Perspectives: John Tenney
Written by John Tenney   

It was October 1987 in Orlando, Florida.

I was staring at the employee bulletin board, delaying going back to my cubicle as long as I could. At 30, I was a successful software engineer with a large firm, but I was bored.

The brochure caught my eye, “Take-Off! Learn to fly and experience being a pilot. $200”

Cessna 414
Shrike Commander AC-500S
American Eagle Shorts 360
USAirways Express BE1900D
USAirways Express CRJ
Midway B737-700

An enterprising instructor had come up with a program that included five three-hour ground school sessions and three-hours of dual flight. I rose to the fly and took the bait. Never has a fish been caught so easily!

I remember being very upset on my first flight because it was not easy! I expected it to be like my Sopwith Camel program on my Mac Plus. Not so, as this darned Cessna 172 would not go straight, no matter what I did!

Well I was bitten. Rather than go pay a doctor $50,000 to cure me, I decided to pursue a second career as a pilot. To quote Jerry Garcia, “What a long, strange trip it’s been...”

Three years and $25,000 later, I had all my ratings up to MEI (Multi-Engine Instructor). I had about 400 hrs and lived at the airport. I would fly anything at any time. Totally bitten!

I had an opportunity to do some CFI work, pilot services and photo flights for local businessmen, and got my hours up to about 1500. A friend of mine said, “Hey, let's start a charter business.” So we did. It was educational but not too financially rewarding. We ran a satellite charter for a Ft. Pierce company in Orlando using a Shrike Commander and a Cessna 414AW.

And so it came to pass that in November of 1994 I had about 2300 hrs and interviewed with American Eagle. I was hired in the January 1995 class. My airline career had begun.

My first year and a half was a mixed bag of excitement and disappointment. I was a Shorts 360 FO based on “The Rock” in San Juan, PR.

I learned the trials of commuting. I learned about flying 8 legs a day with no meals and very little rest. I learned about short overnights. I learned about Crew Scheduling and the imperialist tactics used to intimidate pilots.

But most of all, I learned about flying. I loved and hated it. I kept thinking, “The next airline will be better.”

And it was, much to my surprise! American Eagle had conditioned me to Airline Problems so when I went to Mesa Airlines in July 1996 I was prepared for the trials of being a commuter pilot. I was wise and wily in the ways of commuting. I knew how to handle 8,9,10 and even 11 leg days. I knew how to spot illegal and unsafe activities and avoid them. I know a lot of guys complain about Mesa Airlines, but I believe it is because Mesa Airlines was their first airline and they were not ready for the hardships of being a commuter pilot.

The pay was not great but the advancement was fast. I made BE1900 captain in 22 months. In 3½ years I was a CRJ captain. I did my sim training in Berlin, Germany. Talk about being on top of the world!

Being based in PHL I got to fly the Northeast Corridor, the busiest Aviation area in the world. Everyday I flew in to airports like DCA, IAD, LGA, BOS, etc. I was right there with “the big guys.”

Looking back it may have been a mistake to leave. I was wooed by the chance to fly a Next Generation 737 at Midway Airlines. The airplane was fantastic. The airline, however, had many problems, solvency not the least!

We were already in financial trouble when 9-11 hit. I was scheduled to be furloughed in a month or two anyway. Well the rest of that airline is history. They have restarted as a USAirways Express carrier, but since I was probationary, I am no longer on the seniority list.

The last 2 years have been incredibly challenging. The positive side of that is that through challenges learning is gained. I have learned much about myself, my abilities, airlines, aviation, and life in general in these trying times.

I now run my own consulting business. I do contract flying for several vendors. I still get the chance to fly RJs now and then. I have a wife and family and enjoy being in control of my own destiny.

I hope to educate aspiring professional pilots in the ways of aviation. There are pitfalls and perils. There are wonderful high points. There are memories I will have for the rest of my life, both good and bad. Would I do it again? Yes, but I might change some of the decisions I made along the way.

John Tenney