MIAMI – Hello everyone, and welcome to a new episode of the Airways Profile. For this episode, US-based pilot Kay Hall explains what it means to be in the middle of pilot training.
Kay, thanks for your time! As always, let’s begin with the simplest question: what is your name, and what is your role in aviation?
My name is Kay Hall. I’m a laid-off CFI due to COVID 19. I lost my job in 2020 teaching as a Cadet in the Envoy American Airlines Flow program. Currently, I’m flying to build hours and using social media to create videos to share my experience with people all over the world.
What is the origin of your passion? Tell me a bit about your story.
I was working in the office of Shutterfly when the contract expired, and I was laid off back in 2018. It was around this time that I really decided I needed to get training to become a professional in an industry.
I gave my father a call and he mentioned that he had met a flight attendant from Delta Air Lines (we lived in Atlanta at the time). She had been working for Delta for over 20 years at the time and told him what a great company it was. He mentioned that I loved flying and asked if she would talk to me about becoming a Flight Attendant too.
Shortly after the call with my dad, I called the flight attendant, and she was thrilled to talk about Delta and how great it was. At the end of the call, she told me she’d be happy to put in a referral to become a flight attendant for me and all I needed to do was to put together my Resume and send it over!
I got off the phone and called my dad back and told him about the conversation. I told him it sounded like a great opportunity and that I would get my Resume done and sent over.
I think he didn’t detect the enthusiasm he expected because he stayed silent for a moment and then asked me point blank, “If you could do anything you want, what would it be?”
Without hesitation, I told him I’d rather be the pilot sitting in the front of the airplane and he said, “Well then, that’s what you need to do.”
So, we discussed getting an introductory flight set up at a flight club and he said he would help me any way he could.
The next day I went down to the local airport and did my intro flight. I took the airplane off and was sold. I didn’t even need the rest of the flight but I loved every second of the entire thing. We flew around for about 45 minutes and then he let me come in and land.
I’ve been flying ever since!
You said that they asked you, “if you could do anything you want, what would it be?.” Is there a specific moment in your life when you decided that you wanted to be the “pilot sitting in front of the airplane” or was it something you built up during the years?
The moment I took off on my introductory flight to see if I would like it. I thought I would but I LOVED it!
You mentioned that you are a CFI. Can you explain a bit for our readers what is a CFI and how did you become one?
One of the best ways to build your hours, to get to the major airlines, is to get your CFI, “Certified Flight Instructor,” rating. This way you start to teach other aspiring pilots while making money (a real job finally!) and building hours for the airlines.
This is the route I took up until Covid-19 shut all the flight schools down. Luckily, I have a very supportive family and we bought an airplane, “Lil Red,” so I could continue building the necessary 1500 hours that the FAA and airlines require.
At the 1500 hour mark, you are eligible to take the ATP exam (Airline Transport Pilot). This is required for all regional and legacy carriers (Delta, United, American, etc…). I’m currently at around 900 total hours and am still building time quickly on my airplane.
You are now flying – if I understood correctly – single-engine planes. What’s next?
I do have my multi-engine rating and have flown two-engine airplanes in the past. However, they are very expensive to operate and maintain, so building hours in a single-engine airplane is more economical.
Multi-engine time is more valuable to all the major carriers but due to Pilot shortages, anyone can still get a job with just single-engine time.
It’s very difficult to say what’s going to happen over the next five years due to Covid-19, the economy, and how healthy the airline industry will be. Most likely I’ll be flying for a regional airline or, if travel comes roaring back, then probably at one of the large major carriers.
I’d also like to still be working on my social media videos because I really enjoy putting those together for all of my followers of, “FlyWithKay,” but being a pilot takes priority.
You know, I’ve already asked this question to many other pilots, people who already have a certain type of experience. From your personal point of view, what do you think are the most important requirements for a pilot in order to be able to be a pilot? Do you think that everyone can be a pilot?
An aptitude to learn and the ability to leave your ego at the door. Although there are a few big egos in aviation, most pilots are very down to earth and understand that becoming a great pilot is a lifetime of learning.
Every single time I fly, be it with someone else or by myself, I learn something.
Most people can become a pilot if they have the ambition to follow through with it.
That sounds like a great question. So, let me do a quick recap: what do I have to do if I want to become a pilot?
The first thing I would recommend is to find a local flight school nearby and go and do an introductory flight. These usually are less expensive than a flight lesson and you get to take off, fly around, and land. The instructor will help you out but for the most part, you get the feel of what it’s like to fly an airplane.
This also usually exposes any problems you may not realize you have such as motion sickness, fear of heights, or just don’t like the feel of flying. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do it; it just means you need to understand these feelings and work through them.
I have known a couple of people that loved flying but got very motion sick. They stuck with the training even though it was difficult, but about halfway through their private pilot training, the sickness faded away. They got used to the motion.
The second step is to sign up for the actual lessons. During that time, they will have you apply for a student pilot license and go get a medical. The medical is for the FAA to ensure you are healthy enough to operate an aircraft.
The reason the flight school has you get the medical right away is so if you can’t pass it for some reason, you don’t feel cheated by the flight school after spending a lot of money for something you can’t do. If you fail the medical, you can either address why or move on with minimal expense.
This ATP exam sounds like a sort of halfway mark. What do you need to know to pass that exam? How is the exam structured?
The ATP mark is really the last barrier to flying for a major airline. After you get a job, you have to get type rated (learn to fly the type of aircraft they are putting you in), and then do recurrent training throughout the year. So training is always ongoing, but your major licenses and ratings are finished.
I believe the actual exam is an FAA knowledge test (multiple choice), followed by a practical exam that includes both an oral conversation and flight demonstration. I can’t go into a lot of detail as I haven’t met the minimum requirements yet, and as the test requirements change from time to time, there hasn’t been a need for me to start studying for this until I get a bit closer.
Let me go back a bit about being a CFI: if I understood correctly, you teach young pilots how to fly. How do you do that?
When you become a CFI (certified flight instructor), the biggest skill you learn is how to fly an airplane from the right seat. During your early training becoming a private pilot, getting your instrument rating, and then maybe a commercial license next, almost all of that is done from the left seat.
So, when you start training new pilots, they sit in the left seat and the instructor sits in the right. It’s the job of the instructor to ensure that safe operation of the aircraft is happening at all times while also teaching a student the characteristics of flight.
When you go to a flight school, you usually have a very structured learning process that includes both ground instruction and flight instruction. You can follow along with the course and see exactly what you’ve accomplished and what is coming up. This was my preferred method of training.
The other way is to hire a flight instructor through a flight club or one that owns their own airplane. This can be a very loose learning situation. I started this way and felt lost at times in my training. I had no blueprint to guide me forward and really was not confident of the skills I had obtained, which is why I continued my training at an accelerated flight school.
I know you are in training, so this may be a tricky question, or simply one without an answer: have you ever faced an emergency, even small?
I’ve never declared an emergency in the air but there have been a few situations that came close. Here are a few examples:
Once, after taking off in Arizona, my oil pressure went to almost zero. I spoke with the tower to get a priority landing (after looping in the pattern) and landed safely. Maintenance did find an issue so it’s probably pretty lucky I hadn’t left for a cross country. As a side note, I did watch a video on Youtube that shows these engines can actually run for a long time with no oil. Pretty amazing engineering!
Not long ago in my own airplane, “Lil Red,” I got a 0 fuel pressure indication on takeoff. I hadn’t left the ground yet so I aborted quickly. That flashing RED warning on my panel was pretty rattling but I stayed calm and stopped before anything could happen. Turns out I needed a new mechanical fuel pump. I have a full video of this flashing red error on my Tiktok page if anyone would like to actually see it.
Lastly, I want to emphasize that while these might sound scary to some people thinking about becoming a pilot, staying calm and working through issues is part of the pilot process. Flying is very safe and I feel very good about our aviation system! Good training will prepare you for things that come up.
I like your answers, they look like if you are still giving advice to those who want to be in the flight deck someday. What’s your personal advice for someone who wants to become a pilot?
Perseverance is key. Regardless of how much money you have, where you come from, or what other people tell you; if you want to be a pilot, keep at it.
Figure out how to make it a reality. Work nights and fly during the day. Hang around your local airport and network with people. Anyone can do it; they just need the determination and ambition to succeed!
I came in contact with you just by browsing Instagram. I noticed your account and I saw you have a beautiful IG account. What’s the origin of your account? Were you just sharing photos, or is there a more complex plan behind the scenes?
I started Instagram while I was still in training to become a pilot and gained over 2,000 followers. But it wasn’t until I started my Tiktok account that I really started to share my passion for flying with other people.
Filming my flights, adventures, and just being myself really took off on that platform.
It wasn’t planned, it just happened.
Now, I would like to know:
- A plane that does not fly anymore that you would like to fly
Any World War two airplanes. Think it would be a blast!
- A plane that you would like to fly
I would have to say a Piper M600 if we’re talking prop, Gulfstream if we’re talking a jet airplane. I’ve been inside the M600 when I toured Piper and it’s a very nice ride!
- An airport you want to land once in your life
LaGuardia, just because it’s New York and it’s very busy. I may get the chance to do so one day.
- Do you prefer long-haul or short-haul?
I have to go with Long Haul just because I want to see the world and it would be nice to get paid to do it. I’m sure I’ll start off on short-haul routes but I’ve already seen a lot of the U.S in my own airplane.
- First Officer or Captain?
Captain! I’m looking to put all this great training I’ve received to good use.
- An airport where you can say you are afraid to go
Tenzing-Hillary airport in Lukla, Nepal! I wouldn’t say I’d be afraid, but certainly, nervous learning to navigate this crazy airport. On the side of a cliff, with a steep grade, it would definitely pose a challenge!
- Your longest flight
My own personal flight in, “Lil Red,” was from Houston to Port Angeles, WA (Just West of Seattle) with a night in Hemet, CA. The trip was 2,100 miles and took me 20 hours to complete. I had to make six fuel stops total. A very fun trip up there to visit family.
- Your shortest flight
I go and get my oil change at Southwest Houston airport which is about a 10-minute flight. I’m there quite frequently.
- Are you happy?
Yes! I get to fly my airplane, see places all over the country, get to spend a lot of great times with my family and I always try to stay positive and look at the bright side of things.
Kay, thanks for your time, especially for allowing me to understand better – and I hope that our readers understood it well, too – what it means to be a pilot in the middle of training and the sacrifices you have to make to realize your dream of flight.
Thank you everyone for following us. Until the next episode of the Airways Profile, please take care of yourselves and each other.
Featured image and all photos: Kay Hall