From Hawks to CRJs
By Mike McHugh
I started at PSA Airlines in April of 2015 after eight years of active duty Army service as a Warrant Officer Aviator. In the Army I flew the UH60A/L/M at Fort Riley, KS and the UH-72 at Fort Rucker’s Flatiron Air Ambulance Detachment. There were several reasons for leaving the Army both personal and professional. Being an airline pilot is what I always wanted to do but the lack of hiring and abundance of furloughs made it seemingly impossible. With about eighteen months left of my service obligation remaining I re-opened this idea of flying for an airline and this is when I saw the writing on the wall. The looming pilot shortage seemed to be quite real and there would be a lot of seats to take at a major airline, so I committed to it.
I added on all my fixed wing ratings at Kansas State University – Salina while I was stationed at Riley. I already had my Private Pilot Certificate for Airplanes with my Commercial Helicopter so I was getting my airplane add-on’s to my commercial certificate. The GI Bill covered everything at the time and it was an excellent program that was able to adjust to my busy schedule. It took fifteen months to go from 50 airplane hours to fully qualified for ATP.
As I was concluding my multi-engine rating I was starting to get serious about what airline to start my career at. I started off by listing what I want out of the airline, and I recommend this to anyone else making the transition. My priorities were as follows…
1) Schedule flexibility, I am married with three young children and would rather not miss holidays and birthdays etc.
2) A southeastern base, I knew I would be commuting and wanted to make this as painless as possible.
3) Most defined career path to a major airline.
Based on my needs it came down to PSA Airlines and ExpressJet. ExpressJet mostly because they had an Atlanta base at the time and I could drive to work. PSA Airlines was considered because of their Schedule Adjustment Period (SAP) and a somewhat defined career path to U.S. Airways at the time. ExpressJet payed more by a considerable amount but short term money was not one of my priorities. Another comparison between the two was PSA growing aggressively while ExpressJet was showing the signs of slowing down. Based on these big picture items I ended up choosing PSA. I interviewed in February and was offered a class date in April two weeks after starting terminal leave.
The overall training program was well structured and they maintain a high standard. You start with six weeks of ground school in Dayton, Ohio. The first two weeks are Indoc – you will meet people from different departments, learn about the company, and cover SOP’s. The following four weeks are aircraft systems and cockpit procedure training based on either the 700 or the 200, most initial classes are CRJ-700 and then you will receive differences training on the 200 later. Next up is two weeks of simulators. This breaks down to eight initial lessons before your checkride for your ATP and CRJ type rating (one checkride, and if you aren’t ready after eight they will extend you a ninth and tenth sim lesson). After you complete the checkride you will have a LOFT, which in the airline world is Line Oriented Flight Training. You will be given a flight plan from A to B and along the way encounter some curve balls. After LOFT you will have another two simulators of differences training in the CRJ-200.
Finally after all of the simulator training is completed you will begin Initial Operating Experience or IOE. This is most comparable to RL progression in the Army. You are now fully qualified and actually flying revenue flights with real passengers. You will be teamed up with a Line Check Airman which is basically the term for their line instructor pilots and over the course of usually two 4-day trips get signed off on many different tasks. You will also get a third IOE trip that will be CRJ-200 differences. The CRJ-200 and 700/900 fall under the same type rating, but they are little different from a systems perspective and they fly different from one another. Most notably the CRJ-200 does not have the leading edge slats that the 700/900 does so your landing profile is different.
On a day to day basis I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here and have enjoyed watching new changes come into effect in an effort to continue recruiting prospective pilots. As we have changed from being a US Airways company to American Airlines there have been several improvements, most notably is our US Airways guaranteed interview turned into a straight flow through with American Airlines as well as numerous compensation improvements and bonuses. Commuter hotels, profit sharing, and several other small improvements are always being introduced.
Schedule Adjustment Period (SAP) This is the big ticket item with why I went to PSA, and why I would encourage anyone with a family to choose PSA. When you start here as a First Officer you will be able get off reserve and hold a line pretty quickly after finishing training. As a lineholder with PSA you will have the unique ability to drop flying that you do not want. You will initially be award a schedule for the month, and lets just say you need a certain weekend off to attend a wedding but your’ awarded schedule has a 4-day trip that overlaps that weekend. You will be able to easily dump that 4-day trip and attend your wedding. With SAP you can make commitments to events in advance and not worry about your schedule. Essentially, it does not matter if you bid number 1, or you bid dead last, you can make adjustments as needed. You can drop down to a minimum of 65 credit hours per month, which on a good month you can get away with only working three 4-day trips. This past June I worked two four day trips early in the month, had two weeks off and finished off the month with a trip. For me that’s two weeks off that I didn’t even have to use a vacation week for. Another example is last December the last day I worked was December 17 or 18, and then took off the holidays and didn’t return to the cockpit until January 8th. This is pretty unique and we are one of the only regionals to offer such flexibility.
The overall experience has been incredible for my family. The long term financial projections for this career are no doubter of course. The best part for my experience is the down time, you work hard when you are on the road and are away from home, but when you are home you are all the way home and have no obligation to answer your phone. With my American Airline travel benefits my family can fly as much as we want with no fees attached. American Airlines also has plenty of company discounts in the travel realm for stuff like hotels and rental cars that help make vacations cheap to go along with free airfare. It is nice being able to travel freely and enjoy my family without any thoughts in the back of my mind about work. When we are on the road we have several great overnights as well. We have beach front hotels in Melbourne, FL and Fort Walton Beach and many others with a quick walk to the beach. Usually with these if there is space available the family will join me and hang out on the beach. Another company favorite is Burlington, VT where we stay at The Essex Culinary Resort, another great one for my wife to come along with. I am now a Captain and doing quite well, but I started here at $24 dollars an hour and had some rough pay checks, but I wouldn’t do it any differently. Even if the long term benefits of flying for a major weren’t so fiscally good, this is still a fun career that has so many benefits aside from just the money.