Last Wednesday I interviewed with AirNet in Columbus Ohio.
I drove to the Orlando Executive airport on Monday night. They had offered me to come early and practice in the simulator that would be a part of the interview on Wednesday. Me and simulators go way back, especially this specific type. When I did my training at FlightSafety we had the same type of simulators. I hated them with a passion. The controls are all connected to springs to try and emulate that real feeling. Which doesn’t work. It just makes it extremely hard to control and very easy to over control.I knew that a day of practice would be not only good for the interview, but for my confidence as well.
So I arrived at the airport around 8 pm on Monday. I was going to be flying to Columbus on one of the company’s Lear jets(even if the whole interview was a waste, riding on the Lear was pretty frickin’ sweet). It was pouring down rain when I got to the airport. With literally no signs of stopping or reduced intensity, I got a ride over to the AirNet shack. It was literally like a small shed you can buy from some home improvement place for your yard. But this one had some chairs, a microwave, and a desk. Complete with two old dudes arguing about who worked harder, longer, more strenuously, who was least appreciated, most under payed, most overworked, who had more hair, why they deserved a vacation, how long they’ve been on the job without a vacation…
I got to stand in this little shack, soaked, and in shock. Listening to these two badger each other back and forth was almost enough to send me right back home. I just sipped my coffee and waited for the aircraft to arrive. Keep in mind while I’m waiting- the rain hadn’t let up yet. It had been dumping rain for nearly an hour now in Orlando. The couriers were calling old guy number 1(I don’t know what his official title is, but he seemed to be in charge of the shanty) and telling him about how flooded the roads were, and they had to take alternate routes. So we’re not talking about a summer misting shower, we were in a friggin tropical storm. There’s lightning striking within hundreds of feet(okay, maybe less than a few miles…but still) and I’m starting to get nervous.
I’m not getting nervous for the guys flying in, I know they’ve been through everything and probably even upside down while doing it. I was nervous for me! I didn’t want to fly through this crap. In all my flying career I’ve been taught and have been teaching: stay away from thunderstorms. Here I was about to jump on a plane and take off right into one! So I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I was thrilled however when it started to reduce a little. The rain seemed to let up a little, then almost stop. The lightning started to sound more and more distant, and I was getting more and more comfortable with the idea of flying.
After a short while of waiting, the aircraft arrived. Early even. It almost reminded me of a NASCAR pit crew. The couriers surrounded the aircraft and began taking and giving boxes and bags of who knows what. Later I learned that purple boxes mean all kinds of human samples. Blood, urine, number 2, tissue, etc. There are also boxes labeled “Radioactive”. I tried to stay away from those(although I’m told smoking a cigarette or talking on a cell phone is worse- I’m not taking any chances). I thought for sure that when all the couriers were walking away, the plane had a new set of tires and a full tank of gas. Apparently the don’t do that though.
Once the airplane was loaded up and ready to go, I walked over and met my flight crew. In the materials the company gave me before I arrived about flying on their company aircraft, it specifically stated that getting a ride from someone was a privilege and I needed to ask. Although I would have found it extremely awkward if I had asked for a ride and he said no.
Okay, well have a good night fellas, I’ll wait for the next one I guess…
I guess I was lucky, because he said he would be happy to give me a ride. The captain on this flight was actually one of the training instructors. So he was pretty cool about answering all my questions and pointing stuff out. I came to appreciate his kindness on my way home later that week.
Once we had all the “work”(I found that everyone at AirNet refers to boxes as “work”) on the aircraft I got a quick and dirty safety brief. Basically: Seat belt, rubber jungle(overhead oxygen mask for the jump seat), how to open the door. Cool. We buttoned up the door and got on our way.
Once we took off and started on course for Charlotte, I was wide eyed all the way until we landed. We were climbing at triple the rate I was use to. Flying at airspeed quadruple speeds I’d ever seen. We were picking up icing on our climb through some rain. We flew directly into a thunderstorm, dodging cells using on board radar. I was watching out distance remaining count down like seconds. Every once and a while the captain would turn around and point something out to me, or explain what was going on. I just shook my head “yea” and tried to watch everything that was happening at once.
We stopped in Charlotte for about a half hour to get some more “work”. Then it was onward ‘ho to Columbus, aka, home base for AirNet. We took off, got our clearance direct to the airport of destination(rare) and climb to our cruise altitude. The near full moon illuminated the entire landscape, and it was almost like flying in the day. The first officer appeared to be a stargazing expert. He was always pointing out different constellations to the captain. I guess you can’t really get a better view of the stars than at night, and at nearly 40,000 feet high. I stared out my jump seat window at the wing. I thought about how as a child I always wanted to know what it looked like to fly when looking out the front window. I wanted to see the airplane fly through clouds at 500 miles an hour. Looking out the side window is boring, and couldn’t be anywhere near exciting as the front one! I would always try to catch just a glimpse if the pilot came out for the restroom. I can specifically remember times when I got to see the blue sky out the front window, I probably nearly passed out from excitement. Now here I am sitting in the jump seat of a Lear Jet, flying along at 40 something thousand feet and cruising along at nearly 500 miles per hour, and I’m staring out the side window. Irony.
We arrived in Columbus right when the captain said we would. He called someone over the radio to let them know what time we would be on the ramp, and we got there one minute early than he predicted. He boasted this to me when we got out of the aircraft. I wasn’t too impressed. I’d been flying lessons down to the minute for almost 18 months. Pfft.
He escorted me through the sorting facility that was pretty much a graveyard at the moment. Through a lounge, and some double doors. That left me in the near empty parking lot and 12:30 in the morning. With a point in the direction of my hotel and a hand shake of good luck, I was on my way.
The hotel was actually really nice. Seemed to be fairly new. Room wasn’t spacious but for just myself it was perfect. A desk for some studying and a bed that nearly filled the room. I unpacked my bags and got everything settled.
The next morning I got up early to be sure I was ready for the simulator session. I wasn’t sure what time I was expected to be there, so I got up around 7 to be sure that no matter when they called I would be ready to go. Well they didn’t call until about 11, to let me know that noon would be when I could come over for the simulator session. It was actually a good thing. I got a lot of good study time in.
I had already been told what procedures and approaches to expect in the simulator. Which turned out it wasn’t at all what I did that day for preparation. My sim instructor didn’t want to give away the surprise of the evaluation. That was okay with me. It was good practice over all.
As soon as I started flying this box of crap, I had flashbacks to my days of training. I hated this piece of machinery with every fiber of my existence. If given the chance, in one motion I would destroy every likeness of this wretched bucket of bolts. It was about that moment that I had to just relax and try to regain control. The more you fly this type of sim, the more you realize it works better the less you fly it. Basically the least amount of input and control is the best. It’s just the way it works.
One thing worth mentioning about simulator rooms is this: Most simulators are large machines and computers that are on for long periods at a time. They have lots of motors and servos and gadgets and widgets. They require to be kept fairly cool to prevent any overheating. This means that whenever you walk into a room where simulators are kept, it’s generally around 60-70 degrees. FREEZING. However, once you start flying the simulator, you get really focused on the work. It’s very intensive mentally and even a little bit physically. It’s amazing because at first entering the room you cringe at how cold it is. During the session you wonder if there is any way they could turn the AC on more. I was sweating bullets. My shirt was soaked when we finished. Neat factoid there for ya.
Anyways, I finished the prep session with a few large and embarrassing mistakes. I don’t think we would have died, but we definitely wouldn’t have felt like flying very soon after. All-in-all I felt good that I did the preparation, and I now knew what I had to work on.
I spent the rest of the day studying everything I thought I needed to. It got to the point where I just couldn’t study anything more. I would take a break and watch some TV, then study some more. I took a nap for a few hours, got up and studied some more.
Day of interview. I woke up at about 3 in the morning. I had a nightmare. I dreamt that I awoke to a call from the pilot recruiter asking me why I didn’t attend the interview that day. I had slept in and completely missed the entire interview process. I wouldn’t be allowed to come back and interview ever again. After the panic subsided and I was sure that it was only 3:34 in the morning(not afternoon), I went back to sleep.
This time I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm was set to alarm me. I nervously ironed my clothes and got ready. Talking to myself aloud about all the procedures and approaches I had been studying over the previous two weeks. I had been debating if I should wear a tie to this interview for a few days. The dress code they advised was business casual. Ties and Suits not required. Hrmm. I have always been the kind to wear a tie no matter what. I just thought it would be more professional. I assumed it would be better to be more professional than less. I knew that nobody at this company wore ties, so I would definitely stick out in a crowd. I figured that would either be really good, or really bad.
I decided to wear the tie. When I arrived in the lobby about 15 minutes earlier than they asked, there were two other guys there for interviews. Neither were wearing ties. I grimaced a little. Signed in on the visitor log and introduced myself to the other contestants. Surprisingly, both were instructors in Florida just like myself. One within a stones throw of where I worked, the other in Orlando. We exchanged home towns and flight experiences for a few minutes until our tour guide showed up.
We got the nickel tour of the building and the operation. The maintenance department was clearly something they’re very proud of. Very clean and organized with lots of work going on. A parts department stocked full of nearly $9 million dollars worth of stuff. In the hanger airplanes were on jacks and every few minutes the gear would go up to a the tune of a whining hydraulic pump. Someone would come out of the plane and look under the plane to see if it had worked properly. Then get back inside and the whine of the pump would come back, and so would some landing gear appear from the belly.
After about thirty minutes of wandering around the building we were introduced to the head of pilot recruitment. Who by they way, was at the front door when I arrived early. I offered to hold the door for him. Just goes to show you- always be polite. Never know when you’ll reap the reward. Anyways- we were shuffled into a room where a PowerPoint presentation was prepared for us.
The presentation covered details ranging from company history, salary, benefits, to future company plans. We talked about a few accidents in the companies history, and how they had implemented ways to prevent them in the future. He asked if we had any questions about the company. A predictable silent nod of “no” was returned. To which he replied “Well you asking questions is a part of the interview process…” Interestingly we had some questions then.
Next we were brought into another classroom where we would be taking a written test. A 60 question test on generic and basic to the advanced and obscure questions from my training. It was in interesting walk down memory lane. “I remember having to study this…” I wasn’t feeling extremely comfortable with this test when I started taking it. There weren’t a lot of questions that really stumped me, but a few required some thought. During the test they pulled us out individually for the simulator evaluation and face to face interview with the head of recruiting. I was the first for the face to face interview.
I was escorted to his office where I sat down without asking if I could have a seat. As soon as I sat down I regretted not asking. He started asking me some paperwork questions about my mailing address and phone number that I could be reached at. This was somewhat frustrating for me(later I learned for my other interviewing friends as well) considering I had filled out an online application which included all this information and a paper application that was 23 pages long! I casually gave him the information he requested as I handed him my application packet.
Then the fun questions began. Why do you want to work here? What makes you ready for our training? What was one time you gave excellent customer service? How does the gear system work on the airplane your most familiar with?(I kind of find it funny he asks the question this way. What if the airplane I’m most familiar with is the Space Shuttle? Do you know anything about the gear system of the Space Shuttle? I could say that magic martian men with broomsticks operate my gear system and there’s nothing you could say indifferent!)
He only got me on one question. The engine identifier of the airplane I fly. I don’t know. How much displacement does each engine have? I don’t know. 180 horse, horizontally opposed, side draft carburetor, air cooled, naturally aspirated, Lycoming engine. I felt good at the end when the only question I couldn’t really answer was (in my mind) a fairly trivial knowledge question.
After the interview was done, I was shown back to the classroom to continue work on my written test. Somewhere in between all this we had lunch. They provided a platter of meats and cheeses and some bread for sandwiches. We all sat down and ate for about 45 minutes. We talked about the recruiters kids, and how high you would have to fly in a Baron to make it from Columbus to Dallas non-stop. What power setting would yield a fuel burn low enough to allow the flight to made with enough for the mandated reserve.
I had since finished my written test and needed only to complete the simulator evaluation. I sat in the room alone while one did the interview, and the other was in the simulator. I stared at the same approach charts I had been already studying for a good week. I literally couldn’t memorize it anymore. Even now.
108.7, 279 degrees, 3100 MSA, 2700 IA, GS INT 2641, MDA 1013, Runway 10125 long, MAP Climb 1400, climbing left turn 3000 210 heading to intercept 242 radial from APE(116.7) to 34.2 DME at LIMPS and hold teardrop.
So here I am in this room, alone. Can’t look at this chart anymore. I’m literally almost falling asleep. I’m yelling at myself in my head to stay awake. If they walk in and I’m asleep there is no way I’m going to get this job. So I start wandering around the classroom looking at random things on the wall. Next to the tray of food we had for lunch is some candy. I eat a few pieces of chocolate to hopefully wake me up enough to stay alert for my impending simulator nightmare.
Thankfully I was able to maintain consciousness long enough to make it to the simulator. Walking into the room with the instructor felt like I was meeting an old bully in a dark alley after years of never seeing them. I rolled up my sleeves and prepared for a brutal beating that I would never have been able to forget. The instructor gave me a few minutes to prepare myself. I almost prayed. Almost. I got myself all set up and ready to go and then I waited. I visualized the entire flight like I had already done 100 times. I knew the order of how I wanted to do everything, and when it was going to happen, and how it was going to happen. I don’t think I could have been more ready for this.
He came back and we were off and running. Err, flying. Anyways. We started with an engine failure before takeoff. After a quick reset, I was on my way again. Climbed to an assigned altitude and heading and began doing some maneuvers. Steep turns, slow flight, and a stall. I got some instructions for a hold, and my attitude indicator failed. Entered the hold and miraculously the attitude indicator felt sorry for me and started working again. After a quick hold, I did a non precision approach from the hold. I forgot to turn on the damned runway lights. I new I wanted to, and that I should. I just didn’t. The weather report stated 500 overcast, and the approach could only bring me down to 1000, so I knew I wasn’t going to see it regardless. But I still should have turned them on.
So I didn’t see anything, and had to execute the missed approach. I added power and started climbing away from the airport. Surprise surprise I had an engine failure on climb out. I cleaned up the gear and flaps and got the aircraft under control. I had good performance so I turned to my heading and started climbing on my missed approach. Feathered the inoperative engine, contracted approach control.
“Hey, hi, hello, how are you? Yea I’m okay. Just an engine failure. Yea I’d like to return to where I departed. Please have the firemen standing by. Thanks.”
Flew back towards the airport I originally departed from and did the ILS approach there. My ILS overall was good, and I was really happy with it until I came down to the last end of the approach. I started having trouble holding the glide slope for some reason, and I started to over control the simulator again. Here I was at the end of what was so far a beautiful session in a simulator that I completely hated, and I was going to screw the pooch right at the end. I’m single engine, in bad weather, close to the ground, and I’ve gone full scale deflection on the glide slope. Anytime you have a full scale deflection you have no guarantee of where you’re at, as opposed to where you should be. SO basically I’m in an unsafe situation. I’m right at Decision altitude and full scale. I look up at the monitor and I see the ground. I almost peed my pants. Almost. The very next instant I saw the approach lights for the runway. I made the decision to continue visually.
I basically got extremely lucky. I was just about to give up. Someone blessed me with the luck to see the lights. Which thankfully I didn’t have to turn on myself. The tower took care of that for me. I landing and was happy to still be alive. I turned the the sim instructor and gave a nervous laugh. We talked about what happened, and what little options I had. I gave him a laundry list of the mistakes that I noticed during the evaluation. Which wasn’t really a lot of big mistakes, just some little things that could have been done better.
That was the end of my day at AirNet. He escorted me to the front door again, and wished me luck. I walked back towards the hotel extremely relieved it was finally over. From 9:30 until just before 5:00 in the afternoon. I had made arrangements with the other guys to go out to dinner after we were all done that night. I went back to my room and packed my bags. They had moved me up onto an earlier flight that night. I was going to be going home at 10:00 towards Florida. With all my bags packed and ready to go, I called the guys and arranged dinner plans.
After about 8 years in a cab, and 30 bucks later we were at Ruby Tuesdays. We chatted more about the interview. They weren’t too pleased with their preparation and the simulator. We talked about our flight schools and how much we hated certain things, and liked other things. One didn’t have any health benefits, but could fly for free. One got paid really good overtime on weekends, but the chief pilot was inexperienced and made poor decisions. It was interesting for me to hear complaints in near likeness with complaints I hear from my co-workers. No matter where you go, or who you work with or for, you’ll always have the same problems.
We offered up another arm for our cab ride home, and I made some phone calls to friends. I was to be on the same plane with another one of the interviewees so we arranged to meet in the lobby to walk over together. We were escorted into the employee lounge to await our pilots for the return trip. While waiting there I ran into an old instructor of mine. He was now a first officer on the Lear jet. He wasn’t going to be one of my pilots, but he comes into Columbus every night on a run.
This next part is why reading this whole epilogue is going to be worth it.
He asked me if the training/recruiting guys told us what happened that day. I instantly began thinking that maybe they had announced the would be running pilot classes again. Currently they were only hiring pilots into a pool. My optimism was soon rewarded with incredible disappointment.
For the first time in company history, on the exact day that I interviewed, they announced they would be furloughing 50-55 pilots. (That means “we don’t need you now, but we’ll call you in a few months when we do”) Which was not good news for me, or my fellow instructor who interviewed with me.
Over the next few hours while being amidst the pilots in Columbus, and later Charlotte we learned more details of the escapade. The company was trying to make it more profitable by reducing some runs and completely eliminating some cities from it’s routing structure. Most of the pilots were clearly irritated and disgruntled about this news. 50-55 actually represents 30% of the pilots at AirNet. That’s a huge chunk of the work force.
When I finally made it back to Orlando at 1 in the morning, I was super excited to get in my car and drive 2 more hours to get home.
I was upset myself. I had put a lot of hard work and stress into this interview. Then to find out after it’s all over that I wouldn’t be working there regardless for a long time. It kind of felt like purgatory to me. Here I was with what use to be considered extremely competitive entry level airline experience. With no where to go. Nobody is hiring. Airlines aren’t hiring, most are doing lay offs. It appears that I have the best job in the industry right now. I don’t have to sleep in a hotel every night, and I have a good schedule. I make more money here than I would anywhere else right now.
That’s a hard thing to swallow. Flight instructing isn’t where I wanted to be. Don’t get me wrong though, I love instructing. There is nothing more satisfying than helping someone realize their goals. When it finally clicks and they’re able to land on their own. When they pass their checkride and feel like a million bucks and they express how glad they are that you are their instructor. It’s not all cherries and lolli-pops but it isn’t the worst thing in the world to get a regular paycheck for.
It’s just not where I want to be forever. That’s all.
Anyways. I got the call on Friday from the recruiter at AirNet. I was surprised to be even getting a call at this point. Since I had been home I learned more about the layoffs online. I figured he was calling me to let me in on the secret if I didn’t already know, and thanking me for wasting my time. To my surprise he said I did really well during the interview. He mentioned that I was well prepared and did very well overall. I nervously laughed and asked how bad I did on the written test. Assuming that if anything would hold me back from getting a job it would be a failure of a score on that test. Apparently I did well on that too. I pondered for a moment if he was looking at the right test results, but thought better to ask that.
He continued on that he would love to offer me a class date, yet in light of recent developments from upper management he obviously couldn’t. He admitted how shocked he was at the layoffs. He seemed genuinely empathetic by suggesting other companies I should interview with. Stating that if I could pass his interview process I could survive any!
Right now I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Nothing I guess.