Thursday, April 09, 2009

Economic Blogging Cutbacks

My pilot readers all know this, but the fact that Patrick Smith dedicated a second column to it made me aware that the general public doesn't know it, and according to Smith's feedback, is scarcely able to believe it.

To summarize the article at the link above, airlines always and only hire pilots to be probationary junior first officers, and, assuming they pass the probationary period and every subsequent requalifying sim session, they move up slowly from there to higher levels of pay and responsibility. If layoffs occur, they occur in seniority number order, so it doesn't matter how skilled you are, how well you brownnose, or how much everyone loves you, the last hired is the first let go. If you find another airline to hire you, you start again as a junior first officer, even if you were a senior captain in your last job. The captain you fly with may acknowledge your experience in considering your input into command decisions, but you can still have a 35 year captain from a failed company sitting on the right of a tyro captain at an expanding one and right seat's pay and responsibility are commensurate with the hire date at the new company, and utterly unrelated to his previous experience.

At the low end of the aviation scale there are deviations from this. I, for example, was hired as a "direct entry captain" at a very small airline because they had expanded very rapidly and didn't have sufficient qualification inside their ranks to promote new captains. I have also been kept on at an aviation job in a time of layoffs over someone who was hired a week before me. I think it was that I had regular customers who asked for me, and thus was bringing in business. You had better believe that week would have made the difference between job and no job for me in an airline environment. I've seen an airline interview book that recommends that when an airline is conducting interviews in several cities, to travel to the one where they are interviewing first, so as to get an earlier job offer and thus a few seniority numbers higher than if you were hired in your own city. It matters that much.

I see the seniority system in action now as friends are losing their jobs or being demoted based on seniority. After achieving the required seniority, a pilot goes through rigorous training, screening and testing and gets promoted to captain. The economy goes down and everyone (in a case I know of, literally everyone with a lower seniority number than him) below him is laid off. He is no less skilled than he was yesterday, no less intelligent. But he is no longer a captain. he is now the lowliest first officer in the company. With commensurate pay (could mean his salary is halved), control over schedule and risk to his job.

I feel the seniority system even in my job. It's not a union company, but it will almost certainly work this way. There's fairly high pilot turnover because of the stress of being away from home close to 200 nights a year and for stretches of a month or more at a time, so if we have a big drop in flying, I won't be the first to go. And that makes me a little reluctant to move on to another company, where I would be. Had I been hired by one of my targets in the last couple of years, I'd be out of work right now.

As it is, I'm a little bit out of work. Despite a recent assurance by my chief pilot that my schedule would be unaffected, my scheduled April flying has been cancelled, and it now looks as if I may not be back at work until June. I'll weather it without starving or being thrown out on the street, and I'll have lots of free time, but if I have to suffer, you have to suffer, so I'm going to cut back to blogging two or three times a week. Yep, sorry, even your daily Aviatrix fix is hit by the decline in the international economy.

But Aviatrix, blogging is free! Oh come on, when did the economy ever make any sense? Everyone else uses the economy as an excuse to give you less, why can't I? I'll be off taking advantage of my free time, and not tied to my phone and instant availability.

If anyone needs some seasonal flying for the spring, maybe firewatch, drop me a line. I am happy to agree not to blog about your operation, if need be. Or hey, while I'm asking for work: Air Canada Jazz, please call. I dig Dash-8s. You have my number.


ZD said...

Do what is best for you, Aviatrix. Our hopes and best wishes are with you. Good Luck!

Geoff Arnold said...

I understand this very well, Aviatrix. Being "between jobs" right now, I find myself spending more time than usual in networking activities, speculative meetings, job hunting trips, and other activities that I probably need to keep under wraps. All that stuff (a) takes time, and (b) reduces the time I spend thinking about bloggable stuff.

So take care of yourself, and best wishes.

nec Timide said...

A little Aviatrix is better than no Aviatrix. Enjoy your extra time while you can. Good luck picking up some good ad hoc gigs.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see you taking a leave, I hope it is not too long. I have been reading and enjoying your blog since you started it. My wife has been nagging me to think about returning to western Canada for several years now. I have just added one more requirement to do that; when Aviatrix is flying one of the many Dash8s in that neck of the woods I will relent.

A transplant in Va.

Julien said...

Best of luck Aviatrix! Who knows, your blogging rate may go back into the green if you come across a fun temp job like that time when you flew up from Florida with liteflyer.

BTW, what happened to the idea of the Aviatrix book?


David R. said...

Thanks, Aviatrix. I love your posts, and I'm hoping/praying for good flying work for you, soon. Thanks for sharing your flying life with us.

Traytable said...

Good idea. The general concensus here amongst F/As is to use our downtime to upskill,so if the worst should happen we are better skilled than others out there and hopefully will get re-hired in the shortest possible time.

I'm thinking of doing a training qualification- airlines always need trainers, economy or not.

Enjoy the freedom from the phone & we look fwd to more posts once you're back.

Sierra7 said...

Maybe a good summer job to keep you occupied?

Anonymous said...

I look forward to and enjoy your posts. You are a star in my blogosphere. Better days a'comin'!
Bob in Minnesota

viennatech said...

Forget Jazz, go Porter! The planes are newer and the uniform is downright awesome compared to AC. That and they serve food with beer on a short haul flight. A company that gives away free beer cannot be at all bad! :) Either way, hope your flying prospects pick up soon.

Buzzoff said...

Hit me up for ID90s on AS/QX if you need any during your time off.

The blogger formerly known as Xaqman.

Jim said...

Porter is fabulous. Q400 all the way.

Have you thought of going overseas? Especially with geological surveys etc. Heck, if you're 200 days a year on the road in North America, you may as well fly aerial surveys over the Sahara.

Flight instruction?

Or catching up on six months of laundry.

Bill ( Tasmania) said...

A sad day if I cannot read Aviatrix every morning.
Will keep checking the blog hoping for more every day.
Good luck and keep safe.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with things, I hope to see you blogging more regularly again in the future!

To comment on the "other topic" in the post- why are the airlines structured thusly? I can understand the reasoning behind it, where people who have devoted more time to the airline deserve to stay employed during tough times, but if pilot A is a better pilot than pilot B, but was hired a week earlier, the airline is losing out by laying off the wrong employee. It's dangerous I guess to talk about "better" or "worse" pilots, but it is definitely a strange arrangement. Then again I guess the harsh reality is that a pilot is a pilot to the airlines, so long as they can safely fly the airplanes. It does not matter who fits the company culture better, or who strives to improve things around them, or whatever. Just so long as they fly the planes safely.

Have there ever been examples of companies/airlines who tried to break this trend? Met with success/failure?


Aviatrix said...

What does management consider a "better pilot"? You want my career to depend on brownnosing? Pushing the weather and my duty limits to complete more revenue trips? Tolerating unrectified snags? Carrying the least reserve fuel?

Management doesn't know who has what level of skill, only that every pilot employed meets the required standard again and again in the simulator.

UrCaptainSpekin said...

There is a simple secret to the successful aviation career, you know? I’m living proof of it. Many times I sat in the left seat as captain and was the youngest one in the cockpit. The seniority system, while far from perfect, surly beats any of the alternatives. The idea is that only super qualified folks are hired in the first place, so having that number tattooed across your forehead and then living with it from that point forward isn’t really so bad. Takes the politics out of the game. So what’s the secret to the successful career? You must be in the right place at the right time. How will you know the right place and time? You’ll know 30 years from now when you look back. Wish you the best, Aviatrix. Hope you have as much fun flying as I did. Oh, and you gotta be qualified when those times and places come about.

Splendor said...

I have a friend flying Airbuses for a company that shouldn't exist in a country with three coasts and that is more or less how it works.
That's why he's still a senior first officer while people lower down on the seniority list have switched seats. I think being a number in a queue is better than taking risks.

Aviatrix, I'm sure with your experience there are opportunities on big shiny jets overseas. Several airlines in S-E Asia are hiring as we speak, and not just locals.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear you've been cut back due this awful economy thing. The same thing has happened to my job in the radio business - I haven't been fired, but I'm not full-time anymore, either!!

Love the blog though, very insightful to a wannabe pilot. Look forward to wherever you are going!!!

Good luck...

Unknown said...

Life is very short and all the money in the world won't bring you back from the dead,(yet!)
Being the sort of intensely inquisitive person you are, you'll have a ball in your time off, investigating the world at ground-level.
'Trix's employer wouldn't DARE lay her off and risk the ire of her hundreds of thousands of worldwide fans ;-)...I'll continue to enjoy following your adventures and learming.

Anonymous said...

Can we stay here and entertain ourselves while the owner's away? If we bring our own beer and clean up afterwards?

What about this guy? Was his idea really stupid or should he have died?

The Flying Pinto said...

Enjoy YOUR time: )

Sarah said...

anonymous: Can we stay here and entertain ourselves while the owner's away?

Gee, I hope so. Part of the fun of this blog is the community of the like-minded commenters attracted to Aviatrix' writing. We're an unfailingly polite, intelligent and interesting bunch. (Preening done)

Your question... it is a sad story, really. He was looking for "suicide by being shot down", which is in my opinion a crappy thing to do to law enforcement, morality of suicide itself aside. I hope he gets some help. Never use a permanent solution for a temporary problem.

That issue ( and theft, illegal border crossing, etc ) aside, it was an interesting flight. :) There was a 45kt north wind aloft - I think he should have been able to make Texas, if not Mexico if he'd stayed up high.

Anonymous said...

"Stolen aircraft, pilot, flee personal problems to build new life in Texas" I can just see it - in the pages of the Onion.

The man on the left has probably attracted Aviatrix' wrath!