Varrin's Aviation Story - History


In order to give some perspective as to where this information is coming from, I'll document my history in aviation. 

I grew up with no direct connection to the airline industry.  I don't have any family members who are or were airline pilots.  The closest connection for me was my parents who both have private pilot certificates.  My dad wanted to be an airline pilot when he was a kid growing up but his vision went bad in his teens and perfect vision was necessary at that time (he would have started with a major airline likely sometime in the early-mid 1960's).  After my parents were married they decided to learn to fly, however, they stopped flying before I was born.  As a kid growing up, we flew on various airlines for vacations, and I traveled overseas a few times in High School on music tours.  By the time I was a senior in high school I had spent a fair amount of time as an airline passenger.

My senior year in high school (1991 - 1992) was one of those defining moments in my life.  I attended a private school for the first time that year and there was a teacher there by the name of Ralph Bisla who was a pilot.  Ralph had his private pilot certificate and was working on his instrument rating when he quit flying for personal reasons.  We had computers at the school with Microsoft Flight Simulator on them and we got pretty good at crashing the planes.  When Ralph detected an interest in flying, he began to teach a few of us how the thing actually worked, including some instrument flying skills that, unbeknownst to me, would me highly valuable during my flight training.

As I ruled out one music school after another, I became interested in flying, first just for fun.  On one particular evening, probably after a trip to the airport with Ralph, I commented to my dad that I'd enjoy learning how to fly.  In his seemingly infinite wisdom he replied, "you know, some people do that for a living."  I didn't think much of it but he went on to mention that he thought they got a good deal of time off and made a good income.  I wasn't so concerned about the money, however, the time off gave me an idea: I could fly for a living and play music on my days off.  Over a decade later, that's exactly where I'm at.

Once I got passed the big hurdles of accepting the haircut, the tie, and all the other stuff a teenage musician doesn't really want to deal with, I started looking into flight schools to see if the idea was even feasible.  I had talked to a few airline pilots along the way but the conversations were typically short and not really about what a career in flying is like.  I enjoyed going into the cockpit before flights and just looking at all the knobs and dials and, in the newer airplanes, screens, but I didn't really have any career information 'from the horse's mouth' until after I started flight school.  Of course, the internet wasn't really popular back then so I couldn't just go online and read a report like this.  After reading this, you'll be ahead of me.

As I was researching flight schools, I learned some information about flying, though not all of it was exactly accurate.  First off, the flight schools all liked to promote their programs in a way that I now understand to be not totally realistic.  Second, flight schools tend to glamorize flying careers because, of course, students might not plunk down the big bucks if they don't really want the big career they're promoting.  I'll cover more specifics about all that a little later on.

My dad and I wound up going through a few issues of Flying Magazine and making a list of all the flight schools that looked like possibilities.  We requested information from, I think, 15 different schools and narrowed down that list down to four that we (my dad and I) wanted to tour: Sierra Academy, Flight Safety, Comair Aviation Academy, and Shields Aviation which is now out of business.  Sierra Academy is in Oakland, California, Flight Safety does their ab initio training in Vero Beach, Florida, Comair Aviation Academy's main campus is in Sanford, Florida, and Shields is now out of business but was in Jacksonville, Florida.

From our tours of those schools, it looked then (and I still think) like all four of them were good schools.  The quoted prices varied quite a bit.  I don't recall the exact numbers but I think Shields was cheapest at a little under $20,000, and Flight Safety was most expensive at a little over $40,000.  In the end, Comair won out for several reasons.  First, it looked like the quality of facilities and training at Flight Safety and Comair were a little bit better than at the other two schools (though all four appeared excellent).  Second, more a negative, Flight Safety was considerably more expensive than Comair.  In other words, Comair was, at the time, competitive price wise.  Third, and most importantly, Comair was (and still is) owned by Comair Airlines which brought a couple of advantages from our perspective: they would likely have financial resources that independent flight schools wouldn't have and might be around longer, and they had a program which provided a clearly defined path to an airline job. 

After our tours were complete and we had 'done our homework', we agreed that Comair Aviation Academy was our first choice for getting the airline career underway.  I ultimately decided that's what I wanted to do and in August of 1992, I moved to Sanford, Florida and started from scratch at Comair Aviation Academy having never flown an airplane before (save 5 minutes at the controls on our tour at Shields). 

I'll cover the details of the rest of the career in each of the following sections.  Here's an overview of what happened.  I started at Comair Aviation Academy as a student in August of 1992 and finished with my Commercial SEL/MEL/Instrument and CFI/CFII/MEI in May of 1993.  The Academy didn't hire flight instructors for a while so I worked there as a dispatcher in the mean time.  I was a flight instructor at Comair Aviation Academy from April, 1994 through September, 1995.  Comair Airlines didn't hire for a while so I didn't start ground school until March, 1996 and was hired in April, 1996 (I'll explain why in the Comair Airlines section).  I was a pilot for Comair Airlines from April, 1996 through December 2000.  I went to work for World Airways in January 2001 as a pilot and am still working there.

arrow Intro - Document history, purpose, and introduction
arrow History - How I got started - the story before the story
arrow Comair Aviation Academy - Details about my time as a student and instructor at Comair Aviation Academy
arrow Comair Airlines - Information about flying for Comair Airlines
arrow World Airways - Information about flying for World Airways
arrow Conclusion - A wrap up of the whole story


Copyright © 1997 - 2003, Varrin Swearingen