terry.liittschwager@gmail.com

[next]

I joined Tower Air in April 1995. Tower hired pilots as First Officers, so while having been a 747 captain at another airline was certainly helpful, it did not exempt me from their six month probationary status or guarantee that I would eventually be upgraded to captain. I was 55 and the FAA mandatory age-60 retirement rule was still in place. I knew that time-wise it would be a race between when my turn to upgrade came and the date beyond which Tower would choose to not upgrade me because of my proximity to retirement.

When I reported for my first flight with Tower in May 1995, I had not flown for two and a half years and was out-of-practice to say the least. Plus, the Tower Air procedures and culture were greatly different from my previous airline. The worst, though, was that I had lost the ability to understand a non-native speaker of English over a radio when their English was not good or heavily accented relative to mine. English is the international language of air traffic control, but the accents of many foreign—to me—controllers can make understanding them a challenge.

At one point during the period of once again acclimating myself insofar as the language issue, we were handed off from a Scottish controller speaking with a heavy brogue to a Dutch controller. I asked the Dutchman to confirm our clearance, explaining that I had had difficulty understanding the Scotsman. His first words were, "That's alright, we can't understand them either."

Another problem I was dealing with was that almost all the Tower captains were younger than I. Plus, I often had more experience on the airplane and/or more time as a Captain than the Captains I was flying with. I never spoke of my past experience unless explicitly asked, but in the small community of an airline whose total fleet (at the time of my hire) was only eighteen 747s, everybody soon knew of everyone else's background.

terry.liittschwager@gmail.com

[next]