Jun 17 2009

The Choices We Don’t Have

Before starting with my flight training I loved to read those articles about “choosing the right flight school”, “choosing a good flight instructor”, etc. Written by experienced pilots, they looked as smart as it can be – information provided apparently covered the topic in and out, leaving no space for doubts. But when I finally make it to the aerodrome, such articles somehow lost almost all of their attractiveness. Thing is, they represent the flight school’s point of view, and any student pilot quickly discovers that those institutions are more proficient in draining his pockets, than in anything else.

Maybe such wording looks a bit harsh but hey, how frequently have you seen that same sequence: A newbie pilot is running around, eyes full of joy, telling anyone who’d like to listen about his new hobby, than became silent, than depressed, than quit? There is some ugly statistics on the net, but I am not talking about it right now. My question is – why such things happen? I think that student pilot prospective should be more useful to understand the situation, than that of the accomplished flight instructors’ musings…

The most important thing to keep in mind, there is an inherent lack of choices for the consumer. Even though about half a dozen airfields and airports may exist around more or less important city, half of them at best might be suitable for the flight training. How happens? Let’s look at it a bit more in detail:

Commuting. Unless you are lucky to have a “city airport” inside your town, you will have to reach out there somehow. Say you are driving – then prepare for the expensive airport parking and, obviously, the gas used. Say you are using the public transport – add at least twice more time to make it to the airfield, plus price of the tickets back and forth. How much? Calculate the “typical” 60-70 hours of training, about one hour a day, add a month for the ground school and another one for delays and cancelled flights. Starting to get some interesting numbers? That is correct, and don’t forget that commuting is time and nerves consuming. There is nothing good in being in a bad shape even before getting in the plane, but that’s life in most cases.

Safety. Every flight school will talk a lot about safety, but check their records in the Transportation Safety Board archives. For any flight training institution that has been around for a while, there should be accidents and incidents – study them. Off-airport landings due to engine failure mean inadequate maintenance. Mid-air collisions or unway incursions happen due to the lack of flight organization. Look at their airplanes – do they have their technical papers accessible and correct? Taking all that in account, would you save a couple of bucks while learning to fly on the Moe’s airstrip, in his one and only plane, with the owner playing a role of an instructor? Your choices are getting narrower again – and not because you are choosing from equal, but rather striving for essential!

Schedule. If the school doesn’t have a bunch of airplanes and instructors readily available, you will have a hard time trying to sync your schedule with that of the flight school. Your training will took forever, you will fly not when you are ready and willing, but when there is a plane and instructor available. Every next time you’ll get airborne you will have to refresh first, learn more second – which is highly inefficient and annoying. Annoyance and inefficiency drive frustration, which leads directly to depression and quit, simple as that.

Prices. There is a lot of non-advertised spending in flight training. A lot! Think about it – first you need to calculate the number of hours you will fly. Typically 60-70, but your mileage may vary. Add applicable taxes. Add the flight instructor fees as those are not included in the aircraft rental price list. Add the pay-per-debriefing fees, unless you don’t want to speak with your instructor before or after the flight. Add the ground school price. Add the headset and appropriate eyewear. Don’t forget about the books – they are expensive as hell but you will not be able to find really valuable stuff on the web, and most of that reading is mandatory. Then goes the maps, charts, plotters, calculators, etc… By the way, do you know how much you will pay if you accidentally damage the school’ airplane while training? What is the insurance policy for planes and people inside? Are you aware that there is a +20% difference between the Hobbs time and air time and you will pay for the first, not the last? What’s the amount to pay if you will have to cancel the flight? Find it out – preferably before getting in.

Instructor. This guy may not be necessarily smart, fun, positive and compassionate. Mostly he will just need to build hours for his ongoing category. You will pay those hours for him, plus applicable fees that will make the flight school profit. Literally no instructor has a formal education in teaching. He will obviously have no idea about human psychology; neither understanding of what’s going wrong with you. Simply put, he would not be able to teach. Period. Think about your flight instructor as a lifesaver that hopefully will not permit you to crash while learning on your own, and with a bit of luck will provide you with some very valuable hints – that is as much as you can dream about. In the absolutely best case this guy may become your first connection to the rest of the flying world, so good relationship is of utmost importance. Asking him difficult questions or making him work out of the cabin for free is definitely not the way to go for that matter – you will only make him suspicious and annoyed. Swapping instructors back and forth looking for the “best” one will also create you quite a special reputation in the school.

Public. Every airport contains its own “layer” of local people – flying and hanging around. Those guys are your network. If you will ever need to be comfortable in the airport, get some interesting flying proposals, latest internal news, you will need to become friends with those guys. As any closed circle they will be reluctant in the beginning and criticizing all the way, joking about your errors behind your back. Are you ready for that? Are they ready? In most cases this would be an obvious pushing of the square peg in the round hole, and you will have to leave with it or leave the place.

Romance. Non-flying public frequently have a funny belief that flying people are special. Highly trained, intelligent, physically fit. Even more, those “chosen ones” are supposed to be in love with their romantic profession and happy to share that attraction with brother souls. Well… Simply put, for most of the professional pilots their work is a boring routine with some hidden danger. Complex, yes, but all the romance has been lost in the very beginning of the career. So if you go to the airport expecting to see a bunch of sky-lovers, happy to embrace you just for being similar to them – forget it, please. Not only you will look stupid, you will neither gain anything from that. Even if those pilots you’d like to share your feelings with are really dedicated to their profession, mystery of flight is not there any more.

All this doesn’t take in account your medical conditions which may impose some ugly limitations and obligations, making the customization of your flight training even less possible. Overall, above mentioned factors practically eliminate any “choice” in a market sense. You are not looking for the best; you are trying to get the less of the worst while still staying economically sound. You will have to – otherwise you would not be able to make it even to that minimal number of hours necessary to pass the exams for the license. Unless you are explicitly rich, any possibility of tailoring the flight training environment to suite your needs is doomed, and you should mentally prepare to get as much as possible from as less as acceptable. And even the money will not always buy you the best – simply because there might be only the mediocre stuff around.

Now you may ask – why the hell am I continuing to suffer through all that disconcerting stuff? The answer is, after checking out about a dozen of flight schools and meeting personally with at least two dozens of flight instructors, I was finally able to find the sweet spot. Nice, though pricey, flight school in a 15 minutes walk from home. Excellent flight instructor – fun, smart and knowledgeable. Training aircraft in abundance and in a good shape. Which means – this is not some sort of Holy Grail I’m talking about, but rather a quest for finding the optimal in less than encouraging environment. If you are dedicated enough, you can find your way to the skies, too. If you are not, probably it would be better to stay on the ground anyway… Good luck!

Jun 10 2009

De Los Boludos Que No Te Saludan

Generalmente son porteros. O “encargados” – de la puerta. Los pasas de largo mientras que echan lavandina a la vereda, justo cuando todo el mundo va a laburar. Te miran con la cara de preocupacion y molestia – pero no te dicen nada. Tampoco les contestas, obvio. Por ahi se entretienen con la apuesta si destruis su pantalon con una baldosa floja, o esta vez no? Pero cuando volves a la tarde te miran de tal manera que sabes – estan esperando tu reaccion inmediata y precisa. Ya! Tenes que saludarles, ahi te diran alguna pelotudes y quedaran contento que establecieron cierto contacto con el bobo este, vos.

A mi siempre me molestaba la necesidad de ser amable con la gente cual jode mi presencia. Mas todavia cuando ellos ni pretienden de ser amable conmigo. Mas todavia que su oposicion y detesto se ve escrito en sus caras. Si alguien me da una sonrisa – la devuelvo en seguida, me encanta ver la gente feliz! Lo mismo va con los saludos – es algo totalmente mutuo. Pero si no hay contacto, entonces no lo hay. Si no hay alegria, no hace falta mentir. A veces es mejor simplemente quedarse frio y alejado, pero sin conflicto. Eso es una actitud civilizada.

Sin embargo son muchas las personas que tratan de forzarte a sonreir para ellos, saludarles sin que te respondan. Mirar en sus caras con amabilidad, aunque ellos tengan una carete de culo mas impresionante… No solo porteros – esa misma caracteristica tambien predomina entre los contadores publicos, encargados de recursos humanos, managers y otros jefecitos “intermedios” de la oficina. Como que ellos esperen que vos les demostras su alegria intensa y profunda por verlos, mientras que ellos te respondan con una imagen de superioridad e importancia total.

Por ahi eso tiene que ver con su impotencia de cumplir algo importante en la vida y ser respetados por eso. Por ahi todas aquellas personas que te odian si no les saludas, pero nunca te saludan primeras internamente sufren. Quizas esa falta de reconocimiento de su valor – totalmente inflado, pero no importa – les hace sentir estupido e inutil, exactamente como son si les quitas toda la mentira agregada…

Pero igual, no tengo ninguna condolencia a su sufrimiento. Es mas, padezco a cierta maldad de mostrar mi falta de respeto claramente – mirandoles arriba de sus ojos, en el frente, con la sonrisa que dice: “y hasta a vos, mierda, no te odio porque no mereces ni eso…” No puedo evtar esa manera de verlos tal como son, aunque a veces siento lastima por su patetico vacio de alma y trato de aceptarlos. Que se yo, ni creo que hace falta! Hay tantas personas decentes – buenas, alegres, amables y abiertas – entonces para que volverse enfermo amigandose con una porqueria humana descartada hasta por ellos mismos?

Que saluden. Que no se hagan boludos. Sonrei, y el mundo te sonreira – y que se joden las ratas.