Flying the Line: Trans States Airlines

Describe your Airline

Trans States Airlines is a growing regional airline that currently employs approximately 600 pilots. TSA has a fleet of 62 aircraft including 35 EMB-145s, 25 J-41s, 1 ATR-42, and 1 ATR-72. TSA is currently experiencing expansion due to growing contracts with two of our code share partners, United and American. TSA is adding aircraft monthly and is expecting the fleet to increase by at least 18 by the end of 2004. The EMB-145 fleet for United is expected to increase from 7 to 20 and an additional 5 EMB-145 aircraft are scheduled for the American operations, making a total of 33 EMB-145s for American. TSA also currently operates 13 EMB-145s and 6 Jetstream 41s for US Airways. In an October 2003 class, the Chief Pilot stated the long-term business plan for TSA was to be a 50-90 seat, all jet airline. While he mentioned no specifics for implementation of that plan, he did say that the company intends to park the J-41 aircraft as their leases expire beginning in 2005. The TSA pilots, represented by ALPA, are also currently negotiating pay scales for 70-90 seat aircraft.

What is your position at the company?

I am a First Officer in the EMB-145. I was originally hired in August of 2001, furloughed in October 2001, and returned to work in October 2003.

What was your flight time, and what ratings and certificates did you hold at the time of your interview?

When I interviewed in 2001, I had 670 hours total time, of which about 550 was multi-engine. I held single and multi-engine commercial and instrument instructor ratings. I also had an FCC Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit and a first class medical with no restrictions. Since I was hired in 2001 there have been several changes in the selection and hiring process.

Briefly describe the interview and selection process.

Currently the published minimums are 1500 total time with 500 multi-engine. The hiring department reports that the lowest time pilot recently hired had approximately 1100 total with 200 multi.

Resumes can be submitted via www.airlineapps.com, fax, mail, or e-mail. Pilot Recruitment contact info can be found at www.transstates.net. Currently, the interview is a one-day process. Applicants arrive in the morning, fill out an application, take a written exam, and then proceed to a panel interview after successful completion of the written exam. The panel is typically a three-person panel consisting of an HR person, a Flight Manager, and member of the training department. Sim evaluations are no longer required unless the applicant has less than the 1500/500 time requirement. Upon successful completions of the interview, applicants are typically awarded a class date within about a month of the interview. Roughly 60% of new hires are assigned the EMB-145 and the rest are assigned to the J-41.

What was the experience level of those in your class?

The experience level of new hires in my most recent class in 10/2003 covered the full range from lower time flight instructors to furloughed major airline pilots. There were also a couple of military helicopter pilots in my class.

Briefly describe the new-hire training process.

New hires will typically take 2-3 months to complete training before being fully line qualified depending on whether there is a wait for simulator training. Training consists of Indoc, GOS, CRM, and Systems classes, which take approximately five weeks to complete. Then each crewmember completes 8 simulator sessions and a checkride before being released for 20-25 hours (depending on aircraft) of initial line operating experience and a final line check. In 10/2003, ground training was held at TSA headquarters in STL and the sim was at Flight Safety in STL. There was talk at that time of conducting some additional sim training in Flight Safety in Texas as well to meet the growing demand for EMB sim time.

Was housing provided during training?

During training, new-hires are responsible for their own housing.

What is the pay and/or per diem during training?

The pay is a 60-hour guarantee during training. Per diem ($1.40) for new-hires starts once actual line flying begins during IOE.

What is the pass rate among new-hires in the simulator?

The pass rate for new hires in the sim is very high. The company is investing a lot of time and money on new hires and they want to see a return on their investment. If someone is struggling, the company will provide limited extra training and time to help see to it that new hires succeed. There is also a list of TSA Pilot Volunteers who are willing to act as mentors for anyone needing additional assistance during training. In my class, everyone succeeded and is now on line.

Describe the pay structure for line holders?

The current pay rate for a first year F.O. is $21.22 regardless of aircraft. Second year F.O. pay is $24.24 in the ERJ and $24.23 in the J-41.There is a 70-hour guarantee for reserve pilots. For line holders, there is a 74-hour guarantee. Lines are averaging around 90 hours per month with a 95% guarantee once the final bid is awarded.

What is the current projected time required to upgrade to Captain?

With the current rate of growth, a new hire can expect to upgrade to captain in 15-24 months provided the time requirements are met. To upgrade in the EMB-145, 3200 total time is required with at least 400 hours in company aircraft. For the J-41, 2200 hours are required with at least 400 in company aircraft. Once upgrade is complete, a third year captain in the EMB will earn $55.75. A third year J-41 captain will earn $41.97.

What is the approximate time a new-hire spends on reserve?

A new hire can expect to hold a line on the jet within a couple of months and within about 6 months in the J-41. Reserve lines are built with 10 days off per month and pilots are required to report for duty within 1½ hours of being called.

Is a strict seniority system in place?

Trans States does operate using a seniority system.

What are the current domiciles, and which aircraft are based there?

The current domiciles are St. Louis (STL) and Richmond (RIC) for both the EMB and J-41 aircraft. The ATR crews are based in STL.

Are the bid lines structured so that pilots can commute?

About 1/3 of the lines are commutable.

What are the jump seat reciprocity agreements?

TSA has reciprocal agreements with most major and regional carriers. TSA pilots may jump seat internationally as well.

How many days do you fly in a 30-day period?

The lines in the EMB are built with an average of 15-19 days of flying. The majority of the lines fly 17-18 days in a 30-day period.

Do you have a 401(k), and if so, what is the maximum amount an employee can contribute?

The 401(k) program allows a maximum contribution of 17%. TSA will match 1% of employee contributions.

What is the attrition rate per year?

The current attrition rate is fairly slow due to industry hiring being relatively slow. A majority of attrition historically takes place when majors are hiring, rather than retirement. In 2003, Trans States lost 80 pilots total due to attrition.

Is attrition expected to accelerate?

The trend in the industry seems to indicate attrition will be on the rise in the coming months/years. The current movement and opportunity at TSA is primarily from the fleet and contractual expansion taking place between Trans States and their code share partners.

Is there a union or consideration for a union?

The TSA pilot group is represented by ALPA. The current contract expires July 31, 2006.

What is the vacation policy?

Paid vacation time accrues at a rate of 7 days paid for 1 year of service, 14 days paid for 2-7 years of service, 21 days paid for 8-14 years of service and 28 days paid for 15+ years of service.

What is the sick leave policy?

Paid sick time accrues at a rate of 2 hours for each full month of active service for 1-3 years of active service and 3 hours for each full month of active service for 4+ years of service.