CEO Of The Cockpit: Retired But Not Expired

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Ed. Note: We’re pleased to welcome Kevin Garrison back as a twice-a-month opinion contributor to AVweb, reviving his popular column.

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” 

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I retired from the airline world eons ago, but the weary yet happy feeling I get after a flight has not changed with time.

After a three-hour trip to and from a grass field pancake breakfast, I remembered that feeling of being “flying tired” as I moved my creaky bones out of my little taildragger over to the fridge for a beer and then flumped my aging butt into my T-hangar’s recliner. 

Uttering the same “oomph!” that I used to murmur as I sank into pilot lounge seats at places like Paris and Shreveport, I sipped my brew and watched the arrival of a young pilot named Stan. He was wearing an airline pilot shirt with two-stripe epaulets for some reason, even though his job title was “Dog-Ass Flight Instructor.”

I can relate to his weary and depressed-looking approach. I had spent more than a bit of time being the local airport’s dog-ass flight instructor when I was younger and still slip the surly with the occasional clueless student aeronaut.

He grabbed a diet soda from my hangar fridge and, uninvited, sat in the lawn chair next to my recliner. Then, his interrogation began.

“How much flying time do you have?” he asked.

I don’t know, I said. I stopped keeping track years ago after reaching around twenty-two thousand hours. Why do you ask?

“Because I am tired of trying to build my hours up to get an ATP and an airline job. It isn’t fair that they think I need all that time. After all, I have a degree in aviation from Southwestern Crowley County Tech, and I have been a professional pilot for almost a year!”

I tried to relate to his anger but got snippy instead. Wow, the major airlines haven’t hired you for a whole year. And with a degree in “chock-ology,” too? What kind of world are we living in is what I want to know.

“Smart ass,” he said.

Nice faux airline shirt, I said. Did you get it from Toys backward R Us, or did your mom order it from Amazon?

“Hey,” he said. “My flight school makes us instructors wear this uniform. I know it looks a little dorky to you, but it is the only shirt I own with a collar.”

Having worn what was basically a steamship captain uniform for my entire airline career, I had to ease up on the kid a little. We have all worn silly clothing for our jobs. Ask any Hooter’s waitress.

I had to remind him that he was in luck. Depending on who you ask, there is still a pilot shortage, and most airlines are hiring pilots at low experience levels. The fifteen or sixteen hundred hours they want now for civilian pilot hires was around thirty-five hundred hours when I got hired.

Thirty-five hundred hours including late-night Twin-Beech bad weather fear fests as I flew alone with large bags of canceled checks. Hours and hours spent circling football games and hauling banners. Time spent away from home leading fire bombers through forest fires. Not to mention the other hours flying in holding patterns and gliding down ILS approaches with students.

He looked beat and in no mood to listen to me pontificate. I could tell him I had been exactly where he was today (without the idiotic shirt). I could say to him that he should enjoy the process of paying his dues with scut flying jobs because he would later remember them as some of the best times of his life, but he was locked in the misery of flying 172s and dreaming of 787s.

The hours he still needed to him seemed like an insurmountable pile of poo. To me, it seems like a little over a year of really concentrated professional flying that would give him the experience to make hard, informed decisions when he later found himself over a stormy ocean at night with three hundred people depending on him for their safety.

I wanted to advise him to find hours anywhere he could, just like I did back in the ancient days of disco, but I couldn’t.

The poor kid had fallen asleep in my hangar lawn chair. I quietly left him to rest and dream of cashing big paychecks after flying large jets into misty and beautiful foreign airports.

36 COMMENTS

  1. Nice story, Kevin. I remember being that young guy in the late sixties. That pesky South East Asian war snatched me before I had 400 hours. My MacNamara scholarship had me in the left seat of a B-52 when I was about 25. I escaped to fighters and retired from the AF and got an airline job at age 41. Never made Captain, and after 2 airline bankruptcys at age 54, I flunked my medical and became a normal human again. I think a recliner in a hangar with a tail dragger is the perfect retirement gig.

  2. Great writing! Sounds sort of like my path, including the airline retirement. As a 70’s lineboy, that term “chock-ology” is hilarious. Nothing is better though than that post flight beer, sitting in my big chair, in my hangar, enjoying the lines of my plane while it cools down. Still flying, but doing it my way.

  3. WELCOME BACK, KEVIN!

    After losing so many of our good aviation writers due to the takeover of aviation publications by Flying Media Group, it is good to know that at least ONE of my favorite writers is back–and apparently UNFETTERED!

    It’s good to hear from someone that can provide PERSPECTIVE on the industry. There are far too many would-be pilots are like your uninvited “guest” that brazenly drinks your beer–then bemoans the fact that the rest of the aviation world hasn’t discovered his amazing insights.

    We need your perspective and wisdom.

    • You didn’t lose anyone because of Firecrown (formerly Flying Media Group), Jim. People retire, they move on but not one of them has been fired by the new owners. The only message I’ve ever received from the new owners of AVweb is they want to give it more resources to make it better. I just don’t get this sense of doom that was inspired by what has so far been a very positive deal. We’re going to keep doing our best, Jim. Give us a chance.
      Russ

      • So–Bertorelli and Berg “just happened to decide to retire?” Or did they just say “No thanks, I’ll look elsewhere” when the buyout was announced?

        As far as “give it more resources to make it better”–exactly how DID it get better than the industry observations and the insouciance of Bertorelli and Berge?

        How WILL FLYING (or “Firecrown”) make it “better” than having the most widely read aviation magazine in the world? Yes, the print stock and covers of the new magazines are better quality–but I’ll take the insight and observations over the quality of the the paper stock ANY TIME.

        Having the “new guy” buy up 25 magazines in one industry does not bode well. Looking at the stable of aviation magazines acquired by FLYING/FIRECROWN–I–I’ve been a FLYING subscriber since 1962–62 years–and have most back issues in a room in my house, if you ever need a back issue!) I (like the rest of the aviation readers) obviously LIKED WHAT THEY WERE SELLING–now they are going to “improve” it? Doubtful–but I’ll give it a chance, and won’t cancel my subscription until I read and evaluate some more.

        I haven’t figured out exactly WHAT the new owner expects to “improve upon”–when it is already the most widely-read aviation magazine in the world. (does anyone else recall the “New Coke” marketing disaster?)

        A quick check on the titles of the 25 magazines gobbled up shows that I subscribe to Flying, AvBuyer, Plane & Pilot, Kitplanes, Aviation Consumer, AvWeb,
        Aviation Safety, and IFR magazines–8 of them. I’m obviously satisfied (as are other readers–these ARE the top magazines on the subject)–one has to wonder about the need (or the wisdom) for “change.”

        As they say. “It’s OK, it’s HIS MONEY!”

      • There’s been more than the normal amount of industry consolidation moves going on, and a lot of them haven’t been for the better.
        Of course, the new owners deserve their chance to succeed, but of course a bunch of cranky old pilots are going to make noise too.
        Keep up the good work, Russ. It will work out.

      • If the publication industry were rolling in money, 1980s style, I’d object to this consolidation.
        But this is 2024, and consolidation is all that can keep some publications alive.
        (If you hadn’t noticed, Sports Illustrated is pretty much gone, and the once-mighty Internet publisher Vice is entirely gone. Newspapers consolidate and lay off staff. The list goes on.)
        I miss those old days, because I was in specialty publishing in another field. I watched the financial foundations crumble.
        Kudos to y’all for keeping Avweb going!
        And I really would like to see reappearances by the wonderful Bertorelli and Berg. Maybe they can do part time stuff like Kevin here.

  4. Yes, welcome back! I’m a generation behind the CEO but already looking at the generation behind me from the same perspective. The wheel just does go around.

  5. Young pilots talking to older pilots reminds me of the old line “The older I got the smarter my father got !”

      • “Widget Wonderland”? Had to Google that one; found many irrelevant results until I came across CEOotC #75 from 10/22/07. This was which you covered the NBAA convention and introduced your nephew, a sales rep for a company taking deposit on a new business jet. Business was going well, numerous deposits taken, but the jet existed solely as videos, dreams, and a mock-up.

        Seems that things haven’t changed.

        [BTW, how did things go with Kermit and Gwenn?]

  6. You should have advised the dog-ass FI. to get a job @ Embry Riddle, their FI’s wear silly shirts but have four stripe epaulets. This would be an immediate promotion.

  7. Kevin, you writing style is similar to one of my favorite fly-fishing writers, John Gierach! Welcome back and I am looking forward to more of your stories.

  8. Kevin, great story, sounds kinda like we’ve done similar things over the decades.
    I last parked my Airbus at MSP over a decade ago and still fly GA just for the fun of it.
    Ran across a story of a 28 year old flying his dream from New York to the Caribbean as a captain on a 757, and nearly fell out of my rocking chair. I’m thinking this kid has never had the satisfaction of having to pee on the ramp, under the tail, out of the rain, in the dark, to just make schedule at the next airport 150 miles away. My how times have changed.
    Lucky bastards!
    Andy

  9. Wow! Paris AND Shreveport?!?!?! You have lived man!

    One question….

    Paris, Tennessee
    Paris, Arkansas
    or
    Paris, Texas???

    Which one?

    I only know of the one Shreveport though.

    Either way, ain’t it swell to be “the old guy?”

  10. What I’m eager to know is when the DEI initiatives will grace us with their presence as a topic. I’ve got a treasure trove of witty remarks just waiting to be unleashed. I mean, I bought one of your books twenty years ago, and I’m ready to throw my money at another if… you promise to sprinkle in some DEI controversy!🤙😊

  11. Gee, when you were signing me off for one of my ratings back in the late 70s I never knew I was in the company of The One Who Would Become The CEO …

    Have enjoyed your scribbles over the years, KG ..

    Write On!

  12. Ooooh, I’m glad to see Kevin back!
    If I recall correctly, three decades ago you wrote a piece about an engine failure called, “One turnin’, one burning,” and noted that you landed fast, but managed to get the airplane stopped with only one reverser.
    I see you haven’t lost your sharp sense of humor.
    Carry on!

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