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Higher compensation, fast upgrades, and increasing benefits have made it possible for many people to switch careers and become airline pilots, even as late as 50 or 60 years old. Despite all of the opportunities, regional airlines are noticing areas where some of their new hires are struggling.
We spoke to Brooks Butler, Chief Pilot of PSA Airlines, Eric Graser, pilot and recruiter at ExpressJet Airlines, and Taylor Hinckley, pilot and recruiter at Envoy Airlines to find out more. Here are 3 of the biggest reasons why new hires are having a hard time with training.
Yes, you still do DME arcs in a CRJ.
The single biggest problem every airline mentioned was a lack of instrument procedure knowledge in many new hires. One of the airlines mentioned that they hadn't seen a 100% on their multiple choice ATP test in months. Missed questions usually dealt with simple instrument approaches and holding. That said, at one particular airline, the test essentially hasn't changed in years. The question bank is the same, and many forums and gouges hold thorough reviews of the test questions.
Their advice: study, and use the online test gouge. There's nothing wrong with it. In fact, many airlines recommend it. They want you to pass.
During the technical portion of their interviews, prospective pilots are missing basic instrument questions, like these:
You're going missed on the approach and fly to the published holding fix. What kind of entry should you expect to fly?
You've been told to continue the approach. Can you follow the descent profile of the approach?
If you're cleared for the approach, are you cleared straight-in or for the procedure turn?
You're cleared to climb via the SID. How high should you climb?
Questions like these should be easy to answer. Don't walk in unprepared just because you think they're desperate for pilots. Each of the airlines we spoke to had turned away pilots for those very reasons. In extreme cases, they've even turned away regional pilots from other airlines. In one case, the pilot struggled to describe how to fly a localizer-only approach.
Most students and instructors use FAA instrument charts. But the airlines use Jeppesen charts. This is consistent problem for new hires coming into the airlines. While the front of the charts are similar, notes and other information found on Jeppesen airport pages are a common point of confusion. The solution? Study the Jeppesen chart glossary and legend. It's a free, simple way to get ready to read Jepp charts for your interview, and your training.
For students leaving Part 141 training environments, this isn't usually an issue. They've been taught in structured training environments, often similar to what's expected at airlines. Where airlines find problems is with pilots leaving smaller operations, many of whom haven't been in a formal training environment before. If you think you might be in this spot, try taking an instrument refresher course, or an ATP preparation course taught by a reputable Part 141 training school nearby.
Even if it's not information you think you need to learn, just getting your head back into the classroom is a great first step before drinking the firehose of airline training.
The lack of instrument knowledge is far reaching and concerning for a few reasons. First, if you don't adequately know instrument procedures before stepping into the regional jet simulator, how do you expect to re-learn instrument flying AND learn a new, complex, fast jet at the same time? It just isn't possible for most pilots.
Second, if you're not passing your simulator flights on time, you create a backlog of training for everyone behind you. Simulators at regional airlines are almost always booked, so even a few added lessons creates big problems. Finally, not knowing your instrument procedures is a great way to set yourself up for a failed Part 121 Checkride. We'll dive into why that's so important later.
So why is all of this so important? In today's market, regional airlines are going to try their hardest to help you pass training. But if you're not performing to standards, you're setting yourself up for a failed Part 121 Checkride. And that's a pretty big deal.
Whether it's an initial checkride, a captain upgrade, or even a recurrent 121 checkride, you'll have a much tougher time moving from a regional airline to a major airline with Part 121 training failures. Major airlines will look at your application and ask, "Why are we going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a pilot who's had a history of Part 121 training failures, instead of any other candidate?" Take this seriously and study hard. A lack of preparation heading into your first regional airline job could cause serious problems down the road.
The saying "if you don't use it, you lose it" couldn't be more accurate, especially for instrument flying. You need to maintain and continuous, conscious effort to keep your instrument flying skills fresh. This might mean flying with a CFII or doing an IPC ride to test your knowledge. Continue studying your charts, procedures, and regulations. Work on perfecting your instrument scan pattern in the airplane. It's one of the best ways to stay proficient before heading to an airline.
Above all else, remember that training at your first airline is supposed to be about learning the airplane and company procedures, not how to fly IFR.
Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, commercially licensed pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings, and a commercial aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. Swayne's experience ranges from international flights in a King Air F90 to ferrying a 1943 Grumman Widgeon across the country. You can reach Swayne at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.