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!
A friend of mine who works as an air traffic controller emailed me with his thoughts on the JFK ‘bring your kid to work’ controversy. Here’s what he had to say:
Each of my 3 kids have talked to planes in Chicago airspace 7-10 years ago. I limited it to a frequency change after advising the pilot “it’s take your daughter to work day, standby for a frequency change.”
I recently mentioned it to some former colleagues who all said they had done something like that also. I believe that any clearances are clearly inappropriate but that there was no danger involved at JFK. The dad certainly would have been in the trainer jack with override capability.
So there you have it. I’m still hopeful that nothing more than a policy memo is sent out and that the controller(s) in question are able to come back to work as soon as possible.
And now a multiple-part question from Ricardo about a university major for a prospective pilot and the best direction he should take afterwards:
I have always been interested in flying commercial aircraft ever since I was a child. My ultimate goal is to gain an ATPL. I am currently 16 years old and I’m already looking through colleges. I have found several that offer a Private Pilot minor but I do not know what to major in. Do airlines look for pilots that majored in something in particular? I was thinking of aerospace engineering or aerospace systems technology but I would like to know for sure what I should major in so that I will have better luck with airlines in the future.
I would suggest that you major in the subject that interests you most. Ideally it would be an area that you may be able to fall back on if the airlines aren’t hiring or you’re furloughed for a period of time. So many of the pilots I’m flying with today are doing something else to supplement their income, whether it be managing a trucking company, working as an electrician or managing rental properties.
Airlines absolutely look for a bachelor’s degree, but the subject is far less important during the interview for most companies. So you may as well use the degree to make you well rounded.
Another question I have (bear with me, I have several) is how should I gain my flight hours? People have suggested that I should become an instructor and give flight lessons. What do you think?
I talked a bit about this in a recent Plane Answers here and here. Flight instructing is the most popular way to build flight time as a civilian pilot, although there are some other creative options such as TV/Radio traffic reporting, fish spotting, and banner towing.
You’ll learn a lot during the instructing and it’s a nice rating to keep active throughout your career, as you may end up teaching friends and family to fly someday. But don’t expect to earn much money during your instructing years. $20 an hour may sound livable, but keep in mind that’s $20 per flight hour. At least you’re getting paid as you accrue hours, something that isn’t possible when you’re working on your private pilot’s license or building time toward your commercial ticket.
My advice? Get the flight time any way that comes available. Hanging out at the airport where you learned to fly is the best way to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise. Fortunately, flight instructors spend a lot of time hanging out at airports.
Finally, do you think that I will have a chance at being hired by an airline in the future? I have heard that hardly any airlines are hiring now and I am feeling a bit nervous and cannot help but think that the industry may not improve and that I will be stuck with a license but no job in the future.
Very few airlines are hiring right now, but this is a cyclical business and that drought certainly can’t continue for the next five to ten years, unless the entire airline industry continues to shrink significantly. Pilot retirements will pick up in December of 2012, which is five years after the FAA raised the retirement age by the same number of years. So you may be in a good spot by then, but building time will be key.
Good luck on your quest and be sure to keep in touch!
Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work. Twitter @veryjr