Flying along this morning from Watertown and Albany, it occurred to me that there were a few questions that no one asked.

I’ve noted a few questions I may take the time to answer, but encourage the readers to add others or refine what I have here.

I’ll use the same format though, and continue the discussion. It reminded me that the Chief Pilot doing my interview had commented on the fact that I wasn’t asking many questions – after he offered me the job. Fact is – I didn’t know what to ask…..  What follows is more of what I didn’t know.

Q: How does one commute to work in the airlines, and what is it like?

A: This is a significant decision point for anyone making the transition. We have pilots at my base in Salisbury, MD commuting from Florida, Maine, and other states in between. Many come back from four day trips ending at midnight, and drive home to Norfolk 2.5 hours away.

With the schedules I’m seeing as a new FO – you often get in late from a trip and have only two days scheduled off before you have to be back. That doesn’t give you much quality-of-life time at home with your family.

Commuting from Florida might take two non-rev legs to get to Salisbury. Say Orlando to PHL or CLT; and then another getting into Salisbury. Not many flights go into Salisbury, so commuters usually pick a base that is easier to get in and out of from where they live.

Commuters generally need a car and a crash pad where they live as well, so their expenses are higher.

Q: What is your commute like, and what impact has it had on you?

A: My wife and I own a primary home in Smyrna, De. This one requires 2 hours to comfortably drive to my base, get my gear together, and sign in ready to work. I cannot stay here on days I am on reserve (much be within 75 minutes from call out to sign-in).

We have another home that we call our beach place. It is not on the water, but close to Rehoboth and the Indian River Bay. It is also only 45 minutes away from my base, or a comfortable 1 hour drive to include gear and sign-in. I do stay here while on reserve, but with only 15 minutes of wiggle room, have to be ready to roll at a moments notice.

Getting in late from trips it is too much to drive the 2 hours to Smyrna, so I often hit the beach for the night. I complain about it, but only until I remember what the other pilots are doing.

Q: What does it mean to be on reserve?

A: Being on reserve means you have no scheduled trips, and are there in case someone calls out sick or a maintenance requirement pops up. You must be available 5am to 7pm generally, and be able to report ready to work (at your base) within 75 minutes.

I have been called out at 6:30 pm and flown maintenance flights through midnight. I’ve also been called out at 5:00 am and had people on the airplane waiting for me in the airplane when an FO called out sick with short notice.

Q: Can reserve be avoided to alleviate the need for the crash pad, car, etc.?

A: It can be avoided more easily as you build seniority and learn how to bid. There are no guarantees, however.  Even with my short time as an FO, my seniority is going up do to the lack of pilots and fantastic movement happening now. I usually get a hard line with no reserve already.

One exception is when I bid a build-up line. This means I want four days off in a row for  medical appointments, social functions, or whatever, that the hard lines won’t get me. Bidding this way guarantees you’ll get reserve days, and my experience thus far is that they’ll fly your butt off on all of those days.

Q: How does CRM work in the cockpit?

A: This isn’t a discussion of all aspects of CRM, just a few experiences.

When I started out, I admit that I still had the mentality that I should be able to manage all of the tasks involved with flying a complex approach on my own while the Captain simply kept an eye on me. He was the pilot monitoring, after all, and who was I to ask an experienced Captain to do stuff? Dumb on my part, but I wasn’t even aware that what I was thinking.  Single Pilot IFR negative transfer.

Given how much I’ve read about CRM and how many times others have told me about it (Mike B for one) – what I knew and what I practiced were two different things. It wasn’t until I got to fly with a few Captains who established cockpit environments that encouraged CRM when I began to realize what I was missing out on. I had a resource sitting right there (the Captain) that I wasn’t using. Seems obvious to me now that I was short-sighted and couldn’t see it. So much still to learn, but this one was a revelation.

All of the Captains expect CRM and practice it. They don’t all teach it though. I simply had not given myself permission to use it for my own benefit. Maybe seeking to impress was part of that – ego. It seemed natural to be there for others, but not the other way around. Kudos to the Captains who looked over and asked me – how can I help?  No kidding.  This was a real revelation to me – that opened up new opportunities. I remember to this day the first guy who said that to me on a difficult approach – last landing late at night into home base and down to minimum ceilings and visibility. I was taken aback. He was there to help me do it right and man did it feel great. Seems so obvious now.

Q: How much flying to you get as an FO, and what determines what flying you get to do?

A: First – I had no idea that as an FO you get to make all your own calls on how you’ll configure the airplane and implement all phases of flight. You can ask questions, but if you decide to use flaps 35 or 15, that is up to you. You are a professional pilot and make those calls.

The Captain does decide who flies what legs, generally, at the beginning of the flying day. I usually see them do the first leg if they haven’t flown with me. Gives them a chance to wake up, talk a bit, and learn something about my experience on the first leg.

Sometimes you get every other leg, and others you do the first 3 and they do the second 3. Whatever the pattern, you get to fly as much as they do and it is done fairly. My Captains have been incredibly gracious and I often fly more legs. Very cool.

One kinda sour note was once having a Captain tell me the conditions were too great for me. It was the first time we’d flown together, and the winds were 36 knots and maybe 10 degrees off the runway heading. He said the crosswinds were too much and he’d have to do the landing on my leg. His assertion was wrong about the crosswind, but I didn’t argue.

I was disappointed in him. I told him I understood his call, and we would not change it. Then I told him that landings like this were not an issue for me – a go-around was the worse case scenario if the approach didn’t work out. I knew I had already landed in conditions far worse; both in the dash and certainly in the PA30.  I reviewed when I’d hand over the controls and did let him know that I understood his decision; though I thought it unnecessary.

The next leg I flew was down to minimums in a snow storm with similar winds and a larger crosswind component. He didn’t take the landing as before, but still couldn’t keep his hands off down low. Yes – he would be more smooth in these condition – I get that, but my approach and landing was fine.

I may have been disappointed, but I do understand that the Captain’s experience is valuable. They will keep me out of trouble until I gain more time in the machine, and help me not to embarrass myself in the meantime.

Q: How do you log flight time now, versus your GA Flying.

A: I have given up. Historically, I’ve used a complex application I developed while working in software development. MySQL database backend; C# front end; and complex middle tier. It is the equivalent of using a bazooka to kill a fly.  I had written it initially as a test bed to learn new development techniques and so forth, while working in energy trading.

That ship has since sailed, and I don’t want to maintain or develop anything anymore. I started looking at commercially available applications to port my data into. Zulu looks promising. I realized quickly that I have no intention of spending my free time entering 6 legs a day; tracking ILSs and night flight; and all of that fuss. I’m flying so much in weather now and I don’t think anyone will ever care about decimal points.

Until I learn that this approach will cause me harm or undue attention, I’m using crew pay reports to enter my SIC time monthly; estimating night and IFR at 10% of total time; and noting just enough ILSs, holds and intercepts to stay current. I have enough actual approaches each month to be current continuously. Ain’t it awesome.

I do track my PA30 time using a simple iPad spreadsheet. That has more to do with aircraft maintenance and AD requirements than anything else.

Q: What happens if you think an approach is above your skill level?

A: I have had Captains offer to conduct an instrument approach on my leg for me. Generally they hadn’t flown with me (not to imply once they had they’d be impressed), it was a late night approach, and we were down to minimums in heavy weather.

I declined, but told them if they were concerned I wouldn’t be offended. They assured me, in return, that they wanted me to know that was an option for me. I believed them, and still do. They were practicing CRM.

Point is – if you are concerned – speak up.  I generally tell the Captains what I am weak at, or where I’ve been making mistakes recently. I ask them to be aware and watch for those issues to arise. This has been working out just fine, and the Captain’s in-turn, start showing me what they do to cope with similar challenges.

You show a willingness to learn and keep your head open – and these guys (and girls) will do whatever they can to help you.  I remain pleasantly surprised at the talent, personality, and brains that are out on the line.

Q: Where did you obtain your ATP?

A: I had written about this right after, and have a blog out there. I didn’t go look it up, however, so forgive me if my memory isn’t accurate here. Here is generally how it happened.

I prepared for my ATP written using the Gleim Test prep and several available manuals. After a few weeks of prep, I flew my Warrior II over to Millville, NJ airport to sit for my written.  Several weeks or months after that, I flew up to Groton Connecticut and trained in a Seneca II with the ATP Flight School there.

This was the first time I used a puppy mill approach, but I think it worked out fabulously. The weather was horrible the first try. I took several days off work and flew up there just ahead of some weather. That same weather got ugly, and I just sat on the ground for two days wishing a waiting. We got one flight in to prepare, and then Armageddon developed in the form of a hail producing line of storms coming in from the northwest.

I flew home in low IMC – staring at NEXRAD and snuggling as close to the coast in my single engine as New York would allow. Frustrated in not getting it done, but ready to go again the following week.

One more trip up and a few more days off – the weather once again went into the toilet. Down low and ugly, I sat for another day and a half in fog. Finally, we got going and did all the training we needed to do amid layers of yuck. By the end of the day, it was too late to do my checkride, so I checked back into my hotel.

Next day the instructor wanted one more flight to clean things up before my checkride, but the weather didn’t cooperate. The forecast was for Armageddon II in the afternoon, and the coffee wasn’t great. My examiner arrived and we waited for 2 hours for any sign of improvement. Finally, he asked if I felt ok doing the ride now – in 700 overcast and rain.  I told him I was ok with it. I’d be using a hood anyway, and as long as this wasn’t an FAA trick to catch me in a bad decision, let’s go.

I was incredibly prepared for the ride, and very single engine instrument proficient. I’d put hundreds of multi-engine hours on my simulator, and had flown all the approaches we’d used that day many many times.

Q: How long did you prepare for the oral and check ride?

A: I spent about 2 weeks preparing for the written, and about 6 weeks on the simulator building the courage to get the ride done.

Q: How long did the ATP checkride and oral take?

A: The oral took maybe 90 minutes. We had tons of time with the awful weather, so it was casual. I don’t remember the details of what was covered, but it certainly not the most intense oral I’d been through.

The checkride lasted maybe 90 minutes, per my recollection. All the approaches were known to me and all of the frequencies and courses were memorized from my practice. I was pretty on top of things that day.

Q: What questions were asked during the oral?

A: I am sorry, but I really don’t recall, other than generalities with the post I’ve added. I’ll search some more and see if I recorded what was asked.

Q: Would you describe the checkride?

A: I pulled out an old blog that talked about that – you’ll see that as a separate post.

Q: Did you go with an FAA examiner or a DE?

A: I went with a DE that was associated with the school. He isn’t on staff, but the same guy does most or all of the schools checkride.

Q: How much did it cost?

A: I don’t recall. The way I did it, the costs included the school; the checkride; rental car twice; hotel room (discounted through the school as I recall); the written; and the Gleim Test Prep.

Q: How did you prepare for the ATP? (I know you touched on this in previous emails)

A: I think the blog I just added will answer some of that.

Q: How beneficial was having a turboprop type rating (i.e., your King Air type rating) in achieving your position with Piedmont Airlines?

A: Having the BE-200 and C-90 ratings (they really weren’t type ratings, but rather insurance qualification certificates and experience) may have increased my credibility just a bit.

Q: Do you recommend aspiring regional airline pilots getting a jet or turboprop type rating prior to applying?

A: Absolutely not. I paid about 10k$ to play with turboprops and land a King Air C-90 part time job. I did this for entertainment and continuing education, and it gave me added confidence to retire.  In fact, I had so much fun flying the King Air for a short time that I vowed to do this full time. Thus….   where I am now.

Piedmont and other regionals will hire you with only piston time and only the ATP written. No need to spend your own money if this is what you are going to do.

Q: Why did you get your type rating?

A: ATP School in Groton, Ct.

….Fly safe – more later


By fdorrin

Recently rated Gulfstream 280 pilot, working on instructor qualifications. WestWind and Astra corporate jet flight instructor. Contract corporate pilot. Own and operate a PA30 Twin Comanche. CFII; MEI; ME-ATP; SES; Typed in DHC-8, B-25, IAI-1124, IAI1125, G100, G280. Retired engineer / executive - Delmarva Power, Conectiv Energy, and PEPCO Holdings, Inc.