Posts: 9250
Joined: Wed Aug 18, 1999 5:49 am

US Pilots - Changing Plane Types?

Thu Aug 05, 2004 2:40 am

I'm curious about the whole procedure of changing plane types at major US carriers (and I don't just mean US Airways!). Even in the bad times some of them still have, there needs to be a lot of movement between fleets to have all types crewed and to allow for those who are retiring - a few hundred every year, one would imagine.

Looking at it from the viewpoint of a FO who is fairly down the seniority list, flying a smaller type (320/737), how well can such a pilot predict what he or she will be flying over the next few years?

- Can they plan to fly a certain number of types as an FO?
- How does the bidding system work. Say, for example, this fictional pilot wants to convert to 757s, does he/she have to wait until bids are advertised, and do these work on a seniority system?
- How many pilots are usually in a type rating class?
- Roughly how long does a pilot have to stay on a particular aircraft type, before moving on. Taking our fictional pilot again, could he/she say, I'll be on '57s for three years, so I can aim to convert to the next type up in (say) 2007-8?
- How long does it currently take a US major pilot before gaining a command, on average?

Just curiosity as to how the whole thing works! It must be a huge logistical operation to ensure that each fleet has the requisite number of pilots in place and trained.
Posts: 1751
Joined: Tue Jan 15, 2002 1:38 am

RE: US Pilots - Changing Plane Types?

Thu Aug 05, 2004 9:15 am

At the US airlines, everything, and I mean everything, is based on seniority.

Whenever the airline decides it needs more people in a certain category (say Airbus Captains & F/O's because they are getting more planes), then they hold a 'vacancy bid'. What happens there is that every pilot chooses what airplane, base, and seat they want starting with the most senior pilot, and then working their way down the list, with the bottom person (least senior) getting whatever is left over.

Working with that kind of vacancy bid, your decision on what type of plane to fly or what seat to bid for may have a lot of variables, or none at all. If you are a brand new hire, you are told what and where you'll be flying. By the time you've been there a while you might have a choice - "do I want to be a junior F/O on a large plane, or a more senior one on a small plane?". The larger plane may pay more, but your lifestyle suffers because you are junior and have to be on reserve (on call) while on the smaller plane where you are more senior you can hold a regular schedule and know what days off you'll have for the month. The same thing come up when you have enough seniority to bid for a captain's slot. I know a lot of F/O's who stay in the right seat because they are based at home and can bid for exactly the schedule they want. They may also be able to be based in their home town. If they were to become a captain they would be junior again, and have to sit reserve, possibly in another city which would add the time and expense of commuting, or even a move. The decision on how long you spend as an F/O (once you are able to bid to be a captain) is entirely up to the pilot. Before that point however, there are a lot of other variables.

The length of time you spend as an F/O is very much dependent on how fast the company is growing. If the airline is healthy and growing (i.e. Southwest, AWA, Jetblue) then it might be only a few years as F/O. However I know of people at the bottom of USAirways list (of those still flying) that have been there 15+ years and are a very long way from upgrading, because the company is shrinking. Some of them had been Captains before, but now because of the reduction in size at US, they're back to being junior F/O's. It all depends on how the company is doing. At some of the smaller but growing commuter airlines, I've seen upgrades from F/O to Captain in less than a year, and as I just mentioned, there are USAirways F/O's on furlough that have well over a decade with that company. You pick your airline, and take your chances.

In the end you can certainly make a rough guess based on current growth and hiring at your airline, but as we all found out on 9/11, those guesses can become moot in a blink of an eye.

One smooth landing is skill. Two in a row is luck. Three in a row and someone is lying.

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