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Part 61 Flight Training Pathway to Becoming an Airline Pilot - A Pilot's Perspective

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Biography: Brian DeVoss

My name is Brian DeVoss, and I’m a First Officer for Delta Air Lines flying the Boeing 737 in Detroit, MI. I worked my way up from being a flight instructor, to acting as First Officer and Captain at the regional airlines, and ultimately earning a position as a First Officer at Delta Air Lines. I have flown for numerous air carriers including Mesa Airlines, Mesaba Airlines, Colgan Air, Pinnacle Airlines, and Delta Air Lines. My flight training was conducted at Part 61 training schools at smaller airports in the Omaha, NE, metropolitan area.

It Started in a Town Called Omaha...

I went to school at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). It was close to home, relatively inexpensive, and I felt it offered more of the traditional college life than some of the big aviation universities. The Restricted ATP didn’t exist when I was in school and completing my flight training, so there was no incentive to attend a college with an approved aviation program which now permits students to earn an ATP certificate with less flight experience. I was fortunate to have received numerous scholarships, so paying for school and flight training wasn’t an issue.

At that time, the aviation program at UNO wasn’t as structured when compared to the larger aviation schools. My college courses didn’t require me to have certain ratings done when each semester ended, which allowed me to train at my own pace. The college offered a ground school for each rating but not flight training. I did my flight training under Part 61 at local airports and earned credits when I completed each rating. I tried to fly two to three times per week, although it wasn’t always easy with the weather in the Midwest.

I primarily flew Cessna 172s and transitioned to Pipers to complete my Complex and Multi-Engine ratings. For the most part, the training was fairly informal and laid back. Usually my instructor and I would meet, have a quick chat about the day’s lesson, and head to the airplane. I can remember one of my training courses that loosely followed a training syllabus designed by Sporty’s; however, the remainder of my flight training didn’t incorporate that style of teaching. I think that lack of formality detracted from the quality of learning. I don’t think I had the same knowledge level as a formal Part 141 training program student when it was time for my final checkride. I basically studied for the test and knew enough to pass. Unfortunately, I didn’t retain most of that knowledge after the checkride.

I decided to add a business major to my degree during my sophomore year. This delayed my flight training for almost two years because I had to focus on the additional business classes. I finished my Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) certification shortly after graduating college. After training, I moved to Phoenix, AZ, to flight instruct because I knew I would be able to log hours more quickly than I could in the Midwest. I found out that the training and knowledge I had received in Omaha wasn’t up to the same level as the training environment at my new flight school in Phoenix.

I recall one of my first students attempting a stage check to ensure he was ready for his first solo. The stage check examiner noted that my student wasn’t able to draw the diagram for the Cessna 172 fuel system. I was stunned! I didn’t think a student at this level would be required to know this information; I certainly wasn’t. This required a significant amount of studying during the first couple months as I wanted my teaching to be at a much higher level than I received during my training in Omaha. An unexpected bonus was that I was prepared for my future airline training. Had I not instructed at this Part 141 school in Arizona, I would have certainly struggled during airline training.

The Joys of Part 61 Training

For one, it was a lot cheaper than the other options. As I mentioned above, I had scholarships to cover my schooling, so all I had to pay for was the aircraft costs and flight instructor expenses. Another benefit was that you could really find a flight instructor that you enjoyed working with. It was much easier to move from flight instructor to flight instructor if you didn’t like one’s teaching style or professionalism; although I didn’t have to use that option. My flight instructors were excellent. Often, they were pilots with real-world experience. This was different than a Part 141 school because the flight instructors came from that specific school and hadn’t flown outside the “bubble” of the training environment. My flight instructor at Millard Airport (KMLE) was a former airline pilot, so he had knowledge to share regarding flying into busy airports in jet aircraft. That helped keep me motivated.

What would you do differently?

The ground schools were set up to have you pass the class and not necessarily remember the content. By the time the Private Pilot ground school had finished, I had forgotten a significant amount because I was studying for instrument training. This was a hinderance as I was still in my Private Pilot portion of flight training at the airport. The only thing I would have done differently would be to not take the time off from flying during college. I don’t know if I would have obtained employment at a legacy airline any faster had I finished my flight training sooner, but I think my regional career would have been more stable.

Parting Words for Those Starting Their Career

Timing is everything when getting hired at the airlines, and my timing wasn’t great. I tried to catch the back end of a huge regional airline hiring wave, but I ended up bouncing around a few regionals and spent some time furloughed before finding an airline with some upward movement. If you’re interested in starting flight training at your local airport, it’s usually as easy as making a phone call. I had two airports that I was interested in training at because they were nearby. I made a phone call to the training school at that airport, and the school set me up with a flight instructor and an appointment to meet for the first lesson!

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