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Old 08-08-2007, 12:49 PM   #1  
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Default SWA pilot quals

Hey, I’m Dead, but I did save a bunch on my airline ticket!


Financial failure of the airline industry and all its woes can be traced to one cause. Lack of self-control. Post deregulation the industry irrationally over supplied the market with seats. Concerns of the cost to provide service or that the demand for their product is finite was ignored. They turned their service into a commodity and lost the ability to set a price in the market. For well over a decade the only recourse has been cost reductions. Many line items were non-negotiable so all effort was focused on those items where possible savings could be realized. Unfortunately as they reached the bottom even safety related items were not exempt from the ax.

Management proclaims, “labor must be paid at market rate”. Airline workers look around in bewilderment and don’t understand that the “market rate” has nothing to do with what other airlines are paying or what their jobs had paid in the past. The “market rate” has nothing to do with trying to find highly qualified human resources to join a dynamic team. “Market rate” is simply lowest cost labor an airline can find to perform a task. This is problematic in the airline business because it’s a service industry and several jobs are safety sensitive. Two glaring examples include pilots and mechanics. The bar has been significantly lowered for entry into the pilot profession. Extensive experience levels, testing, screening, astronaut physicals and simulator evaluations of yesteryear are gone. This is great news for those who want to fly as airline pilots. Barriers to entry have never been lower. Bad news for those expecting a high paying career as a pilot, also bad news for passengers expecting airlines to be selective and staff the flight deck with highly capable crews. In the maintenance area airlines have attempted to distance themselves by outsourcing. In some cases even outsourcing the work to another country.

When and where did the coordinated attack against labor originate? A substantial level of credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) can be attributed to 30+ years of work by the Airline Industrial Relations Conference. AIRCON was established by the airlines before deregulation as a balance of power over labor unions and its formation required government approval since such collusion would have been considered illegal. After deregulation the balance shifted towards management and has become very biased in their favor over the last decade. Beyond AIRCON and deregulation precipitating factors include:

- Internet
- Economy swings
- September 11, 2001
- Price of jet fuel
- Governmental taxes, fees and regulations
- Legal environment favoring business over labor
- Revenue shift, as more high margin passengers are able to abandon airlines and seek out hassle free travel afforded by private, charter, fractional and Very Light Jets (VLJs)
- Reliance on safety equipment, warning systems, automation and new technology to take the place of capability
- Reliance on standardized training, procedures and increased oversight to take the place of judgment and decision making

A little more detail and insight concerning the pilot flying your airliner reveals the following: Historically the career path to a Captain’s seat took many years. After college a pilot would typically put in 6 to 10 years of military or civilian flying and then move on to the airlines. The pilot would then begin his/her airline flying in the Flight Engineer seat. Eventually the pilot would be promoted to First Officer. Often more than 20 years after s/he began flying, and literally millions of dollars worth of flight experience, the pilot would finally upgrade to Captain of a jet airliner. The FAA “minimums” were never the true “minimums” for the job because the “average” applicant far exceeded the “minimums”. A significant safety margin occurred as airlines sought out pilots with the highest level of education, training, experience and physical attributes available. Compensation packages were very attractive and the airlines could select exceptionally qualified individuals to pilot commercial airliners.

Today things are quite different. As self-inflicted financial stress and competitive pressures grew, the “race to the bottom” forced the airlines that once had the luxury of seeking out the best pilots money could buy, to find the cheapest pilots money could buy. In the United States the FAA determines the “minimum” qualifications to perform the duties of a commercial airline pilot. We are now seeing airlines put pilots in very complex jet aircraft who barely meet the “minimums”. The public unknowingly assumes the government provides adequate safeguards when they buy a ticket, and airline management feels secure they can point the blame to the FAA if something goes wrong. Excellent industry safety records have allowed deliberate reductions in safety margins to facilitate cost reductions. This is where morality collides with free market forces. A safety record is history. The thing that matters right now is the flight you are about to take. The obligation should be to minimize identifiable risk, and operate every flight with the highest level of safety, not the lowest level of cost.

Worldwide ICAO regulations determine the minimum qualifications for various aviation related standards, including pilot qualifications. Recent changes in ICAO regulations have significantly lowered the qualification requirements for new airline pilots. In an attempt to lower labor costs, reductions in pilot experience levels have been agreed on. Under new regulations a recently created Multi Pilot Licenses or MPL rating is so short on experience that a MPL pilot would only be allowed to fly ANY aircraft under the supervision of another pilot. In the past both airline pilots were qualified with previous “Pilot in Command” flying experience. Now under this scheme pilots will gain experience on the job with the unsuspecting passengers in the back, hopefully, oblivious to the lack of experience up front. It will be interesting to see how the insurance underwriters respond to writing very big checks for avoidable “pilot error” hull losses.

The MPL was a big step backwards for air safety. As the safety margin shrank from what was once the very robust level of qualifications, getting ever so close to actual “required minimums” the industry- Airlines, Insurance Companies, FAA, ICAO, and pilot unions should have sought to increase “minimums” not lower them. Currently the FAA has not approved the new lower standards for use in the United States but nothing prevents a foreign airline from flying into or out of the country with a MPL pilot at the controls. If you think the safety records for some of the foreign airlines have been marginal, just wait. One reason for two pilots is to account for the possibility of incapacitation. If the (soon to be 65 year old) Captain becomes incapacitated, who will supervise the MPL trainee who is not allowed to fly unsupervised?

Southwest Airlines is unique in that they require every pilot to hold an Airline Transport Rating or ATP with a PIC type rating. This applies to the Captain and First Officer. This means the FAA has determined both pilots are qualified to act as “Pilot in Command” and goes beyond the FAA “minimums” and very far beyond the new ICAO “minimums”. No other domestic airline requires this level qualification. Next time you board an airline other than Southwest ask the First Officer if s/he holds a ATP and PIC type for the aircraft you are about to fly. Then ask yourself “Why am I flying with a flight crew less qualified than Southwest?”
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Old 08-08-2007, 01:00 PM   #2  
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Originally Posted by seaav8tor View Post
Next time you board an airline other than Southwest ask the First Officer if s/he holds a ATP and PIC type for the aircraft you are about to fly. Then ask yourself “Why am I flying with a flight crew less qualified than Southwest?”
This should be an interesting discussion. Many airlines now type the FO even when not required by the FARs.
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Old 08-08-2007, 01:11 PM   #3  
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It's a great read but when you only have one paragraph relating to your title, especially at the end, it's kind of confusing and not what people are expecting.

Could you come up with something better? I would have PMed you but I couldn't
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Old 08-08-2007, 01:29 PM   #4  
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I can remember when the mins to even fly for a regional turbo prop slot were 1500/500.... ATP writtens REQUIRED.....

The article makes a point but is a bit self serving, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
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Old 08-08-2007, 01:47 PM   #5  
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but is a bit self serving, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
I do not fly for SWA
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Old 08-08-2007, 02:04 PM   #6  
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I know.... LOL...... didnt mean for it to sound like it did.
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Old 08-08-2007, 03:05 PM   #7  
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Are we proof reading for an Economics mid-term paper?
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Old 08-08-2007, 05:51 PM   #8  
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so many words...
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Old 08-08-2007, 06:01 PM   #9  
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I fly for Spirit. Everyone has an A320 type, and all checkrides are done from the left seat (Capt. and F/O). And the company pays for your type in training. You are not required to have it to be hired. And the training is not outsourced. Good article/essay otherwise. Mostly correct.
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Old 08-08-2007, 06:56 PM   #10  
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I do not fly for SWA
Would you like to?
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