Going flying at Lufthansa’s Airline Training Center Arizona

As an airline customer based in the United States I’m mostly used to the way that American carriers source their pilots. Most are former military or have paid a huge sum of money to fund their own private training and then hope to make it through the long days of work at regional carriers before making it into the big birds. Lufthansa’s approach to pilot recruitment and training is quite different. They subscribe to the Ab-Initio training plan, where each pilot is brought in completely green and trained from the ground up in the Lufthansa way.

As part of StarMegaDo 2010 a group of about 30 of us were invited to visit the Airline Training Center, Arizona (ATCA) where aspiring pilots are given their initial in-flight training experiences. We got to meet with the students and the folks who run the program. Oh, and we all got to actually experience the flight training through flights in the same simulators that the pilots learn in.

IMGP6918IMGP6919We were welcomed to the facility by Matthias Kippenberg, the President and CEO of ATCA. A pilot who was trained in the same facility more than 30 years ago, who flew the 727, 737 and 747 for various private groups as well as Lufthansa, Matthias has been leading the training group in Arizona for 3 years now. Mr. Kippenberg oversees the training of approximately 240 pilots annually, helping to continue feeding the tremendous demand that the parent company has for additional pilots.

After a brief introduction outside the facility we were escorted onto the flight line (“Badges, we don’t need no stinkin’ badges”) to see one of the Bonanza aircraft that the aspiring Lufthansa pilots start their training in.

We got to climb in the plane and get a feel for what it is like inside, including the fact that they planes are not air conditioned which can be a bit warm in the summer months.

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Following the walk-through on the flight line we got to see the maintenance facilities and then, the highlight of the day, actually flying in the simulators.

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Click here to view the embedded video.

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Click here to view the embedded video.

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IMGP7013After the flying we headed over to the cafeteria for a delicious lunch and a Q&A wrap-up with the student pilots and training coordinators. Along the way we happened upon this celebratory scene walking the grounds of the facility. The pilot being carried had just completed his first solo flight and his class-mates were helping to celebrate the event. There is a tradition in the flight world that says following the first successful solo flight one cannot have their feet touch the ground until they have been in the water first. As such, the next stop of this caravan of friends was the swimming pool facility on the property. I’m sure he doesn’t mind getting wet for this one.

The food was top-notch (and we were thanked by many of the students for showing up as it meant they get the upgraded catering for the day). Here’s dessert, ice cream in chocolate. Hard to complain at all.

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It is worth noting here that the 20 folks who got to participate in the flight simulator portion of the event were chosen not by luck and not randomly. They were chosen by their generosity. All told, we raised over $5,000 in charitable contributions to Help Alliance, the Lufthansa corporate charity. Simply amazing.

Charter flight #1 – Houston to Phoenix

StarMegaDo 2010 kicked off at the ungodly early hour of 5am today with the first round of transfers to the airport from the hotel. By 6am the last group was climbing on the shuttle buses and we’d put away a half case of Veuve in celebration of the crazy that we are. The folks unlucky enough to be on the earliest buses were rewarded with the opportunity to visit the flagship Continental Presidents Club in Terminal E while the rest of us barely cleared security in time to get to the plane on time.

IMGP6876Boarding was somewhat chaotic – you’d think a group of 200 frequent flyers would be better at getting their bags in the overheads – but we pushed back on time and cruised west from Houston at 36000 feet through cloudless blue skies. It was a beautiful day for flying. Oh, and we did have the oldest unaccompanied minor ever to fly on Continental with us as well. In case you’re curious, he is a big baby, but also a great guy.

IMGP6879The in-flight service was truly special. One of the flight attendants is an avid participant in the FlyerTalk community and managed to trade to pick up the trip at the last minute. The entire in-flight crew was phenomenal, pouring bottle after bottle of Monopole (and whatever other drinks were ordered) and serving up a hot meal for us as well.

IMGP6891The service was more than I’ve had on just about any flight in the past couple years. I mentioned that to one of the flight attendants and she noted “we haven’t worked this hard on a two hour flight since the MD-80s.” Yeah, that was a long time ago. Still, they were working with smiles on their face and having a blast traveling with us

IMGP6887Wheels down in Phoenix was right on time. We deplaned into buses where most of the group headed to a reception with US Airways while a smaller group headed west to Goodyear Field to visit Airline Training Center Arizona, the Lufthansa flight training facility where all of their pilots learn to fly.

So we’re mostly working on very little sleep and quite a bit of Champagne. Doesn’t seem like all that bad a deal to me at all.

A Mega Simulator opportunity

This year’s Star Mega Do is not just about shmoozing and tours. There are a few special opportunities that will be made available only to subsets of the group. One of these is the opportunity to visit Lufthansa Flight Training’s Airline Training Center Arizona (ATCA). This is the facility that the carrier uses to train their pilots and, well, it is going to be a phenomenal experience. It will also be limited to only 20 participants of the 200 who are on the trip.

The participants going to the ATCA will experience the following:

  • Briefing about the ATCA on the bus ride over to Goodyear, AZ
  • A tour behind the scenes of the flight training center
  • A look into the various aircraft they have on site
  • Briefing about the simulators
  • A simple Beechcraft — F33A Bonanza simulator flight for each participant with an instructor

The 20 ATCA slots will be assigned through a silent auction. The entire proceeds will go to the Helpalliance. HelpAlliance was founded in 1999 by staff members from all parts of the Lufthansa Group. It is a voluntary, non-denominational, politically independent organization.

In order to submit a bid, please email me the amount you would like to donate to the Helpalliance in order to be in the group visiting the ATCA. Bids should be emailed in USD or EUR to airbusdo@gmail.com. The cut-off time to submit bids is Oct 29 Friday noon NYC time.

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