Many times we are asked what the fastest, or easiest way to the airlines is. You will note that while we always strive the need to be efficient in your training and building flight time, that speed and more importantly ease, should never be the primary factors. This is a tale of why.
Some time ago, I went to training when switching airplanes at my airline. I was paired with a new hire pilot. This pilot had gotten their pilot ratings through a well respected aviation college, but then bought an airplane with a friend and used it to fly the remainder of the 1,500 hours that the FAA requires to be an airline pilot. When I heard this it raised a huge red flag for me. Not all flying is equal. Flying 1,500 hours through burning holes in the sky, taking your friends up, and flying to get lunch at some city on the other side of the state might be fun, but it does absolutely nothing to sharpen one’s skills as a pilot. In fact, one’s instrument skills will degrade severely if one does not actively practice that type of flying.
Giant red flag number two came when they told me that they had been at a regional for five years and could have upgraded to Captain after two years, but chose to remain as a First Officer. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a First Officer, I was one when I came to Continental, but the point is that this pilot had a chance to step up to a challenge, improve their skills and take on more as a pilot, but they chose to take the easy path and not challenge themselves.
Given this background, I was surprised that United had hired this pilot, but I do not make those kinds of decisions and I certainly was not going to let it affect how I treated them or let me have any preconceived notions of their future success. They failed miserably on the maneuvers validation. We all make mistakes and have bad days, myself included, but this was bad on a level that I have never seen before and their future employment as a pilot is now seriously in question (this was not their first failed event in training). I felt horrible watching the evaluator tell them that they failed, but our primary responsibility is to the safety of the flying public and the airline takes that incredibly seriously.
The point here is that while there are many paths to the airlines, it is important to pick one in which one’s skills are constantly being challenged and improved. This starts with picking a flight school that trains pilots to airline standards using airline procedures. I would be willing to bet that if this pilot had built their initial time via flight instructing and taken the upgrade to Captain at their regional airline, they would have been a far better pilot and thus had a much greater chance of success.