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.


GC said...

Congratulations on the pizza!

Oh, and the other stuff is great, too! Got my fingers crossed for you!

Sam Weigel said...

I've heard from several people that aviation generally works this way in get in on the ground floor as a ramper/janitor/grease monkey/whatever and then fight like hell to get a pilot slot. It's funny, we have very little of that down in the states. I think it's because by the time you get to the qualifications required for cargo & charter jobs (1200 TT), you could get hired by a regional, so there are far less qualified applicants fighting over the jobs.

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)?