I've decided to pass down some of my knowledge.  Here are my tips on how to be an A+ Flight Instructor:

Show Up Early
I'm not talking about hours early, but just enough time to get everything out that you will need to teach that day.  Before your student arrives, get in the mindset to teach the lesson, wether it be a ground or flight lesson.  It isn't very professional to show up late and have your student waiting for you.  I know it happens every now and then, but don't make it a habit.  Respect your student's time and be there before them.

Be Prepared to Teach
Know what you are going to teach before you teach it.  "Winging" it is not okay when you are a flight instructor.  When I first began teaching I would spend an hour each morning before work reviewing all the lessons I would teach that day.  After years of doing it, however, 5-10 minutes was sufficient.  Set aside enough time to review before you teach.

Teach only Truth
I got really good at finding answers when I was a CFI because, as crazy as this sounds, I don't know  everything.  Students can tell when you are making things up.  If you don't know the answer, look it up and give them the right answer, or see if they can find the answer.  But never make up an answer!

Remember when you were a kid and would tell a lie to your parents... remember how they always knew you were lying?  "how do they know?"  Well, students are the same way!  They know when you are making things up.  So let your ego down and tell them you don't know.  I learned so much while teaching by admitting I didn't know something.  Students will look up to you when you admit that (as long as it isn't with every question they ask).

Make Learning a Positive Experience
This photo was taken on a cross-country with one of my students to Denver.
Such a fun experience for the both of us!
Negative learning is not learning at all.  If your students dread coming to their lesson, you need to change how you treat them.  They are paying you to help them accomplish something they cannot do on their own.  Make flying fun!  If they are getting discouraged and can't stand to do one more touch-and-go or flight in the practice area, change up the lesson a bit.  Land at a different airport or fly somewhere new for a change.  Your students should look forward to the time they get to spend with you to learn and fly.

Encourage Your Students
If your students nails a landing, tell them!  If they did the entire maneuver without loosing a foot of altitude, tell them!  This will build their confidence and they will improve dramatically.

If they botch a maneuver, however, like porpoise a landing, tell them how they can fix it, and point out the things they did well- were they on centerline? was the approach was stabilized? did they remember to make all the required radio calls?  If you say something negative, always say a positive with it.  This will encourage your students like you won't believe.

What you don't want to say is "you are going to beat this landing into the ground!"  I said that once, by accident of course.  I was trying to find the right words to tell my student she was going to do the most perfect landing, and those are the words that came out.  Not really motivating, but we did have a good laugh.

Give them Homework
A student cannot come prepared if they don't know what to prepare for.  Give a homework assignment after each lesson.  If it is a ground lesson, let them know all the topics they need to study.  If it is a flight lesson, let them know the maneuvers you will be practicing so they can review the maneuvers and chair fly them at home.

Hold them accountable for studying!   A few years into flight instructing I decided to experiment- I told all my students that if they came unprepared (with no good excuse) for a ground lesson I would have them sit and read me everything they were supposed to study.   A few months into that sememster I had a student come completely unprepared for our lesson, so we sat for 2 hours and he read aloud the entire section he was supposed to study.  He never came unprepared again, and word got around that I lived up to my words.

My caution is, don't be mean about it.  Students have busy lives too.  Sometimes things just get in the way.  That paticular student understood that I was doing this for his benefit, he was able to learn a valuable lesson, and we laughed about it later on.

Prepare them for Life, Not Just for the Checkride    
Your student will pass a checkride no problem if you prepare them for life, not just for the check ride. The checkride is a C standard; what the average pilot should be able to do.  You want your students to be A pilots, not C pilots.  Teach them why they are performing maneuvers.  For example, we don't just do S-Turns for a checkride; we learn them to use them!  Jus the other day, I saw a Southwest pilot do some small s-turns on final to give more spacing between him and the aircraft in front of him.  Prepare them for life!

Flight Instructing is such a rewarding career if you become an A+ instructor.