Sunday, June 16, 2013

Acne in the Cockpit

You've heard of Ryan Air. It's a super-low cost airline based in Ireland led by a guy named Michael O'Leary, a quirky character who gets lots of free advertising by coming up with gimmicks. You may remember his proposal a few years back to make passengers stand up while flying so that more bodies could be packed into its planes. He got even more attention when he proposed charging his passengers a fee to use the plane's toilets. Still, lots of people fly his line, so I guess his ignominious methods work. His latest stunt? Hire a teenage pilot.

This he has actually done. Click here for the link. “This is what I have wanted to do ever since I can remember,” said 19 year old Ryan Irwin who just graduated from Oxford Air Academy.

I don't see how his full repertoire of memories can possibly go back more than 9 or 10 years. That's hardly any memories. None-the-less, I too had aspirations to become a jet pilot when I was 19, so I won't be too hard on him. I actually became one at 22, but even after a year of intensive training in supersonic jets I was in no conceivable way ready to have passengers trusted to my care.

The young Ryan (appropriate name, eh?) is now going directly into the first officer's seat on jet aircraft passenger service. He apparently will not be required to pay his dues via a “seasoning” period, as other airline pilots must do. Seasoning jobs are those such as flying single pilot night cargo, corporate, air taxi, flight instructing or military flying. Adult pilots are required to do those things in order to be competitive for for an airline job.

Although Ryan will, with the right training—supposing he gets it—be able to takeoff and land a jet aircraft, the question is, what good is he other than as a captain's “assistant”? Suppose, for example he gets paired with a weak captain. (They exist.) Will he have the means, knowledge and skills to mitigate the captain's mistakes? Or suppose he gets paired with an egotistical captain—one who espouses the time-tested suicidal cockpit management technique called, “my way or the highway”? (There are many.) Will he have the fortitude to speak out against the boss' ill-advised decisions? Not likely. More likely he will silently let the captain fly him all the way into the crater, assuming he even sees it coming.

And this, my friends, is what becoming an airline pilot is all about. It's not about Chuck Yeager type skills and it's not about acing the tests and simulator rides. It's about having some real world experience at seeing how things can go in seconds to hell in the proverbial hand basket.

It's about realizing that not everything that rises up to smite you is in covered in the handbook. It's about knowing how to make good decisions in bad situations. It's about having the maturity to complement the captain, not compliment him. A 19 year-old ain't likely got any of that.

So, let O'Leary have his latest gimmick. I have already read some comments from passengers who think the idea is cool. But young Ryan will soon realize that on Ryan pay he will be able to pay off his Oxford Aviation Academy debt in a about three decades and the glitter of his not-so-long awaited-for dream-come-true will fade. Let's just hope he gets seasoned before then.

Do you remember the post I wrote a coupleof years ago about Keavy Ninninger? Look at this arrival chart.

Keavy has been memorialized on the Benele One Arrival
into Atlanta. Delta Airlines, with whom Keavy interned,
petitioned the FAA to name a fix in her honor. Click on the
image above to read what I wrote about Keavy.


Frank Van Haste said...


Full points to both DAL and the FAA for getting KEAVY Int. into the system -- that's a really nice thing. And thanks to you for the point-out.



Anonymous said...

Hi Alan,

This forms a big part of Ryanair's business model, hire young pilots who want to jump straight into a jet, make them pay for their type rating, uniform and whatever else you can think of. Treat them badly for the 1-2 years that they hang around until they have enough hours to move on to bigger/better things. They're also hired as contractors rather than employees so that they don't have the usual benefits you'd expect.

Anonymous said...

the stewardesses too...

... I wouldn't chose the Daily Mail, but it was first up on google.

thanks for your blog

Cedarglen said...

Thanks for another great one, Alan. In one form or another, I've been harping about this for years: that teen or early 20s 'pilot,' with 200-300 hours total time has No Business in any pilot's seat servicing passengers. Not even in Europe, SW Asia or Africa.
On occasion I read after event reports and look at pilot's credentials. Without over generalization, it is not uncommon to see questionable lines fly with a (+/-) well-qualified captain and a local boy/girl who was 'trained' onto B737 with under 250 hours Total Time. Now, with a short year under their belts, perhaps 800 TT and 600 on type they have an accident. Since when is an 800 Total Time 'pilot' able to drive a modern jet when PF, let alone monitor a high time, questionable, ex-pat captain who gets lazy or has never learned basic CRM skills? I do not want to issue a general condemnation here, but.. I have yet to meet a teenybopper with 300 hours total time that has the skill to fly a 50-seat jet, let alone one with 150+ seats. God does not make pilots; He just guides them.
Many minor flag carrier want their own citizens as pilots. Great, but 300 hours, often less does not make the grade. What if... And I don't need to list them... When something happens - and it will - we need substantial flying experience resident in both seats. As you note, what about a new kid flying with a weak captain? I don't think it can happen in North America. In other places, my confidence is low.
On few occasions I read Simon H.'s AV Herald, a brief compilation of incidents and accidents from around the globe. When available, Simon provides the pilot's ticket, TT and type time in his reports. Frighteningly, it is common to see reports of FO as flying pilot, about 1200 hours total time and all but 200 hours as on type time. Those kids may know where the switches are, but do they know anything about Generic Aviation physics? Do they have the life experience to make SAFE, conservative choices or to follow the QRHs or SOPs when things get tight? They do not. Too often, those kids miss the simple stuff, like trying to approach and land a 737 with one engine. Of course it can be done - and they've probably done it in the simulator. On the air, they just 'forget,' and try to fly their airplane as if it had two, perhaps underpowered engines. Sorry, that's not how it works! I'll gladly continue flying with US carriers and especially with increased pilot qualification rules. In other markets, I DO give it a second thought. Did I mention that this was one of your very best posts? It is. It is not about seniority, specific type training or ALPA (and other) requirements; it is about having thoroughly qualified professionals - **TWO OF THEM** - in the front seats at all times. At least in Amerika, I doubt that we'll ever see a 200 hour wonder kid in either seat, at least in the 50+ seat class. Harm about it until you retire - or get fired - but I'm with you for every hour of that necessary experience. Thanks for a great post. No, you never waste my time. -C.

K1MGY said...

A real passenger inspiration to have the F/O, giving a vacuous in flight announcement, have his voice crack.

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