Apology to those who think I hate Embry Riddle

Just to clarify:

I meant no disrespect for Embry Riddle in my previous post regarding “The Bachelor – On The Wings of Love.” Personally, the only exposure I’ve had to ERAU is listening to the cockpit experiences of my husband and his pilot friends. When they hear about how “Grandpa Moneybags paid for my training at Embry Riddle,” its hard for them not to feel some resentment. Those typically are the same captains who make fun of my boys for living off of peanuts, pretzels, and Biscoff cookies (because money for their student loan payments trump a healthy meal). These loan payments often exceed their take home pay, and they went to the least expensive flight school they could find.

I do not doubt that Embry Riddle graduates gain an excellent education there, regardless of how it was financed. Maybe some of your ERAU grads who sent me hate mail will understand my perspective a little more…and will be kinder to your fellow pilots who trained in a less prestigious program.

The Bachelor: On The Wings of Love?

Jake Pavelka The BachelorThe Captain of Her Heart?

When I first heard that the new season of ABC’s The Bachelor was going to feature an airline pilot, I thought it was a joke. Knowing what I know as the wife of a pilot, I was baffled that any woman would willingly thrust herself into the pilot wifestyle. Then I realized that most of these women probably DON’T know the reality of being a pilot wife.

This is what I know so far about the Bachelor, Jake Pavelka:

31-year-old Jake Pavelka is out to prove to the world that nice guys don’t finish last. No, they finish in love. Fasten your seatbelts and leave your relationship baggage at the door as this handsome commercial pilot from Dallas prepares to take flight as The Bachelor.

“Jake knows himself well enough to know that he’s not made to live alone. He just needs to find the right woman — his best friend and soul mate – and that’s whom he’ll marry. Searching for a woman who is intelligent, confident, energetic and spontaneous, he admits that he can’t wait for fatherhood.

“Jake Pavelka grew up in Denton, Texas and attended University of North Texas and Embry Engineering University for Aerospace Science. He discovered his passion for flying at a young age, as he started taking lessons at age 12. As an accomplished pilot, he was fortunate to discover his passion at a young age, Jake started taking flying lessons at age 12. An accomplished pilot, he became an airline captain flight instructor at 23. On his days off, he has fun flying acrobatic planes, taking dance lessons and woodworking at the home he owns near Dallas.” (ABC.com)“In person, he’s feeling nothing but love from fans, many of whom are passengers who greet him as they deplane. (Pavelka is a captain and airline flight instructor for Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a Delta Connection carrier.) “Everything’s been so flattering,” he says. “I’ll go to different airports in different parts of the country, and there are really great people going, ‘Hey, so glad you came back.’ That’s really humbling.”(Dallas News)

The Bachelor Jake Pavelka

This first thing that hit me was the fact that he attended Embry-Riddle Engineering University for Aerospace Science. Within the first few minutes of episode one, Jake mentions that he was fortunate to have a “storybook childhood” and that he was the only one in his family to not pursue medicine. For anyone who knows anything about flight training and education, Embry Riddle is typically where you go when your family is rolling in the big bucks. According to the Embry-Riddle website:

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is the world’s oldest, largest, and most prestigious university specializing in aviation and aerospace. It is the only accredited, aviation-oriented university in the world.

Undergraduate Cost of Attendance

Tuition and Fees $28,600
Room and Board $8,500
Books (estimated) $1,200
Total, non-flight students $38,300
Estimated annual flight costs* $15,000
Total with Flight $53,300

* Flight Instruction: Embry-Riddle’s flight program is designed to allow students to earn their ratings in just three years (unlike many other schools). Flight students can estimate average annual costs for the first and second year at approximately $15,000 per year. The average cost for the third year of instruction is $10,000.

From what you see, Embry-Riddle’s program appears to cost a little over $53k. But when you read the fine print, it says that flight instruction is $15k for years one and two, and $10k for year three. Add that together….you’re looking at $78,300 to attend the “Ivy League” flight program. To achieve comparable training at a state university (such as UND or UVU), your undergrad studies would be slashed by 2/3rds (plus flight costs).

The next frustration was the wording of the bio on the ABC.com website: “An airline captain flight instructor at 23.” To quote Jake in the introduction of episode one, “I’ve been in the pilot seat for most of my life…I’ve been a commercial pilot for 10 years. My office is at 37,000 feet. There’s really no word to describe my passion for aviation.” He goes on to talk about his obsession with aerobatic airplanes (another luxury of the wealthy pilot)

Now what exactly is an airline captain flight instructor? Oh yeah….there’s no such thing. To paraphrase Wikipedia for a moment; One cannot become a commercial pilot (CPL) until age 18, nor an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) until age 23. Although one technically could become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) once completing one’s CPL, it is highly unlikely that said instructor would be airline captain flight instructor at age 31. A more appropriate description would be “a regional airline captain who flight instructs on the side.”

Jake Pavelka ShirtlessOne thing ABC did get spot on, is the typical pilot obsession for fitness and staying in shape. Pilots must be evaluated by a medical examiner frequently, and many common ailments can disqualify you from flight. My pilot is very concerned with his health and appearance, which can be difficult to keep up with rigorous schedules and limited availability to fitness centers during trips.

So what about the lucky ladies? What advice do I have for them? If you want to be a successful pilot wife, these qualities are a MUST:

Flexibility
: Despite a pilot’s seniority. there will ALWAYS be hiccups in his schedule. Flight mixups, freak weather, maintenance delays, etc. Or he just may have a crappy schedule in the first place. Be prepared for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays without him, year after year (and always celebrate the ones you DO have together) Don’t expect to live in the same domicile (or country!) for the rest of his career. He could be furloughed, displaced, or downgraded with no notice. His payscale may stagnate, or cut in half (if downgraded from captain to first officer)

Trust: No matter what career your man is in, there WILL be temptation. The persona of an airline pilot is suave, debonair, and powerful, which will attract both flight crews, passengers, and airport employees. Cheating happens in aviation, just as it does in medicine, finance, education, etc; but it is enabled by the provided access to hotel rooms in random cities. This isn’t to say that your pilot will cheat, but you need to keep your relationship strong, and the communication often and honest. If my husband and I don’t talk at least 3 times a day, we really start missing each other. When he’s home, smother him with affection to help him remember why he’s working so hard to support you.

Independence: The pilots who hold fabulous lines will still be gone several weeks per month. If you have children, you’ll have to act as a single parent. At some point, you’ll have to go to parent teacher conferences, recitals, and sporting events alone. You will likely have increased daycare costs (if you work outside the home). Cultivate your talents and begin new hobbies to fill up the time that you’d otherwise sit around lonely. Realize that you may be sitting on the church pew, week after week, without your man at your side. Take advantage of your flight bennies and visit a friend out of town whenever you get a whiff of jealousy of all the fabulous locales he flies to (Evansville, South Bend, Dayton, Wausau…definitely worth getting jealous over!)

Debt Management: Few pilots are as fortunate as Jake to have a “storybook childhood,” with a family able to finance flight training. My husband is a 3rd year first officer at a regional airline, with his take-home pay BARELY able to touch his monthly student loan payments. Most of the pilots I know have well over $100,000 in debt to cover plane rentals, instruction, insurance, exams, and travel expenses. Gone are the idyllic days of extremely wealthy pilots, especially as they start our their careers (except the high-seniority captains, like Sully, who have taken significant paycuts as well). You will probably have to bring in supplemental income to cover the inevitable living expenses beyond his paycheck. Many pilots have to take on second jobs on their off days. Learn how to budget and live within your means.

A good support network
: There are many cities that you pilot may be based: MEM, JFK, DTW, LAX, CVG, MSP, DFW, ATL, etc. Sometimes you will have no control over where you’ll be assigned, and it can be VERY lonely to be in a new city with no friends and family (just look at my posts from Detroit and Atlanta….lonely times) Or your pilot may commute, as mine does, and that is even more time that you are without your significant other. Make it a priority to establish a great LOCAL network of friends, family, neighbors, and church members . Join some of the established websites such as Pilot Wives Club or Wives and Girlfriends of Pilots Facebook page.

Now that I’ve said my two bits, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the romantic reality drama!

Just in Time…

Just as I was leaving for the Imogen Heap concert on Thursday night, I encountered an automotive obstacle. My car, which had been showing no symptoms of illness, wouldn’t start. The battery seemed fine, as the radio and lights worked, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. Since I was at my parents’ house, they let me borrow their Civic for the night. My dad and Taylor did some diagnostics, and guessed the battery charge was low and hooked it up to charger overnight.

In the morning, the car still wouldn’t start, so I picked up some jumper cables. Still no luck. We called up AAA to see if they had any ideas, and they had a repair shop on the line to listen to the squealing ignition noise. The car was towed off, and the repair shop had a diagnosis shortly thereafter. Timing belt and water pump. Luckily the timing belt was a non-invasive type, and the break didn’t damage the engine. Hopefully it will be done this afternoon.

I’m grateful that the repair wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I’m grateful I had my dad and husband there to help diagnose the problem. I’m grateful for AAA. I’m grateful that Taylor gets paid his “big check” on Monday (every other paycheck has his perdiem pay) I’m grateful that the repair shop is also fixing my AC adapter. But mostly, I’m grateful this didn’t happen while on my way to California for Thanksgiving in 9 days. Heaven knows how bad it would be to get stuck needing repairs along the more desolate sections of I-15.

"Have you thought of making a career change?"

Yesterday, my neighbor’s daughter was over at our house afterschool, when Taylor got called off on a trip during his reserve shift. The mom was still at work, and we had to scramble to make arrangements for the time until she was back from work. She made a comment like, “Don’t you hate it when he has such an irregular schedule? Has he thought of making a career change? I just returned from a conference where I learned some tools for you to achieve financial freedom and give up your traditional career.”

She has been hinting about wanting to share her “opportunity” that she’s involved with ever since we met her. I have pollitely declined a few times, but she finally got me to commit to “just listen” this weekend. I already know I’m not interested, but I have been involved in a few similar “opportunities,” and know how hard it is to get someone to listen. I just am a little miffed that she would make an assumption that we might be looking for a career change…she knows that we just moved to Atlanta for my husband’s career, he does something he loves, and we’ve had to acquire a crippling amount of debt for his training. Is he considering a career change? Of course not. We’ll take the traditional employment route, thank you very much.

First Officer Jeffrey Skiles: Right Seat Hero

As the wife of a First Officer pilot, I’ve felt some disappointment about the reduced media bravado for First Officer Jeffrey Skiles. His role in the successful splash landing on the Hudson was just as vital as Captain Sully’s. A CA/FO relationship must be a well-oiled machine, as any pilot will tell you. “Pilot flying” and “pilot navigating” responsibilities are typically reversed on every leg of a trip. As I was looking for pictures to add to this posting, there were very few picture of Skiles alone. Most were taken with Sully, or with the flight crew.
I bring this up not to diminish the importance of a well-functioning flight crew, INCLUDING flight attendants. I wholeheartedly acknowledge the efforts of US Airways 1549 flight attendants Donna Dent, Sheila Dail and Doreen Welsh. They brilliantly followed the safety procedures to assist the 150 passengers to safety. My heart goes out to flight attendants in general, who must deal with unruly passengers and threatening situations in a big metal cylinder day after day.
I’m really glad that the media coverage post-accident has included the whole flight crew, but a little ticked off that the “FO got the shaft”(in the brilliant words of one of my FO friend). Yesterday, Skiles gave an excellent speech at the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, U.S. House of Representatives. Other than TV stations cutting Skiles off after Sully completed his remarks, the address in general was fantastic. Skiles echoed Sully in many of the issues found in US aviation. I will now quote part of his address.

Like each and every one of my fellow professional airline pilots and flight attendants, I realize that flying a commercial airliner is a tremendous responsibility. The aftermath of this incident has brought forth in me a renewed understanding that this is a job for experienced professionals. Being an airline flight crewmember, whether pilot or flight attendant, is a serious job for serious people, and I am tremendously proud to count myself among their number. The dedication, seriousness and professionalism with which we in the aviation community approach our responsibilities can be credited for the dramatic improvement of our national aviation safety record.

The training, procedures and tenets of cockpit resource management (CRM) developed throughout the airline industry over the last 15 years, played a significant role on January 15th. Training departments industry wide are ceaselessly striving to identify future problems and develop procedures to combat them before they occur. A functional self-disclosure safety program is a valuable tool to identify and track errors. Mutually agreeable solutions to make these programs available are in the traveling public’s interest. We must work tirelessly to maintain an unrivaled commitment to safety and professionalism. However, another component of the positive result was the vast experience of the cockpit AND cabin crew.

Sully and I have over 70 years of experience and 40,000 flying hours between us. New pilots in the jet aircraft of our affiliate airlines have 300 hours. When I began at US-Airways, the Company required several thousand hours just to gain an interview for a pilot position. It is certainly in the interest of the traveling public to have experienced crews in the cockpit.

Along with Captain Sullenberger, I have concerns for the future of the Airline Pilot Profession. Experienced crews in the cockpit eventually will be a thing of the past. What this country has experienced economically in the last 8 months, we have experienced in our industry for the last 8 years, since 9-11. In the wake of these 8 years of financial turmoil, bankruptcies, layoffs, and revolving door management teams, airline piloting careers have been shattered. I personally earn half of what I once earned, AND I have lost my retirement to a PBGC promise that will pay pennies on the dollar. Many pilots like Captain Sullenberger and myself have had to split their focus from the Airline Piloting Profession and develop alternative businesses or careers. I myself am a general contractor. For the last 6 years, I have worked 7 days a week between my two jobs just to maintain a middle class standard of living.

The more than thirty thousand people who work at US Airways are proud of the work they do each day, and of their accomplishments. To many of us, the near total devaluation of our professions by our management is heartfelt. In the last several years the only constant I see is the ever increasing compensation levels of our management.

When I started in this industry there were aviation dynasties. Entire families would be employed in aviation as pilots, flight attendants, mechanics or agents. An aviation career was something people aspired to their entire childhood, as I did. Now I know of NO ONE who encourages their children to enter the airline industry.

From our perspective, it is clear that the current state of the management/ labor negotiation process is broken. Negotiations drag out for years in stagnation with little clarity for those of us who have spent our entire lives training to be on the front lines of safety for the American flying public. We aren’t asking for special privileges, but for a level playing field inside the NMB negotiating process. There is not a balance in the negotiating process and the state of the airline piloting profession is proof.

I would respectfully urge members of this subcommittee to work with other relevant committees to promote better balance between airline management and airline employees, especially in the area of creating an environment for efficient and effective negotiations inside the National Mediation Board process, thereby eliminating years of negotiating stagnation. I believe the reforms being considered by the House Judiciary committee can lead to more cooperation and less confrontation. This in turn would certainly help to rebuild an environment that will allow us to concentrate on the safety of the traveling public.

Our colleagues in this industry have rallied around our incident. While Captain Sullenberger and I generally prefer to land at airports, we are proud that the Hudson River landing displayed what well trained, professional pilots and flight attendants can do when faced with tremendous adversity. We are all very gratified and moved that our colleagues in the flying industry have seen this incident as a positive reflection of themselves and our shared profession.

We must ensure that America’s proud aviation traditions of transporting our citizens with safety and security does not fall victim to the immense challenges we face. In this, Congress has a role to play. We hope that you will take seriously the challenges that aviation professional’s face by helping us to level the playing field, and working with us to protect the airline pilot profession.

We ask that congress be a partner to the men and woman who make up the professionals who move America every day, as well as the companies who employ us. Working together we can ensure that the flight crews of the future will be the best and the brightest, and will have the experience and training necessary to ensure safe air travel to each and every passenger they carry.

Amen, brother.

Wise Words from Sully

Oops! Wrong Sully!

There we go! US Airways Captain Chesley Sullenberger

Yesterday, Chesley Sullenberger, First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, and air traffic controller Patrick Harten received a standing ovation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009, prior to testifying before the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, U.S. House of Representatives. In addition to further details of the emegency landing on the Hudson last month, he gave a grim but realistic explanation of the current aviation industry. Quoting his remarks:

I am not only proud of my crew, I am proud of my profession. Flying has been my life-long passion. I count myself fortunate to have spent my life in the profession I love, with colleagues whom I respect and admire. But, honorable Representatives, while I love my profession, I do not like what has happened to it. I would not be doing my duty if I did not report to you that I am deeply worried about its future.

Americans have been experiencing huge economic difficulties in recent months – but airline employees have been experiencing those challenges, and more, for the last 8 years! We have been hit by an economic tsunami. September 11, bankruptcies, fluctuating fuel prices, mergers, loss of pensions and revolving door management teams who have used airline employees as an ATM have left the people who work for airlines in the United States with extreme economic difficulties.

It is an incredible testament to the collective character, professionalism and dedication of my colleagues in the industry that they are still able to function at such a high level. It is my personal experience that my decision to remain in the profession I love has come at a great financial cost to me and my family. My pay has been cut 40%, my pension, like most airline pensions, has been terminated and replaced by a PBGC guarantee worth only pennies on the dollar

While airline pilots are by no means alone in our financial struggles – and I want to acknowledge how difficult it is for everyone right now – it is important to underscore that the terms of our employment have changed dramatically from when I began my career, leading to an untenable financial situation for pilots and their families. When my company offered pilots who had been laid off the chance to return to work, 60% refused. Members, I attempt to speak accurately and plainly, so please do not think I exaggerate when I say that I do not know a single professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps.

I am worried that the airline piloting profession will not be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest. The current experience and skills of our country’s professional airline pilots come from investments made years ago when we were able to attract the ambitious, talented people who now frequently seek lucrative professional careers. That past investment was an indispensible element in our commercial aviation infrastructure, vital to safe air travel and our country’s economy and security. If we do not sufficiently value the airline piloting profession and future pilots are less experienced and less skilled, it logically follows that we will see negative consequences to the flying public – and to our country.

We face remarkable challenges in our industry. In order to ensure economic security and an uncompromising approach to passenger safety, management must work with labor to bargain in good faith. We must find collective solutions that address the huge economic issues we face in recruiting and retaining the experienced and highly skilled professionals that the industry requires and that passenger safety demands. But further, we must develop and sustain an environment in every airline and aviation organization – a culture that balances the competing needs of accountability and learning. We must create and maintain the trust that is the absolutely essential element of a successful and sustainable safety reporting system to detect and correct deficiencies before they lead to an accident. We must not let the economic and financial pressures detract from a focus on constantly improving our safety measures and engaging in ongoing and comprehensive training. In aviation, the bottom line is that the single most important piece of safety equipment is an experienced, well-trained pilot.

Despite the bad economic news we’ve experienced in recent times – despite the many challenges we face as a country – I have faith in America, in our people, in our promise. I have briefly touched upon some major problems in my industry today – but I do not believe they are intractable, should we decide to work collectively to solve them.

We all have roles to play in this effort. Despite the economic turbulence hitting our industry, the airline companies must refocus their attention – and their resources – on the recruitment and retention of highly experienced and well-trained pilots, and make that a priority that is at least equal to their financial bottom line. Jeff and I, and our fellow pilots will fly planes and continue to upgrade our education and our training, while we attempt to provide for our families. Patrick and the other talented Air Traffic Controllers will continue to guide us safely through the skies, our passengers will spend their hard-earned money to pay for their travel, and our flight attendants, mechanics, ground crews, and administrative personnel will deal with the thousands of constant details and demands that keep our planes safely in the air.

You can help us, honorable Members of Congress, to work together across party lines, and can demand – or legislate – that labor, management, safety experts, educators, technical experts, and everyday Americans join together to find solutions to these problems. We all honor our responsibilities in good faith and with respect for one another. We must keep the American commercial aviation industry safe and affordable for passengers, and financially viable for those who work in the industry day to day. And for those talented young men and women considering what to do with their lives, we must restore the narrative of a compelling career path in aviation with sufficient economic resources to once again make this vision a reality.