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.
We 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.
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.
After 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.
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.