As cliché as this may sound, it did all start with a dream for me. For as long as I can remember, I have always been that stereotypical kid that is fascinated by the engineering marvel airplanes appear to be, and believe me, they are.
My name is Daniel Chihane, and I am a multi-engine commercial pilot currently pursuing an Instrument Rating with CAE as part of the final crucial steps to land my dream job as an airline pilot in the near future. With that being said, this publication will briefly look at what the CAE application process looks like, in addition to what a typical day in the life of a cadet pilot looks like during flight training.
In essence, the application to join an Integrated ATPL course at CAE is split into three main stages: Online Application, Technical Assessment, and finally the Non-Technical Assessment, which is basically a personal interview, but could also include a group exercise portion, depending on the program one applies to.
Stage 1 application process
Simply put, stage 1 is your typical online application where one would input all his/her personal data in addition to a submission of the latest academic scores and possibly a copy of a CV. If the requirements are met, you would be invited to the Stage 2 assessment in-house at CAE which is the technical portion of the application process, and is based on the ADAPT test model, which is a combination of several Maths and Physics problems, in addition to cognitive skills tests such as multitasking, hand-eye coordination, etc.
Should you pass this to a satisfactory standard, you will be invited for the third and final stage of the application, the personal interview. As the title suggests, you will be invited to attend an in-person interview with a couple of individuals from CAE and/or airline representatives, again, depending on the program you have applied to. This portion could also include a group exercise that tests your involvement, participation, group ethic, leadership skills, etc.
Should you then pass this portion to standard, you will be invited onto a course with its respective course start date, and this is where your journey to the right seat will have officially begun. Personally, I went through this exact process above whilst being in my senior year of high school.
I literally had to take a couple of days off from school to fly into the UK and attend both the Stage 2 and 3 assessments. Three days after my Stage 3 assessment, I received the call offering me a position on AP435 with a start date in January 2020, and I can easily say this was one of the best moments I still vividly recall to this date.
Obtaining an EASA Class 1 Medical Certificate
My next goal was to obtain an EASA Class 1 Medical Certificate, which is the highest class of medical certificates, one which airline pilots must always have in their possession and renew once every 12 months. Once that was sorted, I moved to Oxford in the UK to begin the ground school portion of the Integrated course, and I can safely say it is by far the toughest experience I have ever gone through.
A typical day in the life of a Multi-Engine Commercial Pilot
A typical day would involve an 0830-1630 schedule with a lunch break in between, followed by anywhere between 2 to 5 hours of studying at home afterwards. It was not a very pleasant time, but as most pilots will tell you, one of the only things that keeps you pushing forward is the thought of passing all 14 ATPL exams and moving onto the flying phase of the course; the most rewarding phase of all by far!
With that mindset, my course mates and I kept at it and studied extremely hard, 7 ATPL subjects at a time, all while mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic of course. Phase 1 includes most of the so-called ‘theoretical’ subjects: Meteorology, Principles of Flight, Instrumentation, Aircraft General Knowledge (Airframes & Structures, Powerplant, Electrics), VFR & IFR Communications, and Human Performance and Limitations.
Phase 2 on the other hand is much more practical so to speak and includes the remaining 7 ATPL subjects: General Navigation, Radio Navigation, Flight Planning & Monitoring, Mass & Balance, Aircraft Performance, Air Law, and Operational Procedures. Back when we went through ground school, each phase lasted roughly 3-4 months, which included three different sets of exams: Progress Tests (PTs) at the halfway point of the phase, School Finals (SFs) at the end of it, and finally the official EASA exams sat under the competent authority’s watch.
Again, one of if not the hardest hurdle I have had to overcome in my training so far, but it is a crucial part in any airline pilot’s career and proved to be way more than just passing the exams. The knowledge acquired over the course of these 7-8 months is of utmost importance when it comes to the flying phase.
Obviously not everything you learn in ground school is relevant, but a lot of it is critical to understand and will be very easy to recall when it is time to apply the theory into practice. As for the flying phase, which we completed in Phoenix, Arizona, simply put, it was the best time of my life.
Here’s what a typical day in flight training would look like. As it is crazy hot in Arizona, we preferred to be lifting off by the early morning at the latest to squeeze out every bit of performance out of the little Piper Archers we conducted our single engine training in.
With that being said, it became the norm to wake up at around 3:30 am, have a shower followed by a light bite to eat, then head straight for the airport since we were required to show up roughly an hour and a half before our departure time. Arriving at around 4:30 am, it is our responsibility to make sure our aircraft allocated for the day is available at a known parking location, adequately fuelled up for the mission/day, and pre-flighted to make sure it is airworthy and ready for flight, which all usually takes roughly 20-30 minutes.
Having completed that, we would head back inside to the planning room and complete the mass & balance and performance figures for the day. Once that was done and submitted on our online platform ‘Aviobook’, we would meet up with our instructor, who will then go through the lesson plan for the day, destination airport if we were to switch up flying partners in between sessions, in addition to a thorough weather brief of the area for the time we will be in the air.
Once all of that was crystal clear to the entirety of the crew, usually 1 instructor and 2 cadets, the mission is now considered authorised, and we are cleared to go up to dispatch to make sure all the paperwork is in order. If that is the case, they will hand us our aircraft’s technical log book, which we will then check, and provided everything is in working condition, we head out to the aircraft at around 6:00 am ready for a full day of learning.
A typical mission would be 1.5-2 hours for each cadet, with 0.5-1 hour turnaround between missions, meaning that one cadet would fly with the instructor, with the other one back seating the flight to then switch the roles up at an airport somewhere around Phoenix, where we would usually chill out and have a coffee or a light meal before hopping back in the plane and heading home to Falcon Field airport.
Therefore, with a wheels-up time of roughly 6:00 am, we would normally be back around 11:00 am, where we would thoroughly debrief the mission including everything that went well, could’ve been done better, and any mistakes to be looked at and fixed throughout the course.
Once that is done and our logbooks are filled out and signed by the instructor, that is our flight completed for the day, and we would head back to our apartments for an afternoon filled with relaxation around the pool, BBQing with some friends, and naturally some revision/preparation for the upcoming missions.
Experiencing solo navigation flights
In all honesty though, if I was to highlight the best part of flight training, it must be the solo navigation flights. For those of you who are not aware, to obtain a commercial pilot’s license, we are required to have completed at least 50.0 hours of Pilot in Command (PIC) time, which is basically solo time, and the way we do that in Phoenix is by flying around the state, and occasionally landing away at some airport before fuelling up and flying back home.
It’s just a completely different vibe when you’re up there with your own airplane for the day, safely making your way through the busy airspace and mountainous terrain, before navigating back home by the end of the day. It is truly such a rewarding experience, one I believe we take for granted at the time as a ‘another day in the life’ but has genuinely proved to be such a therapeutic and awesome daily occurrence, and I consider myself extremely lucky and privileged to have been able to experience it.
Finally, the flying phase in Phoenix is concluded by the transition to multi-engine flying in the Piper Seminole. By this point in time, we would’ve flown roughly 130 hours in the Archer, so the transition feels rather natural as they are very similar to operate, with the obvious difference being an additional engine to deal with.
We then spent roughly 12 hours in the Seminole practicing all sorts of failures and malfunctions in preparation for the commercial skills test, which I must admit was the most nerve-wracking experience yet. It is basically an assessment of our ability to operate the aircraft as commanders, able to make conscious and responsible decisions to deal with all sorts of emergencies whilst still operating the aircraft to the highest standard possible.
Failures presented in a multi-engine commercial check ride typically include an engine fire leading to a full feathered shutdown followed by a restart mid-flight, a couple of scenario-based simulations such as a sick passenger, and most importantly a simulated engine failure after take-off, which requires utmost precision and ease of mind in order to safely and efficiently operate and control the aircraft on one engine, whilst running the drills and checklists from memory in order to secure the ‘failed’ engine and keep the aircraft and its occupants safe.
Once I completed my check ride to a passable standard, and headed back to our base airport, the examiner and I debriefed the flight, after which we completed the required paperwork for my license application later down the road, shook hands, and called it a day! What a relief that was, knowing all the endless hours and hard work, from ground school to flight training, paid off, and it was all worth it.
So, that is my story on how I became a multi-engine commercial pilot, and what a typical day in the life looked like in flight training. I want to take this opportunity to thank all my instructors throughout this process; none of this would have been possible without you!
Moreover, a heartfelt thanks goes to my course mates, and all the friends and flight mates that I had the pleasure of sharing this incredible experience with, you guys really made this phase wonderful and so worth it! I would also like to thank my parents for providing me with the opportunity to do what I love on a daily basis. Without your support, I wouldn’t have become who I am today, so thank you! This is only the beginning of a 20-year-old’s career; the best is yet to come…