Wednesday, March 3, 2010

enRoute Question (March 2010)

Captain Doug Morris answers your questions about aviation.

Q: How does an airline pilot become a captain? Richard Stilwell, Toronto

Captaincy, awarded on seniority, takes about two months of training. To become captain of the Airbus A320, I completed a three-day introductory command course followed by ground school, simulator training and a flight test. Then came 50 hours of line training on a real airplane with a line indoctrination training captain. The final step saw me back in the simulator for “command sims,” ending with a memo­rable moment as my fourth stripe was awarded during the command final line check.


Geoff said...

Definitely one of the most rewarding times in a pilots career to become Captain at a major airline. I was lucky enough to do mine with just a few years with the company, and of course paid a price with being at the bottom of the list.

The learning never stops, and looking back it was a lot of fun, as long as you show up prepared and be open to new ideas.


From the Flight Deck said...

Geoff. Rewarding yes, but unnecessarily stressful. As one captain I know flying the A340 for Emirates put it, after you get released, just go "CONTROL ALT DELETE" with all the stuff they tried to load you up with.
Sometimes when I'm flying, I think back about the process and ask, "what was all that about?"

Having said that, it's the only way to show for work - with four stripes.


whywhyzed said...

Doug -- can you comment on the system at AC (and I presume other airlines) whereby once you are a Captain, you basically remain a Captain for the rest of your career, even when transitioning onto new equipment.

So, in this system, the Captain of my next flight may actually have very little experience on that particular airplane -- in fact in most cases, his F/O will have much more experience on that particular airplane type. The average guy on the street probably thinks that the Captain is a very experienced guy on type, when in fact it may be his very first flight on that airplane type!

My question is prompted by a letter to the editor I read in Aviation Week & Space Technology the other day.

Not meant to be a criticism, just a question about the logic in such a system and how it came into being.

From the Flight Deck said...


No you don't necessarily stay captain if you don't want to. There is a hierarchy in all the positions. I must find it and paste it. For example, if I bid and was awarded first officer on the B777 it would be deemed a downbid and the present rule states I would be frozen for four years. I would show up to work with three stripe epaulettes and a stripe removed from my tunic. A few years ago, this very situation was challenged. Many thought once a captain, always a captain. The rule was changed to reflect present position.

It's true about experience level. My next move will be to the B767 as captain. I will have zero time on the airplane whereas my first officer may have thousands of hours on type, but I rule the roost. That is seniority.

Good question YYZ


From the Flight Deck said...

For Pay Purposes this is how the pecking order goes:

1 B-747/400 Captain
2 B-747 Captain
3 B-777 Captain
4 A-330/340 Captain
5 B-787 Captain
6 B-767 Captain
7 A-319/320/321 Captain
8 B-737 Captain
9 DC-9 Captain
10 EMJ-170/175/190 Captain
11 B-747/400 First Officer
12 B-747 First Officer
13 B-777 First Officer
14 A330/340 First Officer
15 B-787 First Officer
16 B-767 First Officer
17 CL-65 Captain
18 A-319/320/321 First Officer
19 B-737 First Officer
20 DC-9 First Officer
21 EMJ-170/175/190 First Officer
22 B-747 Second Officer
23 B-747/400 Relief Pilot
24 B-777 Relief Pilot
25 A-330/340 Relief Pilot
26 B-787 Relief Pilot
27 B-767 Relief Pilot
28 CL-65 First Officer

whywhyzed said...

Interesting list -- I guess the B-777 is now at the top of the list since AC doesn't operate the B-747 any longer (along with the venerable DC-9)

Question on the pay scales: does the equipment type take ultimate precedence over seniority? Example would be a very junior Captain on the 777 would still get paid more that the most senior guy on the 340??

Also, if you're really junior and on reserve and don't fly for a whole month due to a slow period, do you still get paid some kind of 'base salary'?

From the Flight Deck said...

whywhyzed. I find the list intriguing because it doesn't reflect the current fleet. Maybe they think some of these aircraft types will be returning? One day I'll find out why we still include airplanes that are now at museums. We do not have the B747-200, B747-400, A340, B737, DC-9, CL-65 (gone to Jazz).

So you are correct, the B777 is the plane everyone longs for. The bigger the better.

Yes, aircraft type dictates pay. But remember the senior A330 pilot would make more pay because he is flying more hours and getting more expenses plus they would get overseas/navigation pay compared to a B777 on reserve.
These are all things to think about when moving to different equipment. There's a saying that creeps into the picture, "stay senior on junior equipment," Translation - lifestyle.

Yes, while on reserve you get a base salary. Having said that, one could sit home all month and not "turn a wheel" and get paid more for a pilot that flies a minimum block.

For example, this month for a Toronto base A320 captain the BH (Block holder) MMG (Minimum Monthly Guarantee) is 66 hours. The DMM (Designated Monthly Maximum) is 78 hours.
The RG (Reserve Guarantee) MMG is 70 hours. One could sit on reserve for months and not touch an airplane. The glitch is one must maintain competency. Three take and landings in three months.

Remember I mentioned about being a part time lawyer?


Ian said...


Off China bound tomorrow - so thanks for the handy hint. I know where the Swiss is.

I just posted on my blog about some comments made about us heavy metal pilots on a British news site - and you'll see I was completely p*ssed with it!

There are over 3300 pilots in BA with the newest (or most junior) at seniority number 3300+. The most senior is, at number 1 - and nearly retired. . My own number is in the mid 500s having been here man and boy. Each year the seniority numbers are re-calculated to take into account those who have retired or moved on - I expect to move up 100 places next year putting my number at below 450.

New pilots joining BA start at the end of the list on the fleet they get assessed on. This depends on which fleet needs to recruit and whether the pilot is a TEP (cadet) or DEP (experienced). Cadets would normally be posted to the RHS of either the Airbus 319/320 or the 737 - usually at LGW. In my case the B757 all those years ago. A DEP with heavy jet experience would go to RHS on 777 or 747.

Once in place, a new pilot is frozen in that position for 5 years. He/she can still bid to change seats or types each year but is likely to be ignored. Once the freeze is over a bid for a change might be achieved but flying hours need to be over 3500 for command and the longhaul commands tend to be very senior so patience is needed. In my case - near 15 years.

There are no restrictions about short to long haul or vice versa but there are experience level restrictions which tend to mean a first move from SFO to Captain would be on a shorthaul type...but not always the case - and was not the case with me...

Cheers: Ian

From the Flight Deck said...

Ian. I quickly scanned your post in reference to the cutting comments about you BA pilots. I could feel your ire from here. :)

We too have about 3300 pilots. I always assumed you guys were a little bigger. You have a fantastic seniority number! Something tells me you will be very near or at the top of the totem pole when you retire.
Lucky you! My number is 1276, but I did lose 601 numbers when we merged with Canadian. Oh well, it's only money.

Thanks for sharing your side of the story about pilot progression. Each airline certainly has its own uniqueness.

Enjoy PKG. Have a Tsingtao beer for me.


Jason said...

Doug, I was wondering regarding seniority at AC. Do they have 2 sets of lists for seniority, one that lists all the pilots in order of seniority and one that lists pilots by type in order of seniority? Also When moving from a FO position to a Capt. position how does the pay scale work, if your a 6 year FO with AC do you move to the 6 year Capt. salary?


From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Jason. We have a "master" seniority list which is updated every January. Because of retirement we have 10 to 15 pilots leaving each month so typically the junior pilots will move up about 130 to 160 numbers each year...for now. Stay tuned on that front.

Also we have "eligibility" lists for each aircraft and for each position. Think of it as relative seniority to a specific aircraft and position.

Good questions.

Captain Doug

Ehsan said...

Hello Captain Doug,

This is for your "I don't do that anymore" post. Sorry I don't know why, but I couldn't write it there.!!

Anyways, That's interesting. Some people pose this question that what are the pilots doing these days as everything is computerized? I really get offended when I hear these kinds of things. Why? because I am planning to start my pilot training.!!

Honsetly, I try to explain somehow that although we have computer, but it does only simple tasks, and its the job of the pilot to make the decision, not a microprocessor.!

It's nice that you brought it up, but I appreciate if you could give a technical answer to this question.


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