Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Regional Pilot Checkrides

Performance reviews. Most jobs have them. Once or twice a year most people sit down with their supervisor to discuss their job performance. During the meeting the supervisor checks off boxes pertaining to certain task. The employee doesn’t have to “do” anything during such reviews….just answer questions. At the end of the review the employee is likely given a small raise or just sent back to their work area.
Sounds familiar right?
Now imagine having your job on the line. During the review, which last 2 to 4 hours, you are quizzed on your knowledge, examined while you work through manual calculations you almost never do on the real job (thanks to automation!) and then you are observed performing task that you have never actually done in real life, only during these reviews.
Kinda stressful eh?
Most regional airlines have checkrides for Captains twice a year and First Officers once a year. If a pilot has a bad 2 to 4 hours they can loose their job or (in case of Captains) loose their seat! The stress alone can cause issues. While flying, pilots have to put all other emotions/issues (family, money, friends etc) out of their heads and focus on the task. Easier said the done sometimes.
Try to grasp this concept. Your entire career is resting on your performance doing task that you don’t normally perform, but are expected to be proficient in. You only get one chance at each task. If you make a mistake you could be out of a job.
Really stressful eh?
Now imagine the same thing…..but there is NO chance of failure! That’s how Major airlines handle checkrides. The term is “train to proficiency”. Major airline pilots at United, Continental, Delta, American and US Airways have no fear of “failed checkrides”. They can’t fail! If they make a mistake during a training event, they are simply retrained until they do it correctly. No pressure.
Recently in the news the Captain of Colgan 3407 has been drug through the mud for having failed checkrides. The public has no idea what a checkride is. The news media makes mention (several times) that pilots at Major airlines don’t have anywhere near the number of failed checkrides. There’s a good reason for it. They don’t have them.
During my time around my flight school as a student and a CFI, I have seen many pilots fail checkrides. Some of the failures were truly trivial. A pilot can fail a checkride for any number of things unrelated to actually flying an airplane!
Stating that pilots at regional airlines are less experienced and thereby are inherently “unsafe” is scandalous. By the time pilots apply to a regional airline they have been examined by the FAA at least 3 times (highly unlikely that few), most likely 5 to 8 times. I had 8 FAA checkrides before I applied to my airline. Eight different times I put everything on the line for a 2-5 hour examination. Lucky for me, (I still knock on wood and click my heels three times) I never failed a checkride.
Captains at regional (and Major) airlines are examined very closely by the FAA before being set loose to be in command of an airplane. First Officers don’t get the same examination. First Officers are given checkrides by the airline, which the FAA can choose to observe.
The news media has a less than stellar reputation when reporting about aviation. The “experts” on the panel are sometimes pilots at Major airlines who contribute bad information. My jaw dropped when I saw one of these Major airline pilot “experts” repeatedly state that pilots at Major airlines are more skilled and don’t fail airline checkrides like pilots at regional’s. Gee, my car gets better gas mileage and doesn’t shoot bullets like Hummers the military uses. Doh!


  1. So, at your airline, is there any opportunity to get some sim time and practice a maneuver before the check? I can see only getting one shot at a procedures check, the material is published and requires review. But an actual maneuver requires practice to maintain proficiency. Or so it would seem. As you are talking about it, I am guessing you have one coming up. Good luck.

  2. I have only only one annual check so far. There was no practice time. I did my oral and then went straight to the sim. I was hired in October 2007. My initial checkride was in December 2007 and I had several sim sessions to practice. My next check was November 2008. No practice. My next one should happen sometime around November again.

  3. So i am planing on becoming an airline pilot. (like you!) say that i fail one checkride. (i havent and hopefully wont) will that hurt my chances of landing a job?

  4. This analysis is exaggerated. Yes, the majors have modified checkrides to eliminate the FAA pass/fail paperwork - but you must still be competent. Your job is just as much at risk during an evaluation. And at the regionals, they don't just fire a pilot for having a bad day. You get extra training, and try again.


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