Waypoints: The 200-hour challenge

November 1, 2008

Editor in Chief Thomas B. Haines recently completed a type rating in the Eclipse 500.

At 200 hours were you ready for an ATP-level checkride? Ready to fly as a first officer on an airliner? Ready to look over your left shoulder at paying passengers? Were those paying passengers ready for your next landing?

For most of us the answer to all would be no. But can it be done? Should it be done? Officials at the Commercial Airline Pilot Training (CAPT) Program say, yes, and yes. And more than 100 pilots now flying for airlines are proof that it can happen. “We’re trying to break the old mold that you need 1,200 flight hours” to fly for an airline, says Chris Kokai, executive director of the CAPT Program. Based at Flagler County Airport just north of Daytona Beach, Florida, the program is owned by Georgia-based FTS International. FTS purchased the program from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in August 2006.

While the U.S. training market is in the doldrums, international demand for airline pilots is still soaring. As of September, CAPT was training about 200 students, 185 of them from China. The balance are either recent college graduates seeking an airline career or career-changers chucking the desk job for their dream of flying the line. The CAPT Program’s $100,000 price tag is certainly a deterrent for some, admits Kokai, but the quality and efficiency of the program allows the student to move into a career quickly, often with a leg up on those who choose a more traditional training route. For one thing, the CAPT students exit the program with a Boeing MD-90 type rating. Although not many airlines fly the MD-90, the fact that the students have been trained on big iron systems and glass cockpits eases the training burden on the hiring airline.

How can this be?

Thinking back to my own flight training and watching my 15-year-old daughter work her way through a conventional training program, I find it hard to believe that students with as few as 200 hours are saddling up a 150,000-pound, 150-passenger airliner after passing an ATP-level type rating course.

The key, says Kokai, is a structured training course designed to take zero-time students through private pilot and commercial certificates while adding on multiengine and instrument ratings in 200 hours. Intense emotional and psychological screening removes from consideration students not suited to that style of training. The company accepts only about 70 percent of the students who apply. Most students come to the program with zero time.

Students, who are required to wear uniforms, are in training six days a week. A typical day starts with a one-hour pre-brief; a 1.5 hour flight; another 1.5 hours riding in the backseat acting as a copilot while another student flies, and a one-hour debrief. The backseat student has a push-to-talk switch and is expected to act as a copilot, managing radios, charts, navigation, and checklists. In addition, the students spend several additional hours daily in ground school and studying. An instructor facilitates the briefings, but the students are expected to score themselves and their partners—an effort to assure that they are used to challenging the authority of the captain. In-cockpit video cameras prove to be powerful tools in helping students understand weaknesses both in flying and in crew coordination. “We don’t train you to pass a checkride, we train you to be a captain in a Transport category jet with command authority,” explains Kokai.

The students move seamlessly through ratings and certificates. “We wouldn’t even solo them except the FAA requires it,” he says.

The school utilizes a fleet of new Cirrus SR20s for primary and instrument training and the initial parts of the commercial training. The balance of the commercial training and the multiengine training is done in new Piper Seminoles with Avidyne Entegra panels nearly identical to those in the SR20s. The school is evaluating the purchase of various turbine airplanes to give students experience in turbine operations.From there it’s a short hike to the right seat of an airliner, perhaps as little as 12 months from when the student first set foot in an airplane.

E-mail the author at thomas.haines@aopa.org.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.