Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fate: The Fork in the Road

When you have a Dream

Don't let anything dim it

Keep Hoping, Keep Trying

The Sky is the Limit

(These words accompanied a 'balloon' poster I used to hide cracks in my McGill student ghetto apartment)

Just took a walk through McGill University here in Montreal during my 32 hour layover. (We have a new pairing optimizer so these long layovers will be a thing of the past).

It's hard to believe 26 years has passed since I took a one year diploma in meteorology here. After having a physics degree I decided to go back to university because North America drowned in another recession and we all know what happens to airlines during tough times.
I didn't know whether Atmospheric Environment Canada had me on their meteorologist roster so I contemplated returning to McGill to take a geophysics degree. Who knows, I could have been a multi millionaire from discovered oil wells? That year had me learning mathematical meteorology where it took one month to derive the quasi-vorticity equation used to drive computer weather models. And no, heavy duty calculus is not my forte. Although I did enjoy my fraternity, Delta Upsilon, whereby yours truly received "party animal of the year award." Geez, I miss those toga parties. :)

This post is about opportunity, decisions, dreams, forks in the road, open and closed doors i.e FATE. You're probably thinking Captain Doug is on a rant about himself. Nope. This one is about the many stories I hear from the pilots I fly with. Here's one from the present F/O I'm with. I had to itemize his "forks in the road" because his map in becoming an airline pilot is one of the more diverse ones I've heard.

His Journey

1. Started with air cadets and received his glider's license.

2. Received his private license in YBG (Bagotville).

3. Went to Chicoutimi for a three year aviation diploma. The province of Quebec offers CEGEP (Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel) which is public post secondary education.
During the weekends he would drive 2.5 hours south to build time flying parachutists amassing four hundred hours. This valuable time opened the door to his first "twin engine" job.

4. Flew an Apache and Aztec for Avion Taxi in YYY (Mont Joli) for six months.
(For most single engine pilots, this is a huge coup - twin time)

5. Off to Transportair (YQB - Quebec city) for six months flying the Aztec.

6. Then to Aviation Amos (YEY -Amos/Magny, Quebec) flying the Cessna 310 and Aztec for 2 years.

7. This also included flying a Navajo out of James Bay for 1.5 years.

8. The fork in the road now takes him to Quebec aviation flying a Navajo and Turbo Commander. (Something else what an airline looks for- illustrious turbo time) I don't know why, they are easier to fly than a piston engine.

9. The door opens at Les Ailes de Charlevoix paying him to fly the Cessna 421 and Aero Commander for one year.

10. Opportunity knocks at Air Dorval and he is captain on the SW2, SW3, SW4 (Metroliner) a.k.a the flying "cigar" because of its long cylindrical look. Capt. Doug has time on this loud merlin engine airplane (Oops, this is NOT about me. :) Also he is given the keys to a Cessna Citation for two years flying charters.

11. InterCanadian gives him the green light to fly the Fokker 100 out of YUL (Montreal) for three years. Meanwhile he is flying part time flying a Citation One for Sky Service on 'medevacs.'

12. InterCanadian merged with IntAir but they subsequently went bankrupt. (I think I have that right)

13. The heavy hitter Air Transat steps up at the plate and hires him to fly F/O on the L1011 out of Toronto for the summer. Finally, he made it on the 'heavy metal."

There's more.....

14. Later he is wearing a Nationair F/O uniform flying the B757. One and a half years later, the company goes bankrupt.

15. Another uniform change, this time with Royal insignia flying with four stripes on the L1011 for two years. He gets bumped to training captain on the B727-200 for three years.

How much can this guy take? Well, it's a similar story many pilots chasing a dream share....

16. Back to "checker" on the L1011 for 1.5 years. (Light at the end of the tunnel)

17. More light in that tunnel as he becomes supervisor on the Airbus 310 for three years.

18. Royal is bought my Canada 3000 and we all know where they ended after 9/11.

Forget about Canada it's off to the Middle East....

19. He tolerates the heat hovering near 50 C in the city of Kuwait flying A300-600 for Kuwait Airways. Enough of that after four months.

20. Michelle LeBlanc promises everyone a rose garden so he signs a training bond to fly the F-100 as a training pilot. Well another airline bites the dust. (My family and I experienced first hand about the demise as we tried to get home from Calgary for five days because Air Canada took up the slack. Oops, there I go again)

21. This time the fork in the road takes him to Jakatar for a training contract to teach locals to fly a start up Fokker 100 operation. Told to arrive with an open mind, he still can't believe the quality of expertise or lack of it.

22. He's then listening to southern drawls in Dallas, Texas as a 'sim' instructor for Avianca.

23. Air Transat vectors him home as F/O on the A310.


24. Air Canada offers him a position. He is 44 when hired with 16,000 hours!!! Starting salary is a meagre $37,000 so he had to cash investments to survive. And get this, his wife stayed with him during his entire journey. Yes, I've mentioned this acronym before but AIDS (Aviation Induced Divorce Syndrome) is rampant.

Now wait, you're probably thinking this is a typical Hollywood ending where perseverance always wins for the underdog. Well....

He does get F/O on the Embraer based in YUL. After all you probably guessed he originates from La Belle Province and this is a fantastic start.

He gets himself out of the abysmal pay from the so called "position group" by going F/O on the A320. (Devised to help keep Air Canada afloat during our tumultuous times, Embraer F/Os and cruise pilots are paid on a lower pay scale). Things are really looking up as he goes captain on the Embraer, but it's based in Toronto. He is willing to commute for this position and raise. I would too. HOWEVER, another bump in the road comes along and he is pushed back right seat on the A320 with a $30,000 pay cut and plus he must commute to Toronto.

A true story......the airline business you gotta love it!


Vesna said...

Really an inspirational story, greetings to all the pilots and thank you Captain Doug for your articles, I enjoy reading them.

From the Flight Deck said...

Thanks Vesna. I guess when you think about it, it is inspirational, but I hope I didn't scare any "pilot wanna bes" Many out there think they can take a pill and instantly gain thousands of hours of experience.
Not in this business. Sorry to use your post for me to do a soapbox oration. :)

Again, thanks for the kind words.

Now I have to enjoy the day here in beautiful Montreal.

Anonymous said...

Do you know the three years aviation diploma in Chicoutimi is free? You have a choice of commercial licence or float flying or helicopter.

As you said, because CEGEP (Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel) is a public post secondary education and "Le Centre québécois de formation aéronautique" in Chicoutimi is also part of the Les Écoles Nationales du Québec (Quebec National Schools), there are no fees for Quebec residents (including flight training fees). The fees are covered by the Quebec government. Not bad!!!

Each year, out of 400 applicants only 40 are accepted.

From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Anon. Yes, I did know about the Quebec government footing the bill. Seneca college in Ontario is also subsidized. And if you are Native Indian you can receive free flying lessons. That tended to be a glitch growing up in the Maritimes. For an outsider, colleges like these were difficult to infiltrate. For the last few years, Halifax (the largest city in the Atlantic provinces) does not even have a flying club. Heck if you can play the game, the military would be a good way to go.

whywhyzed said...

I heard that once you're a Capt then you get to keep your 4 stripes even though you're an F/O, true?

Also, is being demoted to F/O always a risk? Is it a seniority thing?

From the Flight Deck said...

Whywhyzed. When I joined, about 15 years ago this was the case. Actually, it was a grey area so many pushed the envelope as far as wearing the captain's insignia. Now it's written in the SOPs, thou shall wear the uniform according to present position not position held. For one thing, a flight attendant and others would be confused as to who is in charge.

Being demoted comes with reinstatement rights. So if I want a higher level position but someone junior to me has reinstatement rights, then they would get it over me.

There is also self demotion, what we call downbidding. For example two A320 captains elected to become cruise pilots on the B777. Instead of working 14 to 16 days they now work nine days. It's a matter of lifestyle but the pay is less. When they voluntary downbid, they are frozen in that position for four years.

That's the way I see it.

Good questions.

Andrew said...

Have you mention this F/O before, I seem to recall you mentioning a F/O came from the Embraers.

On another note, Not sure if you were near YYZ today at around 1:00, but there was a massive accident on the 401 right near the Renforth turnoff, closed both lanes, Air ambulance right on the highway. Can only imagine the impact that had on Operations. Ever had anything like that happen before?


From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Andrew. I met the F/O for the first time three days ago. Great guy. He has a great disposition despite the knocks he had in his aviation career. A class act!

Usually, when we do the 'parking checklist' on the last leg, I reach over to the f/o to shake their hand and say, "pleasure flying with you."
Well today he beat me to it.

As far as accidents/situations/storms/events having an impact on operations. Where do I start? :)

I'm glad I missed all the commotion. I couldn't believe how fast I got home on the 401/403 tonight around 5:00 p.m. I thought it would have been jammed for the long weekend.
It was the total opposite.

Captain Doug