For those of you dreaming of an airline pilot career, here’s an interview with a regional pilot that’s already living your dream! Does reality meet his expectations? Let’s find out!
Interview with Jonny McB, Regional Pilot.
Quality of life and loving your job is everything, whether carrying 50 passengers to Fargo or 300 to Rio de Janeiro. Flying is flying.Jonny McB
Hi Jonny, welcome aboard! Can you tell us a little about yourself—how old you are, where you grew up, married, etc?
My name is Jonny McB and I grew up in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, UT. I am 26 years old and have been married 3 years to my lovely wife. We have a 1 and a half year old boy who is full of energy and takes up most my time on my days off. I have a twin brother, and we grew up doing everything together. In our teens we became fascinated with aviation and were always wanting to learn all we could about flying.
Who are your mentors and idols, those that made an impact on your life, and your decision to become a pilot?
Airlines run in my family. My grandpa started with United Airlines in the 40’s as a ticket agent and slowly made his way up to the VP of customer service. He helped invent many norms now in the airlines such as the smart cart and jet bridges. My uncle is a retired Delta captain and I have many cousins who are pilots. When I was in the 7th grade I took a class where they asked us to think of the top 3 careers that I would like to do once I “grew up”. Seeing the life my uncle had, it made me want to look into it more. There was also nothing else that really interested me. From then on, with my twin brother, we learned all we could about aviation.
Instead of PlayStation, we were on the computer playing Flight Simulator.Jonny McB
Instead of playing PlayStation and Nintendo 64 growing up, we were on the computer flying the flight simulator. We took our first real flight at 14 with a neighbor and were hooked from then on. I couldn’t wait until graduating high school and going to college to begin my dream of becoming a pilot. My uncle would always tell awesome stories of his career, as well as my neighbor who’d been hired with a regional airline around the time he took my brother and I flying. At 18 I met another regional airline pilot who also shared my passion for aviation and always supported me in the decision to be a pilot. I am still in contact with all of these pilots.
Do you have a degree? If so, what? Do you think the airlines still require a degree?
Most major and regional airlines prefer a college degree. It also helps you become a well-rounded person.
Bachelor’s degree in Aviation Technology – Professional Pilot. I know most major airlines prefer a degree as well as the regionals. However I know lots of professional pilots who don’t have a degree. I think that it is very beneficial in helping you become a well-rounded person and knowing even more in depth information about the aviation industry. Some of my favorite classes were aviation law, human factors in aviation, and helping teach private pilot ground as a senior project.
Where did you get your flight training?
Utah State University. They are in my opinion on of the best flight programs in the country. A hidden gem in Cache Valley. They are a fully accredited part 141 school and Restricted-ATP certified with a level 5 CRJ-700 simulator and year long systems course. Their fleet consists of new Diamond DA-40 and DA-42 aircraft with the Garmin G1000 avionics. They also have Piper PA-28-200 Arrows for commercial and CFI and a Cessna 152 for spin training. They’ll take you through all your ratings including CFI, CFII and MEI.
Personally I think ab-initio training is overpriced and the learning too quick to absorb. I really enjoyed the 4 year degree and slower pace, for about the same cost.Jonny McB
Did you do “ab-initio” type training? If so, can you describe the process and how much it cost you?
I personally did not, but I taught at an ab-initio program as a flight instructor in Phoenix. Personally I think that the cost is usually overpriced (70-100k) and the learning too quick to really absorb. I really enjoyed the 4 year degree and slower pace. It was also overall the same price (60k for training and around 3k a semester)
Did your parents help and support you during your schooling and training?
My parents gave me two options: Pay for tuition or housing. That was an incentive to get scholarships.
My parents gave me two options: They’d help pay for tuition or housing. That was an incentive to get scholarships to pay for tuition and then I’d basically go to school for free.
They did help pay for my private pilot and a small portion of my commercial rating, and then the rest was paid by scholarships and student loans. I graduated with my 4 year degree with only about $38,000 in loans. The flying at USU is relatively cheap and I received various scholarships such as academic (do good in high school!), in music, and aviation.
Many families are looking at schools such as Embry Riddle. Do you feel this is a valid way to go?
They’re definitely good schools, but as I stated above I think that you pay more for something you can get for a relatively equal quality but for half the price. There are many flight schools such as USU that do a great job but don’t charge as much as the big schools. I feel like the experience I got with mountain flying, instrument flying, and the equipment I flew was superb and well worth the price.
What do you fly now?
The CRJ 200, 700 and 900
How long have you been at your current airline?
6 months and counting, literally, until I make it to second year pay, haha.
How much total time did you have when you were hired by your current airline?
Around 1250 total time with 300 multi (I qualified for the R-ATP so I only needed 1000 total time, another great reason to go with a bachelor’s degree)
What other experience do you have flying—CFI, charters, banner tow, etc?
I worked hard at a flight school and flew over 800 hours. It got me to the airlines in less than a year from graduating.
I took the fast route, not including the 4 year degree. I graduated right at 4 years of college then moved to Phoenix, AZ to flight instruct. I did a little bit of instructing in Salt Lake City, then gained the rest of my hours in Phoenix. The school I worked at in Phoenix was great and I was paid well and worked hard. I worked in Phoenix for 11 months and gained over 800 hours, including about 250 multi. I was paid salary and it did its job — got me to the airlines in less than a year from graduating.
What expectations do you have at your current airline?
Who else can honestly say they LOVE their job?
I want them to continue with the safety and good product they are known for. It is a very stable job and a great company. Most all pilots and flight attendants I work with are great people and I love getting to know other people’s lifestyles. It would help to have higher pay the first year but I know that once working there long enough and paying my dues, the pay will be more than enough for my family. And who else can honestly say they LOVE their job?
Do you have children?
I have a one and a half year old little boy. He loves climbing up onto anything he can, sitting on daddy’s shoulders, and pointing at airplanes.
Does your wife work?
We got married my junior year of college and my wife has been helping me since then. She has been great and basically was the main worker until I graduated college. Since then she has been working part time when she can to bring in the extra money we need to live comfortably. She is a nurse’s assistant and has worked at nursing homes and recently a local children’s hospital.
I went from being home every night and working a 7-5 day job to being gone for 2 months straight. But I know that’s the nature of the beast. Jonny McB
What are your marital challenges with this career?
Training was a big change. I went from being home every night and working a 7-5 day job to being gone for 2 months straight and barely seeing my family. Once out of training and out on the line, we became better-adjusted and it has slowly come to be normal over time. It is hard being away from my family especially when I miss family events, but I knew that coming into the job and understand the nature of the beast. My wife is also very understanding and she knows that I love my job and that being gone is just part of it. She regularly flies up to my base in SLC or on my overnights to take advantage of traveling with me.
What the pay scale is for 1st and 2nd year FO’s at your airline?
You can work for 11 hours a day and only get paid for 5 or 6. I make a little less than $30k/year.
The actual dollar amount is $22 an hour first year and $34 the second year. That sounds like a lot but pilots are paid by the flight hour and not working hours. You can work for 11 hours in the day and only get paid for 5 or 6. However, the per-diem, guaranteed block hours, daily guarantee of 4 hours for line-holders, health benefits, 401k, and the holiday and over-time pay has really made the pay not too bad for me. It is easy to pick up extra flying time and since I have been hired I have been holding a line (although it has been summer flying). At my flight instructing job I made a little less than $30,000 a year, and I would say I’m making about the same at my current airline.
Do you have student loans to pay off? If so, how much of a burden are they?
Right now I am qualifying to not have to repay my federal student loans. My personal student loans are in repayment and not too bad (around $130 a month on a 10 year term). Once I start making more money and repaying the federal loans I will be paying around $400 a month in total for all my loans. It’s doable and I plan to pay them off in 10 years.
Loans are a huge burden for making so little the first couple of years as a pilot. The more you plan in the beginning (get good grades in high school, get scholarships, etc.) it will truly pay off in the end.Jonny McB
I have friends who have way more debt than me, and I know the loans are a huge burden for making so little the first couple of years as a pilot. The more you plan and work in the beginning (i.e. get good grades in high school, get scholarships for anything you’re good at, pay for flying as much as you can in cash) it will truly pay off in the end.
Daddy’s little Pilot in Training and scene-stealer, Danny!
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO NEXT WEEK!
We ask Jonny . . .
- What are his career aspirations?
- What advice does he have for those of you dreaming of flying?
- From his seat, does he see the fabled, “Looming Pilot Shortage?
You really need to love flying to make it your career. Attitude is everything. The biggest thing that gets everyone is money. You need to plan, plan, plan.Jonny McB
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Related Videos, Podcasts & Links
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- SimpleFlight’s 2-hour Podcast with Cap’n Aux https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/simple-flight-radio-show-archive/id551513897?mt=2&ign-mpt=uo%3D4
- Slipstream Radio’s 45-minute Podcast Interview with Cap’n Aux http://fixedwingbuddha.com/slipstream-radio/
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- House of Rap—The Ab Initio Flaw http://www.rapp.org/archives/2014/08/ab-initio/
- ALPA’s Pilot Career pamphlet http://resources.learningforlife.org/exploring/aviation/alpa.pdf
- ALPA’s “Cleared to Dream” http://www.clearedtodream.org