Airline Professionals VS Worker Bee CFIs

After my blog yesterday on regional airline hiring I heard directly and on FB from 8 of my former employee/CFIs (some even started with me as students) who corrected the record for me. Thank-you guys, I am humbled and honored to have been any small part of all your lives, you are all amazing professionals and leaders in the safest aviation system in the world. I certainly did not intend to diminish that accomplishment (and in no way support the YouTube position).

One airline captain wrote this short article below to explain and clarify the current airline opportunities. Adam’s FB post was especially revealing with 19-20 days off a month, the hard-working professional CFI is certainly more accurately the “worker bee!”

The Benefits of Airline Flying

The Airline Worker Bee VS Professional CFI article makes some very good points (airline flying is certainly not for everyone!), but the YouTube video cited seems to miss the mark. The individual on the video, dressed in his former employer’s uniform, tells a tale of low pay and low job satisfaction. Throughout his narrative, he gives several examples that I feel are in need of additional perspective.

Commuting

The YouTube creator includes commuting to and from his base as part of his job. It’s not, it’s a choice. Most young adults move to their place of work and aren’t afforded the ability to fly for free to their office. Virtually every regional airline is hiring right now, offering nationwide basing options. A decade ago I may have empathized, as only high cost of living bases were available to up-and-comers (e.g., JFK/LGA).

Operational Tempo

Yes, time pressure does exist at the airlines. After a year in this environment, programming the FMS and completing the prerequisite preflight checks are second nature. It’s absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed during the first year. In addition, most regionals allow meal breaks and most crews can successfully divide up the required tasks so no one goes hungry.

Compensation / Career Trajectory

In today’s environment, the road to a major airline is the quickest it has been in decades. Upgrade to a six-figure regional captain seat is currently attainable within 2-3 years, quickly followed by the ability to get hired by a major. Based on NBAA salary surveys, a young person will likely make $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 more at a major airline than a large cabin business jet captain position (over a 20-30 year career span). Loss of license and long term disability are generally included in a major airline pilot’s benefits package, in addition to a 16% 401k contribution (no match required). Robust health insurance options are also available.

Although not mentioned, I will contend that there is no better place to quickly accumulate thousands of hours of flight time in a standardized environment with hundreds of other pilots (immense exposure). Regardless of where you want to end up (corporate, instructing, etc.), the foundation that a 121 operation offers will satisfy both auditors (e.g., Wyvern, Argus) and those on the hiring board that you’ve seen quite a bit. This isn’t to say that you can’t get the same exposure in other ways (charter!), but it’s certainly a well-vetted pathway.

Quality of Life

Totally subjective. Personally, I’d rather have a fixed schedule a month in advance than be on call. Some folks like the “dynamic” nature of non-flying jobs (I did at one point), but it’s hard to justify with little ones at home. Being “just a number” pays off in dividends when trying to manipulate one’s schedule to make a recital or tend to a sick loved one.

Job Satisfaction

Had the author stayed a bit longer, he may have been able to enter into the training department, joined the safety team, or engaged in management duties. There are incredibly satisfying roles within the airlines, from designing approach procedures to on-boarding a new type of aircraft into the fleet. Alternatively, he could’ve gotten senior enough to establish a light schedule where he could “teach GA” on his own time, even opening up his own 141 school (as many have done before him).

Bottom Line

David makes some great arguments in the blog post itself. There is truly a dire need for professional CFIs. There are many other roads in aviation. Airline flying isn’t for everyone. Mid-life career-changers may not benefit from the 121 life as much as a twenty-something. The video, however, is reminiscent of a medical student complaining about residency: “paying dues”, whether right or wrong, is a part of the airline career and pays off dividends in much less time than that of a medical doctor or aspiring professional athlete.

– JM is currently a pilot with experience in the 61, 121, 135, 141, 142, and OEM sectors. The views expressed above are his own and not representative of his employer. His views expressed are personal and he makes no claim of being an “aviation expert!”


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Airline Worker Bee VS Professional CFI!

What a wonderful time to be entering the aviation profession! There are amazing opportunities around every corner – either as a young person seeking a first job or as a mid-life lateral transfer into this exciting field. But with the din of aggressive airline recruiting, many people are entirely missing the advantages of becoming a professional aviation educator. All the focus is geared toward becoming a worker bee for the airlines. It is a serious mistake for young, motivated pilots to just march mindlessly forward with only an eye toward the airlines, there are other viable options.

If you would believe the media and marketing blitz, every regional airline is just waving cash and guaranteeing happiness and a bright future of freedom and fun. But don’t fool yourself; not only must every pilot personally earn that precious right seat slot in the airline machine (tough work!), this part of aviation is certainly not the right fit for everyone. The airlines provides a very structured version of the “flying dream” with limited flexibility and freedom; its not for everyone. Your flying is very structured and it takes years of commitment to climb the ladder to qualify for the “dream job” everyone imagines is around the corner (great when you get there). If you are just new to the working world or pusuing a mid-life lateral transition into aviation, consider also a future as an aviation educator as a viable choice.

The CFI certificate used to be a mandatory step for everyone entering any aviation career. But in this hot pilot-hiring market, many young people are increasingly skipping this step, and this is a huge mistake. This person will miss a vital learning opportunity that CFI time provides – and this could be a great fall back position when the next airline downturn strikes. CFI experience will also provide a window into a different aviation career with more flexibility and freedom (different strokes for different folks). And amazingly, this version of aviation professionalism is currently providing equal financial opportunities to the airlines.  Glass Door is currently advertising CFI salaries at $79K.   As a professional CFI you largely define your own personal future, building your credentials in the areas that interest you (and there is more variety than you could ever imagine). But make no mistake, this path certainly requires more personal imagination and commitment. Amazingly, from the moment you are FAA certificated as a CFI, you are potentially your own own professional business person – not that I would advise this step without some seasoning and mentoring. This is a very different version of the aviation dream from the structured airline life where you are a cog in a bigger machine. There have been some pretty high-profile airline defections and career blow-back. And all I am advocating is exploring all the possibilities.

I went to UND, commercial aviation degree. Worked for UND for 3 years in a couple different roles, instructor, stage pilot, management. Accepted a job at a regional airline flying a CRJ-200.

I realized fairly quick that working at an airline wasn’t for me. I wanted to be home for my family, want to progress my career based on ability not seniority, didn’t enjoy flying(why i got into this career), fed up with management vs pilots

So please check this out or spread the word if you are mentoring someone entering aviation. People need to discover the benefits and remarkable flexibility of the recently more lucrative aviation education profession. The attraction of a “personal business” as an aviation educator can be more compatible with the needs and demands of a real life. Instead of using your CFI time as a ladder make it your home. Our profession is seriously in need of really good professional educators and the only limits to income, flexibility and advancement are your own imagination. Flight Safety in Florida will pay for all your CFI certificates and a type rating if you have a commercial and are qualified. Explore the amazing possibilities of being a professional CFI, the shiny jets will always be available as a future possibility. Fly safely (and often!)


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

 

FAA “License to Learn!”

There are some critical misunderstandings – and lots of unfounded “tribal knowledge” –  regarding the pilot examination system. CFIs and flight school owners sometimes approach a DPE after a checkride with surprise and ask “you tested [this person], and they passed, so why can’t they land in a crosswind?” Well clearly because this is not on the test!  (Does anyone read this book?) If  the FAA wanted to assure crosswind capability in the ACS, this maneuver would be required to be demonstrated. Instead it says: “If a crosswind condition does not exist, the applicant’s knowledge of crosswind elements must be evaluated through oral testing“.  And just about every applicant finds a nice blue-sky, calm-wind day for their evaluation (didn’t you?)   But I totally agree with the flight school – based on accident data and experience – crosswind capability *should* be part of every pilot’s mandatory tool kit. But clearly, the responsibility to create the total, capable, safe pilot rests with the aviation educator not the DPE

In many other areas also, the FAA’s DPE testing system represents only the “minimum viable product” of pilot performance and competency. The FAA has left the creation of a safe pilot to the CFI, with the DPE only testing the very basic “required elements.” DPEs are strongly counseled not to deploy “a higher personal standard” or an attitude about “what a pilot should really look like” on their evaluations!  These “creative” FAA evaluators are (rightfully) removed from the DPE pool. But I can assure you, every pilot examiner is elated when an applicant exceeds the standards and demonstrates superb skill, knowledge and judgment. The superior pilot applicant is what all of us >should< be trying to create in flight training (this goes beyond the ACS). As far as I can tell, the official FAA evaluation or “check ride” was designed to be a perfunctory and redundant “check”  of the CFIs training of an applicant. The checkride should only be an operational filter, or a second opinion to intercept a potential safety problem.

Understanding the FAA testing process in this manner also clearly argues against the practice of sending a problematic and unqualified pilot applicant to a DPE to “see how it goes.”

Imagine if this poorly prepared applicant happens to pass the FAA checkride; they definitely will not be safe or truly competent.  In such a case, both the CFI and the DPE have failed to assure the ACS standards (and the future safety of this person and their passengers). CFIs and DPEs have to understand this process better and work as a team to create safer pilots. And even for a successful new pilot, we have to honestly embrace the time-honored advice every new certificate or rating is “a license to learn“.

One last point to remember is the DPE usually has less than two total hours in the plane to run through a rigorous  set of maneuvers and evaluate a whole catalog of knowledge and judgment elements. The recommending CFI, by contrast, has 40-50 hours of time with this person and must be the true arbiter of excellence. DPEs are also strictly forbidden from handling the controls to demonstrate or teach from the right seat during an evaluation. The current FAA guidance on this point is very clear and has led to the removal of many DPEs. You will not find any “added value” imparted during a flight test from the senior aviator in the right seat; that is FAA policy!

Your input on this issue is certainly welcomed here in the comments (and by the FAA at this e-mail). I know there are professional aviation educators who think the ACS and some of its requirements are too stringent and restrictive; “we are making aviation too expensive and difficult.” This could be an indicator that we are at a good point of compromise (and everyone is equally unhappy)? The real news here is ultimately, the professional aviation educator is at the heart of aviation safety and assures that every pilot is thoroughly trained and safe. Fly safely (and often)!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! Please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!