Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ab Initio Training With A Touch Of Glass

The benefits of glass-cockpit experience

guest-speakerIf you were to drive across the country, you could point your car in the right direction and eventually you’d get to your destination, though perhaps not by a straight-line route. Before leaving, you’d need to consult a map to ensure that you’re heading in the right direction and don’t get lost. Likewise, to get your first airline job, it’s best to have a carefully thought-out plan so that you get where you want in the shortest amount of time. Increasingly, that means adding glass-cockpit experience to your checklist.

The world is rapidly changing. With hiring minimums of sometimes only a few hundred hours, it’s critical to have a detailed plan and to check off all the boxes on your “to do” list before the first airline interview. Unlike older airline pilots, you may not be working as a flight instructor for several years before an interview, so there’s less time to pack everything in. Therefore, you need to stay abreast of hiring trends and adjust your plan in real time to increase your chances of getting hired.

For example, last week, an airline-pilot candidate told me that, in his interview, he was asked about his glass-cockpit experience before he was asked about his total time and multi-engine experience. Now that’s a change! Fortunately, he had spent a lot of time in a G1000-equipped aircraft, and he was given a starting date for his hiring class. As it turns out, the airline had previously hired a number of pilots who had experienced difficulty learning the flight management system (FMS) during simulator training. Thus, it was giving preference to candidates with glass-cockpit knowledge.

So what does this mean for you? Firstly, in addition to making sure that you show up with all of the required ratings, a freshly pressed suit and a smile, you should get some glass-cockpit experience prior to your interview. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to have trained for some or all of your certificates and ratings using glass.

Note that it should be sufficient to have 10 to 20 hours of glass experience when you show up for your interview. If you have the option of attending a school offering this experience, then select it over a school with no glass in its program. Or, if you’ve completed your professional training and didn’t get any glass-cockpit experience, don’t despair. You can easily pick it up separately at any flight school with the appropriate aircraft.

Now here’s the bad news. Becoming glass-cockpit proficient will require a significant investment of your time. The system interfaces aren’t intuitively obvious and you may have an instructor who barely understands it. In fact, the number-one complaint I hear from glass-cockpit aircraft owners is that they often find themselves paying for instruction by a CFI who knows less about the system than they do! Frankly, that’s inexcusable. Professional CFIs should invest the time to learn systems on their own, before climbing into the cockpit and billing the client. Likewise, you’ll get a lot more out of your glass-cockpit training if you do some self-study ahead of time. Waiting until that expensive fan on the front of the airplane starts turning isn’t an efficient way to learn.

There are many ways to study ahead of time. For example, if you’re studying the Garmin G1000, you can find books and CD-ROM courses that teach you the system and provide the context for important features and when to use them. Garmin also sells its PC Trainer software, which simulates the features found in the G1000. For the Avidyne Entegra system used in Cirrus aircraft, you can download a free MFD simulator from Avidyne, and there are computer-based training courses available.

If you’re unable to train in a full glass-cockpit aircraft, then I strongly encourage you to get as much experience as you can using a modern GPS. Practice loading flight plans and instrument approaches. Some manufacturers, such as Garmin, provide free GPS simulators that you can download onto a PC. Use these for a minimum of several hours to perfect your programming skills.

You may run into some people who are skeptical of glass cockpits, but that’s not surprising. Aviation is well known for clinging to tradition, and you’re most likely to hear skepticism from pilots lacking glass-cockpit experience—beware of their alleged expertise.

There are many glass-cockpit benefits, including improved positional awareness. With the large moving map, you’ll always know exactly where you are. Terrain-awareness capabilities make it easy to keep track of the rocks and help you keep them below instead of in front of you.

Real-time data in the cockpit also contributes to safe aviating. Traffic advisory systems assist you in spotting other aircraft, and Stormscopes show lightning data. Near real-time data, like XM Satellite’s aviation weather reports, displays virtually the same graphical weather that you find on the Internet. Probably the biggest benefit of glass is that the autopilot frees pilots from the mundane task of keeping the wings level. That allows you to concentrate on more important items like evaluating changing weather, reviewing fuel consumption and considering alternate plans. Given that 80% of general aviation accidents are the result of poor decision making, you should welcome any assistance that allows you to spend more time thinking through your options.

This isn’t to say that glass training is the single most important element of your preparation for an airline job. Basic stick-and-rudder skills, a thorough knowledge of rules and regulations, and a professional demeanor are probably more important. Glass experience is merely one of many items you’ll want to check off before the interview. That way, you’ll reach your destination more quickly and hear the words “you’re hired” sooner.

Max Trescott is a general aviation advocate, CFI and publisher of Max Trescott’s G1000 Glass Cockpit Handbook. His websites include, and He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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