Plane Answers: First step to becoming a pilot and are regional jets safe?

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Rich asks:

I’m 29 years of age and as long as I can remember, only one job fits my profile: a Pilot. The problem is, I got side-tracked in other areas due to lack of perseverance and confidence. Being a B student, with money in my pocket, knowing it’s ”never too late” … what should I do?

Rich, your timing might not be too bad. They always say that during a downturn the best investment is in yourself, and if you really want to fly, I think you should give it a try.

Step one is to go to and find a flight school near you. Visit the school, ask a bunch of questions and take a $100 intro flight. If you like the instructor, work on getting your private license.

After that, you’ll have a period that I call ‘no man’s land’ where you’ll need to build time from your 70 or so hours up to at least 210 hours before you can begin the training for your commercial, multi-engine and instrument certificates. To get through this time, I enlisted the help of a lot of friends and classmates at school to chip in and pay their portion of the aircraft rental charges to go flying.

After you get the commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings, you can pick up your CFI (certified flight instructor) rating, and hopefully you’ll finally be able to turn around and start earning a bit of money while you’re instructing.
The instructors I flew with were from all walks of life, including school teachers, a police officer and a few airline pilots who were awfully generous to me with their time. So if you decide to instruct, it’s not like you have to give up your day job.

The only thing that could slow you down would be the economy and the lack of student starts at your local flight school. But if the worst that comes from this is that you achieve your private pilot license, you’re not doing too bad. You can then rent an airplane and enjoy one of the most exciting activities in life (yeah, I still love flying, especially antique and classic airplanes).

After another five years, retirements will likely pick up again since the retirement age was recently extended from 60 to 65. At that point, regional airlines will be losing pilots to the majors and may need to attract new recruits in significant numbers.

Many pilots, ‘Sully’ included, might advise against a career in flying, after the recent troubles, pay cuts and pension losses. But I say, if you can live with the salaries listed at, then go against the flow. It might pay off for you.

John asks:

Hi Kent,

I’m an avid reader of your “Plane Answers” site, and a fairly frequent flyer, and I’ve recently come up with a question:

With the majority of carriers now flying express jets (ERJ/CRJ’s), how is the safety of these smaller planes in comparison to the larger jets? The reason for asking is, on the last 3-4 flights on these small jets, the turbulence is noticeably stronger, and the take off and landing sequence seems much rougher.

Can you offer any insight as to what’s happening here? Are the small jets, usually flown by “company x doing business as continental express (or whomever)” as safe? Are the pilots as well trained (they all look like young kids, as compared to the more experienced looking pilots on the larger aircraft)?

I’ve had a couple of very uncomfortable wind landings recently, and your answers would go a long way toward me regaining my comfort level with flying.

Hi John,

I talked about the typical number of hours pilots at the regional airlines have a few weeks ago. Since regional pilots fly more hours per year, and usually accomplish more takeoff and landings per day, the experience they’ve racked up while flying the smaller jets is impressive.

There was a time when airlines were on a hiring binge, and that led to a lot of younger faces at the major airlines (I was considered young in my seat years ago).

The regional carriers were scrambling to fill the vacancies created by the large vacuum that the major and national airlines created when they hired so many regional airline pilots.

Much of that has changed over the past eight years, and there are now pilots at regional airlines with more flight time than at any other time in history because of the retirement age increase, and a stagnating airline industry, which has led to much lower turnover.

These regional jet pilots undergo the same training their major airline counterparts do, they pass the same medical requirements every 6 months to a year and the captains have regular line checks just as we do.

The airplanes they fly lack the long, flexible wings that improve the turbulence characteristics, and their landing gears are incredibly stiff, making it very difficult to accomplish the silky smooth landings widebody aircraft are known for.

But these are the same type of airplanes that have been flying corporate CEOs all over the country for many years prior to the regional jet boom, so they certainly have a proven track record, and their safety record is one of the best among any category of aircraft.

Personally, I have a lot of confidence in the abilities of regional pilots and their jets. Hopefully this will help you enjoy the ride. If you have to, just close your eyes a bit and imagine you’re on your own corporate jet.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.