Real Answers from Real Pilots

From CFI to airline position

This question is purely out of curiosity for those who went through ATP, instructing, and then on to regional etc…I’d love to know what the transition from 1500 hrs to being interviewed/hired/training to first day on the job was like? I know this is a few yrs away for me, but would love to hear what the transition period was like, as I imagine it was exciting in both fun and challenging ways! I’m posting this sitting in an airport and can’t imagine how thrilling it was during that timeframe. No need to write a book, because I’m sure each of you could for what that time was like, but some points that you’ll never forget and could pass on would be great to hear. Thanks so much.

Chase

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Chase,

I could literally write a book on this phase but since you asked I won’t.

Interview: VERY happy and excited! You’ve completed all your training, checked all the boxes but now things are starting to get REAL! I prepared like a maniac, read every gouge I could find and prepared for every possible question. The interview went incredibly well. Only hitch was it was going so well and I actually got a little too comfy and almost blew the whole thing. Take away, NEVER let your guard down and it ain’t over till it’s over. Ultimately I was offered the job and I was beyond happy. I’d dreamed of this my entire life and was just handed the golden ticket!

Training: If you’ve read my posts you may have noticed I frequently say “getting hired is easy, getting through training is not”. I was still giddy when I showed up for training which starts with the books which has always been my strength (I’m not the brightest bulb but I’ve always been “book smart”). Problems came when we got to sim. Flying a jet is VERY different than flying a Seminole. You’re flying ALOT faster and the engines respond ALOT slower. Not a good combination. Not making excuses but the midnight to 6am sim slot I had also didn’t help. There was one point when I actually feared I’d washout and all my work, hopes and dreams would be gone for good (washing out of newhire training doesn’t look good on a resume). That’s when I really had to dig down deep and convince myself that failure was not an option. When all was said and done I was successful but more relieved than excited.

1st Day on the Line: Totally surreal and definitely one of the highpoints of my life. I’m looking pretty spiffy in my new pilot uniform (and it’s not Halloween), and I’m sitting in a jet with a Continental tail taxiing out to a rwy at Newark Liberty International Airport where I’ve flown out of and watched in awe planes take off and land for as long as I can remember! (I’m pretty sure I was giggling). Fortunately I had the coolest check airman on my left. He told me “listen it’s day one, I know you’re excited, nervous, anxious or whatever so here’s the deal. For this first leg I’m going to treat this like I’m flying single pilot. I expect NOTHING from you. If you feel like jumping in great, if not just stare out the window and drool, it’s all good”. Next thing I knew we were airborne and I honestly couldn’t tell you what I did or did not do but Frank seemed pretty happy and told me nice job so I must have done something (or he was just being nice). As the day and the rest of the trip continued I became more useful and less than just ballast but I will never forget that feeling when we took the rwy. My dream had come to fruition and there is no greater feeling.

Adam

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Chase,

Starting new hire training at ExpressJet was daunting, to say the least. I had about 750 hours when I started at the airlines (the rules were different then) and while I was a decent flight instructor, being an airline pilot was a whole different world. I was very fortunate that I had gone through a program ATP had that was a “Jet Transition Program” - essentially a week of flying a CRJ FTD, this really helped me to have some idea what a jet involved. You will have a similar experience with the ATP-CTP.

You will have several weeks of basic introductions to flying and the company. This will include HR stuff (don’t be a jerk class), then a thorough review of FAA regulations and how they pertain to the airlines. From then it will be systems class on your new airplane and then finally the flight training devices and simulators. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it will be one junk at a time and if I could make it through, most people will too.

I do not really remember my first flight in a jet, but I do remember my first flight in a 737 at Continental. We took off on 15L in IAH, which is a lengthy runway. I was absolutely shocked at how much runway we used, I had never used anywhere near that much pavement flying the ERJ-145.

Chris

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Chase,
Such a great question. I could elaborate on this quite a bit as well. I’ll try to keep it brief…
I was a Skywest cadet, receiving tuition reimbursement, crossing over 1000 hours with 500 to go end in sight when covid happened. In what felt like an instant, the future I thought was so near disappeared. Disappointing, frustrating but completely out of my control. I kept building my hours as quick as I could but needing to figure out a reroute. I researched hours every day after coming home from my days at the training center instructing. I spent my “rainy days” when I couldn’t fly, sending out my resume, applying and networking. Weeks turned in to months when suddenly I started hearing back and secured my first interview.
Interviewing: There was a weird shift happening around this time… For a year, I had been thinking solely about the successful of my students and the training center I led but now I’ve got to think about my success. How can I prep for this interview well, how can I put my best foot forward, etc. It was like the pivotal point when I started transitioning from a flight instructor to a professional pilot. During covid, everyone was furloughing and shutting down hiring so to finally secure that interview felt like winning the lottery. It was a glimpse of light after some dark times. With how excited I was, I was also overwhelmed with the idea that I had an opportunity in such uncertain times, I could not mess it up and lose it.
Hitting 1500 hours: I had finally made it. Bittersweet. The day I thought sometimes would never come. All those hours but it still seemed like a blur. A major milestone which just a few months ago would have meant tons of doors opening, but now slightly anticlimactic with no jobs on the horizon yet. But still, celebrations to be had.
(Found out I got the job I Interviewed for)
Starting training: “wow, I’m actually here. I have a real professional pilot job and I’m going to be flying jets. I can’t believe I’ll be getting paid for this.” Feeling so grateful and so excited yet so overwhelmed. You walk in feeling like an accomplished 1500 hr pilot and walk out on the first day humbled to say the least. You think you know things but realize you’re stepping in to a whole new world of aviation that you’ve merely scratched the surface of. You have mounds of textbooks, checklists, cockpit posters and flash cards. Each day the ground school floods you with information as you scribble done notes that hardly make any sense. It’s a stressful time and a challenging time but still the most exciting time.
Flying the line: A new chapter is just beginning. You’re finally able to join the ranks of thousand of professional pilots up in the flight levels taking the skies everyday. That first static takeoff behind the controls in a jet when you feel the thrust kick in and you get pushed back in your seat as you start barreling down the runway, that moment you won’t forget.

-Hannah

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Chase,

It was tough! But ATP prepared me well. The pace and intensity of the program primed me for success. I was never worried about my work ethic. I knew I would eventually figure it all out. I just wish I had a mentor to tell me how to prioritize. Thankfully, Horizon has a mentorship program now.

I did my interview as a CFI with 900 hours. Going into the interview I had doubts that I wasn’t prepared enough. I was assured by my peers that I knew more than I thought I did. They were right. I wasn’t expected to have any 121 knowledge since I didn’t have the experience. So, the interview was tailored appropriately.

Ground school was thorough, but jam-packed every day. I had a shoebox’s worth of flash cards. Not the norm, but it worked for me.

Things started to make more sense when we began VPT (Virtual Procedures Trainer) instruction. It’s like a touch screen sim. This helped drill down flows, callouts and familiarize ourselves with the approximate layout of the flight deck.

Sim training was in STL. Idk what was harder, the training, or the midnight to 4a slot. I don’t think I saw the sun for the two weeks that I was there. But anyway, the sim training follows a syllabus. Reading the syllabus ahead of time and brushing up on the procedures goes a long way.

The automation was a new concept for me. So, learning that and how to properly arm the aircraft in the right mode for the correct type of approach was challenging, especially when the FMS wasn’t cooperating and we had to figure out how to get the FMS in the correct mode. There were definitely days when I felt like I just wasn’t getting it, but it clicked when it was time for our LOFT and LOE.

The one thing I like most about sim training is that the syllabus runs under an Advanced Qualification Program (AQP). With AQP, you are evaluated as an individual and a crew. So, mistakes are not automatically disqualifying, like they are when taking a checkride under the PTS or ACS.

The rules vary slightly, but in general terms it’s more like a three strikes, your out kind of deal. Plus, since you are always being checked as a crew, if one pilot makes a mistake, forgets something, says the wrong callout, says the callout at the wrong time, etc. the pilots can query each other at any time. If the error is mitigated, no harm no foul.

After sim, then the real test begins. At my airline I believe new hires get 50 hours of IOE and upgrades get 25. This is all flown with a Check Pilot. The CPs work off of a checklist to ensure that you demonstrate each task within standards. Perfection is not the goal. Just safe and standard.

My IOE went well for the most part. The first few days definitely felt like I was behind the plane, but a rhythm begins to develop quickly. Towards the end of training the only thing I needed to work on was landing. I was given an extra trip, which was not counted against me, and then I was released to the line!

Six months later every new hire receives a Supervised Line Flight (SLF) with a CP. It’s not exactly a checkride. It’s more like, “We just need to make sure you are still operating within standards and haven’t picked up any bad habits.” It’s also a good opportunity for you to ask questions and learn something new.

I’d say it takes, on average, about 500 hours (6-7mo) before you feel comfortable with both the plane and the operation. Of course, it varies from individual to individual. It also depends on the length of time it takes one to accumulate that flight time. The less flight time flown per month (on average) the longer it could take to feel comfortable.

This was fun to write! Thank you for asking such a good question. Let us know if there’s anything you’d like any of us to expand on.

Tory

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Thanks so much for all of your responses! Very detailed and extremely fun and exciting to read, and brings up so many more questions and intrigue.
First off, I thought Adam was unlucky with the 12-6am sim slot, then Tory backed it up with 12-4am lol, so I will expect similar and hope for better when the time comes :laughing: As far as everyone’s SLF, did you feel it couldn’t have come earlier/later? I know everyone’s learning timeframe especially depending on hours flown is different, but I imagine you all must’ve felt pretty comfortable and excited to get that behind you? Also, the common theme here seems to be TRAINING IS A BEAST! Each of you made that perfectly clear! I’m sure ATP, and every bit of training leading up to that certainly helps put you in the right mindset, and also after perhaps being comfortable from instructing for so long, helps you get BACK INTO that mindset. Since you’ve been through a ton of information in a small chunk of time before, digging it back up probably didn’t take long, and although challenging, I assume felt good to get kicked back into that gear again…ESPECIALLY for this new chapter of your career!
The interview process seemed to be pretty smooth for all of you, and I’m very curious as to what type of interview style it is? Is it just you and one person doing the interview for an hour, strict, and tons of questions about you and why you want to work for them? Is it a ladder process, weeding out the ones they prefer to pass on and you go through multiple steps, getting more casual but more refined while being just as important as the first? Adam, you mentioned it almost went “too well”, but I assume that may have also come from the other person maybe letting their guard down as well, and maybe came back to closely bite you in a later portion of interview with someone above them? Either way, a great refresher of as you mentioned, never get too comfortable!
Another questions, as you all mentioned getting familiar with new systems, concepts, and an entirely new information base that you have never been introduced to per se, how much information and knowledge that you knew from your years of training and instructing actually did or did not come into play? Is it, “ok, you know the advanced basics from training and instruction, now we’re going to flip you upside down and teach you how to fly a space shuttle” sort of speaking? I’d reference just a commercial jet…but trying to hear if it was THAT completely overwhelming but obviously attainable type of quick training. I know Tory mentioned a shoebox of note cards, and you all mentioned hours and hours and HOURS of challenging and sometimes “don’t know if I can do this” type of thoughts. You all did which is great, and wouldn’t expect anything less than that…and that’s gotta be a great feeling when finished because neither do the airlines! I’m sure when all said and done, looking back it probably seems like it flew by, but something to feel very proud about! And thank you all again for such detailed and informative responses, can’t wait to hear more, that’s exactly what I was hoping for! It’s great to see you all have that same passion that got you behind the yoke in the first place, while passing down all of the information you do. It truly is invaluable to be apart of such a great community.

Chase

All of it! My first sim partner was a super nice guy with a great attitude. Unfortunately he had been doing light cargo in Hawaii where it’s VFR all the time and he hadn’t shot an approach in 2yrs. He washed out. By having strong basic skills and knowledge it allows you to focus all your attention on the new stuff (systems, flows, procedures). If you don’t you simply run out of bandwidth. Further ATP had gotten me used to the accelerated pace which I had never encountered previously.

I’ve said this before but I honestly do not believe I would’ve been successful without ATP.

Adam

Chase,

The SLF is really supposed to be a non-eventful flight. I think the timing is appropriate. Not too close to IOE and not too far. Remember we have to go through CQ (Continuing Qualification aka annual recurrent training) every 12 months. Scheduling the SLF in between IOE and your first CQ makes a lot of sense. But like I said, the SLF is no different than a regular line flight with some feedback at the end, or at least that’s what it is supposed to be. The stakes during CQ are much higher. CQ is what most pilots stress over.

My interview was one day. Me and the other applicants rotated between an HR interview (just one HR person present), a Base Chief Pilot Interview (just one), a sim (which they don’t do anymore), and a technical interview with a line pilot and a Ground Instructor (now a computer-based test with a randomized question bank).

Really the only knowledge I came in with was basic know that I gathered from reading the Part 135 and 121 Chapters of the Everything Explained Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. That book is worth it’s weight in gold. I also attended ATP CTP, which is a mandatory course that most, if not all, airlines pay for you to attend. You can Google what ATP CTP is all about but during the course we briefly discussed subjects like High Altitude Aerodynamics, Weather and Radar, Turbine Engines, and NTSB reports from some of the most recognized crashes that shaped commercial aviation into what it is today.

I probably would have made less flash cards if I had a mentor, like I said, but oh well. I still have them and I’m glad I do. I receive funny looks from time to time when I pull them out for CQ, but they have served me well.

Tory

Chase,

My interview with ExpressJet was one day, it consisted of three different interview panels. One was HR focused, the next technical and the last Jeppessen chart focused. My interview at Continental was with a three person panel and lasted about an hour. It was really more of a conversation than anything with a lot of “Tell me about a time…” type questions. We then had a simulator flight, which was a bit daunting as it was in a MD-80 simulator. The flight was pretty basic stuff and I did a session in the sim a few days before with an interview company to help prep for it.

Chris

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Chase,
My interview with the part 135 charter carrier I fly for was very casual. It was three parts at three separate occasions. First round was more of a screening call with the recruiter with the get to know you kind of stuff. Very relaxed like a conversation but still did plenty of research to prepare. The second call was with the director of safety with more of the “tell me a time when” questions. The third was with the director of ops asking about my personality, how I would add to company culture etc. The one big difference I noticed from regional part 121 interviews, no technical portion at all. I even asked and the culture at the company was “we screen resumes for skills but the interview is to find the right pilots.”

-Hannah

That’s great to know Adam! Just shows you how invaluable your training from ATP truly was, and how much of an advantage graduates from the program have moving forward.
Tory, you mentioned no more sim…is that only for your company? I know Chris and Hannah also mentioned sim as well. And Tory, as well of the rest…have you known pilots to fail their CQ and jeopardize their positions/career?

Chase

Found a good article explaining Recurrent Training for pilots.

Chase,

I am not up to date on every airline’s hiring processes. And no, it is rare for someone to fail CQ. I know some pilots have failed but I do not know them personally. However, I do know that some require extra training, which is not necessary a bad thing. Definitely not the desired outcome, but it’s good to have pilots go through CQ for that reason.

Tory

Chase,

Recurrent is supposed to be an opportunity to brush up on emergency procedures and other maneuvers we can’t practice in the airplane. Busts are very rare.

The reality is once you’re hired and pass initial training, you’ve really got to go out of your way to get fired. As a union rep I can tell you for the majority of pilots who do get fired it has nothing to do with flying, and lots to do with bad behavior when they’re off or on overnights.

Adam