Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pilot Career: From Dream To Reality

Everything you need to know to step into a professional cockpit the modern way

pilot careerFor the first time in 30 years, becoming a professional pilot is within the reach of people who once only dreamed of it. We’re in an unprecedented time of skyrocketing demand for pilots, and the number of aviation jobs grows daily. The sky is calling, and if that has been your dream, now is the time to act.
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pilot careerLong-Term Best
If flying for a major legacy airline is your goal, then a four-year degree is still a must-have. The majors, the high-end “boutique” carriers and the plum corporate jobs still require the degree along with high minimum hours and considerable multi-engine time. That’s where the aviation universities come in.

“We produce leaders, not just pilots,” says Frank Ayers, chairman of flight training at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, Fla. “Our graduates are going to be the chief pilots, the check airmen, the leaders of the industry.” Ayers thinks the importance of a four-year degree is absolutely huge. He says, “Our graduates don’t take the first offer they get. They can pick and choose.” Indeed, the best employers in aviation regard a degree from an accredited aviation university as a key ingredient. For that reason, many schools prescreen their applicants to make sure they’re the stuff of which future airline captains are made.

Aviation colleges combine flight training with academics in degree programs that address aviation-specific education. Majors like aeronautical science and air-traffic management are combined with leading-edge flight training in first-line equipment. Most are four-year programs that include flight training. In these college programs, students earn their ratings and then stay on to instruct for at least a year. By instructing, they build time and experience the old-fashioned way. These college CFIs are paid respectable wages and receive considerable discounts on their tuition.

Some universities also offer two-year degrees but recommend that students finish their bachelor’s degree through an online program once they’re employed. Rae Lynn Shropshire of San Juan College suggests,
“If you have two pilots with equal credentials and skills, the job will go to the pilot with the degree.”

pilot careerThe Interview
After training, the interview is the next step. In the pilot world, the interview isn’t just a verbal exchange; it’s a gauntlet of tests, questions and intense evaluations. AIR Inc.’s Darby says that without interview preparation, candidates have a one-in-seven chance of success, while those people who prepared have a one-in-two chance.

The oral interview will consist of a human resources portion and a technical portion. The HR part asks typical open-ended questions like, “Why did you choose to become a pilot?” The purpose, of course, is to evaluate your personality. The technical interview consists of aviation knowledge questions and may include ATP-level questions. Your logbook will be reviewed and you’ll fill out a gazillion forms.

The simulator evaluation is next. Simulator types will vary, but the process is designed to determine your basic flying ability and IFR proficiency. You’ll brief a departure, take off, perform checklists and call outs, perform holds, fly approaches to minimums and show you can read the charts. After a missed approach and some vectors, you’ll move on. It varies with each carrier.

You’ll submit to a drug screening, a background check and, in many cases, a full medical evaluation. Some carriers administer a written test and do a psychiatric evaluation; almost all will review your driving record. You’ll need a passport for international flying.

Marissa Snow, manager of corporate communications for SkyWest, tells us, “We’re looking for experience, attitude and work history.” SkyWest’s interview process also stresses flying ability. “Safety is an attitude at SkyWest,” she adds. “We’re looking for that mind-set in our pilots.”

There are several Internet resources that offer detailed interview guides (called “gouges”) for each carrier. They include actual questions and debriefs from pilots who went through the process.


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