Common 121 Takeoff Minimums and Takeoff Alternate Questions

Airport Fogged InA common area of focus in airline interviews, Part 121 ground schools, and proficiency checks/type rides deals with the subject of regulatory takeoff minimums. Unlike in the part 91 world, airline pilots don’t enjoy the luxury of being able to choose their personal IFR takeoff limitations. Likewise, they often can’t opt to just wait until conditions improve – except in extreme cases. Instead, air carrier pilots must develop an intimate knowledge of the oft-confusing regulations that pertain to their flight operations.

No Simple Answer

Unfortunately, FAA regulations do not offer blanket, one-size-fits-all guidance that’ll serve you at every carrier operating throughout the US. Instead, the regs provide a significant degree of flexibility that allows each air carrier to tailor many of the details to its specific operations.

Why the apparent absence of standardization? Though all US airlines are regulated through 14 CFR Part 121, many variables (ex. airports used {and their infrastructure}, airplane models flown {and their performance characteristics}, and pilot {i.e. CAT II, CAT III} certification) make it unrealistic to expect all carriers to adhere to the same standards. Instead, many of the details that will guide you as a Part 121 pilot will come from your employer’s Operations Specifications (Ops Specs).

Ops Specs – C55

Ops SpecsSection C55 of your company’s Ops Specs will address all takeoff/alternate/approach details you’ll be expected to follow while flying for that carrier. Additionally, Part 121 (and, to an extent, Part 91) offer general guidance on many facets of such operations. If you’re not currently flying for a 121 carrier, make sure you’re familiar with the general regulations regarding airline operations; as your interview questions will be targeted towards the general regs. After beginning your new-hire class, your carrier’s Ops Specs details should be referenced for any such questions you’re asked during proficiency checks and type rides.

* Want to really impress your interviewers and stand out from the competition? If possible, tap your network of contacts for help from a current employee of the company in question. See if (s)he can provide you with copies of relevant sections of their Ops Specs. Spend sufficient time learning the specifics and applying them to various airports, weather conditions, etc. When a takeoff minimums or takeoff alternate question comes up in the interview, you can respond, “Under general regulations,                 and                 apply. However, per your company Ops Specs, we would use                       and                 in this instance.” Believe me, your interviewers will be impressed that you’ve gone the extra step to learn the details of their procedures.

Interview/Checkride-Type Questions

EbooksideSince pinning down the exact answers to airline-style takeoff/takeoff alternate questions is difficult given the variability of operating specs, I’ve opted to instead focus on considerations you should be careful not to overlook. If you’d like examples of interview questions of this nature, some worthwhile examples are available here, here, and here. Additionally, AirPloyment members have access to our database of airline questions and answers; which includes similar questions. Rather than attempting to just memorize the answers to these specific questions, I’d caution you to instead learn the concepts that determine such answers; as knowledge of the concepts can be applied to new circumstances.

Takeoff Minimums vs. Landing Minimums vs. Takeoff Alternate Minimums

One area that  is sometimes difficult for new Part 121 pilots to comprehend is the exclusivity of takeoff minimums from landing minimums. Try to picture each as completely separate from the other. Just because a particular airport is below landing minimums doesn’t (necessarily) mean you can’t depart. Instead, first attempt to consider the takeoff minimums by themselves. If the weather, airport equipment, aircraft capabilities, and FARs/Ops Specs will permit such a takeoff, nothing prevents you from departing. Only after you’ve examined the feasibility of a takeoff should you look at the landing minimums.

What if the airport is below landing mins? Then you’re required to have a takeoff alternate as outlined in 14 CFR 121.617. The exact weather mins for the takeoff alternate will be specified in the Ops Specs. In nearly all cases, your company Ops Specs will state the engine-inop, still-air distance in nautical miles (NMs); thus giving you an idea of the acceptable radius for an appropriate alternate.

Equipment Considerations

If you haven’t yet taken the ATP knowledge exam, the study guide booklet is one of the best prep tools you can use to develop your attention to detail. This is primarily because the questions tend to sneak in non-standard takeoff minimums, required climb gradients, inoperative equipment, and other factors that make it very easy to overlook a vital consideration. After you miss a few questions because of oversight, you’ll quickly learn to appreciate the need to pore over all available info.

In addition to the reported and forecast weather, you’ll need to make sure to pay careful attention to the NOTAMs information. A single inoperative item (ex. HIRL, centerline lights, RVR, etc) can easily turn a permissible takeoff into a no-go. Overlook a key factor and you could confidently tell an interviewer you’re good to go – when doing so would result in regulatory violations. Not a good way to make an impression. Avoid the urge to rush your answer. If possible, take a little extra time to ensure you don’t miss anything.

Standard, Published, and Ops Specs Requirements

Rock Paper ScissorsIn a rock-paper-scissors sort of way, you’ll need to consider a variety of possible takeoff minimums. Per 14 CFR 91.175 f(2), standard minimums are: 1sm (or 5000 RVR) visibility for a/c with 1-2 engines and  ½ sm (2400 RVR) for aircraft with more than two engines. This blanket regulation applies to all Part 121 operators unless additional factors waive or supersede this FAR.

Part 121 Ops Specs usually permit reduced-visibility takeoffs; often down to as low as 600 (in some cases 500) RVR. If standard minimums apply, your Ops Specs allow you to use your company’s reduced minimums; provided all requirements are met (read your NOTAMs!).

Ops Specs beat standard mins, but non-standard minimums trump them both. If non-standard (i.e. higher) mins are published, you must comply with the published minimums. No, your Ops Specs do not allow you to ignore these non-standard requirements. Make sure you scrutinize your Jeppesen or NACO (FAA) charts for indications of non-standards takeoff requirements. If such conditions apply, base your takeoff decisions on the specifics outlined in the non-standard procedures.

A/C Performance Capabilities

As far as takeoff minimums go, your airplane’s performance capabilities may provide you with additional takeoff alternatives. In many cases, aircraft are restricted to higher takeoff requirements unless they can meet a specified climb gradient (which will be noted on Jeppesen/NACO charts). If capable of the performance requirements listed, the aircraft are allowed to use lower takeoff minimums – ifthey maintain the required climb gradient to the specified altitude.

Be prepared for such questions on your interviews and checkrides. Convert the listed gradient to feet per minute (fpm). Consult your aircraft performance charts to see if your bird can meet them. Do NOT rush. Even if it takes longer, providing a correct answer is much better than offering a fast, albeit wrong answer.

A Word on Ceiling

One factor that often confuses pilots is the requirement for ceiling in determining alternate and approach minimums. Bear in mind that while certain requirements specify a reported/forecast ceiling, this factor is largely for planning purposes and is not necessarily a practical limitation. What do I mean? Consider this:

CeilingYour Ops Specs will likely specify that your destination airport must have at least                                    sm visibility and a ceiling of at least                feet or an alternate airport is required. Likewise, to be usable as an alternate, weather reports/forecasts must indicate the weather will be at or above                    sm visibility and              feet ceiling at the estimated time of arrival. These weather requirements are necessary for the destination/alternate airports to be listed for dispatch purposes. What about when you arrive?

When you arrive at the destination and begin an instrument approach procedure, visibility, not ceiling, is the controlling factor. Just look at 14 CFR 121.651 and 91.175. Neither regulation says anything about needing a certain ceiling to attempt (or land from) an approach – provided you have the required visibility and the “runway environment” in sight. You can still conduct the approach even if the reported ceiling is below published/authorized minimums.

Think about this: A ceiling (per 14 CFR 1.1) is the lowest broken (BKN), overcast (OVC), or obscuration layer. BKN ranges from 5/8 to 7/8 of sky coverage. In some cases, a full 3/8 of the sky at that altitude might not be obscured by clouds; meaning chances are very good that, with sufficient visibility, the flight crew will see the airport environment from the altitude where the ceiling exists. With this information in mind, don’t let an interviewer trick you into believing that ceiling determines whether you can depart or attempt an instrument approach.

Hitting the Books

As I’m sure you’re aware, aviation regulations and operating procedures require significant consideration of a variety of factors. They’re not something you’re bound to grasp without repeated exposure and a strong understanding of the components at hand. To best prepare for your flying career, try to review the appropriate materials on an ongoing basis rather than attempting to cram for an interview or checkride. A long-term approach will help ensure you truly understand the necessary material.
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What is the Best Pilot Job?

Captain's HatIn their pursuits of aviation employment, many pro-pilots-to-be consider the Part 121 left seat position to be the pinnacle of the pilot career ladder. There’s good reason for such a widespread belief. After all, the position is highly visible, well respected, and fairly lucrative. Additionally, it’s not a job that’s attainable in the manner most professions can be entered. Those who secure such a position do so only after years of industry experience and a host of sacrifices along the way.

M.D., J.D., Ph.D., ATP

Perhaps I’m overly biased, but I’ve always viewed the ATP certificate as being roughly equivalent to a doctorate-level credential. Think about it. The minimum qualifications can only be attained after a considerable outlay of time, effort, and money. Once you meet these experience requirements, earning the certificate is still a formidable challenge. Holding an ATP shows you’ve honed your skills and knowledge to an expert level of airmanship.

But Not Good Enough

ATP CertificateEven once you’ve earned the ATP, you can expect to spend the next several years accruing on-the-job experience before you can even hope to enter the cockpit of a major airliner. Once you do, you’ll be holding down the right seat for a long time. By the time you’re able to upgrade to major airline captain, you’ll have several times the flight experience as many other pilots who also hold the industry’s highest credential. It’s a very long, difficult road to realize this dream; so it’s no surprise that airline captain ranks as the envy of the industry.

Best Defined

While major airline captain is probably the most difficult of pilot jobs to attain, it’s hard to say it’s the best position for a professional aviator. After all, best by definition is a subjective term; one that varies (sometimes substantially) from person to person.  The ideal aviation position for a given person depends on his/her lifestyle choices, values, personality, and other personal preferences. Let’s take a look at some other pilot options that, while maybe not the top jobs by industry consensus, could be the best job for you to realize your career goals.

Part 135 Pilot

The charter route is a good choice for pilots who like variety. Part 135 fliers get to visit a variety of destinations & airports, fly a mix of passenger types, work varying schedules, and (sometimes) fly a range of aircraft models. In many such setups, the aircraft used are small enough that you don’t need to worry about coordinating with cabin crewmembers. Additionally, if you have the right contacts, it’s often possible to nail down a charter position without all the barriers to entry characteristic of the Part 121 world. You also stand a good chance of being based at a nearby airport, which saves you the hassle of a multi-state commute.

Corporate PilotWhile variety is the name of the game, flexibility is a must if you hope to last in the on-demand world. You must be willing to depart at any hour, sleep in FBO recliners, and remain on call for much of your career. Don’t plan on spending the holidays with your family, either. Chances are good you’ll be working away while everybody else is at play. This also isn’t something that you’ll usually be able to shake as you gain seniority. Whereas junior airline pilots are the ones subject to reserve duty and undesirable schedules, that’s just business as usual for the charter set. If you’re okay with that, charter can be a nice gig. If not, you’d best look elsewhere for long-term employment.

Part 91 Ops

Private (usually business) operations often bear a strong resemblance to Part 135 flying. The chief difference is that rather than flying anyone and everyone, you’ll only be piloting for one company or group of individuals. In many cases, such positions lend themselves to comfortable duties with cushy benefits.

Does your organization’s top brass attend a weeklong industry convention every year? If so, you might get the equivalent of a mini vacation somewhere like Las Vegas – only that the company will be covering your expenses (and paying you wait time). Do they frequently do business with foreign multinationals?  Can you say Bienvenue à Paris? Maybe the company sponsors a pro sports team or stadium; giving them (and you) access to incredible tickets. At times, private corporate flying can offer perks that even senior airline captains don’t enjoy – and you still get paid to fly!

Before you forsake all other employment channels, realize that such benefits won’t come without a price. If you can’t stand flying (a) certain member[s] of the organization, know that said individuals might be frequent passengers; thus making the proverbial passenger from hell experience a regular occurrence. Additionally, if times get tough, the aircraft (and its crew) are often the first items cut from the budget. When this happens, even super seniority won’t necessarily save you from a layoff.

Cargo Ops

Cargo PlaneNot much of a people person? If that’s the case, cargo ops might be the route to follow. As a freight flier, you won’t have to worry about the payload complaining of turbulence, delayed departures, or your less-than-stellar landing. As cargo is often flown at night, this makes a great option for the night owls among us. In terms of career stability, shipping is typically less susceptible to the effects of the economy than the passenger equivalent. Also, as globalization continues to develop, international shipping needs will likely remain strong for the foreseeable future.

Demo Pilot 

Gregarious types might really enjoy the aviation sales arena. As a demo pilot, you’ll be flying brand spankin’ new aircraft with prospective purchasers. Have a knack for sales? If so, you have a huge potential to cash in on the referrals you make and the deals you help close – to the tune of around $1,000 per aircraft (possibly more for bizjet/transport category birds). Just imagine the possibilities if you’re able to convince a flight school to choose a fleet of your equipment over the competition. For the right person, this Part 91 gig could easily outshine the offerings available in the airline arena.

If you’re not a big fan of spending multi-hour stretches in the cockpit, know that demo flights are typically short events. You also don’t have to worry much about flying in bad weather or keeping night current. Instead, you can expect to enjoy blue skies as you slip the surly bonds. This option is also great for the family oriented; as you can often look forward to being home most nights.

On the downside, conducting demo flights day in and day out can get incredibly monotonous. You’ll be flying the same aircraft, giving the same spiel, demonstrating the same features – only the customers’ faces will change. There’s also the possibility that if the economy slows and production is halted, the company will view you as an additional expense that can be cut until better times.

Career CFI

Though it’s hard for some to believe, a healthy percentage of the career-oriented pilot world is perfectly happy staying on the CFI rung for life. I’ve encountered many excellent pilots over the years who are completely content in the right seat of a decades-old 152. Such people are teachers at heart who enjoy nothing more than helping others succeed. For them, personal satisfaction trumps a captain’s hat any day of the week.

Flight InstructionTo knock the stereotype, I want to point out that opting for a flight instruction career doesn’t mean accepting a life of poverty. Even though it is often considered a low time pilot job, Several CFIs perennially bring home a respectable income. John & Martha King even built an empire on their instructor certificates. As a full-time CFI, you have many opportunities to earn a predictable paycheck (take a look at university programs). If this sounds like your true calling, don’t overlook the career just for the sake of greater pay or prestige somewhere else.

Options Abound

Besides the airline option, I’ve listed only five possible career choices to earn a living as a professional pilot. There are loads more out there if you’re willing to consider the options. Careers as delivery pilots, crop dusters, seaplane fliers, pipeline/powerline inspectors, UAV operators, skydiver haulers, banner towers, aviation journalists, and many things unique to Alaska are all possibilities. Each offers a variety of benefits, detriments, pay scales, and personal satisfaction.

What’s the best pilot job for you? Only you can answer that. Spend some time thinking about your passions, hobbies, interests, and goals. Consider which flying jobs provide the greatest opportunity for personal fulfillment. Though an airline captain’s position is the way to go for many, know that the best pilot job in your case could vary greatly depending on your preferences.

Tricky Pilot Interview Questions

No one can expect to make it very far in the aviation industry without Job Interviewattending a number of job interviews. Despite thorough preparation, no two interviews are the same; so job applicants must plan for and incorporate a fair amount of flexibility into their interview prep. One of the most challenging, and intimidating, parts of the evaluation process is dealing with intricate or controversial questions.

While unpleasant, awkward interview questions serve a number of purposes. For starters, they allow the recruiters a glimpse of your thought processes. Such questions also give clues as to your values, personality, professionalism, and honesty. Another big factor is they show your interviewers how you handle stressful situations, which is a major consideration as to your suitability for employment. As you might imagine, uncomfortable interrogations also present numerous opportunities for you to screw up, so it’s important to adequately prepare for this demanding portion of the process.

Short on Civility?

You might be wondering why a potential employer is giving you the third degree, especially if you’ve been nothing but courteous throughout the process. This good cop/bad cop routine is yet another way the airlines are able to weed out the field of applicants and make sure they select the best possible candidates.

Simulated Stressful Situations

Stressed Out - Breaking PencilRemember Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who launched into a tirade over his plane’s PA system before grabbing a few beers and popping the emergency evacuation slide? Commercial air travel is a stressing environment, and not just for the passengers. Every time an air traveler goes berserk, the story quickly winds up in the worldwide media. If the individual in question happens to be an airline employee, the event becomes even more embarrassing for the industry as a whole. By screening potential employees in a controlled environment, the commercial carriers are able to eliminate prospects who display a possible tendency to flip out under the pressures of the job.

How can you Prepare?

Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to avoid an all-out ambush by the company’s interrogators – er, interviewers. As with most aspects of life, your performance improves with practice; so get used to spending some time planning for the difficult questions. While it’s impossible to prepare for every possible blindside attack, going over a series of stressful topics in advance will help you adjust for new questions that might catch you off guard.

Personal Opinion-Seeking Questions

Be careful here. On the surface, opinion-type questions may appear to have no wrong answer. However, many such questions are actually chosen because they have no right answer. Whichever side of the fence you choose, you’ll be standing on the wrong ground. They do this on purpose. This is yet another method to test your performance under pressure and your ability to handle nearly any situation with grace.

Is it Possible to Win?

In a manner of speaking, it’s certainly possible to perform well with such questions. Otherwise, the airlines wouldn’t be able to hire anybody. The key here is, rather than obsessing about a right answer, you need to develop responses that are less wrong than what other applicants will be offering.

The Joe Friday School of Q & A

Joe FridayIf you’re familiar with the old Dragnet TV series, it’s helpful to follow the lead of Sgt. Joe Friday. Friday’s most famous line from the show was, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” In your opinion-based responses, try to incorporate as much of a fact-based approach as possible.

Why is this important? As a professional pilot, you’re bound to encounter situations for which there is no cut-and-dried operating procedure. When this happens, you’ll often have to determine the best course of action based on the given circumstances. By evaluating the facts as part of your decision-making process, you demonstrate to employers that there is merit behind your thoughts, rather than just impulsive (A hazardous attitude, remember?), knee-jerk reaction. Do the same with your opinion-based responses and you show the interviewers you’re capable of assessing a delicate situation, even if your opinion might not match their thoughts.

Possible Opinion-Seeking Questions

1. What are your views on the role of unions in the airline industry?

2. What do you think about the government’s actions regarding the Sequester?

3. How do you feel about the upcoming 1,500 Hour Rule?

4. What is your take on the Age 65 Rule?

5. How do you feel about VLJs and UAVs operating in the National Airspace System?

While you might fervently believe your opinion is the right/only logical response, you’re almost guaranteed to have interviewers with completely different thoughts on the matter. Don’t give these people a chance to disqualify you from further consideration. If you can show that facts led you to your opinion, you’re more likely to survive this round of questioning.

Personal Background/Attack Questions

In the HotseatIn addition to controversial topics, prepare to be grilled on your personal failures and shortcomings. Once again, most flaws in your background usually aren’t grounds for disqualification. Instead, the recruiters want to see you sweat. They want you to get angry, defensive, scared, or otherwise provoked. Don’t let them bait you. Instead, practice responding to these assaults. Learn to keep a cool head. If you’re able to remain professional and collected throughout the process, you’ll help convince the airline that you’re a good representative of its image.

Possible Background/Attack Questions

1. Tell us of a time you violated a regulation or company procedure?

2. We see you’ve had two speeding tickets in the last five years. Why do you expect us to risk hiring someone with such a flagrant disregard for the rules?

3. Your checkride record is indeed colorful. Why do you deserve to fly for us when so many other pilots have passed their rides with flying colors?

4. How many times have you violated the Sterile Cockpit Rule? Why did you feel this regulation didn’t apply to you?

Definitely not an easy ordeal. The more thought you can give these questions ahead of time and the more opportunities you can practice delivering a calm, composed response, the better you’ll fare throughout the interview process.

Resources at your Disposal

The higher up the aviation career ladder you climb, the tougher the interview process becomes. As you advance in your career, it’s imperative you take steps to outperform the ever-increasing competition. For the difficult questions, I strongly urge you to consider working with a pilot interview consultant. Such professionals are usually former interviewers who can offer invaluable insight on the interview process and its common pitfalls. Many pilots prefer to skimp in this area, but by spending the time and money, such preparation can easily prove to be a very wise investment.


Hitting the Books

StudyingIn addition to professional coaches, you’ll need to spend significant time consulting books, websites, and other materials on pilot-specific interview questions. Consider pilot interview gouges during the process, but beware that such info isn’t guaranteed to predict the questions that’ll come up during your evaluation. Try to use a variety of sources for a broader range of insight and an array of advice. While you’re here, check out AirPloyment’s job hunting tools, which include an extensive list of interview questions and sample answers. Throughout the process, remember that good pilots make use of all available information to help ensure the most favorable outcome.

Job interviews, particularly airline pilot interviews, are highly competitive, stress-inducing events. With advance planning, you can significantly reduce the effects of external pressure on your performance; allowing your favorable attributes to shine through. By doing so, you give yourself yet another advantage over the pool of pilot hopefuls.

How to Ace an Airline Pilot Interview

If you truly want to succeed as a professional pilot, one of your primary goals should be to ace the job interview with any company you pursue. This is your biggest chance to let your qualifications shine through, but it also presents numerous opportunities for you to slip up. The key here is to seize every opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition.

An Abundance of Planning

If you’re serious about landing the position of your dreams, you’ll need to be prepared to invest numerous hours prepping for the interview process. There is no bigger secret to succeeding in this industry. If you’re hoping that, due to your incredible aeronautical aptitude, you can just sort of wing it (pun partially intended) and come out okay; odds are good you’ll be sorely disappointed. At this stage in the game, everyone else has finely honed their skills as well, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll stand out on talent alone. Instead, devote your time to the preparatory tasks that much of the competition will ignore.

A Detailed Strategy

sample pilot resumeWhat follows is a brief overview of some basic steps you can take to get an edge on the competition. For more detailed guidance, check out our eBook, How to Get a Pilot Job in a Turbulent Economy, available at no charge. The best pilot doesn’t always get the job, but as the most prepared pilot, you can significantly increase your chances of success.

Dressed to the Nines

Do not underestimate the power of your personal appearance. This gives the interviewers their first impression of you, which will likely set the tone as to how they’ll perceive you throughout the interview process. Make a positive impression here and you’ll likely have a head start on some of the other applicants. Leave a lot to be desired and you’ll have an extremely difficult time recovering from your fashion faux pas.

Professional PilotIn simple terms, aim for military attention to detail. This means impeccably shined shoes, a flawless suit, and an overall appearance that screams professionalism. Imagine your ideal airline pilot. What do their clothes, hair, posture, and overall appearance look like to you? If the word immaculate comes to mind, you’re on the right track. That’s exactly the impression you want to give the recruiters. Aim for perfection, and then improve on it.

OCD with your DOCs

Just as you can score points with your appearance, your paperwork presentation is an easy, albeit time-consuming way to stand out from the crowd – in a good way. If you know anything about airline paperwork, you’re aware it involves an incredible array of forms, applications, résumés, releases, and other paper-heavy procedures. Most applicants will aim to fill out the forms correctly, but some seem to slack off in the neatness department. Here again, you can grab the advantage and run with it.

PaperworkIn this regard, a moderate dose of OCD can work in your favor. Make several copies of the requisite forms from which to practice perfection. Make sure your numbers add up, your spelling is 100%, and all additional information is completely accurate. Once the content is flawless, you can transfer the info to the original document. Take your time. Avoid the need for white out or scratch marks. Follow all instructions to a T. Your efforts show the airline staff you have outstanding attention to detail, which will definitely help you look good.

Hit the Books

Even if your paperwork and personal appearance project perfection, no pretty picture can compensate for a lack of appropriate knowledge. Again, many a pilot fails to devote sufficient time to studying the essentials, so you can use this portion of the interview to further gain ground.

Know thy Company: Too many pilots seem to believe that critical mass is necessary to land an airline job. Rather than prepare a lot for a specific airline, they try to learn the basics that can be recycled repeatedly at several different companies. Such applicants seem to believe that if they attend enough interviews, the Law of Averages will eventually get them a position. Instead of mimicking this technique, devote your energy to preparing for one interview – and then nail it!

To succeed here, be capable of discussing any and all public information about the company in question. Current info is usually most helpful; such as key personnel, financials, hubs & routes, equipment, mergers & acquisitions, and impending changes at the airline. You can potentially score brownie points if you’re able to intelligently discuss the carrier’s past. Decades-old history and pre-consolidation figures might be info even your interviewers don’t know, which can leave them impressed with your evident interest in their organization.

ATP on Steroids: Having a strong repertoire  of ATP-level knowledge is the bare minimum you’ll want to bring to an airline interview. Why? Nearly all other applicants will possess a similar degree of expertise, which makes it harder for you to stand out. Your goal here should be to expand your skill set into areas the competition might lack, but which could appeal to the company’s recruiters.

An invaluable resource in this regard is an employee of the interviewing company – particularly if (s)he works in a supervisory or training position. Such individuals can often cue you in on areas where new hires tend to struggle, allowing you to hone your abilities prior to the interview. Imagine how you’d appear if you could demonstrate a solid understanding of a concept or material that gives already-employed pilots fits. Think the interviewers wouldn’t love to have you in a training class? If possible, tap your network of contacts for access to the inside info that will help you shine.

Stick and Rudder Savvy

The sim ride is the killer for many pilot hopefuls, so do whatever it takes to avoid becoming a victim of the box. Suffice to say that, at this point, your multi-engine and IFR skills should be second nature. If they’re not, don’t even think about attending an interview until you’ve had a chance to knock off any rust.

Flight SimulatorPerhaps the most helpful areas you can practice are those that relate to the aircraft model(s) used by the interviewing company. In this regard, devote some time to learning the systems, calls, flows, and profiles used by the airline. Usually any current pilot at that company can provide you with copies of the basic info from which to practice. Likewise, you can probably find a fair amount of useful info on the web. Get it, study it, and let your familiarity propel you above the other applicants.

If feasible, try to obtain a little sim time for the model for which you’re interviewing. If this isn’t economically possible, at least make it a point to get in a few hours in a Frasca FTD or Redbird Flight Simulator. At the very least, there’s likely an aftermarket expansion you can use on Microsoft Flight Simulator. By the way, just because you’ve never flown the type of aircraft/avionics in question is  no reason to expect the interviewers to go easy on you. If you haven’t flown a glass or steam gauge cockpit in a while (or ever), it’s your responsibility to become familiar with the setup. Losers will whine that the systems are new to them, whereas winners prepare ahead of time and go home with a job offer.

The Most Important Advice to Remember

If you do nothing else, remain truthful 100% of the time. Even if you slip in a seemingly minor fib, there’s a very good chance the company will eventually discover the truth. If that happens, it can easily derail an otherwise fabulous impression. Leave nothing to chance. Honestly is always the only policy, even if the truth might leave a less-than-stellar impression.

Tip of the Iceberg

You're HiredAs you can see, success as a pro pilot requires an incredible amount of interview preparation. While it’s entirely possible you can secure a job offer with less preparation, remember that your first interview with a given airline could very well be the only shot you’ll ever have. With this in mind, do everything possible to ensure you leave the best overall impression of your skill and dedication. By going the extra distance, you stand a better chance of winding up with a job offer in hand.

Can you be an Airline Pilot with a Record/DUI?

Pilots DrinkingWhile every airline hopeful fears an imperfection or two in his background will hinder his career prospects, perhaps no skeleton in the closet causes more widespread concern than an alcohol-related event. After all, booze-induced pilot antics tend to capture the attention of a global audience – and never in a favorable way. Besides worldwide embarrassment, combining intoxicants with moving vehicles puts lives in danger, which is never going to improve an offender’s reputation.

Spotlights On and Microscopes Out

If the taboo surrounding liquor-based mistakes isn’t bad enough, the near 100% probability that the FAA and the airlines will know about any such offenses doesn’t leave a guilty pilot much hope that the event will slip by unnoticed. Additionally, whereas a failed checkride here or there can be overcome with time and a history of otherwise stellar performances, alcohol violations are significantly harder to shake. Should a pilot find himself with an under-the-influence moving violation, does said offender have any prayer of nailing down an airline job?

Can it be Done?

To be honest, I had some serious doubt that an alcohol-related offense could/would be forgiven by airline recruiters. However, while researching the subject I came across numerous instances where liquor-tainted pilots went on to secure jobs with the major carriers. In a few cases, the aviators in question apparently had more than one booze-related infraction. While a difficult task, professional pilot hopefuls do still have a shot at achieving the careers they desire, though they’ll need to take significant precautions to surmount such a formidable obstacle.

Snowballing out of Control

Besides the safety and reputation risks, why are alcohol-related slip-ups considered the blackest of black marks? One of the major factors is the ease of traceability. Take a look at 14 CFR 61.15, 61.16, and 91.17. For additional clarification, check out the FAA’s responses to alcohol-related questions. Pay particular attention to the next to last question. Every time you fill out an application for a medical certificate, you give the National Driver Register (NDR) full consent to share everything it has on you with the FAA. Even if you don’t comply with the above-referenced reporting regulations, the feds are bound to eventually learn about the event(s) anyway.

Handcuffs and PoliceIs there any way the feds won’t learn of your transgression(s)? Perhaps, provided you never apply for a medical certificate. However, lack of a medical will guarantee you never work as a professional pilot. Additionally, check out FAA form 8710-1, particularly Part I, blocks U and V. If alcohol isn’t the vice in question, you still have to report illicit substance convictions every time you apply for a new certificate, rating or operating privilege. Try avoiding these reporting requirements and your troubles will only further spiral out of control.

A Double-Edged Sword

Going back to the regulations listed above; did you notice a common trend between them? Basically, possible consequences of non-compliance are: 1. Denial of an application for a certificate, rating or operating privilege for up to one year following the latest motor vehicle infraction.  2. Suspension or revocation of any certificate, rating or operating privilege issued under this part. Yep, attempt to fly under the radar and it’s possible you won’t be serving as a pilot in any capacity. Definitely not the way to establish a flying career.

Additionally, consider the harm related to not reporting your offenses. Rather than just having the alcohol-related issue(s) to contend with, you’ll now have to try to explain your way out of the regulatory violations and associated FAA certificate actions. On top of that, you will have established yourself as personally unaccountable and untrustworthy, which will definitely not bode well for your career chances. Instead, the only thing you can do if you hope to salvage your flying career is to own your mistake(s) and demonstrate full acceptance and compliance with the consequences.

Owning It

To atone for your sins, you’ll need to be as proactive as possible by accepting responsibility for the wrongdoing.  Comply with all required reporting regulations ASAP. Get copies of all documents associated with the event(s). Maintain meticulous records to demonstrate you’ve gone above and beyond to comply with all repercussions. That way, when the issue comes up at interviews (and it will come up), you can direct the interviewers to the facts surrounding the events. Doing so is much better than offering up some lame excuses of how you’re somehow the victim.

Go the Extra Step

MugshotEven if it’s not required by law, take additional actions to show you’ve learned from your mistakes and that future offenses will not happen. Participate in AA and get a sponsor who can vouch for your improvement. Undertake a self-imposed 200 hours of community service as punishment for your actions. Stand at a busy intersection all day holding a sign that says I drove while under the influence. If you can document that you went to such lengths, you stand a much better chance of convincing the interviewers (plus the FAA and state/local authorities) that your offense was a one-time event.

Advice from the Stones

Mick Jagger said it best: Time is on my side. The same applies to you. With a booze-related incident, time is one of your best friends. An event that occurred a dozen years ago packs much less of a punch than one that happened last summer – provided you’ve had no subsequent infractions. Believe it or not, even the conservative lot that manages the nation’s airlines knows what it was like to be young and foolish. With that said, a violation from your college days isn’t necessarily the death knell or your pilot career – as long as you’re forthcoming with the info and have complied with all reporting requirements. Follow the advice above and it’s possible the recruiters won’t dwell on this single instance.

Wreck-It Ralph

Drunk PilotsIf you’ve had multiple offenses, especially if they’re recent, you’ve most likely done yourself in. Regardless of how qualified you might otherwise be, no airline is going to risk hiring someone who’s an accident waiting to happen. A single occurrence might be a fluke, but two or more times usually signals a pattern. It doesn’t matter how sorry you are or how much you want an airline career, nothing is worth the risk of endangering the lives of others. No airline will want to touch you – period.

A Moot Point

The most important step you can take regarding alcohol-related offenses is to avoid the possibility altogether. Drink in moderation. If you’ve had any alcohol, call a cab or use a designated driver. Such actions are much easier than dealing with the fallout of a traffic stop/DUI charge. Drinking might be fun for a night, but the aftermath could be a nightmare for a lifetime.

If you’ve had alcohol-related issues in the past, I strongly advise you to speak to a DUI/aviation attorney. Learn the full extent of your options. Secure the services of an aviation career consultant or interview coach to learn how (or if) you can overcome your prior mistake(s). If you truly desire an airline pilot career, you owe it to yourself to explore all available options.

UAV Pilot Contractor Jobs

For anyone hoping to earn a living as a professional aviator, a fair degree of flexibility is imperative for career success. Aviation is an extremely UAVdynamic, cyclical industry; one that makes the concept of job security an elusive goal. However, significant changes in the aviation world are creating an entire new sector for pro pilot hopefuls; one that is likely to continue to grow for the foreseeable future. If you’re receptive to this emerging segment, now could be the perfect time to pursue employment as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operator.

What’s Old is New

Although I mention that UAVs are establishing a whole new sector for professional pilots, unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) have actually been around for several decades. While the concept/technology is nothing new, the job market is very much in its infancy. Until recently, UAS operations were strictly the domain of military and government entities. With time, certain operations spread to the civilian world; namely to the engineering/experimental sector for R&D. Civilian users mean civilian pilots, which signifies new opportunities for FAA-credentialed aviators.

Some Numbers

Years ago, I heard that by the time many technologies are unveiled to the civilian world, the military’s already been using them for about a dozen years. If there’s even a hint of truth there, I’m feeling very optimistic about the opportunities to come to the civilian UAS world. As of 2008, the United States Air Force (USAF) utilized 5,331 UAVs – twice the number of its manned aircraft. In 2012, the Air Force trained more drone pilots than jet fighter pilots – something that had never been done before. See where this is going? If these trends continue and, better yet, spill over to the civilian world, drone pilots could have a very healthy job market from which to earn a living.

Why the Paradigm Shift?

You might wonder why the aviation industry seems to be migrating toward humanless aircraft operations. There are several reasons, though most can be summed up by two key concepts: safety and efficiency. Both are positive benefits that UASs can provide to a variety of aerial applications. Consider the following:

    • Payload: By removing all the people, an aircraft’s useful load becomes much more efficient. With a UAV, virtually all onboard equipment contributes directly to the operation at hand. While you can argue that the pilot(s) bring skill, knowledge, and experience to the cockpit, in terms of weight & balance you’re little more than ballast. Additionally, no humans means no supplemental oxygen systems, seats, lavs, cockpit instruments, etc. This usually means the crafts can be built smaller than the person-occupied equivalent, which further contributes to fuel efficiency.


    • Safety: Drones eliminate a number of possible emergency conditions. If you fly from a room/building on the ground, your life isn’t in imminent danger if a fire, powerplant failure or loss of pressurization requires an immediate landing in less-than-ideal terrain. If an unplanned landing is necessary, the small size of many drones greatly reduces the possible hazards to people and property on the ground. If physiological conditions develop, preventing you from piloting the aircraft, another pilot can usually take over in short order; something that often isn’t possible aboard manned aircraft.


    • Autonomous Control: If you thought pilots were button pushers Feet up on Deskbefore, wait until you see what UAVs can do. These days, autonomous flight is the rule rather than the exception; meaning that, in many cases, the pilot serves as little more than an observer. Additionally, should a signal loss or other problem develop, the aircraft is programmed to fly a predetermined route. Despite the uncanny abilities of many autopilots, manned aircraft aren’t equipped to handle contingencies quite so independently.

A Word on Credentials

So, what does it take to secure a UAS pilot position? That is a very FAA 1st Class Medicalrelevant question, but the answer can vary greatly from position to position. In any case, since you’ll be piloting an actual FAA-recognized aircraft (complete with an N number and an experimental airworthiness certificate), you’ll need an FAA pilot certificate. Since you’re expecting to be paid for your efforts, it’ll need to be either a commercial or ATP license. Additionally, you need to hold a 1st or 2nd class medical certificate, much like you’d need for any commercial flying position.

Desired Background

Take a look at a couple of UAS job sites and you’ll notice a few popular requirements. Several ads are seeking 500+ PIC hours, a B.S. or higher in a technical/engineering field, and a background as a test pilot or military aviator. Other common requirements include 7-9 years working in aerospace, prior UAV experience, and a background in radio-controlled aircraft and/or recreational UAVs. Since many commercial companies do contract work for the government, several postings require U.S. citizenship and the ability to obtain a government security clearance. As the UAS industry continues to develop, expect to see changes to required and desired credentials.

How to Prepare

As with a standard, manned aircraft pilot career, there are several ways you can prepare for UAV pilot employment. If you haven’t yet attended college, you might want to consider majoring in a technical field. Additionally, schools like the University of North Dakota (UND) are Playing Video Gamesnow offering degree programs in UAS operations and UAS research. Studying these programs directly will give you valuable experience and preparation for a UAS career. In addition, accredited schools like UND are bound to have several industry contacts, perhaps enabling you to secure an internship with a UAV operator. Such is an excellent way for a civilian to enter the UAV sector. However, I must advise against majoring in a UAV-specific program if you just want any type of flying job. If that’s the case, you’re better off studying something that truly interests you and pursuing the UAS avenue as one of many possible employment sectors.

On Uncle Sam’s Tab

If you are currently serving or are thinking about joining the military, doing Uncle Samso could keep you on the cutting edge of UAS technology. This is perhaps the best way to get hands-on experience in UAV operations – and on the government’s nickel to boot! As a caution, don’t join the military strictly for its UAV possibilities. Though you can always express UAVs as your area of interest, you’ll most likely be told what you’ll be doing, which is not always what you want. If you choose to join the armed forces, do so for more reasons than just a possible UAS education.

It’s the Network

Regardless of your specific background, probably the best action you can take is to network, network, and network some more. Let anyone and everyone know of your interest to work in UAVs. Subscribe to newsletters and websites on the UAS industry. Call and email potential employers. You might not meet their criteria today, but as UAS operations continue to expand, chances are good you’ll be able to secure a position in the near future.

Looking Ahead

Under current legislation, the FAA has until September 30, 2015 to incorporate UAV operations into the national airspace system (NAS). With this deadline as a reference, expect to see significant developments on the UAS front within the next few years. If recent trends are any indication, pilotless aircraft could offer incredible opportunities to pilot hopefuls in the very near future. In your search for pilot employment, don’t let the lack of a cockpit dissuade you from pursuing a possibly rewarding career as a UAV operator. With the right approach, the sky’s the limit – even if you never leave the ground.

1500 Hour Rule for Pilots – What Gives?

Just when it looked like pro pilot hopefuls would finally catch a break, reality set in once Guy Shruggingagain – in a major way. Supply and demand, the hiring/firing cycle, up-and-down qualification minimums – those things we understand. What’s completely unacceptable is the government’s seemingly uncontrollable need to ensure the country’s airline industry remains in shambles. Though this isn’t the first time Uncle Sam has dealt the aviation world a major blow, it seems the government has finally taken it upon itself to decimate what’s left of the U.S. air transportation industry.

A Little History

We all know the 21st Century hasn’t been the kindest era to the airline industry. First came 9/11 and the unprecedented layoffs. Soon after, we saw invasive security checks and serious reductions in permissible liquid carry-ons. This was followed by a few notable oil crises and the barely gone Great Recession. Now, Sequestration threatens to significantly reduce the operational capacity of the national airspace system (NAS). As if we weren’t suffering enough, the feds also want to throw the 1500 Hour Rule in for good measure.

The Backstory

As many of you are well aware, the 1500 Hour Rule came to life following the tragic crash of Continental Flight 3407 in February 2009. In their grief, families & friends of the victims formed Families of Continental Flight 3407 to push for better pilot training and safety practices. Their lobbying was effective; because it quickly led to H.R. 5900: The Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, better known as the 1500 Hour Rule.

Some Specifics

In a nutshell, beginning in August, all Part 121 pilots will be required to hold an Airline ATP CertificateTransport Pilot (ATP) certificate. What this means is that, for many pilots, 1500 total hours is the new minimum flight time before they’ll be eligible for the right seat of a regional, regardless of their aeronautical aptitude or the hiring needs within the industry. Additional specifics include the following:

·         A minimum of 50 multi-engine hours to qualify for a multi-engine ATP rating

·         Mandatory full-motion simulator (Level C or higher) training

·         At least 1,000 hours as a first officer (FO) before becoming eligible to upgrade to captain

·         Preferential advantages for military and collegiate fliers. The new legislation would create a “restricted ATP” program that permits graduates of 4-year, post-secondary aviation programs or the military to obtain their ATPs at as young as 21. Additionally, the flight time minimums would be reduced to:

                   ¨         1,000 total hours for college-trained pilots

                   ¨         750 hours for military pilots

Why it’s the Wrong Move

If you’re not familiar with the specifics of Continental Flight 3407, there’s absolutely nothing in the NTSB report to suggest that lack of sufficient flight time on the part of the FO contributed to the accident. In fact, the FO wasn’t even the flying pilot on this leg. Besides that, she had around 2,200 hours; well more than this supposed new regulation will require.

What you will find in the NTSB report is:

·         The captain, who was the flying pilot, had about 3,263 total hours.

·         The crew was using the autopilot in icing conditions, which can mask the indications of ice buildup and the associated reduction in lift/performance.

·         Both pilots failed to adequately monitor the airspeed.

·         The crew violated the Sterile Cockpit Rule.

·         Both pilots had spent the previous night at the airport, as well as the entire day up to the 9:18pm departure of the accident flight.

·         The captain had a history of checkride failures.

·         The captain overrode both the stick shaker and the stick pusher; instead raising the plane’s nose and worsening the situation.

·         The captain applied only 75% power in response to the stalled condition.

Where in the accident chain does the government think an ATP-since-date-of-hire-for-the-FO regulation would have prevented this tragedy from occurring?

Probable Consequences of the New Rule

I have no crystal ball, but I still predict a lot of bad things happening for the nation’s aviation industry.

·         The 1500 Hour Rule will significantly diminish the regional airline hiring pool.

Adopting New Legislation·         Flight instructor jobs (as well as banner towing, flying skydivers, etc) will become highly competitive, further driving down wages within this sector.

·         Loads of Baby Boomers will turn 65 in the coming years, forcing them to retire from the airlines.

·         Sim training facilities will become overwhelmed with customers, allowing them to raise their prices and thus drive the already expensive price of training even higher.

·         The wait for an FAA inspector to conduct ATP checkrides will stretch to several months – even without the other delays that result from the Sequester.

·         Facing a severe pilot shortage, the airlines will begin scheduling their crews for more flight duty; thereby increasing pilot fatigue and potentially contributing to more fatigue-related fatal accidents.

·         Due to the need to substantially reduce the number of flights; because of the combined effects of the Sequester, the Age 65 Rule, and the 1500 Hour Rule; the price of commercial air travel will skyrocket.

·         The airline passengers who can still afford to fly will be subject to frequent delays and unnecessary layovers; further reducing the benefits of air travel.

·         Hard up for pilots, the regionals will lower their hiring standards. Whereas they could previously select from among competent and professional applicants, the airlines will now have to focus predominantly on total time, regardless of whether or not the applicant is otherwise qualified for the job.

·         In hopes of avoiding the worst of the 1500 Hour Rule, more pilots will enroll in university flight programs solely for the 500-hour and 2-year advantages. These students will graduate with mountains of student loan debt they’ll never be able to pay off.

I see more unpleasant things coming, but I think you get the point.

On a Positive Note…

Not everything about the new legislation will be doom and gloom. There are actually a few positives for those regional hopefuls who meet the new requirements.

·         You’ll be much more likely to get on with the carrier of your choice.

·         Due to the Law of Supply and Demand, you’ll have leverage to negotiate a higher pay rate than you could otherwise get.

·         Even if you’re a terror in the skies and have no business being in control of the lives of numerous air passengers, there’s a chance some companies will give you a shot because they’re short on options.

For better or worse, it looks like the 1500 Hour Rule will become reality in a matter of months. Hopefully the feds will come to their senses and repeal this piece of legislation, but I doubt that will happen before some serious damage is done. However, if you’re a competent and experienced pilot who holds an ATP, now might be just the break you need to quickly climb the airline career ladder. Good luck!

Are Pilot Job Fairs Worth It?

If you’ve spent any notable time preparing for a career as a professional pilot, you’re doubtlessly aware that industry job fairs and career expos are periodically held across the country. You’ve probably received mailings for upcoming events that feature impressive lists of companies that will be on hand. While such events are available, you’re not alone if you’ve questioned the value of attending these career fairs.

As with many things in life, the potential value of pilot job fairs depends on how you approach them. If you view these gatherings as an invaluable resource from which to further your career, it’s quite possible you’ll benefit from their offerings. However, if you think such conventions are a significant waste of time, your attitude will likely become a self-fulfilling prophecy. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the ways career fairs can help you climb the aviation ladder.

A Potential Gold Mine

How many times have you dreamed of getting a phone call, just a phone call, from a single, reputable airline? What would you sacrifice for the chance to interview with the company of your choice? Now imagine reps from several airlines willing to meet with pilots, in the flesh, with no invitation necessary. Rather than needing to travel to one company’s far-off headquarters, over a dozen airlines are sending their people to a city near you! If you’re truly serious about realizing your pilot dreams, how could you even think about passing on such a golden opportunity?

At Face Value

Remember how the herd goes about courting a potential employer. They go online, fill out an application, perhaps submit a personalized résumé and cover letter. Guess what else? The majority of these applicants get lost in the sea of paperwork. No matter how well you can flaunt your credentials on a piece of paper, it’s hard to stand out when you’re the same black & white as everybody else.

Now imagine what five minutes of your life can do during an in-person meeting. Rather than mere words on a page, you become a face, a smile, and a personality to go with Pilots Shaking Handsyour data. This mere act is enough to propel you over so much of the competition who choose not to attend career gatherings. You’re also showing that you’re committed to your career as a pilot. Anybody can fill out an online application, but a much smaller percentage is willing to give up a Saturday, possibly travel to a distant city, and wear a suit all day. The fact that you show up at all shows you have a vested interest in your profession, which is sure to work in your favor.

Forging Your Chain

Some of you might argue that you’re well below competitive hiring minimums for the majors; thus making a job fair appearance irrelevant at the present time. Well, if that’s how you choose to view it, that’s just what the convention will become: irrelevant. However, if you’re willing to think long term and envision the expo as an incredible opportunity to meet new people, pick up valuable information directly from the source, get your name known by key personnel, and learn how to better prepare for future opportunities, then you can do wonders to set your career on a favorable track.

As small as our industry is, chances are very good that you’ll run into a few Exchanging Business Cardsacquaintances. Such encounters present the perfect opportunity for you to catch up and strengthen your contact. You might also meet some new people who could prove to be valuable links in your career network. While they might not be able to help you out today, your industry contacts could do wonders for your career a little further down the road.

When it comes to the airlines’ reps, don’t think you have to close the deal today. Instead, view your introduction to them as the beginning of a long-term courtship. You might not meet their standards today, but in 2-3 years you could become the ideal candidate. Use the job fair’s meeting as a lead-in for future contacts. Send them a holiday greeting or birthday card in which you mention, “It was so nice to speak with you at the [-city-] job fair in [-month-]”. Doing so can help keep your name fresh and their opinions favorable. When you do meet their competitive standards, having maintained occasional contact can do wonders for getting your paperwork in the short stack.

Just Your Type

My favorite part of all the career fair mailers I’ve received over the years was the chance to win the prize drawings; specifically, the free 737 type rating that companies like Higher Power Aviation would donate. I could hardly imagine that, just for showing up at an event I would have attended anyway, I could potentially win free, top-notch training in the most popular jetliner ever produced. The mere notion of such a possibility was enough to leave me feeling giddy. Even if I shot blanks in every other aspect of the job fair, I could still come out a big winner.

Unfortunately, my name was never selected for a 737 type prize. However, the drawing was never my primary reason for attending. I had a blast being able to rub elbows with other members of the flying fraternity, and I truly believe I gained some priceless knowledge by being able to observe the application/interview/hiring process. Many forms of opportunity await you at job gatherings, provided you’re willing to make the effort to attend.

A Few Caveats

While pilot career expos offer numerous opportunities for you to further your flying career, they also present plenty of chances for you to screw up – on an epic scale. Though the details of these possible pitfalls are plentiful (to be covered in a future post), suffice to say that you shouldn’t do anything at a job fair that you wouldn’t also do at a formal job invitation.

Make it Happen

Although industry, economic, and government factors can conspire to derail your pro Career Successpilot career, you still have incredible power and influence over just how high you can climb. Pilot career conventions are one of many resources that can help propel your career to the next level – provided you’re willing to realize the opportunity. The secret is to avoid seeing the glass half empty because, with the right attitude, your cup runneth over.

Is a College Degree Necessary for a Pilot?

College StudiesIf you follow the national news with any regularity, you’ve probably heard a handful of recent stories about out-of-control student debt. As post-secondary tuition costs seemingly spiral out of control, many students are left wondering when, if ever, they’ll be able to claw their way out from under the mountain of education bills. For those of you who dream of professional pilot careers, you might wonder if pursuing a college degree is a necessary part of the process.

Spending a Fortune

Unless you’re extremely fortunate, you’ll either be spending, or have already spent, a significant amount of money on your pilot certificates & ratings. Even if you take great pains to keep your training as economical as possible, you can still expect to shell out several thousands of dollars to even begin to approach pilot hiring requirements. With so much invested in your flight training, does it make sense to add to the financial outlay by taking on a pricey college education too?

Overkill for the Jet Set?

For those of you who’ve already earned several certificates & ratings, could you guess as to how much time you spent hitting the books during flight training? How many hours do you think you’ve invested preparing for all your FAA written exams and for the oral portion of each checkride? How frequently do you peruse the FARs, internet, and your aviation books to stay fresh on relevant topics? If your training was anything like mine, you might feel you’ve already spent the equivalent of four years just learning the stuff you need to be a pilot. Isn’t that good enough?

Now think about how a professional aviation career will play out. Can’t you expect to undergo training for each new model of aircraft you fly? Aren’t pro pilots subject to proficiency checks, recurrent flight training, FAA type rides, and a host of other scrutiny? Isn’t the first thing every airline does with new hires is stick them in a classroom for weeks on end (on the company’s nickel)? Won’t this on-the-job training and the industry’s continuing education requirements be more than enough for you to excel as a pilot? In this industry, is it possible that college is overkill?

Numbers and Stats

Regardless of our personal opinions on the value of college for pilots, it’s the industry’s expectations and standards that will determine whether or not college is a necessary investment. With this in mind, I spent a few minutes this morning perusing the websites of a handful of the nation’s airlines. Specifically, I was looking at their pilot hiring requirements. With regards to education, can you guess what I found? Delta and FedEx both specify that applicants should hold a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Southwest and ExpressJet echo this requirement but throw in the word preferred. Of the five sites I visited, only SkyWest doesn’t specifically mention educational requirements. In democracy, majority rules; so you can see that a 4-year degree is more or less a necessity to get on with the big boys.

Digging Deeper

Following my web search, I dug out an old binder of AIR, Inc pilot job search materials. One section included a breakdown of stats for pilots hired between 6-1-04 and 5-31-05. Pilot ReadingWith regards to education, upwards of 90% of civilian hires held a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Applicants with a military background pushed this number to near 100%. The lowest of any listed group, the jet regionals, showed 67% of civilian new hires held a 4-year degree, while the remaining 33% had some lesser amount of college. Though these percentages have dipped from time to time, you can see that the airlines still place a high value on college education. AIR, Inc addressed the question by stating, “An incomplete educational record can overshadow a candidate’s many other accomplishments and qualifications.” To avoid becoming an overshadowed candidate, let’s explore some options for those of you who lack a college degree.

Part 91 and Part 135 Positions

If college isn’t feasible right now, it might be worth setting your sights on the private and corporate aviation arenas. These smaller operations are less likely to focus on your educational background, provided your aviation aptitude and experience are strong. In some cases, the equipment, pay, and schedule could be better than anything you would find at the airlines. For maximum efficiency, tap your network for help in securing a position.

Head Overseas

Anyone dead set on flying for a scheduled airline shouldn’t ignore the overseas market. While post-industrial nations will likely have similar standards as U.S. airlines, many up-and-coming countries will probably value your pilot experience, qualifications, and English ability. Several economies, particularly in Asia, are experiencing rapid growth in the demand for air transportation. Many such nations have a strong demand for pilots that is proving difficult to fill with local aviators. If you’re open to flying abroad, absence of a college degree is much less likely to hinder your advancement.


The 1,500 Hour Rule

Lately, talk in the US airline industry has focused on an impending double whammy. In August, new legislation is set to require all Part 121 pilots to have at least 1500 total flight hours. This increase in flight experience requirements is expected to significantly thin down the pilot hiring pool. On top of that, the Baby Boomer generation is rapidly running up on the Age 65 Rule, meaning experienced jet jockeys will be retiring in droves. With fewer qualified pilots coming in and significant numbers of airline pilots on their way out, it’s quite plausible the Part 121 carriers will be willing to overlook a lack of post-secondary schooling when considering job applicants.

Credit on the Side

If you’re currently flying but would like to one day move up to the majors, you should at least consider taking college classes on the side. Many degree options can now be completed entirely online, enabling you to schedule your study time around your work & family life. Besides furthering your education and enhancing your job qualifications, Studenttaking courses part time can help keep your college expenses manageable.

Tip: Even if you don’t want to major in aviation, take a look at schools that offer flight training programs. If you already hold your FAA certificates & ratings, several schools will award credit based on your credentials. This could be a very quick and cost-effective option for getting some college credits under your belt. It definitely won’t hurt your resume/application if you can add Professional Pilot Minor, Certificate in Commercial Aviation, etc to your qualifications while you work on your Bachelor’s. 

Finding a Way

Succeeding as a professional pilot without a degree is difficult, but it’s far from impossible. For the best shot at achieving the career you desire, look into some of the suggestions above to help you secure an office with a view. If possible, try to devote your efforts to obtaining a 4-year degree. Besides helping you reach the pinnacle of the aviation industry, your studies will provide you with valuable skills and knowledge  that last a lifetime.

The Pilot Interview: Tips, Dress Code, and How to Prepare

Throughout an airline pilot interview, or any pilot interview for that matter, you’ll want to take advantage of every opportunity to project a professional and courteous manner. During this time, you’ll be constantly evaluated against your fellow interviewees, as well as the information you’ve included on your résumé and employment application. While it’s impossible to prepare for every conceivable contingency, let’s look at some of the basics you can expect and some tips for avoiding common mistakes.

The Power of the First Impression

For years, Head & Shoulders ran shampoo commercials in which they claimed, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This old tagline is especially true of pilot interviews. From the moment the interviewers lay eyes on you, they’re forming opinions and assumptions as to your professionalism, motivation, intelligence, courtesy, and viability as a future employee of their organization. As a pilot for their airline, your appearance will be one of the images the public associates with the company. Anything less than stellar here could have negative consequences on the company’s reputation, which will only hurt your chances of an employment offer.

Though the pilot interview tips offered below will strike many of you as common sense behaviors, applicants continue to doom themselves by failing in these simple courtesies. Follow the guidelines below to ensure you don’t end your interview before it even begins.

Greeting and Handshake: When you’re introduced to your interviewers, stand up! I’ve witnessed fellow interviewees remain seated when the recruiters appear, which immediately left a negative impression on me. I began forming opinions that such individuals were presumptuous and lazy, though I knew nearly nothing about them. Now imagine what the interviewers must have thought! When the interviewers appear, make sure you stand and greet them at eye level.

            During the introduction, be sure to offer a firm handshake. I’ve even had recruiters offer the jellyfish grip, which made me think they were bored and uninterested (and that my chances were nil). The firm grippers made me feel welcome and relaxed, which left a much more favorable impression on me. Now picture yourself on the recruiters’ side of the shake. Which image would you want to project?