Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Publicity Materials

I can actually understand how the passengers and maybe companies want to think about the pilots as interchangeable and reliable units, rather than unpredictible human beings. But this picture makes me laugh. It's from the splash page for a company website. While the women, flight attendants or customer service agents, retain their own smiling faces, the depicted pilot has had his face deliberately blurred out. I don't know who it was, or if there's a story here. Maybe there are deep politics involved. Or the guy in the picture just didn't want to be on the website. Anyone know?

Companies I have worked for have used publicity material showing

  • a pilot who had left under poor circumstances
  • an airplane that had been destroyed in an accident
  • an airplane that had never been owned by the company, wasn't even the same type as the company operated, and had another company's logo poorly airbrushed out

Perhaps it is bad luck to be in a company brochure. I can think of two airplanes and a pilot who have ended their careers prematurely after being featured in company advertising.

One of the pictures in the collage shown on the employment section of one company's website made me laugh right away. I had to do a search to assure myself that it wasn't a cropped version of this picture. The latter one has been around a while, and is obviously photoshopped: the wings of the oncoming aircraft are missing, for example.

I guess the similarity is in resemblance between the pilots, and that the Calm Air windshield has been photoshopped, too. Probably to replace a ramp scene with the neutral sky. It would have been a pretty funny inside joke if they had used that picture.

Edited to remove a link that was dead, anyway.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Dozing for Dollars

That is how relief pilots refer to their job. For long flights, the regulations do not consider two crew to be sufficient. There is required to be an additional pilot available. These relief pilots are qualified to the same standards as first officers, but paid less. They do not conduct take offs, and normally do not land, unless a regular crew member is incapacitated.

If you stop and consider that the autopilot is engaged for the cruise portion of the flight, you realize why they call it Dozing for Dollars. Whatever pays the bills. I'd have to moonlight to keep my hands and feet on the controls, though. I mentioned the term Dozing for Dollars to a friend who is a long haul captain, and he instantly provided two synonyms: Bunking for Bucks and Yawning for Yen. I guess one method of passing the time is to come up with creative new ways to describe what you're not doing.

Maybe I should re-think my flight attendant pay equity post, eh?

Oh, and did I show you this funny clip? (Safe for work, includes audio).

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ways to Mess Up Transponder Codes

When you first make contact with a radar-equipped air traffic control unit, and sometimes when you fly into the airspace of different one, they assign you a transponder code. The code is a four digit number that you set on an electronic box, such that when ATC radar hits your transponder antenna, the transponder answers back with the assigned code, plus your pressure altitude.

ATC terminology for "set a code of" is "squawk". So they say "squawk one three four two." If they are really formal they may say "squawk a discrete code of ..." The numbers on the box go from zero to seven for each place, meaning that there are 4096 possible different codes.

If you forget to set the code, or if you set the wrong code, or if you set the right code, but the box malfunctions and transmits the wrong code, then ATC sees someone else's data on the screen next to your blip, so they think you are someone else, and confusion can result.

Pilots are confused enough to begin with, and there is lots of scope for messing up, especially as ATC tends to reel off multiple numbers together. Things I have personally seen pilots dial into their transponder instead of the assigned code include: the time in zulu, the assigned altitude, and the altimeter setting.

I'm always deathly afraid of switching the altimeter setting and the transponder code in some situation where it matters. They are both four digit numbers. What if the controller said "altimeter setting three zero one four, squawk three zero five six" and I dialed in the wrong one, setting my altimeter 520 feet high, causing me to descend into your house? The other day I reached for the OBS, put my hand on a knob and gave it a big twirl. Unfortunately it was the altimeter, not the VOR that I had found. Oops. I was descending in IMC. Scramble scramble to find and reset the correct altimeter setting in time to level off.

By the way, It hasn't been my New Year's resolution to blog every day. I just like blogging. I should really have a resolution to not blog every day. I'm going to cool off and not blog every day for a bit. In the meantime, I'll be working on interview strategies. More on that later.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Pay Equity

CBC is reporting that the Supreme Court has give the Canadian human rights commission approval to investigate whether flight attendants should be paid the same as pilots and airline mechanics.

No, they shouldn't be.

I don't mean any disrespect to the flight attendants. They do a superb job of delivering safety information to rude, demanding passengers who think they are present to be cocktail waitresses and inflight entertainment. Yes, they are in the same workplace, with the same ultimate goal of getting the passengers safely and comfortably to their destination in a timely manner. And if the pilots or maintenance personnel mess up badly enough, the flight attendants take the same risks as the pilots. But the training, duties and responsibilities do not equate: they should not receive the same pay as pilots.

At some companies, you can get a job as a flight attendant by showing up to an information session. Before applying, some companies require you to complete a basic online training course, costs starting at $139.95. That's about equal to the cost of your first hour of training to learn how to fly, and less than half of one percent of the cost of obtaining the qualifications that will make you a barely-employable 200-hour wonder. I'm not sure how long the course would take, but I imagine you could do it in a week. Certainly not more than a month.

I literally laughed aloud when I flipped through the sample course material on the above course site. Did you know climate affects how people dress and how well crops grow, and that it should be taken into consideration when you pack your travel bag for a flight? Check out the sample exam question:

Which phonetic letter is not correct?
Z- Zebra
A - Alpha
G - Gulf
E - Echo

There are actually two wrong answers there, but one wouldn't be noticed on the radio.

I'm going to assume that most flight attendant candidates find much of the material laughably easy, too, but apparently this pre-qualification course was introduced to cut down on the failure rate of new hires.

Once hired as a flight attendant, the company gives you, and pays for, proper training. You might start your first flight attendant job at a major carrier. You won't spend your first five years deicing, loading cargo and washing airplanes as well as giving passenger briefings and telling people to please put their damn seatbelts back on. You need to stay healthy, but your entire career doesn't derail if your eyesight deteriorates a little.

Flight attendants do not have the same level of responsibility as the pilots. Yes, a flight attendant could cause serious injury to a passenger by not correctly securing a food cart. Yes, a flight attendant can save a passenger's life by noticing and correcting the fact that the idiot hasn't done up his seatbelt in response to the illuminated sign. The FAs are open to more risk from crazy passengers than the pilots are. The pilot in command is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on the flight. That's his job. He is the boss. If the flight attendants have a problem, they come forward and report it to the pilots. The pilots make the decision whether to continue or divert in response to the passenger problem.

I know pilots who have worked as flight attendants in order to get contacts and earn money to enhance their pilot qualifications. I even know of an airline in the UK that hired pilots a little in advance of their need for pilots, and had them work as flight attendants for a few months, before putting them on line. Anyone want to try that the other way around? I've never met a pilot who said he or she was working as a pilot to try to make it as a flight attendant.

If you compared the duties of the flight attendants and the pilots during a typical flight, you'd see everyone together for a preflight briefing, and both pilots and flight attendants check that everything was in readiness. The pilots do more math than the flight attendants during this process. The FAs do more physical activity. Then the FAs ensure all the cabin baggage and passengers are secure, and give a safety briefing. Then the pilots push some buttons, move some levers and talk on the radio a bit. In cruise, the pilots sit around, talk on the radio, watch the gauges, and consider what could go wrong and what they'd do about it. Decisions about asking for a re-route or another altitude cost or save the airline more money than decisions the FAs are making.

Maintenance have huge responsibility. Their initial training is less than two years, but they undergo a long apprenticeship and then write more exams. They literally have to know how to take an airplane apart and put it back together. And they have to get it right every time. I'm responsible for the safety of one airplane at a time, and once it's parked and shut down, my responsibility ends. Every airplane a mechanic has ever touched remains her responsibility until the inspection she did expires, or the part is replaced again, or possibly for the life of the aircraft, depending on the work done. The mechanics I know take this responsibility very seriously. When rumours of an accident surface, the pilot wants to know that it's not her company or someone she knows. The AME wants to know the same, plus that it isn't an aircraft she ever maintained.

While FAs and pilots share a workplace and share the risks of something going wrong in that workplace, the pilots have far higher training costs, far higher responsibilities in terms of the financial and human costs of their decisions, and are literally ranked above the flight attendants in the chain of command on board the aircraft. I hope the Supreme Court figures this out. And if they don't, will the flight attendants will be happy to see pilot pay cut down to match theirs?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Safety Maxims

max·im (măk'sĭm)

A succinct formulation of a fundamental principle, general truth, or rule of conduct.

In a recent post I mentioned a pilot having a safety maxim in his wallet and one commenter thought it might be a euphemism. I stared at my screen for a while, thinking "euphemism for what?" then wondered if the commenter thought it might be a naked girlie pic from a men's magazine called Maxim. Or I believe in some countries a condom is called a safety, so perhaps that's what he was thinking. But no. You see, our licence has to be shown to the authorities. We're required by law to produce it on demand for Transport Canada, the police, or customs officials. It's not a good idea to have objectional material drop out on the counter as we extract our documents.

By a safety maxim, I really do mean a little saying pertaining to safety. You've probably heard "Arrive Alive: Don't Drink and Drive," but likely just in public service announcements. People don't actually say such things to one another as safety reminders. More than in any other field I have encountered, pilots have and actually use these little sayings among ourselves.

"Better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground."

"Better a little late in this life than early in the next."

"A pilot lives in a world of perfection, or not at all."
-- Richard S. Drury

There are thousands of them. Short, easy to remember, carrying a message to counteract the one that our customers and bosses may be pushing. Flying is taught one-on-one, hands on, and we learned these saying from our flight instructors who learned them from their flight instructors, all the way back to Wilbur Wright, who said:

Do not let yourself be forced into doing anything before you are ready.
-- Wilbur Wright

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Woodchuck Scout

If you're looking for work, train your relatives to job hunt for you. Teach them the basic components of your qualifications, and teach them what to ask.

I am proud to say that my mother managed to determine that her pilates instructor's receptionist's husband is the chief pilot of an air operator that is looking for pilots matching my mother's version of my qualifications. My mother even left an intelligible message on my answering machine, including the aircraft type, the company name and the contact information. Mrs. Meerkat now has my resume, and will be showing it to Steve Meerkat.

Way to go mom! I will now stop mocking you for all the times you have told me you met someone whose name you didn't obtain, who recommended I apply to "Air something, or maybe it was something Air."

And I got a telephone call from the Air Canada training department. Really. Air Canada called me. That's really fun to say. But I haven't got the heart to tease you too badly. It was a friend of a friend returning my call to help me out with some information on requirements and strategy. I now have it directly from the hiring decision makers at Air Canada: it's not lying if you leave some of your experience and hours off your resume.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Captain Jobs

In a recent comment, Sam asked:

Out of curiosity, how many hours do you need to fly left seat for a charter op in Canada (or any equivalent of our Part 135)?

The short answer is "1500 total time." A captain need to hold an airline transport licence, and the minimum time to hold one of those is 1500 hours. A considerable amount of multi-engine time and multi-PIC is usually required, so it's the rare pilot who manages to make the numbers line up that soon. Here are numbers from some recent job ads that have appeared on an online job site:

Navajo captain charter/cargo: 1500 hrs TT, 500 hrs Multi, 100 hrs Multi/PIC
King Air 100 captain sched/charter, remote base: ATPL, 250 multi-turbine
Jetstream 31 captain: 2500 Total Time, 1500 Multi, ATPL

It's either the multi time or the PIC time that holds a person up. The only way to get the multi time so soon is to get hired on as an FO while you're still wet behind the ears. Then you're stuck in the right seat for three years, at which point you might quit, or your employer even kicks you out to go and build PIC time. There's an employer recently who was hiring a Metro FO, looking for an ATPL, 1800 total time, and 800 turbine PIC. Someone even commented on the job bulletin board site, on the unliklihood of that combination.

I would recommend that a pilot starting out do his or her level best to get a first job with an operator who has a mixed fleet of say, Cessna singles, light twins like Piper Seneca or Aztec, flown single pilot, and multi-turbine two-crew. By all means take a first job flying anything but don't get so focused on it that you don't quickly hop to an operator who can give you that advancement path. You build PIC time in the light singles, until you meet total time requirement for the two-crew operation. You prove sensible there and when you have the multi time to be insured PIC in the piston twin. You can earn your ATPL that way, and eventually you PPC left seat in the turbine machine. All without the pain of more job hunting. And I left out the part about working for two years slinging bags.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Don't Forget to Vote Today

Reader Carlos, who doesn't have a weblog, but who is proud of his city, sent me this joke, which not only made me laugh, but is topical to both the blog and the date (there is a federal election today in Canada, and the names beginning the first sentence below are the names of the leaders of the three major political parties).

Martin, Harper and Layton are flying on the Executive Airbus to a gathering in British Columbia when Martin turns to Harper and says, chuckling, "You know, I could throw a $1000 bill out the window right now and make someone very happy."

Harper shrugs and replies, "Well, I could throw ten $100 bills out the window and make ten people happy."

Not to be outdone, Layton says, "Well I could throw a hundred $10 bills out the window and make a hundred people happy."

The pilot rolls his eyes and says to his co-pilot, "Such arrogant asses back there. Hell, I could throw all three of them out the window and make 32 million people happy."

And come to think of it, no one can throw anything out the window of an Airbus in cruise. I wonder if the earliest ancestor of this joke involved a train, or a horse drawn carriage?

Iceman -- The Later Years

I forgive Flygirl for stealing my logo, because this Saturday Night Live video clip made me laugh until it hurt. And besides, I stole my logo from somewhere else. Who's to say she didn't steal it from the same person?

The US has a lot of ex-military airline pilots. Canada not so many, but the tradeoff is the same. The airline gets highly trained, highly skilled pilots with proven ability to think under pressure, but the level of risk they are willing to accept needs to be adjusted downwards to make them fit into a civilian operation. I wonder how many of them feel as out of place as poor Iceman is in the comedy sketch. The only ex-military pilot I've worked with flew primarily search and rescue missions, so he didn't fit the stereotype. It's hard to say if he was more risk tolerant than I am. He did things I wouldn't do, but he had a lot more experience than me, so he was probably no closer to the limit of his abilities than I was.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Water Wings for the Pilot Pool

Shortly after I read GC's wake up call story, I got a wake-up call of my own, four and a half hours after I had gone to bed. It was a reasonable time of the day, I just hadn't turned off my telephone. I wasn't quite awake enough to remember not to answer it, so I answered it. Just as well. It was a chief pilot for a company I didn't work for, but wanted to. He liked my qualifications and wanted to tell me he was interested.

At this point people tend to get all excited and congratulate me and ask me when is my interview or did he offer me the job. So I have to explain how the aviation world works. Companies want pilots ready to work when they need them, but companies don't hire pilots untl they need them. They anticipate the need for pilots, because they know of possible future contracts, or they expect people to leave because the next company up on the pyramid is hiring. When they get those contracts, or the pilots do leave, they will need new pilots in a hurry, so they identify an excess number of qualified pilots in advance, and tell them they might hire them.

The larger the company, the more complex this process. So major airlines screen resumes, and conduct interviews and sim checks, and then officially tell you that you have been placed in the pilot pool. You can accept a job with another company while you are in the pilot pool, and you might or might not tell the major airline or the other company. When the major finally calls back -- and this could be a couple of months or a couple of years later -- you can quit the other company and go to the major. Or you can stay where you are, but you're unlikely to have another chance at the major.

Other companies just try to keep a slight excess of qualified or almost qualified people hovering around and under the impression that they are next on the chief pilot's list. It's not uncommon for almost everyone on staff to be a pilot: receptionists, dispatchers, airplane washers, flight attendants, janitors: all trying to prove themselves in anticipation of that coveted right seat invitation. Many companies have a formal seniority queue amongst the low-timers working on the ramp. Others just have a slew of hopefuls, all jockeying for position, sucking up to the boss and trying to make their co-workers look bad. It's only when a company needs qualifications they don't have hanging around, they advertise a job, take in resumes, and then make a few telephone calls and raise the hopes of more pilots than they will need. This is called the shortlist, but it's the same thing as the pilot pool.

When the need for new pilots is assured, they call the pilots back and offer them jobs. If they don't get the contracts, they don't call. So you get called and then nothing, over and over again. If you're smart you can manage to get on the list for more than one company, so that whoever wins the contract hires you.

So there are two good ways to get jobs out of this. One is to make a chief pilot feel that you will be there if anyone quits, so he can think of you almost as a reserve pilot. You're there, so he doesn't advertise, just hires. You can also swoop in and get a job you're not otherwise qualified for by turning up just as the chief pilot discovers that of the fifteen people he identified last month, only three are available to work now.

So as far as I can tell, I am on the unofficial shortlist for two or three companies right now. And I have my current job. And I have pizza.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Lottery Numbers

Hiring minima are the numbers of hours in various categories below which a company claims that it does not consider applications. When a company sets hiring minima, they are playing a bit of a numbers game to get the right pilots. What do they say you need? What does the insurance company say they need? What do they actually interview at? What do they hire at?

Sometimes customers, especially government customers, impose limitations on the hours requirements. Most Canadian provinces require 500 hours multi-engine experience for any pilot doing medivac operations. That's a government contract and is non-negotiable. If the company does a mix of medivac and non-medivac, and the chief pilot really likes you despite your only three hundred hours multi, they could schedule around you for a month or so, but that's unlikely. Kolinsky Air's major customer demands two-crew, two-engines, and a minimum of two thousand hours multi-engine time for both pilots. (No word on the Hooded Fang's transport needs).

Because of the theory that practice makes perfect, hours of experience is a measure of competence. When a company negotiates a contract with its insurance company, they may include hiring minima. Those can be bent and changed, because someone with the right personality who is a couple of hundred hours short will soon meet the minima, while two months of flying won't fix the attitude of the higher time guy who is a jerk. Therefore, don't be completely put off by insurance minima, but if there are plenty of good people who do meet the insurance minima, expect them to be hired instead.

Pilots will apply to jobs they are not quite qualified for, so companies need to advertise numbers high enough to keep out the riff-raff. I remember back when I had only a thousand hours, visiting Quoll, even though they demanded 1500 hours. I told the chief pilot straight out that I didn't meet his minima, but that I was interested in the company, so I would like to introduce myself. He picked up my resume and said, "This is what I'm looking for. I just put out those numbers to keep the 200-hour wonders away." (A commercial licence requires a minimum of 200 hours flight time, so a pilot who has just finished his initial training and thinks he's ready for anything is a two-hundred hour wonder). I probably would have landed a really nice job there, too. But someone flew some airliners into some buildings and for a while after that no one wanted to travel on airplanes anymore, and by the time Quoll Air recovered, I no longer had contacts there, and no longer had just the right number of hours to be useful to them.

How can one have too much time? Well if you've got significantly more than the minimum time at Bilby, you are approaching the minima at Gerbil, which pays better, flies nicer aircraft and has better bases. And the boss knows that if you're any good, there's a good chance you'll go to Gerbil or one of its ilk as soon as you meet those minima.

I can see another dynamic at play, especially near the top of the pyramid. Westjet demands 4000 hours total time. Air Canada is coy about minima, but definitely hires with less. Does that mean that Westjet gets better pilots than Air Canada? Well, no. Most pilots will apply to both airlines. By the time a resume has 4000 hours on it, it has probably been in Air Canada's system for a year or so. So the folks that get interviews at Westjet have either been passed over by Air Canada or never applied to Air Canada. The company cultures are different, but not so different that the majority of people who work out for one wouldn't have been good for the other. Westjet's minima have already dropped a fair amount. I'm betting they will come down again.

So with all the machinations that go into these numbers, when you see that the requirements for total time, pilot-in-command time, multi-engine time, multi-engine PIC time, time in a particular environment (e.g. mountain, coastal, northern, or complex airspace), and time on type all line up with your resume, it's like checking your lottery ticket against the winning numbers. The size of the jackpot then depends on how many people are holding the same numbers. Last time I got a good match right across, the chief pilot called the next day. Jackpot?

Friday, January 20, 2006


No one doubted that it was a big game of chicken, and that eventually Air Canada and Boeing would work out a deal, but it's good to see the deal announced. Air Canada is buying as many as thity-six new triple sevens, and wow, sixty 787 Dreamliners. The initial commitment is to eighteen and fourteen, respectively, but eventually they'll buy enough that there will be one for me to fly.

Oh and favourite thing heard on the radio today:

ATC: Three four hotel do you have the airport in sight?
Pilot: Ummm ... ahhhhhh .... no ... uh ... I mean ... yes ... ummm ... well ... we can see where it should be ... ummmm.
ATC: Three four hotel, advise airport really in sight.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Snowy Owl

During the morning preflight, a huge snowy owl was standing on the airplane. At first it looked like there was a slain squirrel up there with it, but it was the owl's tail. I didn't immediately recognize it as a tail, because an owl's head swivels all the way around, and this one was turned almost backwards, so the tail was in front.

I suppose the owl wasn't really as big as it looked, all puffed up with air under the feathers, but it was big. When we approached, it spread its wings and looked even bigger, then it shuffled forward and dropped down off the airplane into ground effect, where it ponderously flapped away.

I climbed up on the wing to inspect for talon marks scratched in the paint, but there was a nothing there but a bit of dirt stuck to the ice. There wasn't a magical message written on a parchment scroll, either.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Teenage Girlfriend

Cockpit Conversation reader David Megginson suggested that being a pilot at the low end of the industry looking for a job is like being a fifteen-year-old boy looking for a girlfriend. The analogy is so apt I considered assigning all my mammals new names appropriate for teenage girls, and recoding the entire blog to match. Because it completely describes the situation.

One of the biggest problems a teenage guy has is just picking up the phone, or walking up to the girl in the hall, and talking to her. There's a general terrified paralysis. Generally my problem is getting access to the people I have to talk to, but there must still be dozens of times that I haven't called someone because it was scary, or I didn't know what to say. There are only so many times you can straighten your hair, put on a big smile, and say, "So would you like to go to a movie with me Friday after school?" Sometimes she ignores you, or declines politely, but you always know she's running off around the corner to snicker with her girlfriends.

The prom queen Air Canada has been this unobtainable dream, but lately I heard a rumour. (Jenny told Crystal who told Andy that Air Canada might want to go out with me, but it's really hard to tell. Maybe I should ask Bearskin to ask Air Labrador to find out if Air Canada thinks I'm cute). I want to go out with her, but I can't just walk up and ask her. She's always with her parents, who insist on formality. So I'm trying to get introduced to her. That's a long process.

Then there's WestJet, who is every bit as sexy as Air Canada and more of a free spirit. I've tried to get her attention, too, but I don't think she knows who threw the spitballs. She likes more experienced guys, anyway.

And I do want to get some experience. I mean what if I got a date with someone I really liked and she wanted me to do stuff I've never done? Better to make those mistakes with someone else, right?

I'm learning that some of the girls I've lusted after for years are pretty easy. I just need to be there at the right time and I'd be going home with them. But what if I missed the opportunity to ask a classy girl out, because I was spending time with an easy one? The places they live aren't exactly on the bus routes. And some of those sluts could be seriously hazardous to my health.

It's hard to stay focused on just a few when there are so many around. You've just got your priorites straightened out when another one walks by. She's got nice clothes, a pair of really big engines, smells so good, and everything else is forgotten as you chase after her. And that energy might be better spent grooming myself for the one I really want. Ooh, but this one is shiny!

It's all so complicated and confusing. Sometimes I'm tempted to spend the rest of my life where I am, with my sister. She is, after all, nice to me, fun to be around, and is pretty much guaranteed not to dump me. It's just, you know, weird to grow old with your sister. And you don't get any.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Things I did today before calling Pica:

  • Cut my fingernails
  • Gave someone a ride to work
  • Mailed a letter (price of postage went up today)
  • Sat in my car in the cold listening to the radio, while the windows steamed up
  • Checked the weather forecast
  • Read an article about the DA42
  • Completed a 5-star difficulty rating Sudoku number puzzle
  • Double-checked the telephone number of Pica

Yes, I called. And got through to the person I needed to talk to on the first try, only stammering a little. Very polite, very helpful, and unlikely to invite someone of my current qualifications and experience to an interview in the immediate future. Airlines hire different profiles at different times. It seems lately that today everyone is looking for people with either more or less experience than me.

But every time my name crosses that desk, it gets closer to a shortlist. I'll keep trying.

Monday, January 16, 2006


I'm supposed to call Pica today. I have the right name of the person I'm supposed to call. The only reason I don't call right now is that it's not yet office hours in her timezone. Nothing to do with nerves, honest.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Aluminum Cans versus Plastic Bottles

Airbus is trying to stem the flow of sales going to Boeing, by bashing the B787's all-composite airframe. Not literally, by driving a catering truck into it, but by questioning what would happen if someone did drive a catering truck into it--and maybe even didn't report it. Aluminum (or "aluminium" as my British readers insist on calling it) dents and tears on impact, while a composite could potentially accumulate invisible damage until it shatters, like an Airbus rudder.

I'm thinking of the plastic or composite components on airplanes I have flown. Many use plastic for cosmetic details in the interior, and those are prone to cracking and embrittlement. The main structural elements of all the airplanes I have flown have been aluminum (or wood and steel wires if you want to count some of the sketchier non-commercial aircraft I've decided to pilot), but many have exterior fairings made out of plastic. And I can't think of a single plastic component that I haven't flown around knowing was cracked. I remember being questioned by a Transport Canada safety inspector who wanted to know why our wing strut was wrapped in duct tape. We were able to show him a properly formatted, signed and stamped logbook entry documenting the "temporary fairing repair" effected by our maintenance department. And this was a commercial passenger airplane.

It's not really duct tape, it's speed tape a similar silvery-grey sticky tape that I'm sure costs at least ten times as much. I've done a field repair myself, using speed tape for temporary damage control.

Comparing the plastic components on airplanes as old as I am to the all-composite airframe of the new 787s is a bit like saying "Metal? They make airplanes out of metal? My car is made out of metal and it fell apart after five years of winter driving!"

Looks like duct tape, but isn't. Sounds like plastic, but isn't. Different kinds of metals ... I'm a pilot, not a materials scientist. But if you're looking for a career in aviation maintenance, I'm thinking that experienced non-destructive testing technicians are going to be in high demand before too long. Also you don't have to wield a rivet gun.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Origami Without Pictures

Over at Pitchpull, just before going on vacation, Greybeard was lamenting public ignorance of autorotation: the procedure by which a helicopter pilot can safely land a helicopter in the event of an engine failure. I have to admit that before I started training to be a pilot, I thought that without the engine, a helicopter took on the aerodynamic properties of a brick.

But now I have a little paper model helicopter I can build to show people how a helicopter fails to plummet, and I'm going to try to share it with you, even though I don't have a camera.

Start with a regular piece of letter paper: 8 1/2 x 11 for the North Americans, or A4 for the Europeans. Cut it in half lengthwise, so you have two pieces of paper. Put one piece aside, so you can use it if you mess up the first one, or if someone you show it to likes it so much they want their own. The piece of paper you have left is now considered your entire piece of paper.

Take your scissors and cut the paper as if you were going to cut it in half again lengthwise, but only cut about an inch less than halfway through. Stop cutting before you get to the halfway point. You now have a strip of paper with a slit at one end. The end with the slit I will call the top. Your next cut will be a short snip from the side. Start halfway down the side of the paper, that is, start about an inch below where the first slit ends. Snip in about a quarter to a third of the way through. Do the same from the opposite side, so the two side slits are opposite each other, with the centre half to a third of the width of the paper uncut. Now take the sides of the paper below the side slits and fold them in towards the centre, one side overlapping the other. Crease them so they stay, and fold up the bottom inch of the bottom to help hold everything together.

Now you should have something that vaguely resembles Binky from Life in Hell. Fold one ear down along the line one inch above the halfway point. Turn it over and fold the other ear down the opposite side.

That's your helicopter. Pick it up just under the rotors and drop it. It should stay right side up and twirl slowly down. Adjust the folding if necessary. If it keeps flipping upside-down, there's not enough weight underneath. You could try adding a paperclip. If it goes down too quickly, you may have too much weight underneath and can trim some. If it plummets without twirling, be sure you creased the rotors so they stick out properly. You can even experiment with folding little winglets into the ends of the rotors.

It's not true origami, because it involves cutting, but it's a neat model. I made it to show a corporate vice president once, and I remember him picking up and dropping the helicopter three or four times in fascination, then asking, "can I keep this?" Someone even sent me a video of someone dropping one of these from the twenty-fifth floor of a hotel atrium and you can see it twirling almost all the way down.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Before I apply to a company, I do some research on it, make sure that they maintain their airplanes and have some respect in the industry, and to find out a bit about where I might be working. I look up the airport and the approaches into it. I read a bit about the aircraft. Just the normal stuff you do to make sure you're not applying to work as a slave to alien terrorists or something.

If I really really want to work there, after I send off the application, or hang up from the telephone call I can spend days envisioning myself flying that airplane on those approaches. I imagine my car parked at the airport, with the licence plate of that province on it, looking strange in some other colour. I imagine myself really enjoying living there, whether it's a cosmopolitan centre with its own NHL team(*), or some place named after a body of water and/or one or more parts of an animal.

It's like being a fifteen-year-old girl and writing your name in your binder, together with the last names of all the guys you like. "Captain Aviatrix" Sigh.

Joke for Canadians:
Q: Why won't they let Hamilton get its own NHL team?
A: Because then Toronto would want one too.

P.S. I just had to explain to my mother why I would want to fly for a major airline. Is she dense or something? "Mom! It's like playing for the NHL!" Does it mean something that between the National Hockey League and hormone-struck teenagers I can completely analogize my life? Do hormone-struck teenage NHL draft picks use airline pilot analogies?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Below the Radar

Recently a junior pilot needed to talk to a manager, while said manager was deeply involved in a conversation with another senior person. I believe the topic was deer hunting, or possibly pick-up trucks. The junior pilot was too shy to walk up to these exalted individuals and ask for something he needed to go do his job. I interupted the conversation, pointed out the patiently waiting young man, and then walked off, hearing the beginning of a stereotypical 'my door is always open, don't hesitate to come to me at any time' speech to the junior pilot.

Amused, I related the incident to another pilot who has been here longer than I have. The reaction was unexpected.

"You said that to him? No, no, you shouldn't do that! Don't get on his radar. He has hiring and firing power."

The metaphor of avoiding being on radar refers to wartime flight, where pilots fly low, in the radar shadow of terrain, so that the sweep of surveillance radar doesn't reflect off their aircraft, revealing presence and location to enemy forces. I imagine most people know that.

But we're not in a war zone. In civilian life, pilots who fly below radar coverage are general aviation pilots, in small airplanes, without radios, or afraid to talk to the air traffic controllers, or running drugs. Not professional pilots.

Me, I want to be on the radar. I want to be in contact with the controllers who will watch me on thir scopes, alert me to the presence of traffic I may not have seen, pass messages about dangerous icing or turbulence. I want the controllers to know where I am. And I'd kind of like my bosses to know I'm worth something, too. It's true that in a large company a pilot aims to have management never hear her name, along the lines of no news is good news, but I always think I can do better than that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

False Alarm

You want to know how bad this industry is for jobseekers? It's so rare for an employer to acknowledge a job application that my heart literally raced when I spotted a reply from a chief pilot sitting in my e-mail.

Thank you for submitting your Resume to Hamster. I have reviewed your Resume and placed it on file. If you are not contacted for further information, I encourage you to update your file every 6 months.

A form letter acknowledging that someone actually read my resume is a good thing. The fact that my e-mail filter recognized it as a form letter and put it in the Junk Mail foldre along with the solicitations offering me "Fine Armband Timekeepers" and "v!aagra and c!aalis" is not so great. What if one of my contacts passed my resume on to a manufacturer of prestigious wristwatches, hiring for their corporate jet, and I discarded the contact e-mail as spam?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Shoe Makes the Woman

This week I made some serious progress on my New Year's resolutions.

I cleaned out my closet and gave away two bags of used clothing. I still can't bear to discard a big box of ops manuals and pilot operating handbooks I've accumulated from various companies. You never know when you'll have to have access to the exact dimensions of a Navajo Chieftain, and besides I can use them as blog fodder, or or one of the legs falls off my desk, or I run out of firewood.

Boxing week sales yielded a pair of unornamented black mid-heeled pumps that, while I'm sure would be scorned at fifty paces by all characters (and cast) of Sex in the City, will support my weight and support the image of a sharp and capable airline pilot. The rest of the interview suit will follow.

What do you mean, "Aviatrix, you have all this stuff to do and you started with shoes?" I'm female. Shoes are the foundation for everything. It's not like all I did was go shopping. Look how bright and shiny my mammals are. I'm tempted to put up a second string mammal list, too, so you can see how much other updating I've done.

I wonder if everyone does this? Do chief pilots find their in-boxes as full as health club gyms every January?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Underwater Boeing

Next weekend a decommissioned and thoroughly cleaned Boeing 737 will be lowered into the sea near Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada. Formerly registered as C-GBPW, and still painted in Canadian Airlines colours, the airplane will become an artificial reef, to provide homes for sea creatures, a point of interest for scuba divers, and a source of tourism dollars for the nearby community of Chemainus, British Columbia.

Many airplanes have ended their life at the bottom of the ocean, but few have or will ever be so deliberately and grandly retired. There's going to be a viewing platform, a dinner dance, and tickets sold to the event. I think it would be interesting to swim through an underwater airplane and see what fish and crustaceans had taken up residence. An airplane, even with all the engines and control surfaces removed, has such a beautiful shape. Surely even the fish will appreciate it.

Usually news footage of a half submerged airplane suspended by a crane involves the aircraft being fished out of the water by the Transportation Safety Board, in the throes of an investigation. It's funny to think of one being lowered in. One of the pilots who used to fly the airplane said that it seemed as good an end as any for the airframe, better than sitting in a scrapyard.

There is more information here on the society that organized the sinking, and the process they had to go to to make it happen.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

One Year Blogoversary

I started this blog one year ago, after a snowstorm that shut down our operations. I think the blog is achieving its purpose of inspiring me to get out and make myself known to the people whose job it is to point at my resume and say, "let's bring this one in for an interview." I still work for the same company as I did then, but I've progressed in the organization. I hope to be in quite a different place after another year.

I had a high school teacher who used to go on an on about what a year was worth. He liked to explain the opportunity cost of failing one year of high school. He would tell the class that it would cost you one year of the highest salary you would make in your lifetime. I don't think anyone paid a lot of attention. Perhaps we had already grasped the error of his assumption that a career begins at the lowest salary level and results in a steady progression to fatter and fatter paycheques. Or we'd just been deadened by overexposure to parallel equations.

Even though no one has a career like that any more, his point is still valid. Don't delay getting onto any particular gravy train. That has me thinking about my mammals. As you may have noticed, I have reduced my sidebar mammals to a top ten, plus the Woodchuck. Not that there are so many fabulous companies out there that I can't choose only ten, but that I have to admit that companies that just last year I would have killed to work for are now not the best choice.

Back when I was a new commercial pilot and made a list of target companies where I'd like to work, Ichneumon was the very first on the list. But the company has a reputation for deliberately arranging work schedules so as to make it very difficult for employees to get to interviews with other companies. I haven't bumped them yet, but it's tarnished the appeal. Not just with regards to this particular company, but in general, I have to decide how high I am aiming, to put myself in the right place at the right time. It's very difficult to suddenly become this picky, but I know it's what I have to do.

Armadillo has questionable financial stability, Bilby is still of interest, but they are demanding minima I don't have and when I reach those I will be eligible for much better things. Chipmunk is pretty remote, and investigation reveals high pilot turnnover. Civet folded last year. (I heard they tried to hide their airplanes before creditors seized them, but that's an unsubstantiated rumour.) Dog is a good proving ground, but may be the wrong corporate culture for me. Ermine and Ferret I'll keep in touch with, but the locations don't warrant top ten positions. Groundhog is small, but hmmm I should call my Groundhog contact, even if his company doesn't make my top ten. Hyena and Jackal have poor maintenance and reputations. Mongoose and Nutria are no longer the right step for me to take. I'd still like to work at Lemming or Quoll and I'd be quite happy doing so. Raccoon is an opportunity lost, but probably still the right decision. Taxidea and Xenarthra are still possibilities, and in fact are on my list to call next week, but aren't bug-at-least-every-month candidates.

I'm going to be making some sort of contact with the top ten at least every month (I have an appointment to see someone from Echidna on Tuesday). It should probably be more often if I include talking to insiders as well as contact with the hiring decision-makers.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Leave a Comment

The statistics counter that I use tells me how many visitors I've had per day, week, hour and so on, and also has a "Who's On Now?" feature that gives me the town and time of any visitor I've had in the previous 20 minutes. It usually tells me something about someone who has come and gone, but tonight there's someone reading through the whole site.

It caught my attention because the page they were reading was an old one, from months ago, and I wondered, "What brought them to that?" and then I saw that they had thirty six page views over the previous hundred and eight minutes. There's one post my reader keeps returning to, whether it's an accident of the back button or a question on the topic, I don't know. I want to reach through the screen and talk. Leave a comment. Send an e-mail. I'm nice to visitors, really.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Covering Your Assets

You all know I've done some interesting things while trying to get the attention of a chief pilot. But when applying for an advertised position (such a luxury the current economy offers: people are actually advertising piloting jobs), I always adhere strictly to the application instructions given in the posting. I will fax my resume to the specified person's attention. I will mail it to their head office in Carp, Ontario. (Hands up if you've ever planned a cross country trip to Carp, under an invigilator's watchful eye.) If a job I wanted demanded it, I would deliver it naked on horseback at midnight. That would have to be a pretty good job, though.

Most commonly these days they ask for a resume by e-mail. I generally attach the resume to the e-mail as a Microsoft Word document, with the body of the e-mail being a brief cover letter highlighting the qualifications I believe most likely to induce them to open and print out the attachment. But sometimes they ask applicants to e-mail "a resume and cover letter". That means they are actually looking for a cover letter, and I imagine the applications all printed off in a pile on the table in the chief pilot's office. Obviously I don't want mine to be the one with an e-mail header and uucp routing at the top, competing against properly formatted letters. So I write a cover letter in Word, explaining how every facet of my personality, skills and experience matches their needs as though I was manufactured for the company. And then I attach both cover letter and resume to the e-mail.

But I'm not going to send a blank e-mail with just the attachments. I need to put something in the body of the e-mail. So yes, I have to write a cover letter for my cover letter. Silly, isn't it? I've thought of repeating the entire cover letter in the e-mail, and adding the sentence "This letter is attached as a Microsoft Word file." I usually just summarize the cover letter.

By the way, if you're writing an e-mail intending to attach something, always add all the attachments before you write the e-mail. Nothing kills your claim of meticulous attention to detail faster than a follow up e-mail saying "oops, here are the attachments I forgot."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Overheard In New York

There's a website I look at sometimes called Overheard in New York, supposedly composed of real snippets of overheard conversation from that city. I ran across one entry that was overheard over New York.

Pilot: Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the delay in landing the aircraft, but the air traffic controller here at LaGuardia is an angry, bitter man.

I'll have to remember that one, for molifying delayed passengers. But the air traffic controllers I know are all wonderful, accommodating people. Except for the one who lost it the other week. There's a pilot out there who should be very glad that tower controller doesn't have a death ray.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Letter Written New Year's Eve

Sometimes a bit of New Year's spirit can be inspirational. This is an actual letter I wrote to Steve Badger on New Year's Eve.

Dear Mr. Badger,

As the year ends, I am reviewing my progress. In many respects I have had a successful year: I am now a [position] at [my company], and have passed a milestone of [hours flown]. But I have not yet persuaded you to hire me as a pilot.

Although the course we attended together was disappointing in its content, it was a pleasure to meet and work with your training team during the week. Your investment in the course shows me that you value teaching skills, and that is one of the things I can offer you. At [my company] I am responsible for [aspect of training] and achieved [impressive measurable result].

[more personal information to persuade Steve that I will stay at his company.]*

I hope the New Year results in joy, prosperity and your hiring lots of pilots, including me.



I said I wrote it. I didn't say I sent it.

* Deranged Doctor asked recently if convincing chief pilots that I would stay at their company was still a concern, and yes it is. I'm addressing it in two ways. One is as I did in the letter above to Steve Badger: by including some personal information that proves my desire to work in the area. The other is by applying straight to the companies that other companies fear I'll leave them for!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Multi-Engine Jet Time?

Someone sent me this link, suggesting it as an option for me to log multi-engine jet time. I thought it was going to be one of those sports-car-sized personal jets, but it isn't even that big. I guess they don't need a special helmet to fly it, like in the movie The Rocketeer.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Interview Preparation

In preparation for the March 1st interview target discussed yesterday, here is my to-do list.

  • The shortlist
  • As promised, I'll cull the unhealthy mammals and target trophy-quality specimens only.

  • Company information.
  • I need to obtain and memorize information like the names and titles of key personnel, corporate structure, fleet, routes, competitors, corporate history, future plans and company culture. Much of this I have learned already through stalking the various Steves, but I can brush up.

  • Professional Skills and Knowledge
  • Although I fly airplanes all the time, there are questions I could be asked to answer and tasks I could be asked to do that I am not current on. Part of the mission of this blog has been to give me a chance to review various knowledge areas, and I'll do more of that.

  • Interview suit
  • A man can, without anyone thinking him eccentric or impoverished, wear the same suit to a graduation ceremony, wedding, funeral, formal party and job interview. He can literally own one suit and manage all those occasions. Wardrobe doesn't work that way for women. I will have to spend some time and money putting together an ensemble that is professional, conservative and sharp.

  • Interview training
  • I'm not going to have too many chances at this. I'd better get it right. It's worth paying a professional to humiliate me a few times so I can learn to present myself to my best advantage in an interview. I should budget at least as much as for the suit. I can also get some inside gouge on what to expect the company to ask.

That's all I can think of right now. Any other suggestions?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

I Resolve . . .

I'm a little too late to post this before midnight Zulu time, but I'll just make it before 2006 arrives in Canada.

I've been thinking about New Year's resolutions all week, and while I do intend to do better on the standard things we all resolve, like diet, exercise, sleep, and keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family, I'm not considering those to be official resolutions. They're boring, vague and simply discouraging, because no matter how well you do, you are never perfect. When I took my first "Human Factors" class as a student pilot I remember remarking "Whoa! if you did all those things you're supposed to do to be a better pilot, you'd be a perfect person."

I have decided on three resolutions. In increasing order of specificity, I resolve ...

One: I will get rid of things I don't need. I will be alert for clothes in my closet that I never wear, tasks I shouldn't be doing, responsibilities that aren't really mine, jars without lids, books I won't read again, socks without mates, and mysterious little metal things with flanges that sit next to the washing machine. I will gleefully give away or discard these things. I don't need to get rid of everything, just count it as a triumph whenever I do.

Two: I will prepare for airline job interviews. I'm going to pretend I have my first airline interview on March 1st, and I'm going to do all the things I should do to prepare for it. More on this in coming weeks.

Three: I will get that job interview. I will winnow my mammals list to just those companies that I would feel really happy making part of my life, with no regrets moving from here. Thereby I would remove some of the "do I really want to move there to fly for them?" inertia that stalls my mammal list, and I will make my name and talents known.

There are a few more I'll keep to myself, but those are the ones you'll see me progressing on.

Happy New Year to all, and thank you for all your comments and encouragement in 2005.