I continued to struggle through the challenge of my Line Training as it continued. Several issues began to become clear, especially looking back with hindsight and the experience I have now.
Firstly, it had been almost 6 months between my last flight in the Seminole at the academy and my first flight in the Saab340. As they say, use it or lose it. My skills and confidence which I’d spent only 9 months appropriating and consolidating, had rusted and eroded during the significant breaks in training that I had experienced. The delays were due to the bottle-neck of new pilots being squeezed through the limited resources of the training department. – This is a common occurrence in airlines and it certainly has been in my experience.
Due to my very thin foundation of experience at this point, I found I was having to re-learn the basics of flying all over again, I’m talking “attitude, power, performance” kind of basic stuff, that had rusted over the last 6 months.
Secondly, I wasn’t yet a good pilot to being with. Even though I was above the minimum standard to graduate from the academy 6 months earlier. I had only just started my career-long education as an aviator. And the academy, being so new, had teething problems of its own. Since I was apart of the second-ever intake or “Batch” I was certainly not a polished professional product. I had holes in my skill set and knowledge, with only a thin foundation of experience to base it on. This all became very obvious under the pressure of line training on the Saab.
It only makes me feel better to know, that the struggles my cadet colleagues and I went through during our line training, led to feedback and changes that helped to improve the quality of the training delivered at the pilot academy, raising the standard of future cadets, preparing them more appropriately for the transition to First Officer.
Thirdly, due to the small number of training Captains who were based in Albury. I was only flying 3 days a week and only flying to the same 3 destinations. Sydney, Melbourne and Bathurst.
Nowadays, I’d happily only work 3 days a week. But when you are training, you need to fly as regularly as possible to sharpen your tools on that grindstone.
Another challenge I faced in being the first cadet in the small base of Albury. I was going through the experience alone. Fortunately, I found a room to rent in a house with Captain and Flight Attendant who had both moved from Melbourne and Sydney respectively. They were newly based in Albury too and great support and company. But I still felt I was breaking new ground without another cadet study-buddy to share with, the experiences and lessons either of us had learned. It is a great advantage when you can learn from others mistakes or even just someone to reflect on your own experiences and mistakes with.
After about six weeks of inconsistent training and inconsistent improvement, my Check to Line was scheduled. – A “Check to Line” is essentially a flight test. Usually, a normal day duty, flying normal routes with an Examiner/Check Captain. On passing, the pilot is no longer under training and released to fly the line with regular Captains.
I was not ready for my check, and I knew it. Long story short, the duty started in Sydney and went to challenging destinations, other than the very few I’d been to. I wasn’t prepared, I was overwhelmed and I failed. I knew it, but I was hoping I’d get lucky. And in the wisdom of hindsight. I’m lucky I failed. I needed more valuable training.
A few days later I received a phone call from the crew scheduling department, which went along the lines of, “We’ll do some more training with you, another 10 days of flying, then schedule another check.”
I then spent the next 3weeks being shunted around the network squeezing me in to fly with any available training captain. And still no consistency.
I was short-changed a little bit, getting only 8 days that then reduced to 7 after the aircraft became un-serviceable while I was in Lismore.
So after 3 weeks, I found myself in another Check to Line, with only 7 more days of inconsistent flying under my belt.
This check was with a notoriously hard check captain who, as highly intelligent as he is and despite the respect that I later gained for him. Had a reputation for breaking the confidence of first officers.
I survived with my life intact. However, it was a horrible flight that I wasn’t ready for again. Another failed check, and my already low confidence destroyed. This was a problem, Because there was something of a “3 strikes and you’re out” policy, I’m still not sure of official policy, or how flexible it was. Either way, the pressure was on.
A few days later I received a phone call inviting me to the head office in Sydney to have a meeting with the chief pilot. “Tea and biscuits” as we say between pilots and crew. “Tea and biscuits” is usually not a good thing and Ironically, neither tea nor biscuits are ever served in those meetings.
I found myself in front of the chief pilot, the same chief pilot who interviewed me 20 months earlier and another gentleman.
They asked me some technical questions and some questions about my training. And then asked something that shook me.
“Do you want to be here?”
This immediately made being fired seem like a real possibility.
Fear washed over me, I hadn’t expected this question. In my state of stress, I struggled to get the words out to express how much I wanted the job. I don’t remember what I said. I must have got something out which was good enough.
The two gentlemen acknowledged the gaps and inconsistencies in my training. We then discussed a strategy for my future training and I found the clarity to ask for what I needed. Consistent training and consolidation.
A few days later, I got another call from the crew scheduling, “You have annual leave over the next two weeks, with your permission I’ll squeeze some training in there instead. ” This sounded uncomfortably familiar and created a defining moment for me in my career. I paused and with another moment of clarity, I suggested. “How about I take my leave, I’ll go relax and recover for the first week, then study for the second week, which will bring us to the end of the month. Then the Rostering department can plan my training properly with one Training Captain out of Sydney, on next months roster which isn’t yet published.” to my delight he said, “yep, great idea! I’ll make it happen.”
At that moment, I took control of my career, and I knew what I had to do.