Thursday, 10 December 2015

12 years later

Twelve years ago, I was taking-off on my first solo in a Cessna 150.

Every pilot has a story, mine involves engineering studies, flying gliders, aerobatics, studying abroad, landing on a glacier and a couple of other exciting flying adventures.

After completing my commercial pilot training, I was lucky enough to fly a Kingair 90 for a while.
I towed gliders for a full season in a superb location, the Alps. Soon afterwards, I got hired to fly the Boeing 737. I've now flown to well over 100 destinations, operating flights as short as 11 minutes (after a diversion) or 18 minutes (on a schedule service), and as long as 6h30 between Scandinavia and the Canary Islands.

In the life of an airline pilot, one of the biggest steps is the move to the left seat.
The process to becoming an airline Captain is long and challenging.

It all started a while ago, preparing as much as possible for that big step. It involves a lot of study time: reading manuals, trying to remember every single point of the Ops manual, the FCOM's, the legal aspects, the regulations and limitations. Learning from colleagues, asking them about difficult situations they had to deal with. They all have stories to tell. My last three flights as First Officer were with an ex Canadian bush pilot, a retired KC135 Captain, and an ex Sabena Training Captain.

On the path to moving to the left seat, I was scheduled to fly with training Captains before a formal in-flight assessment and a couple of weeks later, an interview with HR and a senior pilot. 

The 'Command Upgrade' course starts off with a week of ground school and a couple of written examinations.

After that, we're locked down in full flight simulators for another week, not only to get used to the left seat but also to cover a wide variety of scenarios, from catastrophic systems failures to more straight-forward operational issues. At the end of the simulator training, you're either recommended for the proficiency checkride or not. 

Only then can the line training start. With a scattered schedule, it takes about a month to complete. I flew in the left seat, with senior training Captains acting as 'competent First Officers' in the right seat. Again, we try to cover a lot of scenarios, fly to challenging places around the network. We mostly flew non-precision approaches (NDB, VOR, Rnav and visuals), handflew most departures and arrivals, some of them raw data. The training is practical, the goal is to give you the spare capacity you need while flying in a challenging environment, with little use of the automation.

All the management and decision making aspects are emphasized.
Towards the end of line training, you are or aren't recommended for line check.
The final checkride was not exactly fun, with 45kt gusty winds and a few operational issues. But that firm handshake from my examiner at the end of the day was memorable, "I can now call you Captain".

And 12 years after soloing on the Cessna 150, I once again get that feeling of fulfilment and intense joy.