How to Survive Airline Training: Part 1

I started out the new year with a new job at a new airline. This meant back to flight school yet again to learn how to master a new airplane. As I wrap up my current training cycle, I can’t help but think how much smoother training went on the second go. After completing two type ratings at two different carriers in nearly a year, I have learned a lot about surviving airline training programs.

If you are new to the airlines, or are curious about airline training, this post is for you. This post isn’t designed to give you answers to ground school questions or tell you which pages of the operating manual to study, but rather guides you on what to expect, how to study, and the specific bits of information you will likely need to know. 

Due to its size, I broke it up into two parts. This week’s post focuses on what to expect and how to divide up airline training into knowledge and training blocks. The second post will come out next week and gets more into the nitty-gritty of preparing and surviving each individual block. I will archive the whole post in a PDF in the “Pilot Resources” tab next week for connivence. 


About airline training programs

In the same way many general aviation flight schools teach similar content and train to similar standards, many airlines organize their training in a similar manner and expect similar standards. This is because all airline training programs must conform to requirements mandated by the FAA. Sure callouts, profiles, and procedures will vary from airline to airline, but the general organization of the tasks a student must complete are similar. This is good news because it means that the training blocks someone would encounter at airline “A” would be similar to the blocks someone would encounter at airline “B”. In general, the training programs at most airlines are near identical to each other.

The general flow of airline training:

Interview- Ok, technically you are not in training yet when you are interviewing, but its the first big milestone. After your interview, you are put in a queue where you wait for a class date. This can take three weeks to a few months. You will never be offered a class date much sooner than three weeks after your interview because it takes time for the airline to do the require background checks.

Day one- Day one is a meet and greet with the company and your classmates. Make friends- you will be spending the next few months with these folks. Usually, some company representatives will meet with you and tell you why airline X is the best one in the industry.

Indoctrination- (3 days to 1 week) – During indoc, you will learn about the company and dig into the flight operations manual to learn their rules. Things like alternate weather minimums, reading releases, PRM approaches, and how to wear your hat will be covered. Usually there is a multiple choice test at the end. A meeting with the union and uniform fitting is usually set up during this period.

CBT- (2 weeks to 1 month) – At some point, either before or after indoc, you will be sent home for CBT. Computer Based Training focuses on aircraft systems, and lessens the total time you have to spend away from home for training. 

Systems Class- (1-2 weeks) – Even though you already learned about systems during CBT, you still have to spend some time learning about them in a classroom… Most airlines take the raw knowledge presented in CBT and try to present it in a more pragamtic fashion. 

FMS lab- (3 days to 1 week) – An FMS or Flight Management System is the brain of an airliner and it takes some time to learn how to use it. Because level D sim time is expensive, you will probably learn the FMS on an emulator on a desktop computer. 

Procedures training- (1-2 weeks) – Procedures training is where things start to come together. You and your newly assigned sim partner will work two-on-one with an instructor in a cockpit mockup. The idea is to make sure you know how to do all of your flows and profiles before you get into the simulator. This theoretically reduces the amount of sim time you will need to learn everything. Procedures training is usually done in front of a paper mockup affectionally called a paper tiger. If you are lucky, your airline might have some more advanced FTDs (Flight Training Devices) which really help the transition into the big sim. 

Oral Exam- Remember those checkrides you took during your initial training? All FOs are now required to obtain a PIC type rating and an ATP which means the stakes in airline orals are higher than they used to be. Your oral will cover aircraft systems, limitations, memory items, and company procedures at minimum. If you have a particularly picky examiner and are going for your ATP, you might also be tested on Jeppesen approach plate symbology, part 121 regulations, ect… yikes.

Simulator training- (1-3 weeks) – With your oral out of the way, you move into the big boy toys. Level D simulators are awesome and are reasonably close to the real thing. Sim time is not only expensive, but it is at a premium. It always seems there are more pilots that need to be trained than there are available sim slots. As a result, airlines try to cram as much as possible into each sim lesson. 

LOFT- (1-2 days) – After dealing with engines exploding, cargo fires, and flight controls malfunctioning, you will do one or two flights resembling actual airline flying. Some airlines choose to do LOFTs before the checkride, some after. Don’t ask me why these are done at the end of sim training… they are usually the easiest lessons. 

Sim Checkride- After all of your training is complete you have to take a sim checkride. What you do on your checkride will vary from airline to airline. Traditionally, you were required to demonstrate all of your maneuvers including V1 cuts, steep turns, stalls, and single engine go-arounds. Most airlines now have moved to a Line Oriented Evaluation or LOE, which basically consists of a normal flight with some curveballs thrown in. 

IOE- (1-2 weeks or at least 25 hours)- Finally, after all your ground training is done, it’s time to get in the airplane and go fly. Because it would be ridiculously expensive to give you additional training in the airplane without revenue passengers in the back, your first flight ever in the plane will be with a bunch of unknowing customers on board. Luckily, your IOE is flown with an experienced line check airman. After IOE is done, its time to hit the line! 

What makes airline training stressful?

Airline training can be stressful. Sure, you have to learn a lot of new things and adapt to a new job, but that’s no different than initial flight school or college was right?… Well, two things make airline different from other types of training you have encountered in the past. First is the huge amount of pressure put on you by the company to use as little time as possible to complete each task. Second is the general lack of guidance on exactly what bits of information you are required to know. 

When you first get to training, your airline will give you a plethora of books and documents to study and will say something along the lines of “learn everything in here”. As you begin studying, you will quickly learn that simply isn’t possible. The fact of the matter is that the amount of information you are responsible for, although large, is easily digestible if you know how to pick out the unimportant bits. This is one of the key focuses of this post and the next.

Divide training goals up into segments

Instead of looking at airline training as one big three month long task, view it instead as a series of individual goals. Likewise, instead of viewing the knowledge you need to know as one huge chunk, break it down into smaller bits. This will significantly reduce your stress level and will help you organize your studies. 

Tasks that need to be completed (the ones at your airline might be slightly different):

  • Indoctrination quiz
  • Systems quiz
  • Oral exam
  • Some type of pre-sim check on the ground trainer
  • Sim checkride
  • LOFT
  • IOE

In order to survive each one of the checking events above, you will need to have certain bits of knowledge stuffed into your brain. Below is a list of the different types of things you will need to know:

  • Company rules/SOPs/Ops Specs
  • Systems knowledge (like how many fuel pumps the plane has)
  • What buttons do (like what happens when you pull the fire handle)
  • Limitations/memory items
  • Flows
  • Profiles

If you combine both lists, you can get an idea of what you need to know for certain checking events and decide when it makes sense to start learning new knowledge subjects:

Indoc QuizCompany rules/SOPs/Ops Specs
Systems quiz Systems knowledge
Oral ExamCompany rules/SOPs/Ops Specs Systems knowledge What buttons do  Limitations/memory items
Some type of pre-sim check on the ground trainerFlows Profiles
Sim Checkride/LOFT/IOECompany rules/SOPs/Ops Specs What buttons do  Limitations/memory items Flows Profiles Flows Profiles

The point is when things are quantified, It makes it easier to see what needs to be learned by each deadline. This will prevent you from wasting time studying things which you won’t need until a month down the line and missing things which need to be learned by next week. 

Check back next week

Next week’s post is a continuation of this one and will go into detail about how to dissect information and prepare for each training block. See you then!

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