Thursday, December 11, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

I'm Back!

The past month I have been occupied with studying for my last set of law school exams. They are intense. They are a different type of intense than any flight test (i.e. you can't die), but the amount of information that you need to know and the way in which it must be conveyed is very challenging. I've got one more semester left, but my schedule is set up that I will not have any more law school exams!

I will get into some more substantive posts in the near future, but for now, here's a skit from John Cleese and some of the other Monty Python crew depicting how airline pilots keep themselves occupied on long flights. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Attitude: part I

During flight training, instructors will often advise students (sometimes more urgently than others): "Watch Your Attitude!"

If the aircraft's nose is too high or too low (not an exact definition of attitude, but sufficient for this post), it will affect the quality of the journey and how you impact other objects (the goal of which is to obviously land on the ground, safely, on your wheels, in one piece and with a sufficiently low descent rate that you don't bruise your tailbone!). Your personal attitude can also have an affect on how you impact others around you.

A few years ago, while I was writing this book actually, I was flying as a passenger over the Christmas Holidays. I was talking with the lady working behind the counter at the aiport Tim Horton's. There had been lots of delays during this busy holiday season and when I asked if most of the passengers had been cranky, she replied "no, for the most part people have been in pretty good spirits. In fact, most people are usually pretty polite and friendly when they're traveling ... except for pilots. They're all jerks!" She didn't know that I was a pilot.

I'd like to believe that all pilots are not jerks. I'd like to think that what happened was that because pilots (and flight attendants to a certain extent) are generally the people that stand out at airports with a distinctive unifrom, this poor Tim Horton's women got a few bad apples (who were likely jsut having a bad day)and formed a generalized opinion. It's difficult to distinguish between lawyers, doctors, teachers, steel workers, bus drivers etc. when as passengers, they're all dressed the same.

I'm not sure if this will really negatively impact the public perception of pilots. If he or she flies me safely to my destination, what do I care if their a jerk? But at the same time, I'm of the opinion that being rude to people is not necessary. Being a pilot is hard work and carries a lot of responsibility. You ARE NOT better than someone else simply because you are a pilot. I don't think that everyone has the ability to be a pilot, but I do believe that most people in the world, if they had the financial resources and educational background, would be able to pilot an aircraft.

Being a jerk will not make you a better pilot or a better person.

Friday, October 17, 2008

You Think You've Got it Tough?

This was in this week's AvWeb AvFlash. All I can say is WOW! that's incredible. How's that for being a role-model and overcoming adversity!

Armless Pilot Proves Her Capabilities

Jessica Cox, of Tucson, Ariz., was born without arms, but she hasn't let that define her role in life, and last week she scored a first when she earned her Sport Pilot certificate using only her feet to manipulate the controls of an Ercoupe. "I highly encourage people with disabilities to consider flying," Cox said. "It helps reverse the stereotype that people with disabilities are powerless into the belief that they are powerful and capable of setting high goals and achieving them." Cox, who is 25, won an Able Flight scholarship and trained with instructor Parrish Traweek in his Ercoupe 415C. "What is most incredible about Able Flight is the relentless faith and support not only from the board but also from the other pilots who have succeeded in the program," Cox said. "Thank you, Able Flight, for helping me make history as the first licensed pilot to fly with only her feet!" Since the Ercoupe design has no rudder pedals, no special modifications were required for Cox to fly it.

The rudder and aileron systems are linked, and both are controlled with a single control yoke. The yoke also controls nosewheel steering on the ground. Cox also drives a car and types on a computer using her feet. She works as a motivational speaker and is writing a book about her life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Century after first fatality, safety is in the air

Special thanks to Sulako for posting this on AvCanada. When you think how much the world relies on air travel, it is hard to imagine that it is still barely over 100 years old.

This is a picture of the accident from Wikipedia

From Yahoo News

Century after first fatality, safety is in the air

By CHRIS KAHN, AP Business Writer
Tue Sep 16, 5:49 PM ET

PHOENIX - It was called an "aeroplane," but the contraption Orville Wright piloted on Sept. 17, 1908 was hardly more than a big box kite with a motor. And unlike his famous first flight in 1903, this one was doomed.

Less than five minutes after takeoff, Wright's plane lay smashed, his passenger mortally injured, and the world got an early taste of the perils of flying. It was the first fatal airplane crash in history, according to the Flight Safety Foundation.

"The aeroplane is still far within the experimental stage," a New York Times writer lamented three days later. "The perfected machine will doubtless be different from it in everything from principle to motive power."

A hundred years later modern jets have indeed made air travel the safest way to get around. Yet, to the consternation of the airline industry, flying still generates for many the same rush of anxiety that onlookers must have felt when Wright's plane dove into the parade ground at Ft. Myer, Va.

"There's still this mystique about flying," said Ron Nielsen, a retired US Airways pilot who's found a second career counseling people who are afraid to fly. "There's a fear of being closed in, and there's a fear of dying."

It doesn't help when airlines are caught failing to follow government safety regulations, as was the case with American Airlines and Southwest Airlines earlier this year.

Anxiety levels may also rise when members of Congress accuse the Federal Aviation Administration of an inappropriately cozy relationship with the airlines it regulates. In response to reports of lapses in FAA oversight, the House passed a law in July that would force federal aviation inspectors to wait two years before taking airline jobs.

But the facts remain: In the U.S., no one has died in a commercial jet crash in two years. Before that, the safety record for airlines has been close to perfect.

According to a 10-year average of National Safety Council statistics from 1996 to 2005, only two people died in commercial airline crashes per 10 billion miles traveled.

That compares to a death rate of five people per 10 billion miles on passenger trains. And in cars, 81 people died for every 10 billion miles traveled.

Accidents in the air have become so rare that investigators no longer find common reasons why commercial airplanes crash, FAA spokesman Les Dorr said.

"If you try to say, what's the next common cause (of airline accidents) that we can address, the answer is there isn't one," Dorr said.

It took a lot of work to get to this point.

Aviation has always been an intensively reactive field, with many of its safety enhancements kick-started following major aircraft accidents.

It was this way even in 1908. A few days after the first fatal crash, Wright woke from his hospital bed and asked to see his mechanic.

"I'd like to have his view on just what happened to cause our spill," he said.

The plane was circling about 100 feet above the parade grounds during a demonstration flight for the U.S. Army Signal Corps when it suddenly dropped nose first and crashed. Wright's passenger for the experimental trip, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, was killed.

From the hospital, Wright picked through the scattered remnants of his plane and eventually decided what caused it to drop.

"Mr. Wright finds the accident to the aeroplane was due to the blade of the propeller coming in contact with one of the wires of the machine," C.S. Taylor, Wright's associate, told news reporters. A report by the Signal Corps Aeronautical Board said the propeller blade looked like it struck a wire supporting the rudder.

Aircraft safety investigations have become formalized in the years that followed. The National Transportation Safety Board, founded in 1967, deploys teams of investigators to major accidents and spends months examining each crash. It eventually recommends ways for the airline industry to keep the accident from happening again.

For example, airports were equipped with better weather tracking equipment and wind-shear alert systems following a number of crashes, including one in 1985 when a Delta Air Lines L-1011 tried to land during a thunderstorm at Dallas/Fort Worth airport, killing 135 people.

More safety improvements have followed other major accidents.

It can take months or even years before investigators come up with recommendations from a crash. But "if something happens during the investigation that really strikes fear in someone's heart, we'll send out urgent recommendations," said Bridget Ann Serchak, an NTSB spokeswoman.

Airlines also deal with several hundred new FAA air-worthiness directives each year that are recommended by aircraft manufacturers and other authorities. The FAA occasionally conducts safety audits like one that forced American to cancel hundreds of MD-80 flights this spring and submit to inspections related to electrical wiring.

Sometimes airlines will install safety features on their own. Alaska Air Group Inc., for example, recently said it will equip its entire fleet with a runway-awareness system aimed at preventing collisions on the ground.

"We realized we're flying out of some of the busiest airports in the U.S. and we saw the value of an additional safety measure," said Caroline Boren, spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines.

The systems will cost about $20,000 per aircraft to install, and Alaska's entire fleet is expected to be fully equipped with the alert software by the end of the month.

The FAA and airlines have not always worked well together, Dorr said, but increasingly they are sharing information about safety and maintenance.

That means that in the future, aircraft safety will become more automated with inspectors and airline crews contributing to the FAA's Air Transportation Oversight System, Dorr said. The system brings together maintenance and safety reports, and looks for any safety issues on the horizon.

The fear of flying may never leave some travelers, but as the industry continues to tweak its safety net, more of them may realize many fears are only in their heads.

"Everyone that I know that flies, when they get on the airplane, they're worrying about 'Will I get there on time?' Not, 'is the plane going to crash,'" Dorr said.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Seneca flight instructor lands on N.Y. highway

This was an article in today's Toronto Star. Good job to the flight instructor for getting this plane safely down. I've actually flown that Bonanza, SCZ, a number of times. Glad to hear everyone is ok. Reminds you why you practice your emergency procedures.


Seneca College flight instructor Michael Denning safely landed the plane he was piloting on a stretch of highway in eastern New York state on Sept. 3, 2008.

Pilot with two students lands safely after plane loses power over U.S.

Sep 05, 2008 04:30 AM

John Goddard
staff reporter

A Seneca College flight instructor with two students on board a single-engine plane over New York's Adirondack Mountains landed safely on a highway after the type of emergency "some people don't walk away from," he said last night.

Michael Denning, 24, said he glided the plane above two transport trucks 15 metres above the road after the engine died. He landed in the two northbound lanes of Interstate 87 with no injuries and no damage to the plane.

"When (the truck drivers) saw us they stopped, which helped us out because it blocked traffic," Denning said after getting off a bus in Montreal for a commercial flight home to Toronto.

"Luckily it happened when it did," said Ray Thatcher, emergency services director for Essex County. "This is a high tourist area ... but the main tourist season is behind us now and the fall foliage season isn't here yet."

"He did an outstanding job," said New York State Police Capt. Michael Girard. "It's a very mountainous region. It's not like you can find an open field."

"He set it down perfectly – dead centre," said Ryan Bessey, captain of the volunteer fire department from the nearby hamlet of North Hudson, N.Y., 150 kilometres north of Albany.

The students, both in their third year of a four-year program, are not being identified "to protect their privacy," said Dominic Totino, head of Seneca's School of Aviation and Flight Technology.

Denning was leading a training exercise at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, with one student at the controls of a single-engine Beechcraft F-33 Bonanza, seating four, owned by the college.

The idea was to fly from Buttonville airport to Burlington, Vt., on a flight that involved crossing into U.S. airspace, customs clearance and flying over hilly terrain.

They heard a clicking noise from the engine – "not something I've ever heard before," said Denning, a recent course graduate who began instructing last year.

The gauges showed nothing wrong. A minute later, a loud bang and loss of power prompted Denning to seize duplicate controls.

Below he saw mountains, trees and water. Then he saw the highway. At 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) the motor failed completely and the propeller stopped. He radioed a mayday call and touched down.

"It was a surreal feeling afterward," Denning said. "We were just standing there (outside the plane) making a few jokes."

Northbound traffic was rerouted for several hours until the plane was pushed to a crossover on the median of the divided highway, where it remained overnight.

Two U.S. Federal Aviation Administration inspectors arrived early yesterday to investigate the cause of the engine failure, an FAA spokesperson said.

Seneca's maintenance workers are all professionals, not students, Denning said.

"We've had these planes since 1992 and never had any engine issues with them," said department head Totino.

"They followed the way they were taught to land for emergency procedures," he said.


Here are a few photos posted on AvCanada by one of the students involved

Monday, August 18, 2008

Video - Space Shuttle Launch as viewed from an Air Canada Flight

I saw a link to this video on AvCanada and thought it was pretty cool. I always enjoy watching the world go by when I'm a passenger on an aircraft, but this would have been quite the site to see!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ah, the joys of flying.

I’m currently in seat 15A of an Air Canada 767-300 (without the new interior). I’ve already finished the book I brought to read and don’t feel like starting another one at the moment.

When I was younger, flying as a passenger on an airliner used to be more fun than the actual vacation itself. Now, things are not quite as fun, however, there’s still something to be said for air travel. In this situation, this flight is bringing me back home away from the unpleasant sprawling urbanity that is Canada’s largest city.

The flight was delayed. The Thunderstorms started about an hour and a half before we were scheduled to depart. The ‘strobes’ at Pearson were flashing when I made it to the boarding lounge. That meant that lightening had been reported in the vicinity and ground personnel were not permitted to work on the ramp. This meant no loading or unloading of bags, no marshalling of aircraft, no fuelling. The airport essentially comes to a stand still.

Despite the fact that we boarded the plane at the proper time, once everyone was seated, we got an announcement that there would be a 15 minute delay for push back. After about 20 minutes, it was announced that there would be further delay as there had been a problem with getting the plane unloaded and loaded. After about 45 minutes of waiting at the gate, we got push back, after which time the Captain (poor guy) informed us that there we were roughly #20 for take-off. There was a collective groan from the passengers and on cue, that’s when two babies started loudly crying in stereo. We made the slow trip up taxiway Alpha. At least I got to watch the departing aircraft out the window as they were using 15L for departures.

An hour and 45 minutes later we were airborne. We got a spectacular view of the different layers of clouds with the sunset peeking through at various times. The post take-off announcement was made and included the apology that the main screen for the inflight entertainment wasn’t working this particular flight. The passenger next to me and I shared a good laugh.

This post is not meant as a rant. The Air Canada employees have acted professionally despite the fact that they are Halifax based flight attendants and they’re facing a base closure as of Nov 1st. The passengers have been pretty good as well. Although there was general disappointment about taking off an hour and 45 minutes late for a 2 hour flight, there was no self-righteous idiot demanding that the plane leave, in the middle of a thunderstorm, because the business meeting she needed to get to the next morning was so important. But still, it’s tough. Dealing with the realities of the airline system today can be quite frustrating. There are certain aspects where you have to think “this could be done better” – either more efficiently, more comfortable for the passengers or better for the environment – but getting upset about it doesn’t do much.

We’ve started our descent into Halifax so I’ll finish off this post. It’s still been a fun experience, but travelling as a passenger, or a crew member on the airlines today requires a large helping of patience.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Best Flight School in Canada

I have received a number of questions in the past little while basically asking which flight school in Canada is the best. The question makes sense and I do not wish to criticise the askers. In fact, I would applaud their conviction for wanting to strive to be the best that they can be in order to succeed at their career.

In my opinion however, there is no one best flight school or college in Canada.

Choosing a flight school is a very personal issue. What would be the best school for one candidate could be an awful choice for another. There are sundry factors that can determine which school or type of school is best for each person. Most important thing to remember when deciding where to complete your flight training is that no one school in Canada will allow you to skip directly to flying for the airlines.

As I outline in my book, there are different routes to getting your licence. In this post I will not be looking at the military route, but that is still an option. For strictly civilian flying, there are a number of options:
-a traditional flight school
-an organized commercial pilot course at a traditional flight school not associated with an accredited college or university
-a college program that contracts out the flying portion of their program with a local flight school.
-a college program that operates its own fleet of aircraft
-a university program that contracts out the flying portion of their program with a local flight school

The questions still come up though:
So which is the best? Surely a university degree is the best option? Wouldn’t the training from a recognized college with their own fleet give me the best quality training? Wouldn’t doing it through a traditional flight school give me the most flexibility in my training? Wouldn’t doing an accelerated organized program through a flight school get me out in the industry quicker? Does the most expensive program mean it’s the best?

The answer of course to all these questions is: It depends.

In this past post I talked about the benefits of getting a degree for persons interested in becoming a pilot. Overall I think getting a degree is a good idea. But when deciding on whether to get one, you must take a hard look at what you want to do with your career, if you would succeed in such an atmosphere and if having a degree is really worth the extra money and time you’ll spend getting it. I think a degree opens up a lot of doors, especially outside of aviation, but it will not automatically mean you’ll succeed.

The cost of a program can be an issue too. I wish it wasn’t the case, but entry level flying jobs do not pay well. Things are really tight financially for the first few years and if you have a huge debt to pay off at the same time, it will be hard to survive.

Going through one of the subsidized colleges in Ontario (Sault, Confederation and Seneca) could help alleviate that problem, however, they can be very academically demanding and can take extra time to complete compared to going through a traditional flight school.

Taking an accelerated program through a local flight school could be a great way to get out into the industry quicker while still having extra ground school classes. But these programs can be expensive and just because a flight school calls these programs ‘college programs’ doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to receive student loans or have the program be recognized as a college program by the airlines.

Finally, the location of the flight school can play a major role in determining if it is a good fit for a particular individual.

Obtaining quality flight training and getting your licences is an important factor in finding your first (and subsequent) job in the industry. But once getting the minimum requirements, the most important factors, often more important than where you went to school is your personality and attitude. Are you someone that would fit in well with this airline? Are you a team player? Can you be responsible and professional in your decisions? Will you be safe and make the company money?

I have met pilots from all different backgrounds. Their attitude and skills have varied across the board, but so too has their training background. Some pilots who went to college or university are great pilots, easy to get a long with and responsible in their decisions. Others are difficult to get along with or not that skilled. The same can be said about pilots who did their training through a local flight school.

Although the airlines like to see a degree on a person’s resume, the smaller airlines that hirer low time pilots generally don’t care.

So, there really isn’t one best school to do your training in Canada.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Future of Aviation?

More bad news from the Canadian Airline Industry with Air Canada Jazz announcing that they'll be laying off approximately 270 employees. This is a blow to pilot movement in the industry as up until just a couple of weeks ago. Typical of the industry is that from grapevine it seems that Jazz is still training new hire pilots even after they've announced layoffs. While to a certain extent this makes sense as a half trained pilot is of no benefit to you, it shows how quickly things can change in the industry.

In the US, a number of the major airlines announced massive job cuts and fleet reduction to save fuel costs. So while I won't harp too much, be wary if your main goal for being a pilot is to be an airline pilot - there looks to be some unsettling times ahead.

News from General Aviation seems to be better. In the past week, both Piper and Cirrus have made advances in the developments of their single engine jet and Diamond continues to develop it's light jet.

Here's a video of the PiperJet's first taxi tests:

Here's a video of the Cirrus The-Jet's First Flight:

And's here's an information video about Diamond's D-Jet:

So, will these new single engine jets transform the nature of the industry? Will flying in the future be reserved for the wealthy who can afford to pay higher airline fares or own their own personal jet? I wish I knew.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


It's been a rough couple of weeks for the Aviation Industry. What seemed like boom times has come to a sudden stop with the increasing price of fuel and Air Canada's announcement that it's going to cut up to 2000 jobs. Kind of depressing actually. Although in my book I always suggest that people considering becoming a pilot should have a good back up plan, when you look at all the doom and gloom forecasted for the industry, it's tough to even suggest that people should consider becoming a pilot.

Luckily, I read Ramiel's post at Pilot's Discretion about his very first flight. It was refreshing to read. I remember back to my first flight, the butterflies in my stomach, the shear exhileration of my first take-off and the high after landing and trying to figure out how an hour went by so quickly! There is something beyond words that describes the freedom of flight.

Ramiel's a student at Seneca College. At Seneca, you generally have to wait a year before you actually start the flying portion of the program. While this might be a drawback of the program, it also makes the taste of that first flight that much sweeter.

There are uncertain times ahead for the aviation industry. The old economic model of airlines doesn't seem feasible if the price of gas keeps rising. But that in and of itself should not discourage someone from being a pilot. It should force anyone considering becoming a pilot to take a long hard look at the realities of the job and the high price of oil, but it should also be weighed with the thrill of that first flight and the indescribable satisfaction of piloting an aircraft.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Air Cadets

On Monday night I gave a talk to a local Air Cadet Squadron about becoming a pilot in Canada. Over all I think it went pretty well. While there were some poor cadets who had no interest whatsoever in becoming a pilot (and hence probably didn't find the talk that interesting) it was refreshing to see the enthusiasm that a number of the cadets had about flying. The Squadron's Warrant Officer (highest ranking cadet) had recently been accepted for a Power Course (getting his Private Pilot's Licence) and you could tell how excited he was. Mixed in with the excitement, I was very pleased to see that most of the cadets were very level headed and realistic about the realities of a career as a pilot. You can tell that they are going to be successful with whatever they decide to do with their lives.

It's been called one of Canada's best kept secrets and I have to agree. The Royal Canadian Air Cadets is a really interesting organization that I think all young teenagers should look into if they have even the slightest interest in aviation. When I was growing up, I unfortunately didn't have any friends in Air Cadets and didn't really hear about them until I was in my mid to late teens by which time it would have been very difficult to earn a flying scholarship.

The Schweizer 2-33 Glider used for the Royal Canadian Air Cadets gliding program

From a flying perspective, the biggest draw to the Air Cadets is the opportunity to be selected for a Power and/or Glider Course. The Cadets who are accepted for these courses are able to earn their Glider or Private Pilot (Aeroplane) Licence paid for by the cadets organization. This is a great deal.

Not only do cadets get the opportunity to earn their licences, there are also many other courses and skills camps that they can go to in the summer and chances for international exchanges - all generally free of cost.

Best of all is the networking opportunities that will be there for you later in your life. When I lived in Thompson, I lived in a house with 4 other pilots, all of whom had been Air Cadets. They had known a lot of the same people and it definitely helped them in the job hunt.

Air Cadets is not all fun and games though. The Air Cadets are a branch of the Department of National Defence. While there isn't really any pressure for cadets to join the Armed Forces when they get older, military ideals for discipline are taught. Uniforms must be ironed and boots have to be shined. There are drills and parade where cadets have to march in step and follow commands. While I feel that this type of discpline is helpful to learn, it is not for everybody.

Although cadets are open to young adults from the ages fo 12 to 18 years old, it may be difficult to be selected to get your glider or Private Licence if you join later. I would highly recommend that anybody between the ages of 12 and 16 who is thinking about being a pilot, look into the Royal Canadian Air Cadets.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

To Go, or Not to Go - That is the Question

I returned from a much needed vacation on the weekend to find that my most recent issue of Flying Magazine had arrived in the mail. I quite enjoy reading Flying. Although it is an American publication, most of the articles are very interesting and relevant to non-US aviators. As well, being able to briefly ignore the fact that I owe lots of student loans, their aircraft reviews allow me to dream about what aircraft I'll purchase when I'm independently wealthy - whenever that happens. It's funny, I'm not that into buying 'stuff', but I sure would love to own an airplane.

One of the articles this month was No, No, I Won't Go by Tom Benson. It outlines Tom's decision of whether or not to make a trip in his own personal aircraft to have some scheduled maintenance work done. Tom makes some really interesting points on how to determine whether to go or not.

He states: The go/no go decision is an easy one to make when the conditions are so ominous that the choice is obvious. The hardest decisions occur when things "aren't that bad," "might improve" or "this isn't that much worse than the time I did it before." This quote hits the nail right on the head. When I was flying the C206 and C207 VFR doing charter work it was the days that were just on the cusp on being bad weather days that I hated the most. Especially when you have paying passengers who need to get to an important meeting, simiply deciding not to go because the weather is borderline is not always a good solution.

There is an oft used saying in Aviation "The hardest part about flying is knowing when to say 'No'"

So, when do you say 'No'?

In his article, Tom outlines some ways in which he decides if he wants to go or not - flipping a coin but then examining if that was the answer he wanted. Different things work for different people. I had a couple of different methods for deciding when to go or not (in a VFR scenario). If you're an experienced pilot and have other strategies I'd be interested to hear them in the comments section.

For me, the first thing I would do, if possible, would be to talk to the passengers. Let them know that the weather is so/so and there may be the possibility that we'd have to turn back, or it'll be really bumpy etc. Sometimes the passengers were fairly nervous flyers, so they'd decide that they didn't want to go.

As an aside, I once had a flight instructor who was flying corporate charters. He had a passenger that really really wanted to get to a meeting. Along the flight path however, there were some thunderstorms building up and the whole flight looked to be very turbulent. The passenger wanted to go anyways and threatened to take his business somewhere else if my instructor didn't do the flight. Right near the departure airport, the turbulence wasn't too bad. So, my instructor took off and then after leveling off, created some turbulence of his own by osillating the controls causing a very unpleasant ride for the passenger. After a couple of minutes, the passenger called to the pilot "you were right, this turbulence is really bad - let's go back!" While I don't necessarily recommend purposely trying to make your passengers sick, sometimes being a pilot requires you to find creative ways to say 'No'.

After checking with the passengers, I'd then go and look at my back up plans. The thing about flying is to always have 'an Ace up your sleeve'. I'd always be thinking about what my options were once I was in the air. If the weather got crappy at a particular point, what would I have to do to make it safely to the ground? Were there alternate airports near by? What's the terrain like? What's my way out? If I wasn't comfortable with those answers, that's when I'd say No.

There have unfortunately been many young pilots who didn't say No when they should have and they and their passengers paid the ultimate price.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Owning Up

In early November 2002, I had just found out that after working on the 'ramp' for 15 months loading bags, cargo, setting up seats and cleaning, that I would finally be moving up to a flying position as a First Officer on one of my airline's medevac Cessna Conquest II's. I was excited!

Working the ramp was a challenge and was hard work, but it was not what I spent 3 years in College training towards. I was training towards being a pilot. I still tried to do a good job though.

At my airline, cargo was a separate department. I was technically responsible for baggage, not the cargo. Although I did try and help the cargo guys load, there was often a lack of communication between departments.

One evening, after cargo had gone home, I was checking the aircraft to make sure they were empty. I noticed that there was still a big tool bag on the plane. "Hmmm, that's not right" I thought. There were no more scheduled departures that I knew about so I unloaded the bag and placed it in the cargo warehouse.

The next day I was chatting with a colleague on MSN Messenger. He mentioned that the other night there was an emergency charter flight by some workers from the Hydro company to a remote reserve that had lost all it's power. There were only two passengers and a bag of tools, but when they arrived at the destination, the bag of tools wasn't there. This was a very expensive charter and made the company look really bad. According to my colleague, 'heads were going to roll in cargo'.

After the conversation, I was thinking.
"Wow, that's not good, I thought ...... wait a second..... oh no..... oh CRAP!....I was the one who unloaded the bag!"

Now I had to figure out what to do. Although I had been the cause of the screw up, I didn't technically do anything wrong. The cargo and charter division did not tell me about another flight and I was supposed to check the planes before I left. But still, being just a week away from starting as a pilot, I didn't want to risk being fired. At the same time, I didn't want to risk having one of my friends fired.

I called the Charter Supervisor. I explained that I was the one that took the tools out of the aircraft. I approached it as simply explaining what I had been doing. I didn't try to make excuses, but at the same time I made it clear that no one had told me about this extra flight. Although she was upset, she knew that I was a good worker and that I wasn't being careless in doing what I did.

In the end, I made the right choice to explain what happened. In this situation it was going to be trouble if the proper explanation didn't get out. In many situations, covering things up will usually make the consequences worse. But still, in an industry like aviation, it can be tough to admit your mistakes when you screw up. It might not be necessary to try and recount every mistake you've ever made to someone else - Aviation is all about learning from your mistakes. But as a pilot, when something goes wrong, it is your duty to take responsibility for it.

Monday, May 5, 2008


A couple of days ago I was lying on the beach at Platis Gialos in Mykonos, Greece. (Also the reason why I haven't blogged in a while)

While there, by fluke, we ran into another law student from Dalhousie. She was mentioning that earlier that day she had met some people on the beach who were corporate pilots based in Italy. They flew a private jet for the owner of a popular retail clothing line and they were currently relaxing on the beach waiting to fly him back. Must be nice!

The ability to travel and see interesting places is one of the biggest perks of being a pilot. Often, this travel takes place while you're essentially still working - a layover. To save money, airlines are generally reducing the amount of layovers pilots get, however, pilots still get to travel and spend a lot more time in distance places than the average person.

In his book, From The Flightdeck: Plane Talk and Sky Science, Doug Morris talks about a few of the interesting layovers that he's had. The most exciting of which is his trip to the Taj Mahal. These trips can be interesting and a great way to go exploring.

The pilot's life isn't all fun travel though. There are downsides to having layovers. You're often not able to travel with your signifcant other, your timeisn't necessarily your own, you're away from home and in reality, most layovers involve a lot of waiting around at various airport hotels not close to the action.

But still, getting paid to lay on the beach would be nice!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Harrison Ford - Just Another Pilot

Found this video through a post on AvCanada. It's a neat little video about Harrison Ford who has his pilot licence. The difference between him and most recreational pilots is that he has piles of cash so he's able to "buy an occasional airplane." Regardless of the tinge of jealousy I feel, it's good to see that he enjoys flying and really outlines some of the great feelings of flying that are sometimes hard to put into words.

One other quick comment, although I didn't have my first solo in a 206, my first landing in one was similar to how he describes his. Because I had been flying a plane that had a lower landing attitude, on my first landing in the 206, I let the nose get to low and the nose wheel touched down first and I porpoised down the runway. After about 3 big bounces I added power and had my first overshoot in the 206!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Jet Pilots - As seen by Helicopter Pilots

There's always been a bit of friendly competition between airplane and helicopter pilots. There's probably even more in the military. Here's a funny music video by some New Zealand Air Force Helicopter Pilots singing about Military Jet Pilots.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Perimeter Aviation

I apologize for the lack of posts. I'm currently in the middle of exams so I have been a little pre-occupied.

I have a counter this blog which tells me how much traffic I get and also where it comes from and in some instances, the search terms that people use to find it. A large number of people find this blog when searching for 'sexy flight attendants!' I had one recent person find this blog while searching for 'perimeter aviation dangerous' which sent them to the previous post: Drinking And Flying.

While I felt it was important to post so that young pilots know how important it is to be very careful with their alcohol consumption, I did not want the post to be seen as being negative towards Perimeter Aviation. Perimeter is a good, safe airline. I have numerous friends that fly for them and I would fly on them no problem. It's a great spot for young pilots to get their start. You will work hard on the ramp for a fair amount of time, but once you get flying, you get lots of hours and lots of great experience. There is the opportunity to move up from a First Officer to Captain and even the opportunity to move up to a Dash 8. The multi-IFR flight school is very well known and they often offer the ability for instructors to eventually move over to the airline side of things.

Most pilots don't make a career of flying for Perimieter or airlines like it, however, Perimeter does offer very competitive salaries for their Medevac Captains.
Overall, it's a good company - even if the Metro's look like lawn darts :)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Drinking and Flying

Although pilots are stereo-typical heavy drinkers, pilot alcohol consumption is strictly regulated. Transport Canada's Rule is that you are not to have had a drink within 8 hours of acting as a crew member or still be under the influence of any alcohol. "8 hours bottle to throttle". Some airlines have even stricter policies. There can be serious reprecusions for breaking that rule. In the US, two airline pilots who had been drinking prior to their flight were sentenced to 2 1/2 and 5 years in jail!

These were not them - this is Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla from the Man show - take this skit with a grain of salt:

Drinking before flying is no laughing matter. This is one of the most important rules that you must follow in your flying career. There is NO reason why you should be in a position where you have had a drink less than 8 hours before your flight.

The pilots in the article below were lucky to only be suspended for 3 weeks. There has been quite an uproar on AvCanada about this incident. While some people may argue that "it was only 1 beer and it was only 7.5 hours before the flight" I would argue that this is unacceptable. You know when you are on-call and when you're scheduled to depart. As a pilot you're required to know how to tell time and know how long 8 hours is. If you have had a drink within those 8 hours it is your responsibility to be a professional and not fly until you are within the rule. While sure, it's nice to have a beer with dinner, but is it worth your career? I don't think any beer tastes that good. I do not know the exact situation that these pilots were in so I'm not going to pass judgement, but for new pilots, it's something you have to be very careful about - it could have serious reprecusions.

Post-flight beers prove costly for three pilots

By: Aldo Santin

Updated: April 3 at 02:00 AM CDT

Having a beer with their dinner has cost three young pilots a suspension without pay.

Mark Wehrle, general manager of Perimeter Aviation, confirmed Wednesday night that Transport Canada had suspended the licences of three pilots for a three-week period stemming from an incident in September.

Wehrle said the three pilots -- one has since moved on to a larger airline -- had flown a cargo run to Fargo. While having dinner down there after they arrived, they each had a beer. Wehrle said the three young men brought their planes home the next morning. However, Wehrle said that pilots are prohibited from consuming alcohol for eight hours before they take-off.

"It turns out that this was at the 7.5-hour mark," Wehrle said. "Someone on the flight crew reported it to us and they confirmed that it happened."

Wehrle said he didn't think the actions of the three young pilots, all believed to be in their mid-20s, had put their aircraft or the public at risk but added it was a violation of the rules nonetheless and Perimeter suspended them for three weeks without pay at the time, adding the company also reported it to Transport Canada.

Wehrle said Transport Canada investigated the incident and informed Perimeter this week that the three men would be formally sanctioned with a further three-week suspension of their licences.

"We didn't consider what they had done to be reckless," Wehrle said. "They admitted what they had done wrong and realized it was a mistake. It's part of growing up."

Wehrle said the third pilot left Perimeter for an opportunity to fly larger aircraft, adding he told the other airline about the incident when they made a background check.

"They weren't too concerned about it because they hired him on," Wehrle said. "His current employer was informed of the Transport Canada sanction and he won't be flying either."

Perimeter Aviation is a locally owned firm with more than 100 pilots, and operates a flight training school, charter and contract flying and a full-service maintenance bureau for other small airlines. Its website boasts that its clients include Great-West Life, Canwest Global, Reimer Express, James Richardson Sons, United Parcel Service, Air Canada, Purolator Courier and Brinks Canada.

Wehrle said that two of the pilots were first officers at the time and the other was a recently promoted captain. He said that all three are now captains.

"They've worked hard to get where they are but they made a mistake," Wehrle said. "It was poor judgment on their part but it wasn't a heinous crime."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Guns and Planes

After September 11th, US airline pilots pushed for allowing pilots to carry guns on an aircraft to guard against terrorist threats under the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I can't say I agree with it. To me, firearms in a pressurized metal tube just seem like a bad idea. I haven't examined this issue much further as Canada doesn't allow pilots to carry firearms. The debate surrounding firearm use and the differences between Canada and the US's attitude on guns is an explosive one (pardon the pun) and isn't really the topic of this post.

On a recent US Airways flight, a pilot had his firearm accidentally discharge. Check out the pictures that have been posted on many news sites. I think that this could have had far worse results.

Pilot's gun fired during flight

An investigation is under way into how a gun carried by a US Airways pilot was discharged during a flight.
No-one was hurt when the gun went off as the plane was preparing to land at Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday.

A hole in a cockpit wall apparently caused by the shot is visible in photos obtained by AP news agency.

Under a programme implemented after the 9/11 attacks, US airline pilots are allowed to carry guns on domestic flights following a training course.

Passengers 'unaware'

The gun discharged just before noon on Saturday aboard Flight 1536 from Denver to Charlotte, as the Airbus A319 plane was at about 8,000 feet (2,440m) and was approaching to land.

The plane was sequestered and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is looking into the incident, spokesman Dwayne Baird said.

He said the airline was co-operating and that the FBI would also probably be involved.

The pilot has been put on leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Mr Baird said he believed the 124 passengers on board at the time were not aware of the incident.

Aeronautical experts disagree on how much risk there is that such a stray bullet could bring down an aircraft.

Psychological tests

Under the TSA's Federal Flight Deck Officer programme, pilots may apply for a licence to carry a gun on board for domestic flights.

They must undergo a week-long training course and psychological tests.

Since April 2003, about 5,000 flight deck officers - captains or first officers - have been authorised to carry weapons, Capt Bob Hesselbein, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association's National Security Committee, told the Associated Press.

All pilots who qualify from the programme are said to carry the same weapon - a .40-calibre semiautomatic H&K USP - which experts say is extremely unlikely to go off on its own.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pilot to Serve His Sentence in the Community

As a follow up to yesterday's post.

Pilot avoids jail term
By: Mike McIntyre

Updated: March 20 at 03:42 PM CDT

Print Article E-mail Article Mark Tayfel crashed an airplane in a busy Winnipeg intersection and lived to tell about it. Now the former pilot has escaped a jail sentence for negligent actions that killed an elderly passenger.

Queen's Bench Justice Holly Beard ruled this afternoon Tayfel could remain in the community under a two year conditional sentence for the June 2002 tragedy. His conditions include a daily curfew and 240 hours of community service work which Beard hopes will involve speaking to young pilots about the errors he made during that fateful flight.

"The accused is a fine person who's made some terrible mistakes in an otherwise good life. The events are truly tragic and have affected many lives. It's a no win situation for all involved," Beard told court.

"Nothing in this case suggests a need to separate this offender from the community."

Beard lashed out at the airline industry for a "culture" of negligence which allows -- or perhaps even forces -- pilots to often cut corners.

"It's clear the failure to follow aeronautics regulations is very prevalent. The culture shouldn't be one that pressures young pilots to break the law," said Beard.

"Despite that culture, it doesn't excuse pilots who break the law and engage in risky behaviour. Society will not sit by and allow our safety and security to be put at risk."

Tayfel and six American fishers were injured when both of the plane's engines cut out shortly after Tayfel missed his first attempt at landing at Winnipeg International Airport. The plane came to rest on Logan Avenue just west of McPhillips Street.

Tayfel had taken off earlier that morning from a northern fishing lodge without enough fuel on board to get to his destination.

Everyone survived the crash, but Kansas resident Chester Jones, 79, died a few weeks later from his injuries.

"I was very moved by the description of Chester Jones. The loss to his family and community is immense and can never be replaced," Beard said today/

Crown attorney Brian Wilford told court yesterday that Tayfel should spend time behind bars for the reckless risk-taking of not carrying enough fuel and then attempting to land the plane without telling anyone on the ground about his problem until it was too late.

"The moral culpability of Mr. Tayfel is extreme. He had so many opportunities to rectify the situation. And yet he did nothing," Wilford said.

"He endangered so many people... because his concern was his reputation. It is an absolute miracle no one on the ground was seriously injured or killed. I'd say a landing like that couldn't be done again in a million years."

Defence lawyer Balfour Der said putting a good man like Tayfel behind bars wouldn't accomplish anything.

"This man did not set out to crash that airplane, to run out of fuel, to put anyone, including himself, in danger," Der said.

He told court Tayfel could be utilized as a mentor to young pilots in training, speaking to them about his deadly mistake and preaching the value in following aviation regulations.

Tayfel, 42, gave a tearful apology to his victims yesterday, including family members of the man who died.

"I was in charge of that aircraft. It was my responsibility to get the passengers safely back to Winnipeg. I failed to do that," he told a packed courtroom.

Tayfel declined to speak with reporters following court today. Der said his client is "still in a state of shock" over what happened but thankful he's going home to Calgary.

Der said they are considering an appeal of Beard's decision to convict Tayfel of criminal negligence causing death, four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and dangerous operation of an aircraft in one of the first cases of its kind in Canada.

He suggested Tayfel's employer at the time of the crash, Keystone Air, should have also been held liable and that his client has been made the "whipping boy" for an industry fraught with problems.

"They're not here in court supporting Mr. Tayfel. They headed for the hills," Der said outside court. He was encouraged by Beard's critical comments about the airline industry and hopes this case sends a strong message.

"These young pilots are really being forced into a tough situation," he said.

An aviation expert called by the defence claimed at trial that the real blame for the disaster should rest with Keystone Air. Robert Lemieux said the company "pressured" Tayfel into doing his flight, despite the fact he'd raised concerns with the chief pilot that his Piper Navajo wasn't equipped with a mandatory auto-pilot.

The device likely would have helped Tayfel make a safe landing in Winnipeg. Instead, he came out of the clouds too high and too fast -- with both engines on the verge of cutting out -- and missed the runway completely. Tayfel then crashed as he tried to swing around to make another landing attempt.

A retired Air Canada pilot took the witness stand yesterday on behalf of the defence and said too many shortcuts are being taken by employers focused on making money, at the expense of young pilots who feel there is no choice but to quietly obey orders.

"These kids get out there and they're expected to do things they know aren't by the book. There's a culture in that sector of the industry where it's get the job done, and if somebody bends the rules a little bit, nobody says anything about it," Dale Andersen said.

He now works as a mentor and counselor to pilots through the airline union and recently spent time with Tayfel, calling him a "mild-mannered, compliant" person who lacks the ego many pilots often possess.

Andersen told court allowing Tayfel to speak about his experience to others would be making "something positive" out of a tragic situation.

Tayfel has no prior criminal record, strong family and community support and is unlikely to find work again as a pilot because nobody wants to hire him, court was told.

Wilford said that's not enough.

"Mr. Tayfel got caught doing what other pilots seem to do quite regularly. Other pilots didn't get caught because they didn't crash. But other pilots must be deterred from even thinking about it," he said.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Update: Pilot to Face Sentencing

In November, I wrote a post entitled The Captain's Decision about how pilots have to be vary of the consequences of being pressured to fly.

Just a quick update on the pilot who was found guilty last November of four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, one count of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of an aircraft.


Sentence expected Thursday for pilot in fatal Winnipeg crash

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 | 1:52 PM CT

A Winnipeg judge will hand down her sentence Thursday in the case of a pilot convicted of criminal negligence after he crash-landed his plane on a high-traffic Winnipeg intersection in 2002, killing one man and hurting several others.

Calgary-based commercial pilot Mark Tayfel was found guilty last November of four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, one count of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of an aircraft.

The Crown and defence in his case made sentencing arguments in Court of Queen's Bench on Tuesday morning.

Tayfel also spoke, making an emotional apology to the passengers of the Keystone Air flight six years ago. With a trembling voice, he said he was responsible for getting them back to Winnipeg safely, and he failed to do that.

He said he was deeply saddened when he heard of the death of one of the men several months later, describing it as the "worst news ever."

Tayfel described how difficult the last six years have been for him and his family, including his new wife, although he acknowledged the pain of the passengers' families have been surely worse.

He said he doubted he would fly again.

Crown attorney Brian Wilford asked for a sentence of "real jail time" for what he described as Tayfel's "utter disregard for his passengers' safety."

But defence lawyer Balfour Derr argued that Tayfel does not deserve jail time, saying he has already been punished enough. A suspended sentence with probation or house arrest would be more appropriate, he said.

Tayfel could use his experiences to teach student pilots about the risks and pressures associated with flying for small companies, Derr said.

Tayfel, 42, had been flying six American fishermen from a remote Manitoba fishing lodge on June 11, 2002, when his twin-engine plane ran out of fuel.

Both engines cut out shortly after he missed the runway on his first attempt to land at Winnipeg's airport, and the plane eventually came to a rest in the middle of McPhillips Street and Logan Avenue, a busy downtown Winnipeg intersection.

Passenger Chester Jones, 79, died from his injuries in hospital several weeks after the crash.

Counter to Tayfel's claims that he should not have been held responsible for what happened, Justice Holly Beard concluded in November that he made too many misjudgments and showed a reckless disregard for the lives of others.

He miscalculated the amount of fuel needed given the weather conditions and also decided to press on with the flight despite being aware of the possibility that the Piper Navajo aircraft was not equipped with a mandatory auto-pilot system, she ruled.

Any thoughts on what the judge should do?

Question - Re: Minimum Age to Start Flying Lessons

The question was asked: How old do you have to be to begin flying lessons to eventually become a Pilot?

My Response

In Canada, there is no minimum age to start your flight training. The two restrictions for starting your flight training really young may be:

1- Individual flight schools may have bottom age limits that are dictated by policy or insurance requirements; and,
2- You have to be tall enough to be able to reach all the controls and rudder pedals.

When you first start your training, you'll be flying with a flight instructor and except for the above possibilities, there are no minimum limits for that. However, there are age limits involved if you want to get your licence and fly by yourself.

In order to solo, or fly by yourself in an aircraft, you need to obtain a student pilot permit. You must be 14 years old and you are also required to write and pass an exam called the PSTAR in order to obtain this. A great study guide for this exam can be found at Robin's Flying Start

If you want to carry passengers, your two options are to get a Recreational Pilot Permit, which allows you to carry one other passenger, or a Private Pilot Licence which will allow you to carry more than one passenger and allow you to add other ratings to your licence.

The minimum age for a Rec Permit is 16 years old and the minimum age to obtain a Private Licence is 17 years old.

If you want to continue on and are considering a career as a pilot, the minimum age in Canada to obtain a Commercial Licence is 18 and the minimum age to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot Licence is 21.

Check out Flight Crew Licensing for all the different requirements for each licence and rating.

If you can afford it, getting an early start on flying is a great idea. The quicker you have your licences, the quicker you'll be able to build up experience. I wish that I started earlier than I did.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Flying Exhausted

Just a quick follow up to the last post. There's a new thread on AvCanada about Flying Exhausted. They've included a poll the results of which as of March 18th, 2008 @ 7:28pm Halifax time were:

I have fallen asleep while flying before. There was another pilot and I had discussed with him that I was just going to close my eyes for a few minutes. In my opinion at least, it's better to be upfront with the other pilot about what you're doing. I felt I would be much safer if I had a short nap than if I struggled to stay awake.

I have also had it a couple of times where one of the Captains I was flying with fell asleep. He told me ahead of time that he was going to close his eyes for a bit, although he ended up sleeping for a couple of hours. I was alright with that though and the peace and quiet was nice. If there were any problems it would have been easy to wake him up and I didn't feel tired at all.

When I was flying the C207 as the only pilot, I did have one day where I had to fight very very hard to keep my eyes open. It wasn't late at night, but for whatever reason, I was feeling very tired. It was tough, but I turned on all the air vents, got cold air blowing, tried to sing to myself - anything to keep me awake. It worked, but it can be tough sometimes.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Night Flights

I've recently found the web service Yahoo Answers and the section that deals with aircraft questions. I've been answering a few questions there. One question I recently answered was:

On an overnight (Red Eye flight) what do you do to keep awake?
Are you able to get coffee from the cabin?
Is it true that when you start with an airline, it is more likely that you will have to do overnights?

The reason i am asking these questions is because i am currently studying to get my commercial license and airline transport permit with Transport Canada.

Here is my answer:
Overnight flights can be one of the most challenging aspects of being a pilot. Although I am not an airline pilot, I used to fly Air Ambulance flights, many of which were overnight, and found them to be very tough on the body.

There are a number of ways that pilots and airlines deal with this situation.

As a pilot, most (but not all) of the time, you’ll know in advance when you’re going to be doing an overnight flight. As a result, you’re able to adjust your sleep schedule accordingly. Having a nap in the afternoon prior to your flight and/or making sure you stay up late the night before. Eating healthy and not smoking also helps a little bit, but these are more general lifestyle factors than specific mechanisms to help you stay awake.

During the flight itself, pilots stay awake by chatting, reading, eating, drinking coffee and listening to different radio frequencies. Although cockpit doors are now locked, pilots have a flight attendant ‘call’ button and the flight attendants are able to access the cockpit to bring coffee, food or just chat. (And also deal with important inflight information).

Airlines deal with the situation with different policies. On the longer flights, there will be one or two Cruise Relief Pilots assigned to the flight. “Creeps” are usually junior pilots who sit in the flight deck during the cruise portion of the flight. The original Captain and First Officer do the Take-Off and Landings and then take turns relaxing in the crew rest area. On some aircraft, there are a couple of seats in first class that are reserved for the crew. On other aircraft, like the newer Boeing 777s, there are private crew rest areas on top of the main cabin.

Other airlines have implemented official monitored or planned cockpit rest procedures where only one pilot at a time can have a nap. The big problem is when both pilots fall asleep! This is somewhat controversial as some airlines want both pilots awake the whole time they’re in the cockpit, whereas others recognize that giving the pilots the opportunity for short naps will allow them to be more awake for the challenging approach and landing phase of flight.

Depending on the airline you work for, you may end up doing more night flights when you first start out. Seniority is a big factor for airline scheduling. The pilots that have been at an airline longer get first choice at choosing their flights. Sometimes, overnight flights may be less desirable and the more junior pilots get stuck with flying them.

The issue is slightly more complicated however. At most airlines, pilots get paid more the larger the plane they fly. The larger planes typically fly more long haul routes. Therefore, it is usually the higher seniority pilots (those who have been there the longest) that fly the biggest planes. There will likely be the requirement to fly more long overnight flights on the bigger planes than on the smaller planes. Therefore, higher seniority pilots might fly at night more.

One of the best pieces of advice given to me when I was training was to “Guard your Sleep”. Going to a flight, either at night or during the day if you’re not well rested can be a safety concern. It requires planning ahead, but it can be done.

The great thing about flying at night though is that you get to see some amazing Northern Lights!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Question - Re: University Degrees for Pilots

I received a question from a reader the other day:

Hey! I am looking into getting into the industry. My question is do you suggest getting a university degree these days on top of everything else? My mom works for Air Canada so she knows many pilots and many have told me that having a university degree makes you a lot likelier of landing a job with a major airline.

Getting a university degree en route to becoming a pilot is a tough decision. I don't think that there's an overwhelming right or wrong answer and what will work best for a person depends on a number of factors.

Major Airlines, specifically Air Canada, use a 'points' system when determining who they will interview. Points will be awarded based on education, flying experience (both hours flown and type of aircraft those hours were acquired on), language proficiency, work experience, leadership qualities etc. I do not know how many points get awarded for each category.

About 8 years ago now when I was just finishing my training, I was able to meet the pilot hiring coordinator for Air Canada. When I asked if she had any tips, her response was "get a degree." What I have heard however, is that a university degree is granted the same number of points as a diploma from a recognized Aviation College such as Confederation, Sault College or Mount Royal. This is not confirmed though.

Even for Air Canada, having a degree will not automatically get you a job at an airline. It is also imperative to have a lot of flight experience. Depending on about a million different factors, when you're done your training, it will generally be 5 to 10 years before you have the experience to be hired by Air Canada. Even though their stated minimum hour requirements are 1000 hours, most successful candidates have at least 2000 hours, with most having more.

Having a degree will also not really help you in getting your first flying job. Operators that hire low time pilots generally don't care if you have a college diploma or a degree, rather, they want to see that you have a good attitude and can work hard. Having some work experience, being in the right place at the right time and making good connections will all help in finding the first flying job.

I am a proponent of getting a degree. I think that having a degree (or two) will open a lot of doors in life when combined with experience. It not only opens up options outside of aviation if you lose your medical or get laid off, it allows you to possibly move into management roles within an airline later on. I also think that taking some time to go to school and enjoy the 'university experience' is a benefit to every one. It gives people a couple years to grow up and learn responsibility. Obviously, not everyone needs this though. Though I personally have really enjoyed my university experience.

On the other hand, there are people who don't really think it is worth getting a degree if you want to be a pilot. Their point of view makes sense and I do believe that getting a degree isn't right for everyone.

Getting a degree, whether it is in conjunction with your flight training at schools such as University of Western Ontario, Waterloo, Seneca College or University College of the Fraser Valley or separately, usually takes 4 years and can be quite expensive. During this time, you generally don't do much flying. If however, you did you flight training independently through a local flight school or through a shorter, 2 year college program, you would be finished your training a lot quicker and out flying sooner. Once flying, most pilots building experience can get anywhere between 500 and 1000 hours a year and be earning money at the same time. Most airlines hire pilots with between 2000 and 4000 hours of experience and the quicker you're out flying, the sooner you'll have that experience.

Of the pilots that I know that are working at Air Canada, some have degrees and some do not. I know pilots who have been hired on at Air Canada Jazz both with and without a degree or Aviation College Diploma. I know pilots working for WestJet, some of whom have a degree and some don't. I know a pilot with an Economics Degree, lots of turbo-prop and jet Captain experience who was turned down by Air Canada but is working at WestJet. I also know a pilot who has two degrees that was turned down by Jazz.

So, as you can tell by the somewhat rambling response, there is no right or wrong answer.

Things to consider:

  • Are you the type of person that likes education?

  • What is your financial situation like?

  • Are you ready to jump into the work force, or will a couple of years at university or college be good for you?

  • What are the options of flight schools, colleges or Universities near where you live?

The main thing to know though is that getting a degree from a particular school will not guarantee you a job at an airline or let you skip the generally low paying, not glamorous first few years of flying.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Selling Seats

Yesterday, to celebrate their 12th birthday, WestJet had a pretty good seat sale on routes in Eastern Canada offering fares between Toronto and Ottawa or Montreal for as low as $12. Some other routes were only $39 each way. While they still added all the surchrages such as taxes, airport improvement fees, NavCanada fees and the security tax, the flights were still a great deal. Air Canada matched most of the fares. Combined, my girlfriend and I bought a total of 5 one way flights for roughly $420.

Three of these were flights that we knew we needed to make in the next few months so we would have eventually bought tickets. Two legs were a flight that I was probably going to make, but hadn't completely committed to yet. The sale solidified my decision. Although, for that particular trip I booked on WestJet before I knew that Air Canada had matched the prices. Air Canada had flights at more convenient times, so I would have picked their flight had I done some more research.

The excitment of getting a pretty good deal aside, this raises some really interesting issues about the economics of the airline industry. Aircraft are complex, expensive machines. They are operated by skilled crews who are paid a relatively comfortable salary. Yet, with a sale like this, the actual cost of the airfare from Toronto to Halifax is less than the cab ride home from the airport!

This was just a one day sale. Fares that low are not sustainable as the former airline Jetsgo showed. But this does raise some interesting questions. What is a good price for airfare? Most customers will argue that airfare should be lower, yet, airlines in Canada go bankrupt on a regular basis. In fact, there's an article in the Globe & Mail's Report On Business on Air Transat and how it's amazing that an airline has survived for 20 years in Canada!

This issue is too complex to examine in a short blog post. In fact, airline executives with MBA's haven't managed to get it right over the past few decades. But, on the surface at least, the public's desire for low airfares generally conflicts with pilots' desires for a high income.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Flying For Free

A recent Job Post by a Sky Diving Company on the AvCanada Message Boards has sparked quite a bit of online controversy. There have been a number of threads in response to this job post: Here , and Here , and Here , and Here.

The problem with this job ad is that the ad is not for a real job. The skydive company runs a skydive 'course' where it charges roughly $1000 to the dozen or so pilots who sign up. From there, the company will take only a few of the 'graduates' of this course and allow them to fly skydivers for the summer and not get paid for it.

There are a number of problems with this.

To begin with, I have talked to a couple different new pilots over the years who have signed up for this course under the promise that everyone who passes the course gets 'hired' on. However, unless things have changed, it sounds as if the reality of the situation is that very few of the pilots who complete the course actually get hired on. A couple of years ago, one friend of mine signed up for the course. The company knew in advance that he had only 200 hours, however, after the course had finished, they gave him an excuse that the couldn't 'hire' him because their minimum was 250 hours. Another pilot I talked to claims he was promised that everyone who takes the course gets hired, however, after he had paid for and attended the course, they said, thanks, but we have enough pilots and don't need your help - they were still more than happy to take his money for the course though.

At first blush this course and promise of flying can actually sound like a good deal for a new pilot who has just spent tens of thousands of dollars getting his or her licence.

The thinking goes - the promise of 200-300 hours over a summer for 'only' the cost of a $1000 course is a small price to pay compared to the cost of getting a licence. Besides, working for free or 'volunteering' to get these hours will give them experience and a leg up to get a real job.

While I completely understand the reasoning for this type of thinking, it is based on false logic. Although flight training is expensive, the primary purpose of the flight is so that you can learn to fly. At the Sky Dive company, the primary purpose of the flight is to fly skydivers and ultimately make money for the owner. This company is not a skydiving club or a not-for-profit organization (there are, for example, non profit gliding clubs where volunteering would be a slightly different endeavour). This company's purpose is to make money and they need pilots to fly the skydiving planes in order to make money, therefore, the pilot involved should be making money.

Hours in and of themselves are not a form of payment. While true that most entry level jobs are low paying and the primary purpose is to gain experience, you are a commercial pilot and providing your services so that the owner of the company can make money, you should therefore be paid. Skydiving companies are never going to be high paying jobs. In fact, there are a lot of places where pilots only get $1 of every jumper they fly whereas they get $2 for every parachute they roll up! While I think that this is still very low pay, at least it is pay.

As a new pilot, you may think that spending money on this type of course and getting this type of experience will help you in the long run. On an individual level it actually might help someone get ahead. However, there are a few things to think about before deciding to take a non-paying position. This operator, and others like it are known across the industry. This could potentially hinder you in a serach for a job later on. The second thing to consider is that it hurts the pilot profession as a whole. If no new pilots would take a course like this, the operator would be forced to actually pay the pilots that he employs.

Pilots will often take jobs where they don't get paid in order to get experience for jobs that do pay. But, the rub is that the operators that do pay their pilots have to compete with the companies that don't. This could ultimately lead to more unpaid positions.

DO NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS COURSE OR FLY FOR FREE (if it is for a for-profit company)

Monday, February 18, 2008

English Language Proficiency now Required for Pilots

I received an e-mail from a flight school in Ontario that I used to rent from reminding students that English Language proficiency is now required for all pilots.

As an aside, the title of the e-mail was "Aviation Engilsih Language Proficiency requirement for Licensing‏" - Not knocking the sender, as I know that I don't have perfect grammar or spelling, but I just thought that it's a funny place for a spelling error. But I digress.

English is the International Language of Aviation. While this is not without some controversy, having a universal language that everyone talks on the radio in is vital for aviation safety. I don't know the exact history of how and why English is the Universal Language of aviation but I assume that it has to do with the fact that both the US and the UK were the initial leaders in aircraft development and they were the victorious parties in WWII. Regardless, pilots flying Internationally are required to speak English to air traffic control. It would be extremely difficult if every pilot had to learn multiple languages for every different country they flew to. As it is, it can be difficult for non-English speakers to learn English proficiently to fly to English speaking countries. Although, I've found that in general, non-English speakers in general are much better at knowing English than English speakers are at knowing other languages.

Here's a recording from an exchange between an Air China pilot and a ground controller at New York's JFK airport.

This is not to suggest that the pilot is not intelligent because he doesn't know English (besides, his English is far better than my command of any of the Chinese languages), but it shows that there could be very real potential safety concerns if pilots and air traffic control cannot communicate.

While initially the interaction of English speaking air traffic control and non-English speaking pilots was reserved for international airlines which theoretically would be able to control the language proficiency of their pilots, flight training itself is becoming more international. Canadian flight schools specifically market themselves toward international students where flight training is either less accessibly or prohibitively expensive. While this can be great business for Canadian Schools, it could increase the possibility that communication barriers could jeopardise aviation safety.

To address this, ICAO has implemented language proficiency guidelines. Transport Canada in complying with these guidelines has created a new language proficiency requirement in obtaining a pilot licence.

Here is a description by a Transport Canada employee that was posted on AvCanada. The full thread can be found HERE

The Facts regarding the Aviation Language Proficiency Test

As of March 5th, 2008, all licensed pilots in Canada (excluding permits, glider, gyroplane and ornithopter) will be required to meet a minimum language proficiency. Although this will be an ICAO requirement, every jurisdiction (country) has had the freedom to decide how their pilots will meet it. So -- this means that Canada and the USA (for example) will have different ways of assessing this proficiency. How language proficiency will be recognized when converting licenses from one country to another has not yet (that I am aware of) been decided.

The Aviation Language Proficiency Test (hereafter called ALPT) is a 20 question oral examination that is administered either over the phone or in person without the "Test Taker" and "Examiner" having direct visual contact (divider or back-to-back). It is not a test of aviation knowledge, but a test of the candidate's ability to understand and speak english in an aviation context. It can be taken prior to having any flight experience, prior to solo, etc. -- it just must be completed before the license is issued.

It has been decided that Pilot Examiners that test PPL candidates will be offered the opportunity to become ALPT Examiners. They will be required to attend a workshop put on by Transport Canada, and provide an example of 3 examinations (in person or recorded) in order to be delegated. Transport Canada Inspectors will NOT be conducting the examinations, just the initial and recurrent training for the Examiners.

The test can be administered in English or French, depending on the delegation of the examiner and the requirement of the candidate.

Although the ICAO standards has 6 levels of language proficiency, in order to simplify matters, Canada only recognizes 3 of them:

"Expert" - ICAO Level 6
"Operational" - ICAO Level 4
"Below Operational" - Less than ICAO Level 4

In Canada, you must have a minimum assessment of "Operational" (ICAO level 4) in order to hold a Canadian license.

They are scored on each of these 20 questions, and evaluated the following way:

-not more than 6 questions assessed at level 4 and no question assessed below level 4, they are awarded "Expert" ICAO level 6, and never have to take the test again.

-not more than 6 questions assessed at below level 4, they are awarded "Operational" ICAO level 4, and have to take the test again in 5 years.

-if they get more than 6 questions below level 4, they cannot hold an aviation license in Canada.

Regarding re-tests:
Re-tests may be done after a mandatory minimum waiting time, as defined by CARS 400.03 the same as the written examinations.

Regarding all current pilots:
Most (all?) current Canadian license holders have been assessed using their pilot file -- providing there was enough information (what language did they do their written exam in? Flight test? Last medical? Written correspondence?). Licenses issued after mid-November will have a language proficiency statement on them (example "Language Proficiency - English"). Transport Canada should be re-issuing all of the older, outstanding licenses to meet this requirement until the new "Passport Style" licenses are issued sometime later this year.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion.

-TC Guy

Friday, February 15, 2008

Photos From The Book

A recent reader commented that while he found the book "very informative, pleasant, easy to read and very realistic" he was a little disappointed that the pictures weren't in colour.

I agree. The black and white pictures don't do some of them justice. But unfortunately printing pictures in colour would have been pretty cost prohibitive. Here are a few of the pictures from the book, specifically the ones that black and white just didn't do justice.

A 767 on approach - Photo by Adam Van Dusen

A Cessna C441 Conquest II in Rankin Inlet, NU - Photo by James Ball

A Pilatus PC-12 Flight Deck - Photo by Adam Van Dusen

A Canadian Forces CF-18 on the Ramp at YYZ - Photo by James Ball

A CMA Beech 1900 on the Ramp in YVR - Photo by Mike Stefanski

Sunset in a PC-12 - Photo by Adam Van Dusen

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wings Magazine

I'm pleased to announce that this month's issue of Wings Magazine features a blurb about "So, You Want to be a Pilot, Eh?"

The book is mentioned on page 12 in the "On the Web" section of the book. I'm quite flattered as Wings is Canada's National Aviation Magazine. It's a great source of information about the industry. On top of the magazine, the website is very informative to keep you up to date on what's going on in the industry. Right now, there's even a free trial to sign up for an online digital version of the magazine. Regardless, a good ol'paper subscription is worth the $34.00 a year.

Although, I did have to laugh a bit. This month's issue came with an insert for luxury cars. Although at the higher levels of the industry this would be valuable, on a flight student's (or in my case - law student's) salary (read - debt) it will be a number of years away!