Flying the Line: Express Jet Airlines Q&A

Q&A with Jeremy Ridout

Jeremy Ridout is a 2nd year First Officer with ExpressJet Airlines. He
attended the Airline Career Pilot Program with ATP as well as the
Regional Jet Standards Course. Jeremy lives in Dallas with his wife and
daughter, and commutes to IAH. He is also ATP’s newest Pilot Career
Coach.

Describe your Airline.

ExpressJet Airlines, Inc. operates as Continental Express, the regional
provider for Continental Airlines. With service to approximately 152
destinations in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the
Caribbean, ExpressJet currently operates all of Continental’s regional
service from its hubs in Houston, New York/Newark and Cleveland, and
additional non-hub service. ExpressJet Airlines employs approximately
6,800 people including about 2600 pilots flying 274 Embraer 145/135
Regional Jet aircraft.

What is your position at the company?

I am a First Officer on the Embraer 145/135 Regional Jet.

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

I had 653 hours of total time (224 single, 429 multi). Those hours
included 617 PIC, 72 night and 27 actual instrument.

I held Commercial certificates for Airplane Multiengine Land and
Airplane Single Engine Land and an Instrument rating. I also held
Multiengine Instructor, Certified Flight Instructor and Certified Flight
Instructor & Instrument certificates.

I had also attended ATP’s Regional Jet Standards program.

Briefly describe the interview and selection process.

I applied online to ExpressJet as soon as I met their published
minimums. A few months, later, I received a phone call from ExpressJet’s
human resources department and was given a phone interview. The phone
interview consisted of simple aviation questions that a current
instrument rated pilot should be able to answer such as, “What is a
HAA?”, “When can you descend below MDA on a non-precision approach?” and
“What is a MOCA?”

After the phone interview, I was invited to Houston for an interview. My
interview class consisted of about 40 pilots of which I believe 25 or so
were hired. The interview began at 8am and consisted of three
mini-interviews: Instrument knowledge, Decision-making and Human
resources, each one lasting about 5-10 minutes. The instrument portion
was like an instrument checkride oral. The decision-making segment asked
“What would you do if?” questions. Finally, basic job interview
questions were asked by the human resources folks. At the completion of
the interview, I was told to wait in the hallway and about 2 minutes
later was informed that I had been hired. I then spent a few hours
completing their application and background check forms, getting
fingerprinted and providing a sample for drug tests. I was sent home
with a rather large study manual and a class date in two weeks.

What was the experience level of those in your class?

Most of those in my class had between 800 and 1800 hours with a few
hundred hours of multiengine time. There were a few pilots who were on
furlough from Independence Air, and there were two other ATP graduates
who had similar total time as myself.

Briefly describe the new-hire training process.

The first week of training is ”Basic Indoc“. During this week, we are
taught company policies and procedures from the Flight Operations Manual
(FOM). This covers information ranging from requirements for reduced
take-off minimums to the company’s drug and alcohol policies to how many
lap children may be on the airplane.

We then participated in two days of CRM training. In CRM, the main
objective is to teach us that we are part of a crew and the course uses
exercises and case studies to get this point across. Since we were
new-hires, they focused on accidents that occurred in part because the
first officers didn’t speak up when they saw a problem developing. It
was an interesting study and is a no pressure event.

After that came Systems and FTD training. The Systems class takes an
in-depth look at one or more systems of the aircraft per day and lasts
for 2_ weeks. After the first week we began five sessions in the Flight
Training Device (FTD). Similar to ATP’s CRJ FTD, we practiced our flows
and approach profiles in 5 sessions. They don’t teach you how to fly the
jet, but you learn everything about flying the jet here.

Once Systems and FTDs were over, we took a written test and a
comprehensive oral exam. Finally, we made it to the full-motion
simulators for 6 sessions followed by what is called a Proficiency Check
(basically, a checkride). Like the FTD training, each sim session
focuses on different scenarios and builds on the previous session.
Additionally, there were opportunities in each session to practice
approaches and maneuvers for the checkride.

After the checkride, we had one more sim session called a LOFT (Line
Oriented Flight Training). The LOFT is intended to simulate any flight
that we may fly as line pilots. It is run in “real time” beginning from
when we arrive at the aircraft. Usually a new first officer is paired
with a newly upgraded captain, and usually something happens on the
flight that requires the crew to work together and utilize all resources
to resolve the situation and is meant to test and develop our decision
making abilities. It not a jeopardy event.

Initial Operating Experience (IOE) is the final step to becoming a line
pilot. We leave the training center and are paired up with a Check
Airman to fly a few trips while we actually fly passengers. On IOE we
are taught, not only how to fly and land the real airplane, but also
where the crew rooms are, how to access the crew scheduling computers,
and how everything really fits together.

Was housing provided during training?

Housing was provided for all new-hires in the Holiday Inn at the Houston
Bush airport. We were assigned rooms upon arrival at the hotel, two to a
room. The hotel was very friendly to the pilots and provided
transportation to and from the training center and had a full sized
cardboard cutout of the flight deck in room designated for our use.

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

ExpressJet pays a one time “Per-Diem” check of approximately $1500
within the first week of training. This will be the only pay you receive
until you pass your checkride which will take 5-6 weeks depending on
your schedule. After your checkride you are officially on the payroll
and you will receive at least your minimum pay guarantee of 75 hours.

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

I know that we lost three people from our class during training. None of
them made it to the simulator. Several people did not pass the checkride
the first time, but it was a relatively small percentage, and they all
received additional training and passed on the second attempt.

Describe the pay structure for line holders?

First year FO’s (reserve or line holder) currently earn $22.04 per
flight hour and all ExpressJet pilots are guaranteed 75 hours per month.
That works out to just under $20,000 per year. Second year FO’s earn
$32.80. For comparison, 4th year captains earn $64.15 per flight hour.

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

It is hard to say what the projected time to upgrade is right now at
ExpressJet. April 2004 hires upgraded in 2006, less than two years. But
a lot of pilots were hired between April 2004 and today so the upgrade
time is getting longer. It is probably safe to say that if things keep
moving as they are today, a new-hire today will upgrade in less than
five years.

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

Seven months—but that is pure speculation since the company does not
publish the information.

Is a strict seniority system in place?

Yes.

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

Houston, TX Newark, NJ Cleveland, OH

ExpressJet operates an all jet fleet out of each hub.

Are the bid lines structured so that pilots can commute?

Many of the bid lines are commutable. In Houston, it seems that more
lines are commutable than lines in Newark and Cleveland. Personally, I
have had very few non-commutable lines in the 12 months that I have been
a line holder.

Reserve lines are typically not commutable.

What are the jump seat reciprocity agreements?

ExpressJet has jumpseat agreements with just about every 121 airline and
several large 135 operations. We are CASS certified and as a result,
ExpressJet pilots can ride in the cockpit with other carriers.

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

Lines are built with a minimum of 11 days off in a 30 day month and with
12 days off in a 31 day month. Very senior captains and first officers
can get as many as 18 or 19 days off per month. Fourteen to sixteen days
off is average in the pilot group.

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

ExpressJet offers both traditional and Roth 401k plans. ExpressJet
allows up to 100% of your salary to be contributed (however, government
regulations limit the amount that you can contribute in a single year).

What is the attrition rate per year?

The company does not publish this information and deriving a number
would not be very accurate.

Is attrition expected to accelerate?

The industry is beginning to experience an upswing in pilot hiring.
Continental Airlines has said that it will hire 20-30 ExpressJet pilots
per month for the foreseeable future (a formal flowthrough agreement is
not in place). The major legacy carriers are recalling their furloughs
and will likely begin hiring in the next few years. Other major carriers
such as Southwest, Alaska and AirTran are currently hiring pilots. With
a large number of pilots at the majors nearing retirement, the outlook
appears good.

Is there a union or consideration for a union?

ExpressJet pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association
(ALPA).

What is the sick leave policy?

When you are sick, call in sick. Just don’t get caught calling in sick
when you are not sick—you will get into trouble. After 5 sick calls in a
single year, you may have to do a song and dance in the Chief Pilots
office, but if the calls were legitimate, you don’t have to worry. A
doctor’s note is required if you call in sick during a holiday.

What is the vacation policy?

Pilots earn one week of vacation after their first year and two weeks of
vacation during their second through 6th years of service. Vacation time
is bid, by seniority, during the fall of the preceding year for which
the vacation is to be enjoyed.

ExpressJet vacation lasts from Monday of the week that vacation is
awarded through Sunday, 7 days later. Pilots bid for their trips during
a vacation month, just like they do at any other time for the year.
However, if any portion of their awarded line overlaps with the
vacation, even by a single day, the trip is dropped. With shrewd
bidding, it is quite easy to stretch a week of vacation into nearly 3
weeks off.