A Day in the Right Seat

Courtesy of PSA Airlines Inc.
Michael Barrett / Correspondent

I had the pleasure to interview Costas after his long day of tours with the Embry-Riddle community of students, faculty, and staff. Costas Sivyllis is a 2012 Embry-Riddle graduate who is a regional first officer pilot. His credentials include being a Flight Instructor and a past Avion Editor-In-Chief. As any other pilot, Costas prefers the smell of new jet fuel, and recounted to me that his first flight as an airline pilot was in the CRJ-900 was from Charlotte, NC to Cincinnati, OH. I asked Costas on what his training to become an airline pilot entailed. He explained that the CRJ-200/700/900 is actually all one type rating – the CL-65. Between the 200 and 700/900 you do need a short “differences” course as there is quite a bit of difference. Between the 700 and 900, there are very few differences. So whether you do initial training in the 200, or a 700/900, you just need that short transition course and you’re qualified to fly all of them. Costas’s airline (PSA Airlines Inc.) has simulators set up as 200’s, 700’s, and 900’s, and train accordingly.

I was inquisitive about the differences between a CRJ-200 and CRJ-900 and asked our First Officer about it. He explained that the CRJ-200 and CRJ-900 are quite different. The differences start from the outside. The -200 is roughly 88 feet long, and the -900 is 120 feet long. The wingspan is longer too, 82 feet up from 70 feet. The -900 has leading edge slats, essentially devices chafing the camber of the wing granting better takeoff performance and a slower approach speed. This aerodynamically changes the flying characteristics.

The -900 comes in on approach ‘nose high’, and Costas keeps some thrust in almost until touchdown. In the -200, with no slats, the final approach is nose low and very fast due to its high-speed wing. The engines in the -900 are more powerful, and PSA Airlines’ maximum takeoff weight is 85,000 lbs. compared to 50,000 lbs. in the -200. In the cockpit, things are rather similar, except the overhead panel and throttles. The systems on the -900’s are more automated, so there are less switches on the overhead panel. The engines have FADEC (fully automated digital engine control) so the throttles have ‘detents’ for takeoff thrust, climb thrust, and more. No manual tweaking is needed. Last big difference is that the -900 NextGen has VNAV or vertical navigation and thus it can fly descent profiles with no manual input.

Next, I asked Costas what makes the CRJ-900 jet ‘NextGen optimal’. Costas explained that NextGen is the manufacturer Bombardier’s term for its newest generation of CRJs. Dual flight management systems, VNAV, redesigned winglets, better cabin design, and little modern updates here and there are some of the things found on the next generation version. Costas is living his dream of being an airline pilot. “I hope I never have to get a real job someday,” he mentioned. While on the tour, Costas stated he was upgrading to Captain. When asked about how long he was in the right seat, he said, “It took me 2 years and 2 months before being able to hold Captain. My airlines rapid growth accelerated this process, since captain upgrades in the airline industry are in seniority order. In contrast, when I was hired, I was looking at about 7-8 years before I’d be able to hold Captain.” Costas was hired to PSA after he met their chief pilot at the career fair during his senior year, and they were the first airline to hire him out of graduation. So far, it’s been a great decision for Costas. Why was he hired? In his reply, he believes he was hired right off the bat because of his training, background, knowledge and Embry-Riddle education. What makes his job the best job in world, I asked. Costas replied that between flying for a living, traveling, flying in an airline operation, the flexibility in scheduling, and as a pilot being able to fly a jet makes this the best job in the world. Additionally, let’s not forget the travel benefits and unique experiences pilots endure.

My next question was what does Costas think about all the new changes, upgrades and growth at the ERAU-Daytona Beach campus in recent years. Costas has a positive outlook on this matter. He considers it is incredible. “Embry-Riddle has always made improvements to campus, but the new buildings and campus facelift certainly are sights to see. I’m not surprised to see ERAU making strides to ensure it gives students the best tools and experience possible.”

As previously mentioned, Costas has been a former correspondent and the former Editor in Chief of the Avion. The Avion was one of his favorite things to do at Riddle. Being intertwined with the SGA, Touch-N-Go, and WIKD made the Avion a lot of fun. He personally enjoyed writing and editing and that’s a part of him that hasn’t left. As a reporter and editor for the Avion, I was given some incredible opportunities to cover Shuttle launches, breaking news, and attend journalism conferences that really made me a better writer and editor. Managing a college newspaper was something totally outside flying and it was great to experience that. The Avion has had a positive effect on him. He misses it and wants to get back into writing.

Curious about the changes in the job market in the regional airlines, I asked about where Costas sees himself in the next ten years. Nevertheless, he told me that predicting ten years in the airline industry is like predicting the weather next year in Boston. “Many things could happen, as the airline industry is very dynamic and you must constantly adjust to current market happenings,” Costas said. In addition, ultimately, his dream has always been to fly long-haul international.

Lastly, I asked Costas for his advice to flight students at Embry-Riddle regarding flying for the regionals. His advice to flight students is to never let it become “just a job.” While instructing, you can see those regional jets taxi by and dream about one day being in that right seat. Costas appeals to you to not ever forget that zeal. Like any job, sometimes there’s negativity that can be contagious. Don’t let it affect you. The other hurdle is making it past year 1: with historically low pay, low seniority, and the adjustment of flying for an airline, the first year can be tough. By the second year, much of that goes away. The goal for many is to move on to a major airline – and the regionals are an excellent way to build time, and get ready for that major airline job. In Costas’ opinion, this generation is very lucky and can go from a Cessna-172 to a regional jet…this has not always been that way. In other words, this is Costas’ advice to you, “Enjoy every step of the way, because you’ll create memories at each one. Don’t rush it by.”