Nov 30, 2015 – Ending the Upgrade Experience via Withdrawal

Last week I got a call from the head of training. He tells me my instructor had not nice things to say about me, after we had three trying sim sessions in a row, and wanted to discuss it.

The primary issue was lack of standardization, call-outs, and checklists. Then he went into a litany of the problems that led to. We discussed one incident where I didn’t bring the icing systems to play, after not having noticed the simulated temperature drop. All of his points were valid and I told him so. He spoke in a clearly negative sense, and we discussed the best course of action for everyone. He called in the middle of my studying, and at that point I was ready t0 acknowledge what I’d come to know. I will withdrawal and get back to the line. That decision came easy.

Looking around the room on the last day of ground school, candidates coming from GA are the minority. What I am seeing is a fair number of military as well as a growing number from other airlines. The promise of better pay, flow opportunities to AA mainline, and the promise of upgrading in a very short time are all working.

If you are from GA – General Aviation – you can do this. It has more to do with attitude and exposure, assuming your fundamental instrument skills are in tact. Flying the Dash is an absolute ball, so I encourage you to go for it. You don’t need to be perfect, but you do have to have the aptitude to pick it up quickly and the willingness to learn how to do things as prescribed. Being a know-it-all or attempting to fly like you’ve always flown IMC when the instructor isn’t looking will not help you much.

The technical content of the ground school – aircraft limitations, systems, flight operations and pilot operations manual, itself isn’t necessarily difficult to understand or retain. There is just allot of it. I found the experience similar to every GA check-ride I’ve taken – up to and including the multi-engine ATP – you learn the material to pass the written tests by rote memory, filling in a deeper understanding with experience. The later works for the FO position, but is not enough for upgrade.

I seem to have had a more difficult time figuring out what to study and when, and felt as if I was spinning my wheels for an inordinate amount of time. Looking back, I had pushed myself harder than necessary to get through initial in 2014. I came out feeling that if I had been more intelligent, I’d have been able to manage the effort and enjoy the process more.

Adjusting from being a leader in charge of a significant operation to being retired and Second in Command is a challenge in itself. Flying an airplane that I was not in charge of was really a new experience, and I was doing all that while learning about Crew Resource Management in a Part 121 commercial flying experience. What I was really after was to pursue a long time dream of flying for a living, and doing that in a Turbo-prop airplane was the next logical step.

Along comes a Part 121 experience that earned me a small income, enough to keep my Twin Comanche maintained. It met my needs at the time and gave me insights and knowledge to the airlines I’d never get any other way.

The first time I ever flew in the cockpit of an airliner was on the jumpseat of an Airbus A319 landing in PHL, during a short break in initial training. I was so excited about being there that the grumpy flight crew relaxed and became animated. I said to them at the time that everything I had done to get here had been worth it. Just to sit here and see what I was seeing while they did their thing.

I feel the same way about flying with the folks I’ve enjoyed flying with. The Captains are amazing and the Flight Attendants have a more challenging job than I had imagined. They are all very cool people. Flying the Dash-8 is an absolute joy. I enjoy doing it well in trying conditions.

Now I have to get everything reset and get back on the line……..