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Becoming a Southwest Airlines Captain

Adventurer B
How does one make the transition from First Officer to Captain? is there a "Captain Exam" that must be passed? Is there any kind of formal ceremony? Except for the walk alone through the woods without food or water for six days and six nights and then the pealing of every church bell in the state for the entire seventh day as the new Captain emerges from the sojourn, annointed with total enlightenment, it's pretty much a low-key deal. NOT! It's a huge deal. A really huge deal. The First Officer (FO) has been watching and learning about the Air Traffic Control system and how the airplane performs. The move to the left seat now exposes the new Captain to paperwork (aircraft logbooks, Company required reports, etc); knowing where to taxi on more than 60 airports; direct management of the Crew (personnel issues, job critiques and counseling, issues between Crew Members and passengers, combat field marriage counselor, issues between the aircraft and outside agencies, etc); absolute responsibility for the passengers; direct responsibility for the safe operation of his or her aircraft; dealing directly with Maintenance and the Minimum Equipment List (MEL); working with Company Dispatch; directing Crews in an inflight or ground emergency; making the call on whether to actually declare an emergency; final authority on about every aspect of what happens "if"; and a host of other decisions and judgment calls that have been made by every Captain the upgrade FO has ever flown with--and some   the new Captains have not even contemplated yet. Upgrade begins on the first day an FO shows up for work. That FO will watch and learn what differentiates a great Captain from an average one. The FO learns what kind of Leader is the easiest to work with and how vital or appreciated FO input is with certain Captains. Many personal skills will hopefully be developed before the FO moves to the left seat. It is a seasoning and a learning process that cannot be avoided or substituted. It just takes time. The actual training is only about a month long. The first ten days consist of a quick review of airplane systems and Company policy and procedures. Then, the new Captains pair up with a student buddy to go through roughly seven training simulator rides, each four hours in length. Here the new Captain gets used to seeing everything he or she has known inside the cockpit turned around because he or she is on the other side of the center console. Nothing is where it should be and the natural feeling of being able to find something without looking at it must be relearned. (The pressurization panel that used to be over his or her head is now on the other side of the ceiling. Above the new Captain's head now is a fuel pump panel.) I refer to it as about as disconcerting as putting your clothes on backward. Nothing comes easily. Even your hands must relearn their primary duties: The right hand that used to steer the plane now operates the throttles. The left hand that used to run the throttles, now gets to fly the plane with the yoke and drive the plane on the ground with the "tiller," a nifty steering wheel that steers the plane, while negotiating tight corners on the ramp and taxiways. There is no tiller on the FO side. Everything your body knows is wrong. Once complete with the training, the new Captains fly a four-hour checkride. The next day, one will fly a simulated four-hour sequence of flights while the other plays the FO. The next day after that, they swap positions for another four-hour ride. Then they go to a Pilot Base and fly a week or more with a Check Airman who monitors their performance in the real plane with passengers and Crew. At the end of this week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rides along and observes the new Captain, and upon the FAA's blessing, the Captain is now the real deal. HOWEVER, most shiny new Captains now go back to their crew base and fly as FO's, occasionally picking up the odd Captain trip because most airlines upgrade pilots prior to their falling off the top of the FO list and to the bottom of the Captain seniority list. This keeps the supply of Captains ready available should they be needed on a short notice. After six to eight months, most are flying pure Captain lines, never again flying from the right seat. In a nutshell, that's it.