Today, I gave an aviation talk in front of a 125 Probus members at the Oakville Golf club.
Here's a "cut and paste" from a website describing Probus: Retirement can come too early for many people who want and are able to remain active. Probus clubs are organizations for men and women who have retired from their profession or business and want to maintain a social network with others who have similar interests. Each Probus club is sponsored by a Rotary club and meets at least once a month for fellowship and to hear guest speakers. Today, there are over 300,000 members in approximately 4,000 Probus clubs worldwide.
There was a lot of grey hair, but they turned out to be great people. I guess my talk went well because they bought 21 books. In fact, I ran out. I had prepared 3000 words and it lasted about 30 minutes so I didn't overshoot on length. In hindsight I may have talked a little too fast. The P.A system was not working too well for the back tables. All in all, it worked out well. December 17th I will be giving a talk to Air Cadets downtown Toronto.
Here's a copy of my talk:
Good afternoon. (Or should I say…good afternoon ladies and gentlemen…this is your captain speaking. Welcome aboard!) Usually I say that when we are at 35,000 feet or at least when the cabin door is closed and you can’t deplane.
Today I’m here to talk to you about some of the many aspects of aviation. Since 9/11 there has been little available about the “nuts and bolts” of airline travel. Well I’m here to open the flight deck door. I am not here to explain why Air Canada lost your bags 10 years ago or why your flight was delayed two hours. I’m not here to tell you what goes on during layovers such as Sao Paulo, Brazil. (I will tell you one thing- all pilots look like Brad Pitt to many of the locals wanting a better life). My flight plan for today is more straight and level.
I’ll talk a little about me. We pilots love talking about aviation and flight attendants claim we pilots love talking about ourselves. Here’s one flight attendant joke about pilots. “How does a flight attendant know her date is halfway over with a pilot? It’s when the pilot says, enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?”
I’ll talk on how one becomes a pilot, a few statistics on Air Canada pilots, training a pilot must go through to keep their job, and to stick with the Christmas theme I’ll talk a little about Santa Claus and the North Pole. I will tell one anecdote about “mile high” membership. (The mile high club has nothing to do with airmiles or aeroplan points).
I am a captain on the Airbus 320. The same type which made headline news last year landing in the Hudson River with Captain Sullenberger at the controls.
If you fly to Halifax, Montreal, Calgary, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Mexico, the Caribbean, Bermuda, New York, Boston, this is the airplane you most likely will fly in. Air Canada has about 85 at a cost of U.S $60 million each. I’ve been flying for Air Canada for 14 years and for other airlines on the East Coast prior to and have amassed over 17,000 hours.
To give you some perspective, 17,000 hours equates to driving from YYZ to YUL and BACK again daily for over four years. That excludes time spent in the back as a passenger on vacation, commuting and deadheading.
Commuting: In my book, it mentions I live in Halifax and commute to Toronto. Not anymore, commuting was not my cup of tea so we moved back to Oakville three years ago.
One of the best things about being an airline pilot is that you can live wherever you want, one of the worst things about being an airline pilot is you can live wherever you want.
Pilots based in Toronto commute from the east coast, Montreal, the Prairies and even B.C. We have pilots living in Florida, and the Caribbean. About 40 percent commute but in the United States, that number is higher with about 50 to 60 percent of American pilots commuting. They don’t live in the domicile they work.
Deadheading is a term to describe pilots (and flight attendants) repositioning for flights. Pilots can only fly one airplane type whereas flight attendants are checked out on all types. Sometimes an aircraft type is switched or we have to pick up a flight at another destination, so a pilot must travel as a passenger. There’s a good chance of sitting next to aircrew in uniform. Yesterday, I deadheaded from Vancouver to Toronto.
There are two makers of large aircraft, Airbus made in France and Boeing in the United States. If this room was filled with Airbus pilots and Boeing pilots they would be at opposite ends because each thinks his/her airplane is better. Lately, Air Canada is favouring the Boeing product. There are no more four or three engine airplanes registered here in Canada. Our largest jumbo airplanes, the Boeing 777, is capable of flying to any two airports in the world. This B777 has set a world record for the longest flight of an airliner, 22 hours. Air Canada’s longest flight is 16 hours from Toronto to Hong Kong.
You may have heard the word “Airbus” synonymous with our ex-prime minister, Brian Mulroney. Mr. Mulroney helped implement the arrival of the Airbus into Canada. Some claim his involvement was a little dubious. Because of Mr. Mulroney’s role, the media portrays the Airbus as an inferior aircraft. Not so, it’s been over 20 years this beautiful machine arrived and it still blows most of the competition away. I now have nearly 9000 hours on this aircraft made in Toulouse, France. (Tell Brian Mulroney story)
Other aircraft makers are Bombardier (Montreal and Toronto) and Embrarer (Brazil)
Prior to going captain on the small Airbus I flew Internationally for nearly 10 years on the big “bus” as a first officer (co-pilot) One of my last flights was out of Frankfurt...(tell mile high story)
I’ve flown to the ten busiest airports in the world.
Anyone hazard a guess where the world’s busiest airport is as far as aircraft movements?
Number one is Atlanta, Georgia followed by Chicago, O’Hare. Toronto Pearson ranks 22. In fact, besides Charles De Gaulle , Paris, the remaining nine airports in the top ten are American. The airspace is busy with aircraft crisscrossing the sky.
The most beautiful Canadian airport to fly into is by far, Vancouver. You can’t beat the view while on approach where the mountains meet the ocean. It also makes me reflect on my tree planting days in my early 20s. I have over 350,000 tress growing in B.C and Alberta while trying to make money to fund university and flying lessons. (I was in Vancouver yesterday).
The worst as far as weather is definitely St. John’s, Newfoundland on the opposite coast. It’s
deemed the foggiest, cloudiest, windiest, rainiest city in Canada. In fact, many Air Canada pilots elect to avoid the place. It’s called the “rock” and its ruggedness is not for the faint of heart. Having said that, it’s where you will find the friendliest people in Canada. Many pilots will agree it rates number one for Canadian layovers especially if one partakes in the infamous George Street where there are more bars per capita than any other place in Canada. I celebrated Canada Day there this July and George Street didn’t let me down.
My most favourite international layover is London. There’s so much to do and see there but the crew bus ride of an hour and half was a bit much.
The most efficient, cleanest and safest place is Tokyo, Japan. Before we taxi away from the gate, all of the ramp workers line up in a row and wave goodbye. They don’t leave until we leave.
The neatest airport at night is Las Vegas. It’s like landing in a theme park due to the bright lights and close proximity to downtown.
One supervisor once said when I was hired, “you’ll get to see some neat places and you’ll get to take some great pictures…just like National Geographic.” That’s what prompted my writing.
I submitted a proposal to enRoute (Air Canada’s in-flight magazine) over 12 years ago and my first two articles were weather related because I’m a certified meteorologist. I use the word “certified” because most of the people you see on TV or hear on the radio claiming they are meteorologists are not true meteorologists. For one thing, they are too good looking…90 percent presentation and 10 percent accuracy.
But one thing leads to another which gained my foot in the door to aviation and weather magazines, the National Post, Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.
Having written so many articles it was time to publish a book. From the Flight Deck: Plane Talk and Sky Science is a compilation of my articles based on a flight from Toronto to Hong Kong on the jumbo jet talking about the many aspects of aviation along the way. It’s a great read for the aviation enthusiast, “pilot wanna be,” frequent flyer, the fearful flyer (30 percent have aviophobia) and the general public. They say 5000 copies is a best seller in Canada and my book is on it’s third print totalling 10,000 copies.
How does one become a pilot?
There are three ways:
1. Through flying clubs (pay as you fly program). Spectrum Airways in North Burlington would be the closest. I did the flying club route. I received my private pilot license in Halifax, commercial in Gimli, Manitoba (You may remember about Air Canada’s incident) and instrument rating in Victoria. B.C. and my instructor rating back in Halifax. Plus I backed it up with university.
2. Then there are flight colleges and there are some great ones here in Toronto and across Canada. Nowadays, universities are lining up to grant a student a flying license with a four- year degree.
3. Third, there is the military. Most people believe this is the most popular route in becoming a pilot but in actuality it’s the road least travelled here in Canada. There’s a 60 percent chance of flying helicopters, which is not quality time for the airlines.
Some Air Canada Pilot statistics:
For a pilot here in Canada, getting hired by Air Canada is like making the NHL, although lately we have not won a Stanley Cup. I guess we are synonymous to the Maple Leafs.
You don’t see Air Canada pilots leaving for greener pastures, but you see other airlines losing pilots to Air Canada.
We have 3300 pilots with 10 to 15 pilots retiring each month. (More about that later). Starting salary is a meagre $36,000/year. Second year is a whopping $45,000. It eventually does go up into what as known as formula pay but it’s dependant on position held and aircraft type.
To get your bare minimum qualifications, it cost about $70,000 to $80,000. Finally, when you have you licenses your first job will be in some remote part of the country making $15,000 to $25,000.
But aviation is not so much a profession, it’s a disease. Once you have been bitten you’ll know it and do whatever it takes to become a pilot. Pilots will fly for free to get valuable time. You don’t hear a doctor saying they would do that hip replacement for free or a lawyer willing to defend you in court free of charge. Many aviation companies know full well of this pilot weakness and capitalize on it - including Air Canada.
The media makes it out that airline pilots make over $200,000 a year. It’s true some Air Canada pilots make that and more, but it takes 30 years to get there.
The Colgan airlines crash in Buffalo last winter brought to light the poverty wages a commuter airline pilots make. The first officer, had to live with her parents on the west coast because she could not afford New York at $13,000/year. It was discovered she flew all night on other carriers to get to work only to fly most of the day.
The average new hire age at Air Canada is 35. One could be a doctor and a lawyer by the time Air Canada opens the door. (Sorry to be picking on the doctors and lawyers). Gone are the days when Air Canada pilot’s kids were hired at age 18 to 20. Nepotism was rampant. For new hires nowadays, the minimum flight time is 4000-5000 hours which takes 5 to 6 years.
About 20 percent are bilingual and four percent of our pilots are female. Four percent may not sound like much, but it equates to 130 female pilots. Some airlines around the world have yet to hire their first female pilot.
One must pass several “psych” tests (mention some questions), medical, interview, cognitive tests (motor skills), security check.
Mandatory retirement is 60…FOR NOW. A recent court ruling stated this is unconstitutional meaning the rules may have to change. It’s the pilot union which absolutely contests this ruling. There are 711 pilots set to retire in the next five years and if this ruling is implemented then my career and everyone else’s at Air Canada will come to a grinding halt. Seniority is everything. If you are number 2000 you do not get promoted until number 1999 decides. Seniority dictates position held, aircraft flown, days off, vacation choice; whether you fly Christmas, have weekends off,etc.
Welcome to one of the most regimented, regulated and second safest mode of travel known to man. Many would assume driving to the airport is the safest. Far from it, in fact the drive to the airport is the most dangerous thing about flying. My three accidents in taxis and crew buses will attest to that.
Others would think walking beats flying as far as safety. In fact, next to aviation the safest mode of travel is the elevator!
Air Canada’s motto is Safety, Comfort and Schedule although I’m certain many in this room believe Air Canada’s motto is, “were not happy, until you’re not happy!!!” I do realize many of you have an Air Canada story and would love to share it with me.
Air Canada is the 8th largest airline as far as fleet size and 18th largest as far as passengers carried. Yet, we’ve been deemed the safest in the world!
The toughest part about my job is trying to keep it. We have simulator training every six to eight months (I’m in the simulator next week), a medical every six months if you are older 40, annual recurrent training, an annual route check and Transport Canada can show up anytime and demand the jumpseat (extra flight deck seat) to critique us.
Training is done in the simulator which replicates the actual airplane exactly. It sits in a two storey room mounted on hydraulic jacks capable of simulating 500 failures/scenarios. They come with a price tag of 20 million each and Air Canada has 10 of them. They cost $500 to $1000 an hour to run. There is an adage out there, “if you think safety is expensive, try having an accident.”
New simulators are so real that a pilot gets their entire license in the simulator. The first time a pilot sees the real airplane is on their first flight with a full load of passengers. (Don’t worry a pilot supervisor flies with him for 25 hours).
Can take off in snowstorm in YUL with strong crosswinds and autoland in YVR with one engine failed in zero visibility with a flick of a switch. Shown where the over ride switch is.
We can only get qualified on autoland in the simulator. We train in the virtual world to certify us in the real world.
Santa and the North Pole
Well since we are nearing Christmas, I thought I’d talk a little about the North Pole and Santa Claus. About 10 years ago Russia opened up their airspace. Because of it there are now four polar routes, which fly over the North Pole. Actually, none of them go directly over the pole, the closest one is 60 miles away from the pole but by flying the polar route it cuts off about an hour of flying. But before each flight we must determine things like cosmic radiation levels, radio and satellite reception because our radios and navigation systems could be affected by solar flares. Cosmic radiation is ranked from 1 to 5 with 5 being equivalent to 100 chest x-rays. A four is 10 chest x-rays. We can fly with a three but only to a height of 31,000 feet. How much radiation we encounter is based on altitude, latitude (the further north the worst it is), duration of flight and solar activity).We must also factor in cold temperatures ( -65 C for 90 minutes) because the fuel in the tanks gets too cold and congeals. Don’t get sick on these flights because diversions will only happen in peril situations. Two survival kits are boarded with parkas, boots, gloves, hat, etc and rest assured it will be the junior pilot leaving the aircraft to negotiate fuel, etc.
Speaking of the North Pole I wrote an article for the National Post a few Christmases ago comparing Santa Claus and aviation called Santa the Aviator. It was a fun comparison because he breaks more rules and regulations, from speed limits, not having de-ice equipment, no weight and balance, no navigation lights and no pilot license.
One captain read my article and it just so happened he would be flying over the North Pole Christmas Eve. He contacted CBC radio prior to the flight to arrange an interview. They conversed via satellite telephone while traversing the pole.
The future still looks bright. IATA (International Airline Transport Authority) is still forecasting a 5 percent annual growth for the next 20 years. Many countries are still hiring. China is booming! As far as advice for new student pilots, the time to get into stock market is when stocks are low. Go for it!
Eventually Air Canada will see the new state-of-the-art, Boeing 787 (Dreamliner). I say eventually because they were suppose to come 2010, but as of late they won’t be sitting on the ramp until 2013. Air Canada will see 50 of these with a price tag of $160 million American each. Just two of these airplanes would more than pay for Oakville’s annual operating and capital costs.
Made of plastic composites, they will have better pressurization, larger windows, they will add moisture to the cabin air, mood lighting to ward off jet lag, have push button window shades and even have a window in the washroom.
I hope I opened the flight deck door a little. It really is a neat, dynamic business.
Maybe one day soon, while nestling into your seat on Air Canada, you’ll hear my “welcome aboard” announcement.
To achieve the goals you have set out for yourself…that is success. I know for certain, flying for Air Canada is where I want to be! Thank you.