Getting back in the air ... on the left seat!
I have been in love with flying for ever! Maybe it was the time when my dad took me up in Doshan Tapeh in a small plane, maybe the fact that in the 60's and 70's when I was a child the space race and the race to put new revolutionary planes such as the 747, the Concord, etc. into air, changed human lives forever; whatever the reason, I have always loved flying.
And so it was that as soon as I had the opportunity, when still a teenager study in Montreal, my dad drove me one day to Aero Transmission Limitee and I started my flight training and soon, I was fulfilling and living the dream. I received my Private (PPL) license in 1981 when I was 19 and still consider it as one of the best investments I have ever made.
I put the license to good use by flying friends and family around. My first cross-country flight with my fellow pilot friend -- Vedad -- who is now in Africa, was to take my brother and another close friend of ours to a summer school in Muskoka. Well, that trip was short lived as we had to land due to some problems soon after take off.
However, I flew my dad and sister to Porthope, Ontario, into the private field of Dave Hadden who had his own Cessna 340! That was the trip that got under my skin. I flew reasonably regularly and in 1985 took a long cross country from Winnipeg, Manitoba to London, Ontario via St-Paul and Chicago! Lots of lessons on that trip, but that would be for a different entry.
Then in 1985 I moved to Israel and my flying career came to a sudden stop because of the restrictions. We moved back to Canada in 1988 where I was able to fly again, but not as regularly as before. There was the odd Niagra Falls outing or the sightseeing trip around Toronto, but serious flying was not on the agenda.
In 1992 I moved to China and since then we've been living here and now we live in Shanghai. Private flying has been frustrating here and I essentially did not fly for nearly a decade! But I knew that was all about to change.
Last summer, I registered my son, Aria, who had just turned 14 for his first flight and he is now well into his PPL training. He is likely to get his license at 17! He is a terrific pilot. So, with this in mind, I decided I had to get back in. I decided to simultaneously get current and flying in 3 countries -- Canada; US; and the Philippines. All for different reasons and all for getting back into my life-long passion. And now, doing it all with my son who is as in love with it as his father.
I hope you'll find the following journey of my re-entry helpful.
Becoming Current in Canada, eh!
As a Canadian Private Pilot with deep roots back in Canada, I wanted to become current there again and get my license "fixed" after nearly ten years of not flying. That was a smart move since even flying in other countries, you have to have a valid and current license to base other license on.
Canadian PPL or any license for that matter don't expire! They are issued for life and only once. They can be re-printed, but once you get one, you have it for life. They are, however, validated with an accompanying medical certificate. So, I promptly got a medical exam and got a 'Second' class medical certificate and I was good to go! Right? Wrong!
Canadian rules have changed significantly. The rules indicate that if you have not flown for over five years, you are not 'current' and that you must become current by writing the PSTAR exam and get enough training for an instructor to endorse your log book accordingly.
Well, I hit the books on PSTAR and specially took the online courses and exams (best one is found at http://www.pilotsense.com/index.cfm ). I wrote the exam at which you need a minimum of 90% and got 98%.
Then I booked a couple of flights at Toronto Airways at Buttonville Airport and headed there for re-current training. I knew I was rusty, especially on many details such as emergency procedures, radio work, etc. It took the better part of 6-8 hours to get back into it all. This was no 'check out'. My instructor, Jeff Gribbon, is young and conservative, yet very dedicated and professional. He took the path of least resistance and also consulted the club's CFI and he recommended that in addition to all the airworks, Jeff should go through every point in a standard PPL checkride exam and tick every item off. It was frustrating at first to be frank. After all, I was a full fledged pilot and no regulations required that I go through that again. But things progressed fast. six hours of flying and 6+ hours of on the ground instructions and intense late night discussions and voila! I am all back in play. Jeff signed me off and I still want to go up with him for a couple of hours before I go solo. I am glad he was conservative and I am glad I went through it. You simply become rusty, no matter how many times you fly the simulators. I was not ready to take on the many complexities of flying solo and cross country and I appreciate the chance to do it right. Besides, airspace and many regs have changed enough that I needed it anyhow.
Do not cut corners and take shortcuts here. If you have not flown for more than two years (never mind ten), don't go on the cheap. Book yourself a 5-10 hour dual instruction series and fly until you feel comfortable again. Don't pressure your instructor as some will bend if you pressure them enough. Thank God for Jeff Gribbon. I feel a lot more confident.
Getting a US FAA License
Given how much I travel to the US (once every 6 weeks or so), I wanted to find out how to convert my license and get an FAA Airman's Certificate. The process was very smooth and I am now a proud FAA license holder. But the process is not without hurdle.
(Raymond de Haan of Aviation Adventures)
Here's what you need to do:
1. Get an FAA medical exam done
2. Fill in an airman's verification of foreign pilot's license form and send to Oklahoma (address provided). Find the form on http://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/airmen_certification/foreign_license_verification/
3. When filling the form, find the nearest FAA FSDO office at which you will be doing the conversion. You must indicate this office in your application
4. Wait for 4-6 weeks
5. Once you receive a confirmation letter, call the said FSDO and make an appointment
6. Show up for your appointment and bring your passport and one more photo ID, plus all your Canadian and medical certificates.
7. You have two ways to convert:
a) an endorsed license which is "based" on your Canadian license. The restriction is indicated on your license and your FAA certificate is only valid if it is accompanied by a valid Canadian license and medical. This is easily done. It took me 15 minutes. But when I was done, I asked how I could get a 'full' FAA license with no such restrictions. The answer:
b) write an FAA special knowledge test for 'Converting Canadian to FAA' license. I bought an online course from http://www.gleim.com/aviation/online/crogs/cr_outline.php for Canadian pilot to FAA conversion and studied all night and the next morning. I wrote the test at Leesburg, VA at Av-Ed and got 90%. Then I took the test to FSDO and they issued a full FAA license in 30 minutes. Nothing to it!
Flying with Uncle Sam!
I searched many places and finally found AviationAdventures.com at Lessburg airport in Virginia, not far from Washington Dulles airport. And they were just fantastic. They were responsive, offered to help with any of my conversion process and helped me do the Washington Area Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) course and get certified so I can fly in the area. This is both mandatory and a great idea.
I had written to many clubs, but Aviation Adventures were the most responsive. Ray de Haan, the CFI is both polite and professional. When he found out that the airplane I had booked (an Arrow III) was not available, he came back with an excellent second choice -- the beautiful brand new Diamond D40 with a full G1000 Glass Cockpit.
I went out there on the appointed day and flew with Mike Schwartz, who was professional and fun to be with. Getting setup was 30 minutes and I was fully briefed on the club, had a userid/pwd to schedule my own planes and do a ground briefing on G1000. Above all, I flew the new Diamond D40 with full G1000 glass cockpit. I just love it! We had a couple of flights and he signed me off.
They have some of the best and most up-to-date fleet of any club and live to help and serve enthusiastic pilots like us. They love flying and it shows.
I look forward to a lot more flying there. These guys rock. I was going to do my Instrument rating somewhere in Florida in a dedicated and concentrated course, but Aviation Adventures is so good that I have decided to start Instrument training with them. I'll share that experience with you later.
Converting to a Philippines License - MABUHAY!
I live in Asia. Shanghai where I live is a terrific metropolis of 25 million souls and it is bustling with life. In fact, we share China with 1.3 billion people and the rest of Asia with over 3 billion. Most of the economies here are still developing and usable, arable land is a fraction of what it is in Europe and North America. You get the picture ... not too many places you can go flying ... not so freely anyhow. China is pretty restricted and has one of the most stringent rules regarding airspace and is difficult enough to make it not worth your while -- even for a bunch of enthusiasts like yours truly and Aria.
So, I decided to give it a go at the best possible place -- the Philippines. An Archipelago of hundreds of Islands with beautiful VFR weather most of the time and with little airports scattered all over. The Philippines is the place to go for flying enthusiasts out there if you are living in Asia. Not so fast buster ... It is an involved process and since I have 'almost' done it, I will share my experience (less some of the color) with you. Folks, this is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are abundant if you have patience, perseverance and the much loved quality in the Philippines -- radiant acquiescence!
The Club - Your Best Friend
The first thing you must do is to find an aviation club who will be willing to rent you aircraft and who has the right combination of planes and infrastructure and is geared up to help foreigners convert their license. I've done a more than thorough job and can save you the hassle. The answer comes down to essentially one place -- Omni Aviation at Clark Field just 2 hours drive north of Manila. You may try other places, but if you want a professional place that does not cut corners and does fake log books and documents as 'favors', then don't look any further; go with Omni. They even have their own Runway '02 Omni' at the field. How cool is that! Your man there is Captain Ben Gomez -- the owner and businessman who is a man of integrity and honor and who was a Captain at Philippine Airlines for decades. But the person who makes it all possible is Cora Guevara! Go to their website -- www.omniaviation.com.ph and contact them and ask for Cora. Tell them 'Shane' sent you. That won't buy you any discounts, but lots of smiles!
Folks, whatever you do, DO NOT attempt to convert the license by yourself. You NEED Omni to help you. The rules and regulations in the Philippines are cumbersome and complicated and people don't regularly convert pilot's license there. Let's say that the system is a 'work in progress!' Many people have tried going the direct route, but I don't know any who have successfully done it on their own. For one thing the conversion process sent to me by Cora was a full blown Powerpoint 'Flow Chart'. It looked more like a drawing for a nuclear command and control facility to me and I found out that it was missing a few 'vital' processes anyhow. Leave this in the capable hands of Cora and you will be just fine.
Essentially, you have to do the following:
1. Contact Omni and get the full process map from them. Send them all your documents by email (License, Medical, log book (last 5 pages)) and register with them as a new member for 'license conversion'.
2. Do a medical. Get your chest X-ray and EKG at home and take with you. The rest can be done in the Philippines. This needs to be done in Manila. Omni will help.
3. Write a Radio Operators' Exam in Manila on a Wednesday at 8am. Don't panic folks. Just listen to Cora. Enough said.
4. Go to a special section of the government called NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and get your fingerprints and background check done. Omni will take you there in Manila. If you go by yourself, you may never get to the front of the queue! There were 3000 people in the building on the day I went! OUCH!!!
5. Go to Omni and start your passport and visa process (you need a special process for this and your standard visa entry is not good enough here).
6. Get your starter kit at Omni (maps, etc.). Don't panic when you find the sectional charts 'unconventional'. No VOR's, no airport info, no frequencies, etc. That all comes together later. I'll share my own fixes to these problems later.
7. Book yourself on an aircraft with an instructor (Rey Lecciones, my instructor was great) and get yourself familiarized with the airspace and the environment. Highly recommend the 172's vs 150's. Also highly recommend a cross-country trip. It is back to basics here folks. Also navigating Islands is not intuitive for us Canadians who think the continent is finished and do a 180 when you see water!
8. Wait for a few weeks (go home like me if you don't have few weeks to kill) to get the results of your exams and get scheduled for a written test and a 'Check Ride'.
9. Go back and do your final written test and a check ride. Wait a few weeks.
10. Once all is done AND you have 8 hours total on that aircraft type for insurance purposes, you can start flying.
That's it. Fly safe and enjoy one of the most rewarding and beautiful flying experiences anywhere in the world.
Two days ago, Cora called and said that my Philippines License has been Issued! So, we are going to put it to good use immediately and during May holidays (1-3 May 2009), we will head to Philippines for an Island hopping experience with the family. Will share our experiences and pictures.