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!