By Jason Depew, TPN Staff Writer
A few months ago, a TPN Hangar Fly in Tampa included an awesome discussion with a pair of Army aviators. Both are reservists, and both have enough fixed-wing turbine time to be competitive for a major airline job. They’re working on their applications, but mentioned something about many of their coworkers that shocked me.
Apparently, there are numerous Army Guard/Reserve helicopter pilots, with day jobs at regional airlines, who are delaying their application to major airlines. These pilots are highly competitive for major airline jobs right now and are more competitive every day. I asked why the reluctance and the answer in many cases seems to be that they’re intimidated by the application/interview process at the majors.
So, let me get this straight.
- You fly aircraft for which the only source of lift involves hundreds of moving parts and a 90+ degree turn from engine to rotor, through a transmission.
- You operate said aircraft in ecological disaster areas equivalent to a 1930s-era American Dustbowl (and allow that dust to continuously infect the aforementioned conglomeration of moving parts.)
- You fly these aircraft, in that dust, from hot & high locations with mountains that reach well above your service ceiling.
- These locations are swarming with RPG- and small arms-toting maniacs that can easily kill your fragile chariots with a single lucky shot…
…and you’re scared of filling out an application or doing a little interview?
I have a few more spears to lob lovingly in your general direction, but I also want to address some additional TPN members. I have buddies from some of my former lives in the Air Force who are also highly competitive for a job at a major airline and have no remaining obligation to the military. Most of them are smarter and better looking than me, so they should have every expectation that a direct entry to a major is realistic. Despite this fact, they’re delaying major airline applications to work full time for the military. Some are within a few years of retirement, while others are just “troughing” as Traditional Reservists.
From one standpoint, I can’t blame these pilots. Some are flying the T-6 – quite possibly the best combination of fun, simplicity, safety, and fulfillment in the professional flying world today. (As long as you don’t care about breathing…uh…too soon?) Others have achieved positions of importance and respect in their Major Weapons System and Major Command. Their professional gratification must be through the roof. I feel like these decisions might be woefully short-sighted though.
I mention two specific groups of military aviators here, but you may fall into the same trap if you’re a long-time regional airline pilot. Maybe you’re a senior captain and line check airman. Maybe you have control over your schedule and you’ve figured out how to maximize your company’s contract to your benefit. You’re comfortable and it’s easy, so why leave, right?
My dear friends and Networkers…for your own good…would you care to join me for a brief reality check?
When you work for a major airline, you get more free time than you could possibly imagine. You can spend that time with your family, golfing, watching Game of Thrones straight through for the 8th time…whatever floats your boat…including floating in a boat…which you can absolutely afford now! When you go to work, all you do is fly. (Well, there’s also staying in nice hotels and sampling the best food and drink the country/world have to offer.) At this point in your life, you have enough flight experience that this flying is easy…or at least routine. When you’re done with work, there is nothing to do! No performance reports, no Christmas party, no commander’s calls…nothing! You get to live where you want and never have to move against your will again.
The regional airline captains reading this may be making $100K-$150K per year. That’s a great salary! How hard do you have to work to make that each year though? I made the top-end of that scale blocking just over 500 hours on second-year FO pay. That included 149 days of work, of which only 105 nights were spent away from home. If I’d worked as much as you probably do, my pay would have been even higher. My Air Force peers may have earned $10K-20K more than me last year, but they spent a lot more days working than I did. If I worked as much as them I’d have made more than $200K last year.
None of this is news to any of us though. You know what you’re passing up. The argument that really surprised me was that people are afraid of the application/interview process. There are plenty of trip reports out there to read, but I realize that I haven’t necessarily given many details about my own application and interview experience. In hopes of assuaging the fears of at least a few of you, here goes:
The application isn’t that hard to fill out, it just take some time and attention. If you’re a regional airline pilot you’ve already done this successfully. I referenced The Pilot Network heavily for advice on filling out my application. This was back in 2014 before the existence of great resources like TPNQ, or the brain-trust being 22,000 strong and growing. I did pay a pro for an application review. He did a great job, though I think I could have gotten equally valuable feedback by trading beers for reviews from a couple of friends…but if you haven’t worked with Charlie Venema and his team at Checkedandset (https://checkedandset.net) you are missing out.
I had several instances in my application where it would have been extremely difficult to try and get exact names, dates, or phone numbers. I put notes saying something like “data estimated due to records unavailability” more than once in my application and nobody complained.
My interview was terrifying, but all terror was self-induced. Overall it was a very positive experience. My company did a great job of explaining exactly what they expected from me before I showed up. (Dress code, dates/times/locations, logbook as loose sheets of paper…no staples, binding, or cover pages, etc.) They were receptive to phone calls with questions. Travel arrangements were easy.
I arranged to fly out a day early to give myself time to settle in. When I arrived at San Antonio International Airport, there were lines all over the place. Weather in NYC was causing trouble. My tickets had routed me through NYC (I don’t know why,) and when I got to the ticket counter I asked the agent if it’d help her if I took a direct flight to Atlanta. She gave me a smile and a “yes” and I ended up with a shorter trip that day. Score.
I had an ulterior motive in asking this. I’ve heard stories of some airlines tracking your every move and interaction on the way to your interview…and the notes playing into their hiring decision. I didn’t get the feeling that my company had such a system in place that day, but why not try to help just in case, especially when it made my life easier anyway, right?
On the day of my interview, I showed up at the appointed time and place wearing the non-uniform uniform…blue suit, white shirt, red tie. Everyone in the hiring department was friendly and happy to see me. I’d followed directions, so it was easy to hand them a stack of papers and go sit in the waiting room.
I was there with 11 other people interviewing with me that day…we were all nervous but excited. We made small talk throughout the day, doing a pretty good job overall of reducing each other’s stress. Everyone was qualified and acted professionally. Nothing felt competitive…we all knew we’d stand on our own merits here.
We took a personality test, which felt like strange thing to do. We’d all agreed that the best course of action was to answer honestly while leaning toward middle-of-the-road when in doubt. (We took a second test the next day. If you want to practice, you can take it yourself right now. The MMPI is industry-standard in Psychology.
We also took a technical exam. It was daunting, and each of us left the test thinking we’d failed. Aside from my career as a professional pilot, the only studying I’d done was to read “Everything Explained for the Professional Pilot” from cover to cover. (I probably had some advantage because I’m also an active civilian CFI, but you could easily make up for that shortcoming in a number of ways.) Despite our fears, every one of us passed this test.
My panel interview was overwhelmingly positive. It consisted of one active captain, one retired captain, and an HR rep. The HR guy joked that he was only there to keep the old captains in line. He mimed pushing a secret button underneath the table and both captains simultaneously popped up out of their seats as if they’d been forcibly ejected for bad behavior. It was a cute joke that set a welcoming tone for the interview.
I was glad that I’d gone through as much of Emerald Coast’s interview prep course as my deployment schedule had allowed. I was glad that I’d taken Aaron Hagan’s advice to have my white shirt impeccably ironed. My panel invited me to hang my jacket up for the interview, just like Aaron had said they might, and I sat in comfort while showing off some attention to detail with a gleaming, neatly-pressed shirt. I’d also taken his advice to work on a really good 5-7-minute introduction about myself. I’d practiced it a lot, and it went very well. I’d prepared some good stories to tell and my panel seemed entertained. When I got my question about how I’d handle a naughty captain breaking the rules, I gave some pretty vanilla answers. The panel prompted me a couple times to come up with something more interesting. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of anything better at the time. The panel was obviously disappointed but still positive. The interview was so pleasant that I was surprised when the HR rep wrapped things up and thanked me for my time. I still had so many other great stories ready to tell….after all, I’m a pilot and I had an opportunity to talk about me without interruption.
I realize that the panel interview goes a different direction for some pilots. Some people have to face a “bad cop” with a hostile attitude. I fully expected that and had prepared. I feel like as long as you’re capable of remaining cool, you are upfront and honest, and you try to stay positive yourself, you have nothing to fear in this type of interview.
At the end of the day, everyone in my group got a job offer and we celebrated at the hotel later that night. Yes, it was a stressful experience, but it was nowhere near the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It doesn’t even make my Top 10. If you’ve already qualified as a captain at a Part 121 airline, or you’ve ever flown a combat mission, you have everything you need to succeed at a major airline interview.
To me, this one almost doesn’t bear mentioning, but I still hear it. Some people claim that they’re not applying to a major airline “yet” because they think the training might be difficult. This is ridiculous.
You start training at your new airline with Indoc. This is truly nothing more than sitting through PowerPoint presentations for a week. If you can’t manage this, then you shouldn’t be a professional pilot in the first place. If you’re coming from the military let’s be honest: you probably have more hours sitting through PowerPoint lectures than you do flying airplanes. You couldn’t possibly be more qualified.
Aircraft qualification can be a challenge, especially for single-seat fighter pilots. However, by the time you’ve accumulated enough flight hours to land this job, you can get through it. You’ll be paired with a buddy and you should be able to find a few other pairs of sim students to study and practice with. Your company builds time into the training schedule for you to repeat events if necessary. They expect a certain percentage of pilots to repeat events and use higher allowances for pilots with certain backgrounds. There is absolutely no negative stigma attached to repeating an event. Your company has every interest in you succeeding in their training program and will use every resource available to help you. Unless you just have a terrible attitude, you should be fine.
One final stumbling block I read a lot about on TPN is logbooks. I assert that this also isn’t worth waiting or worrying over.
For most airlines, it is 100% acceptable to bring in photocopies of your military flight records and drop them on the desk in raw format. Most pilots will choose to put a cover page on top, summarizing the data. This is a nearly zero-effort solution and should never cause you to delay submitting an application.
If you have a healthy mixture of GA flying in your background, or you want to appear extra professional, I recommend converting everything to a civilian-style electronic logbook. I still stand by my original post on this process. However, for as little as $199, you can now hire MilKEEP to do this for you. They’re a great company – a pilot husband and wife team – who use advanced technology, backed up by a real human. I don’t care how cheap of a pilot you are, this price makes their service more than worthwhile for the hours of your life that it gives you back.
Of course, if you were properly educated as a baby pilot, you’ve been keeping your own logbook for your entire career and have nothing to worry about. If you want to do a great service to our world, pass your wisdom on to the baby aviators in your own organization. Make sure they know why keeping a logbook is a good thing. If you encounter any of the misguided military pilots who act like keeping a logbook makes you a bad Patriot, chastise and harass these fools until they shut up and walk away in shame.
And that’s it. No matter what state your logbooks may be in, there is an easy way to get them ready for your interview.
I don’t know where some pilots are getting their information, but the major airline application/interview process is neither difficult nor terrifying. If you’re an Army helicopter pilot who flies at a regional airline, or a USAF reservist, you’re more than qualified for the job. Sure, you’ll want to do a little preparation, but there’s nothing like a deadline to improve efficiency. In college, we always used to say: “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute!”
Stop making excuses and submit your application!
I’m not saying this because I think it makes me sound cool or because I want you to pad my seniority by one more number. (I won’t complain about the seniority, but it’s not a driving force for me.) I’m saying this because life is so much better than you can imagine in the majors, and I lose nothing by helping you attain it. The sooner you get to one, the sooner you’ll start increasing in seniority. More seniority yields increasingly great quality of life. It’s like flying a jet where the faster you go, the faster you go. You’ve paid your dues. Now come make far more money for far less work.
(I wrote this afterword a while ago. The following summarizes a new series of posts that starts here: https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/ideal-military-pilot-career-path-spelling-it-out-part-1. However, I’ll leave this summary so you can’t avoid clicking the link and facing the truth.)
If you’re close to getting a military retirement, you should be trying even harder to get into a major airline right away. You can stay in the Guard or Reserves and continue to accrue good years while you’re there. In my mind, the ideal situation for someone who has 15+ years of service is to:
- Join a major airline and become (or stay) a TR
- Put in 1-2 years at your major airline, making lots of money and enjoying a year or two of more time with your family.
- Find a unit that will give you 5 years of active orders and finish out your 20 years. (Federal law requires that your airline let you do this without any repercussions.) This may have been harder in the past. In case you haven’t noticed, the military is increasingly desperate for pilots. If you look, you’ll be able to find something.
- After those 5 years are up, go back to full-time employment at your major airline, now several thousand numbers more senior.
You simply cannot beat that career path if you’re dead-set on a military retirement. It’s also worth noting that there is almost nothing you can aspire to do on active duty that you can’t also do in the Guard or Reserves. Want to keep deploying? You’ll be everyone’s favorite pilot! Want to be a commander? I flew a trip with a guardsman who was the former Wing Commander for his state. He flew F-16s for 27 years…and he’s a Captain at Delta. Do you love PowerPoint, cubicles, TPS reports, and Kool-Aid? There are even staff jobs in the Guard/Reserves. Whatever it is about the military that fulfills you, it can be obtained in the Guard or Reserves…after you’ve been hired by a major airline and started accruing seniority. You can absolutely have it both ways. Waiting gains you nothing, but costs you Quality of Life.
So, my fellow pilots, seriously…submit your application now!