In my quest to change career in my thirties and become a commercial pilot, like a video game persona who wishes to gain experience and explores each corners to find gems, in the last days of January, I travelled some one thousand kilometers in the spirit of getting a little closer to my goal. And gems I found!
Going back a few weeks in time, my friend Joe invited me to attend a presentation at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. There the Canadian Aviation Historical Society had a guest speaker that night named Kate Speer to talk about her 10 years experience flying as a survey pilot. At that point, I didn’t know much about what survey flying entailed but it surely was more than going door to door with an airplane to get people to answer questions! I won’t go into the details of her very interesting presentation here (maybe a future blog post if you are interested), but survey flying is far from answering questions and is very demanding as far as precision goes. At least the answers come from the Earth as opposed from people. But after hearing her captivating stories of her trips to Africa, I had the chance to exchange a few words with her (lots of people were vying to get her attention!). When my friend Joe quickly to mentioned that I was also a pilot and owner of an airplane, Kate asked if we could connect on Facebook and mentioned something about an open house for commercial pilots coming up.
This was the beginning of a much longer interchange on Facebook where Kate showed lots of support and was reassuring that my age wasn’t a show stopper. She also told me more about the open house, to be held by Porter Airlines, where she works as a first officer. When the official announcement was posted, I submitted my interest to participate, and waited patiently.
One of the objectives of the open house is to make an early connection with potential new Porter pilots. I was encouraged to put forth my name even though I have not yet completed my commercial ticket.
When a message came from the pilot recruitment ambassador that over 150 people had responded, I thought, falsely, that I wouldn’t make it in the 75 selected participants. But, happily, I was wrong. I was thrilled when two weeks before the day of the Open House, I received an email officially inviting me to join them in their learning centre for the AM session at Toronto Island’s Billy Bishop Airport.
Then the real planning started. It would have been awesome to fly my little 150 right down to Porter FBO, and maybe park it beside their big Bombardier Q400. But weather being what it is in January, I couldn’t risk it. After all, flying small airplanes has a lot of downfalls when it comes to battling the weather (no deicing is one thing, but a crucial one in the Canadian winter season). I debated flying in commercial versus driving, and decided to go with the latter so as to make it a mini solo vacation to celebrate the completion of my commercial written exam. (We work hard for each step, so we have to celebrate when, and however, we can.)
Tuesday morning, January 31 at 7:30am with my Tim Horton coffee close by, I braved the traffic to drive downtown to Billy Bishop Airport. I was excited to get onto the airport grounds of the 6th world’s best scenic landing. But oh boy! They hit you hard if you dare take your car down there. Please heed my advice: do NOT drive your car all the way to the island. At the least, leave it at Parking 1 (P1) just before embarking on the ferry to the island. A $46 lesson well learned. The under-water tunnel which opened 2 years earlier, makes it a perfect 5 minutes walk to the main terminal. A breeze… well you know what I mean.
Being early gave me the opportunity to roam around the terminal, which is quite worth the detour. There are some interesting pieces of history about Billy Bishop Airport, its roots, and a suspended airplane pleasing to the eye of aviation enthusiasts. Sort of like a mini-museum if you like.
Porter airline is rich of 1400 team members, which is considered a small airline in the business, and we were welcomed by a dozen of them in a cozy room. A warm smiley welcome from Dawn brought the nervous level down a notch.
After some mingling time where we could be acquainted with pilots, co-pilots, management and participants, the president himself, Robert J. Deluce, took the time to give us a speech on how the company was born, on how well it is succeeding and where the plans for the future will take the airline. The future seems bright for wanna be commercial pilots at Porter!
They operate out of 3 bases. The main one being Toronto Billy Bishop, and two more: Ottawa and Halifax. The company serves 15 Canadian and 8 Americans destinations.
The ambience was friendly and family-like, as they took us on a tour of the airport, all the staff seemed to have a good time working efficiently as a team. Greetings were thrown graciously with smiles. There is a lot going on in any business, but this seems the right way to offer the best customer service: having happy employees. If they have put a show on for us, they have done a great job of it!
Visiting all the different facets of an airline daily routine was fascinating. There is so much involved. Crew scheduling, maintenance of the many aircraft, paperwork to cross the border, rescheduling of passengers when flights get delayed or cancelled due to weather, the different platforms used for communications, and more. But the most exciting part was the visit to one of their aircraft. We were even allowed to sit in the cockpit! As a bonus, I was given permission to push a few buttons reserved for kids (showing doors open, fuel levels, etc.). Well, that’s alright as I was totally feeling like a kid at that moment!
A well-executed rotation of activities during the open house enabled us to get into smaller groups, alternating meeting with the individuals and Porter team members. It gave us an opportunity to chit-chat aviation and share our personal stories. That’s partly how I learned some valuable points that would help get hired. Lots of IFR experience came around often – it has to be instinctive. But multi-engine time is not of major importance, which surprised quite a few. A four-week training course is provided at Billy Bishop in their learning centre.
I met with lots of people from different background and different places in their flying career. Some, like me, are finishing their CPL, some are working on their instructor rating, while others are already employed as corporate pilots, bush pilots, instructors, and so on. A few, like me, were doing this as a second or even third career. A clear message was broadcasted that day: your age is not a limiting factor to a career as an airline pilot. The demand is growing, and the industry has to lower their requirements continually to respond to the need for pilots. It was a message of hope well appreciated by many of us I would say.
Overall it was a very positive experience which I would recommend highly. Although I don’t yet have the minimum requirements to apply, this was an experience rich in knowledge where I was able to connect with new people in the industry, and it energized me for days! Thank you for the invitation Porter!
If you have a chance to attend an open house, do it! (If you already have your commercial licence and more than 200 hours, you may apply now for their First Officer – Porter Pilot Early Connection Program.)