Flying the Line: Pinnacle Airlines

Describe your Airline

Pinnacle is a regional airline that has changed significantly in the past few years, originally operating Jetstream 31s and Saab 340s out of Memphis. In April 2000 their first CRJ was delivered. Now Pinnacle is an all-jet fleet of CRJs operating out of three hubs. There are two variations of the CRJ flown by pinnacle, the CRJ-200 and the CRJ-440. The CRJ-200 is a 50 seat and the CRJ-440 is a 44-seat airplane. There are no differences in the cockpit or training, only the airplane max gross weight. There are two companies providing the Northwest Airlink (regional airline) service, Pinnacle and Mesaba. Pinnacle, with all its growth, currently has 700 pilots. There are 129 CRJs on order for Pinnacle, with options by Northwest for more. There are approximately 82 now, with at least 3 new CRJs being added each month.

What is your position at the company?

I am a First Officer flying the CRJ.

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

When I interviewed, I had 1561 hours total time, of which about 1220 was multi-engine. I instructed for ATP where I built the multi-engine time before getting hired by Pinnacle. I have single and multi-engine Commercial licenses as well as my flight instructor ratings. I also had ATP and FEX writtens, an FCC Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit, a first class medical, and United States Passport.

How did you attain your certificates, ratings, and flight time?

I received my private pilot rating in my hometown at an FBO. While pursuing my private rating I worked full time at a 9 to 5 job, and discovered flying was extremely gratifying. Researching alternatives to continue my training to become a professional pilot, I mentioned to my instructor that I thought ATP was the best choice. His response was that he wished he had gone to ATP. With that kind of recommendation and my investigation, I decided to attend ATP as soon as I got my private pilot rating. After just 3 months and receiving all of my ratings including instructor certificates in ATP’s Airline Career Pilot Program, I was invited to instruct. I spent just over a year instructing, building multi-engine time before being hired by Pinnacle.

Briefly describe the interview and selection process.

Currently the published minimums are 1500 total time with 300 multi-engine. Pinnacle strictly adheres to their established minimums. No one that interviewed had lower than the minimums. Other pilots recommend all interviewees.

The interview is a one-day process. Applicants arrive in the morning, and after an introduction by HR and a little info about the company, everyone takes a written test. After successful completion of the test, the interview process begins. One by one, the applicants are taken into a room with a panel of five, consisting of an HR person, a Flight Standards pilot, 2 line pilots and a check airman. Qualified applicants usually go immediately to meet the chief pilot for a final decision. Acceptance phone calls or emails usually take about a week. Rejection letters take a little longer. Applicants can expect a class date at least 2 months away from the interview.

What was the experience level of those in your class?

The experience level of new hires in my class ranged from furloughed airline pilots to instructors with the bare minimum hours.

Briefly describe the new-hire training process.

All new hire ground school, including simulator training at Flight Safety, will occur in MEM. New hires will finish all training within 2 to 3 months. Training consists of one week of indoctrination, 3 weeks of systems and jet flight aerodynamics ground school, followed by 3 CPT sessions before flying the simulator. After 9 simulator sessions and a successful checkride, pilots are released for 30 hours of initial line operating experience.

Was housing provided during training?

During training, new-hires are responsible for their own housing. Some stayed in an extended stay hotel, others grouped 4 to an apartment rented on a short term lease.

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

During training, new-hires do not receive any compensation.

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

In my class of 16, two did not pass the sim training. One was asked to leave before the 6th sim session and one did not pass the check ride the first time but was offered another chance. Sadly, he did not pass the second one either.

Describe the pay structure for line holders.

The current pay rate for a first year F.O. is $20.13/hr. Captains usually in their third year of employment start at $53.47/hr. There is a 75-hour guarantee for reserve pilots and for line holders. Lines range in hours from 74 to 95 hours of block time varying with 10 to 18 days off a month. Per diem is $1.40 an hour.

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 2 years. 3000 hours are required with 1000 hours in type.

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

New hires are only sitting 1 to 2 months on reserve, with some bases not at all. The reserve lines are built with a couple of 12 day off lines for airport reserve and 10 days off for airport and home reserve. Airport reserves can expect to sit at a domicile airport with a 15 minute call out. Home reserves are expected to report within 1 hour and 30 minutes.

What are the current domiciles, and what is seniority like at each?

Domiciles are:

  • DTW—Detroit (junior)
  • MSP—Minneapolis (mid)
  • MEM—Memphis (very senior)

What is the jumpseat/buddy pass policy?

Pinnacle employees and parents and children of employees are eligible to ride on flights as standby passengers. Currently, Pinnacle employees are considered off-airline jumpseaters for travel on Northwest mainline flights, which means that there is no policy especially for Airlink pilots. We are treated as any other airline pilot wishing to ride on those flights. Pinnacle pilots can buy passes for $25 to use if the jumpseat has been taken. Airlink pilots are allowed to ride in the cockpit of northwest mainline flights if there is no room in the cabin. Buddy passes can be purchased for friends traveling on Pinnacle but are not inexpensive.

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

Typical lines are built with two, 2-day trips together. There are few 3-day and 4-day trips. MSP and DTW bases also fly day trips, and what we refer to as high-speeds. High-speeds, or continuous duty overnights, are flights that start at 9pm and fly to an outstation then fly out at 6 am, once you reach your domicile you are off duty until later that night.

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

Pinnacle offers pilots, after 6 months of service, the option to contribute up to 16 percent of their salary. Depending on the years of service, the company will match 25 percent on 5 percent of employee salary after 6 months of service. Through 13 or more years of service, a 75 percent match on 7 percent of employee salary is offered.

What is the attrition rate per year?

The current attrition rate is slow due to major airline hiring being relatively slow. Most of the Captains that have been at the company for over 10 years are planning on making Pinnacle a career airline.

Is there a union?

ALPA represents the Pinnacle pilot group. The current contract expires in May 2004.

What is the vacation policy?

Vacation is honored in the order of company seniority. Paid vacation is considered at base salary or hourly rate of pay in effect at the time of vacation. First year vacation is earned at 1.54 hours bi-weekly. The second year employee is entitled to 5 days of vacation. With 3 to 5 years, 10 days off a year is planned. In year 6 to 15, 15 days are planned. Year 16 and up is 20 days.

What is the sick leave policy?

Unplanned absences due to illness require a doctor’s note. Paid sick time accrues at a rate of 4 hours or half day for each month of employment.

What benefits are provided/offered to pilots?

Pinnacle offers full medical dental benefits with optional vision, life, and homeowners insurance.

What is the work environment like?

Pinnacle Pilots are generally happy, however crew scheduling is the most discussed weakness within the company. Crew room conversations have been focusing on new ideas for our upcoming contract negations.