Vegas Recap

vegas sign

Just back from the Vegas Career Seminar. Overall, I think Lyn said there were about 120 attendees, down from about 200 last year. Almost all of them were at least CFIs (there were less than 10 ATPs), but I didn’t get to see a tally for how many were <1000 hours and unemployed. Since I was reviewing resumes during the sessions, I missed all but about 3 of the talks. Between the resumes that I looked at and the talks that I did get to go to, here’s what I took away from the seminar:

Supply, not insurance, is driving hiring minimums

With the downturn in the economy, the supply of pilots has ballooned. For those of us with less than 1000 hours, that has meant CFI jobs just aren’t out there. But the situation isn’t any better for 1000 hour pilots. Last year, 1000 hours was your golden ticket. Now, GOM, Ditch, and Alaska operators can ask for 1200-1500 hours as their minimum, since there are plenty of pilots at this level of experience that are looking for work. In addition, corporate, logging, and fire/utility operations have scaled back. These pilots, which were sitting on >2000 hours of experience, are now competing for jobs that were usually open to 1000-hour pilots. The result: getting a job at 1000 hours is no longer a given, and it’s actually very competitive.

There are jobs, just not many (and none are being advertised)

Lyn said there were a few pilots that backed out of the seminar last-minute on account of getting hired someplace, although he didn’t say where and what level of experience. The HEMS operators were hiring, and based on some of the applicants that I talked to while reviewing resumes, I’m guessing several of those guys have interviews or offers. AirLog was there, but they aren’t hiring anytime soon. Papillion might be looking for pilots next season, and the guys that were in Vegas should have a leg up.

Objective statements

Generic objectives statements were the most common problem I saw. This is my opinion: for the guy applying for just a pilot position, an objectives statement isn’t going to help you much, and a generic one might hurt you. When employers are looking at resumes, they look first at certificates, then at experience, and then at safety record. My feeling (supported by discussions with some employers) is that an objective statement gets in the way.

The main thing about an objective statement is that it needs to be specific for the job, and the really effective ones I’ve seen (not in aviation) have used the applicant’s skills (eg, as a manager) to specify an objective in the job. For 95% of the resumes I saw, the objective for the job (pilot) is to be safe. Lyn, however, likes to see an objective statement along the lines of, “To obtain a tour pilot position at Papillion,” since this lets the employer know that you wrote that resume specifically for them.

Leaving out significant work experience

For low-time pilots, you’re expected to have a short work history section, but that doesn’t mean everybody should have just a few lines there. Several applicants had started businesses or had other significant work achievements, but only listed the dates, job titles, and the names of the companies where they work. My advice is to think hard about your job history and find titles or achievements that are going to set you apart from other applicants, even if they are relatively small. Something like that will get you farther than just given a laundry list of your last 5 jobs.

Cover letters

Don’t need them for a job fair. Recruiters are going to look closely at your certs and flight time, then skim the rest of the page. Mostly though, you want to be ready to speak to them about the bottom half of your resume (and that is what a cover letter is for when you can’t be standing in front of the recruiter). Also, the cover letters I did see were too generic to make a good impression. First of all, you should find a name to go at the top of the page–do some research and figure out the name of somebody who might be looking at the resume–chief pilot, recruiter, director of operations, doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t start off “To whom it may concern…” The rest of the cover letter should very specifically say why your experience makes you perfect for this job.

Little things

Typos, spelling mistakes, inconsistencies in the date format. Sometimes they get noticed, and if they are off, it suggests a lack of attention to detail. The other thing I saw was flight times not being aligned in a column. Try setting up tabs so that the ones are all right aligned and “hours” is left aligned. Think about how you’d want it lined up if you were going to try to add them up.

More

Those were the things that I remember most, but intermittently I’ll try and post other hints. If you haven’t already, you can provide feedback for me or ask questions by clicking on the Career tab. I’m also adding my hypoxia lesson plan…inspired by several days hiking in the Spring Mountains at 7000-11,000 feet. Hell of a change coming from sea level.

Conducting a Flight Review

As a new CFI, a flight review is something you could get called on to do out of nowhere. This is a challenge for the new CFI who’s not working at a flight school: you’ve never been through a flight review yourself, you have nobody to ask for advice, and you are very likely giving the review to somebody with hundreds of more hours experience than you. The instructors I’ve talked to have learned a lot when doing flight reviews, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t bring anything to the table. You actually have an advantage–your book knowledge is current, and that’s one of the most important parts of the flight review. As a new addition to the resources area, I put together a guide for helicopter CFIs conducting a flight review, and assembled a few resources for you to use. Check it out here.

Just Let Me Explain

Those of you who are paying attention noticed 2 new tabs at the top of the page…the Career tab, which I already posted on, and FL005 T-shirts, which takes you to a storefront with helicopter-inspired T-shirts. Just to put your mind at ease, wikiRFM was not some ruse to get you to buy a T-shirt so I could pay off my credit cards. From a financial perspective, both of these sites are pretty stupid ideas, and with the software, domain names, and time invested, I won’t ever come close to recouping my costs.

FL005 is actually a way an investment in the wikiRFM. Follow my logic, flimsy as it is. The T-shirt shop is interactive–you can rate and comment on the designs, recommend designs if you think mine are kinda lame, and eventually I’ll engineer a way for you to post pics of yourself in an FL005 T-shirt on the front page. Likewise, wikiRFM is completely interactive, and after fooling around with FL005, maybe you’ll come back here and rate some articles, or comment on/edit some of the lesson plans.

The bigger picture is that there aren’t a lot of good helicopter T-shirts out there. Try Googling “helicopter T-shirt” and you get a deluge of truly lame T-shirts from CafePress and Zazzle. They suck, and you can waste hours trying to find one that isn’t shameful. So it’s a good advertising opportunity. Anybody who runs that search will find FL005 (eventually), and on every page at FL005, you’ll find a link back to wikiRFM. FL005 will draw more traffic back here. That’s the plan anyway.

If you have time, check out FL005.com, poke around the site, and let me know what you think.

Vegas and Career Wiki

I just watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas the other night. I’ll be headed there this weekend for the HeliSuccess Career Seminar, but I’m not expecting anything like Thompson’s trip. Good movie, watch it for free on Fancast.

I’ve been to the Vegas seminar before, and I’m not going this time under the expectation of getting a job offer. In fact, for the low-time pilot, you’ll be surrounded by dozens of other guys in the same situation, and last year there was only one employer there that would consider anybody with <1000 hours PIC time. It’s still worthwhile going to–you’ll see the industry in ways your flight school never will let you see.

The other benefit is–and this is a generalization–that most helicopter pilots haven’t ever applied for jobs with cover letters and resumes. I’ve seen guys with years of time in the work force (helicopters or not) send out awful resumes. With hundreds (or thousands???) of others competing with you, a bad resume is quickly going to kill your chances of getting an interview. So for the career pilot, this seminar gives you a chance to refine or reflect on your job hunting and interviewing skills. Likewise, the seminar will take the trial-and-error out of your first job search if you’re just out of school or the military.

Right, so the reason I’m going this time: I’ll be doing a resume review for anybody who wants it. Back a year ago, I downloaded the resume eBook from JustHelicopters and…well, I was a bit disappointed. It focused on the mid-career and military pilot, and neglected the guy who’s in the most need of help: the CFI with <1000 hours and/or a brief job history. After talking it over with Lyn, I interviewed a few flight school owners and hiring managers from companies that hire 1000-hour pilots and updated the book with the advice they gave me. That project evolved into revising the whole eBook. It’s a freebie when you register for the conference, or you can get it for $15 here (and I don’t make anything off the eBook sales). So if you’re at the seminar, bring a couple of copies of your resume by and I’ll tell you what I think about it!

For those of you who aren’t going to be there, I’m adding a new page to the site. Under the Career tab, you can post (and respond to) questions about resumes, job searches, interviewing, and anything else about finding a job as a helicopter pilot. You’ll have to register, create a page with your question, and then save it. It’s not a big deal, and having it set up that way will allow others to answer questions I can’t (or set me straight when I’m wrong). Look for it being up and running later this week. For those of you who check back, I’ll also drop a few blog posts about the seminar when I have time.

Mystery Solved

Turns out it wasn’t a fog blanketing the area…we were getting dust dropped on us from a dust storm to the north. The MODIS satellite imagery from yesterday shows the dust getting kicked up and blown to the southwest. And walking through the yard today I could see a puff of dust kick up with every step. Yes, I often ask myself why I moved here from Seattle.

wash_TMO_2009277

I went back and scanned the METAR data for yesterday. An hour after I posted, KPSC started reporting haze (HZ), which pretty accurately describes what the skies looked like by mid-afternoon…

METAR KPSC 041653Z 01019G23KT 7SM HZ FEW100 14/01 A2977 RMK AO2 SLP081 T01390011

And later in the day there were a few METARS that coded it for what it was…

METAR KPSC 050253Z 01016KT 5SM BLDU CLR 14/M01 A2981 RMK AO2 SLP096 T01391006 53018

One clue should have been the temp-dew point spread, which never got close enough for fog formation.

The storm got awful enough that they shut down sections of I90 to the north of us. Oddly enough, from the METAR data you’d have never seen it…there wasn’t a weather station within the storm, and the AIRMETs for that morning only showed a Tango over eastern Washington.

'Morning Sunshine

I couldn’t see across the river this morning. Typical winter weather in the Columbia River Basin…cold air, moisture, and the bowl shape that we live in is conducive to fog and clouds getting in here and staying for days. From home I can look at the web cam at KRLD, which is 11 o’clock and a couple of miles from home. They don’t have a ASOS, but KPSC (8 miles to the east and a bit further from the river) is reporting:

KPSC 041453Z 01017G22KT 10SM BKN080 12/01 A2974

krld rwaywindsockbridge


Clearly the KPSC picture is a little different, and the picture on the far right shows the WA DOT traffic cam that is a little closer to that airport. It does show the winds are about what I thought, 15-20 knots. Dewpoint is off–maybe the river is adding the additional cooling and/or moisture that’s keeping the fog on the ground at KRLD. What I still find interesting is the combination of heavy fog and wind–this isn’t what the textbooks tell you is supposed to happen. The windsock at KRLD is standing straight out, and a 15-20 knot wind is supposed to pick that fog up and make it a low stratus layer. But I can’t see 1500 meters across the river, and the visibility at KRLD sucks.

If you’re still reading expecting me to give you an answer, sorry to disappoint. But I can throw in some other confounding observations. On the visible satellite (below, left) you can see the clouds filling the Basin as the sun comes up. From the east. Usually moisture comes into this region from the Pacific Ocean to the west. Low pressure to the southeast is the reason for the easterly winds, and I can only assume that the moisture was brought in here with the front. The other unusual thing is that the Cascade Mountains also form a barrier to low clouds, and if it’s a clear day here and IMC in Seattle, you can often see a north-south line of clouds formed by the terrain holding them to the west. That’s not what’s going on today though. On the IR satellite (right side), the clouds overhead are relatively bright. If I remember correctly, bright clouds on IR indicate colder, high clouds. Fog is low and warm, and doesn’t always stand out on IR. There must be a higher cloud layer obscuring the low fog layer around us.

The take-home from this, for the low-time pilot with little knowledge of real-world weather and a limited understanding of the local weather patterns, is that I might not be a happy camper if I’d planned on scooting over to KRLD this a.m. I’d have launched that way expecting gusty winds based on the KPSC ASOS, but with the winds and 8000 CIG/10 sm VIS reported, I wouldn’t have expected to find IMC (or, at best, MVFR) at KRLD. PIREPS wouldn’t have helped me (none are reporting sky conditions), and the few airports in this region are reporting VFR. If I was coming from the west, I’d have been faced with the decision to press on to KPSC and try to land there, or turn around and head back into the desert. In this case, having that WDOT weather cam at KRLD would have made a huge difference in deciding whether to make the flight or not. I wouldn’t have thought to include a weather cam in my pre-flight planning.

A Visit From the FAA

The first thing I see in my inbox this morning is a moderation request for a comment posted today that starts:

From my perspective as a FAASTeam Program Manager…

FAAST is the FAA Safety Team. “Man, I hope I didn’t say something…” Happily, he was pretty pleased with the site overall. For those of you who don’t know, FAAST is the safety training and outreach arm of the FAA. I first came across them through the AOPA/Air Safety Foundation online courses, and talked with some of their reps at HAI last year. There’s more information on the FAAST site than I’ve had time to explore, but I thought I’d point out one feature you should all be interested in: the WINGS program. For me, this has been the starting point for access to a number of good educational programs. Awwww, education…boring. Losing….interest. (Another topic altogether, but it’s your book knowledge that’s going to keep you from having to use your stick skills to save your ass…or a lawyer to save your commercial ticket. Here’s a good post on that from Maria Langer.)

WINGS. In CFR 61.56, which lays out the requirements for flight reviews, section (e) talks about an “FAA-sponsored pilot proficiency award program.” That’s what WINGS is. Instead of doing your flight review, you can meet the proficiency requirement by completing WINGS programs. All you have to do to meet those requirements is complete 3 knowledge and 3 flight credits from the activities listed on the WINGS site. Finding knowledge programs is pretty easy–there are online programs and live programs, both of which I’ve done some of, and based on your preferences, these are screened for you so you get the most relevant ones.

WINGSWINGS 2

I like to search through the dialogue on the left, because it gets me to the search form shown on the right…there you can move back and forth between knowledge (K) and flight (F) programs at the different levels (B=basic, A=advanced, M=Master). Searching knowledge programs pulls up the online courses that you can do at your own pace and at your convenience. The AOPA/ASF has a decent series, all of which are targeted at plank-drivers but many of which (like the ATC, weather, and decision-making courses) are relevant to any pilot. This search also brings up local events that you can get credit for–FBOs and flying clubs sponsor these seminars. In addition to the general topics–DPEs or somebody from the FSDO talking about IACRA and doing a CFI clinic–the local information from these talks is what’s really valuable. Of the ones I’ve attended, one was a pre-flight weather planning talk from a corporate pilot based in Seattle, the other was from the local ATC controller, discussing their systems and procedures for the local airspace. And that one came with a BBQ lunch. Many of the on-line courses are free, and the live ones are either free or have a nominal cost ($10).

The flight portion as changed a bit since I last looked at it, but basically you go out with a CFI and perform the maneuvers specified in the activity. For example, the Performance Maneuvers activity is autos, quick stops, and off-airport landings. There’s also an instrument procedures activity that you can use both for currency and WINGS credit. You should print out the endorsement and the requirements for the activity, since the CFI might not be familiar with the WINGS program.

You might be looking at this saying, “3 online courses and 3 flights…that’s more time and money than I’d put into just doing the BFR.” Yes, you are correct but the incentive for the WINGS program isn’t saving you money.

The most significant incentive to participating pilots is the added level of safety and professionalism that is obtained through adoption of a consistent recurrent training program.

The ground portion lets you seek out topics that are of interest to you, and often gets into more detail on topics that are glossed over during your PPL(H) ground training. The idea behind the flights is that, by spreading out your recurrent training, you are better able to fight the natural degradation of skills that you don’t practice every day. Also, by having your technique regularly critiqued and refined, bad habits are easier to identify, correct, and unlearn...you can’t expect to fix sloppy pinnacle approach procedures during a short flight review if you’ve been doing it that way for the last 2 years.

The best news from the aforementioned comment is that FAAST is developing online courses and CFI modules just for helicopter pilots. Since we face different operational challenges than airplane drivers, this is sorely needed. Hopefully I’ll be posting links out to those soon.