Perspectives: J.P. Palusci, American Airlines
Written by J.P. Palusci   

Howdy all. My name is Jean-Piere (J.P.) Palusci and I want to share my path to a major airline with all current and prospective pilots. A little background first.

On February 14, 2000 I achieved my goal of getting hired by a major when I started class with American Airlines. Best Valentine's Day I can remember! The road was long (but not too long), the obstacles formidable, the challenge unbeatable. Best of all, I proved to myself - and to anyone who believes in themselves - that it is most definitely an attainable goal.

My interest in flying began around age 4, as I was living overseas, thanks to my father's job as an executive. We moved from country to country every 2-3 years, which meant a lot of flying on different, exotic airlines. We're talking Morocco, Spain, Venezuela, Italy, Belgium and more. Bottom line, I became interested in airlines and airliners, more than any other type of aircraft or aviation. Then, when I was 12 and living in Morocco, my father started taking flying lessons. I rode along as much as I could, and when he got his private, we went flying every weekend. He taught me the basics, and by age 13 I could fly a pretty manageable pattern, as well as basic airwork. Contributing to this was my countless hours playing the ORIGINAL Microsoft Flight Simulator (you know, the Commodore 64 version with grids and green screens, but still, a pretty cool instructional tool.)

I finally graduated from high school in Rome, Italy in 1992, and at the tender age of 19 I was accepted at Parks College/St Louis University, to begin a four year degree in Aviation Science. On top of college courses was the full Flight Program that took me from 0 to MEII (multi engine instrument instructor). We flew Cessna 152s, Aerospatiale Tampicos, Mooney 201s and Cessna 310Rs, and it took me 4.5 years to finish up - I had to have my share of fun times, thank you.

The year before I graduated, I had already finished the flight courses so I began instructing free-lance out of St Louis Downtown Airport (CPS) and then later at Spirit of St Louis Airport (SUS). By the time I graduated in December 1996, I had about 400 Total and about 100 dual given. I decided to move down to Dallas, TX to marry my long lost love and eventually got a job as assistant chief pilot at IATA, a flight school out of Arlingotn, TX. That lasted from Jan 97 to June 97.

Flight Instructing
The flight school didn't seem too great, so I got hired by American Flyers in Addison (ADS) where I stayed full time until Jan 98. Now I had about 1200TT and 100 ME and it was time to try and finnagle (sp?) a turbine job somewhere. As luck would have it, one of my fellow CFIs at Flyers was an air ambulance F/O on a King Air out of Dallas Love who got me a job there, so I started with SBAir in the right seat of a Be-90 - great turbine experience for a low timer like me! I eventually got about 50 hours in the six months I was there.

Atlantic Coast Airlines
Fast forward to May 1998: 1500TT, 200ME and a job offer from Atlantic Coast Airlines (United Express) out of Washington Dulles (IAD.) BAe Jetstream 41 copilot and, too me, the BIG TIME! An Airline Pilot, finally. The interview went great- preparation, preparation, and more preparation. The ground school was challenging but not too hard.

My first day in an airline pilot uniform? PRICELESS!!

After four months of commuting from DFW to IAD, we finally decided to move out to Virginia in anticipation of a good 5 years flying for ACA. Commuting can be very stressful depending on your personality - it was for me. Nothing like driving to work if you can be lucky enough to live where you are based. Anyways, I stayed a J41 copilot until Oct 1999, when my J32 captain bid kicked in. But a funny thing happened on the way to the left seat...

For months I had been obsessing with a career at AA. Jumpseating with them between DFW and IAD those first four months, I met a lot of AA pilots who convinced me to apply. You see, back then AA didn't really have any official minimums, so I had nothing to lose. My original application to them had me with about 1800TT and 500 turbine, no turbine PIC at all and still no ATP. What the heck, I thought. Turns out, if you knew the right people at AA, you could find yourself interviewing there before you knew it. Well, I went out of my way to make myself well know at the Flight Academy down there - which included trips to Dallas in my ACA uniform, numerous references and recommendations, the works. What do you know... I got an interview letter for Nov 2, 1999... with about 2800TT, 1500 turbine, 0 Turbine PIC and STILL no ATP!!! I highly doubted I was going to make the cut.

American Airlines
Sure enough, I was the least qualified pilot in my interview group of 6... but I didn't let it get to me. I tried to be myself.. I studied hard... I practiced... and bingo, the interview was even easier than my ACA interview! It seemed to be a good ol' boy's airline, mostly friendly conversation, a relatively easy DC-10 sim ride and a small psychological aptitude test. Ten days later, I get the call that changes my life... "We are pleased to tell you that you passed the interview and we are offering you a conditional job offer..." YIPEE!!!

Three months later, I started class as a 727 F/E based initially at MIA. Well, let me tell you, 727 F/E training was without a doubt one of the hardest courses I ever went through... but you know why? At AA and other airlines, it was more of a "rites of passage" course, an old-fashioned training course that required you to "build" the airplane, taught by old instructors from the 70s heyday of the 727. And everybody knew it, it was a way of paying your dues, a form of acceptance into AA. And I passed, thank God. Later on, MD80 training was nothing like it.

Flying the panel.... well, it is an experience. A good one, to be sure, but nothing as exciting as checking out in the right seat of your first jet ever, which was the MD80 for me. Now granted, AA's MD80s are not as decked out as Delta's - in fact, we only have the MD82 and MD83, with quite a few of them still being the old "steam gauge" (no EFIS) design - but with 260 system wide, I was guaranteed to be going places on it. (After we merged with TWA, we now have 360 or so!) And sure enough, the "Super 80”, as AA calls it, goes everywhere in the US, Canada and Mexico.

So here I am, still employed after 9/11, thank God. The last round of furloughs are due to take place March 2, and I will end up 388 from the bottom of the list when all is said and done. 388 from the bottom - and at my best, I had about 2200 below me! That right there shows you that timing is everything in this career, and also, getting your name onto a seniority list ASAP is the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do!

I have been based in LGA since August 2001, and now in March '04 I am starting in STL, so me, my wife and my 10 month old are moving back to Dallas to put down some roots - or shall I say, FIXIN' to move to Dallas :-) The DFW to STL commute is easy, there's only one airport to cover in STL (as opposed to 3 in NY), and I have a free place to stay in STL, my sister's.

What the future holds, who knows. I just hope that by sharing my story, I've been able to help our future airline pilots stay on course and to NEVER GIVE UP! This is the best, best job in the world, no matter what anyone tells you. I fly with my share of disgruntled captains who hate our new contract, hate our airline, hate the 80, etc. I never let them get to me, because I remember where I came from, and how my dream started. Good luck to all prospective career pilots!

If anyone EVER has any questions, or just wants to chat, please email me!

J.P. Palusci
S80 First Officer
American Airlines