OBAP After-Action Report

The case for investing in your future career

Photo by: Melody Hood

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals’ (OBAP) annual convention in Orlando, Florida. The event was widely attended by aviation companies and most major and regional airlines, in addition to thousands of pilots looking to advance their aviation careers to the next level. This year, Cockpit to Cockpit was invited as a guest speaker to present a free “Military to Airline” transition seminar. We were able to present the seminar on four occasions throughout the convention and attendance was great. It was fun to meet some of my readers in-person as well as many who had never heard of the book.

Is it worth the costs involved to travel to and attend a pilot job fair?

There is always a lot of buzz on The Pilot Network (TPN) and other aviation forums leading up to these pilot job fairs. Some pilots will be attending their first job fair and want to know what to expect. Others are seeking advice on techniques to help them stand out from the crowd among so many qualified candidates.

Photo by: Melody Hood

There is also a healthy dose of skepticism read online leading up to these events. I am often asked if it’s truly worth the time and money to attend these job fairs. I see some negative comments on pilot forums about the high costs associated with attending these events just to stand in long lines awaiting only a few minutes of face-time with the airline recruiters. While I’m not here to dispute any of those claims, I am here to report that attending these job fairs really does work for those who show up prepared.

Evidently, Southwest Airlines (SWA) began sending interview invites before the OBAP convention had even concluded. I’ve heard from several Cockpit to Cockpit readers and many others who received their Southwest interview invite within days of meeting with Southwest’s pilot recruiting team at OBAP.

Those who came to OBAP hoping to score an interview with some of the legacy carriers may have been disappointed to learn that the airline they were targeting isn’t hiring right now. That’s unfortunate, but it’s just part of the hiring game, and that is beyond your control. It happened to me in 2014 when I met with Southwest Airlines at OBAP right after finishing my B-737 type rating. I was sure they were going to be so impressed with my type rating that I would certainly be offered an interview. Instead I was told “Sorry, we’re done hiring for the year, but we should be hiring again in the spring.”

Photo by: Melody Hood

OK, so you couldn’t attend…here’s what you missed

Hopefully, interview-invite or none, everyone who attended gained some value from the numerous free seminars and the airline hiring symposium. The convention was jam-packed with opportunities to learn and network. The OBAP Aerospace Professional Development Program (APDP) presented The Unfair Advantage class.  The class gives pilots (and others) a sneak-peek “behind the curtain” at an interview from the perspective of the interviewer to learn various interviewers’ techniques and what some of their question really mean. Armed with that knowledge, you will gain a decided advantage next time you have an interview.

Photo by: Melody Hood

As I mentioned earlier, Cockpit to Cockpit (yours truly) presented a Military to Airline transition seminar based on the contents of the book. Many who attended had never read Cockpit to Cockpit, but were able to use some of the techniques they learned in seminar right there at OBAP. Hopefully, the techniques and information will increase their chances of landing interviews with their top airline choices in the future. I tried to give what I thought were the most important tips and techniques from Cockpit to Cockpit (things you won’t hear or read elsewhere) in the short time I was allotted for each class. I wish I had had more time because it’s impossible to cover the whole book in just 90 minutes.

The main event, of course, was the opportunity for pilots to meet with recruiters from their top airline choices. For those who were unable to attend, I will give a brief overview here of the current state of pilot hiring and other relevant information that was presented by many of the major airlines on the morning of the first day of the OBAP convention in the airline hiring symposium.

Photo by: Melody Hood


  • 290 pilots hired this year
  • Hiring window currently closed
  • Window will possibly open in Sep – Oct time frame
  • Pool waiting time is longer than most, currently 5-6 months
  • Video interview recently added to hiring process prior to actual interview
  • Cognitive skills test recently added to interview process
  • Competitive flight experience
  • 5000 hours total time
  • 3500 hours transport or 2000 hours fighter time
  • 1000 hours turbine PIC
  • Differentiators
  • Volunteer work/community service
  • Leadership
  • Passion for JetBlue
Photo by: Melody Hood

American Airlines

  • Not hiring street hires right now, regional flow through only
  • 530 pilots hired so far in 2017, 229 were street hires
  • Expect to hire 800 total by end of the year including some more street hires
  • Expect an increase in hiring for 2018
  • Expect interviews to begin again in the Fall
Photo by: Melody Hood


  • 80 pilots hired this year
  • Plan to hire 240 pilots in 2018
  • Merger seniority plan and fleet plan to be settled by the end of 2017
  • 30% of new hires are flow through pilots from Horizon Air
  • Horizon Air pilots have guaranteed interview with Alaska Airlines
  • You can still get an interview as a street hire before your Horizon seniority based interview
  • Alaska considers turboprop time as equal to jet time
  • Differentiators
  • Community service
  • Know and live the Alaska Airlines core values
Photo by: Melody Hood


  • “We want productive pilots”
  • Currently 2700 total pilots
  • 301 pilots hired this year
  • Will be interviewing and hiring through holiday season to reach that number
  • Competitive flight experience
  • Average 7270 hours total time
  • Average 2920 hours PIC
  • Internal recommendation/referral is extremely important
Photo by: Melody Hood

Hawaiian Airlines

  • Expect hiring window to open in January, 2018
  • Currently 700 total pilots
  • Plan to hire 100 pilots each year through 2020
  • Competitive flight experience
  • 3000 hours total time
  • International (not including Mexico, Canada, Caribbean) flight experience
  • Internal recommendation/referral is extremely important
  • Pool waiting time is 3-4 months
Photo by: Melody Hood


  • Plan to hire 400+ in 2017
  • Hiring will continue through the “peak season” holidays
  • Expect to hire 200-250 next year
Photo by: Melody Hood

Southwest Airlines

  • 896 pilots hired this year
  • Plan to hire 1000 pilots in 2018
  • Differentiators
  • Flight experience should show logical career progression
  • Education
  • Leadership…”we are hiring future capatains”
  • Update your Pilotcredentials application monthly at a minimum
  • Interview success rate currently 65-70%
  • “Best way to not get hired is to not be yourself in the interview”
Photo by: Melody Hood

United Airlines

  • Hiring window is currently closed, expect it to open in the fall
  • 150 pilots in the pool expect training in early 2018
  • Plan to hire 450-500 pilots in 2018

Delta Air Lines

  • Did not attend OBAP 2017 Convention

The future of pilot recruiting at the major airlines

OBAP was a great opportunity for pilots to meet with the recruiting teams from most of the major airlines and to learn career-enhancing skills covering a wide variety of topics. The career-enhancing skills classes will still be there next year, unfortunately, most of the major airlines will not be there. Most of the major airlines have announced that 2017 will be the last year that they will be attending the traditional job fairs. Instead, each airline will host their own in-house pilot recruiting events at their company headquarters. Southwest Airlines has already announced one of these pilot-recruiting events to be held at Southwest Airlines headquarters in Dallas, TX on September 30th, 2017.

The in-house pilot recruiting events give each airline a better opportunity to get to know potential interview candidates in a more in-depth, all day affair, versus the traditional 3-5 minutes with each candidate at a job fair. The downside is the in-house pilot recruiting events are usually limited to just a few hundred pilots. Registration slots are extremely difficult to acquire. Each airline uses a slightly different process for registration. Some announce a date/time when they will open the registration window and the slots are gone within minutes — may the fastest internet-connection win. Other airlines send invitation emails only to those with top application scores on-file who meet the criteria the airline is seeking.

Despite the change in format, my opinion remains the same; these events are worth attending if you have the opportunity. The trend in major airline pilot-hiring seems to indicate that the airlines wants to meet their potential interview candidates ahead of time. That says a lot. It says to me that they want to match a personality to the application profile. In other words, your flight experience may get your foot in the door, but it’s your communication skills and charisma that will earn you an interview and get you hired. There are dozens of pilots who will be interviewing at Southwest Airlines this month, specifically because they attended the OBAP 2017 convention and showed up prepared. Preparation is the key to success. Cockpit to Cockpit has helped hundreds of readers prepare for a successful military to airline transition. Are you ready? For additional information, visit www.cockpit2cockpit.com.

SOURCEAero Crew News, September 2017
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Marc Himelhoch
LT COL MARC Himelhoch, USAF (Ret), is a pilot with over 5000 hours of flight time. He grew up in Clearwater, Florida, where he met his wife, Missy Shorey. He graduated with honors from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, earning a masters degree in aeronautical science. In 1995, Marc joined the US Air Force as a second lieutenant. He served as a T-37, T-6A, and F-16 instructor pilot and as an F-16 higher-headquarters evaluator pilot. He logged nearly three hundred combat flight hours and flew in Operations SOUTHERN WATCH, NORTHERN WATCH, JOINT GUARDIAN, NOBLE EAGLE, and IRAQI FREEDOM. In 2014, Lt Col Himelhoch retired and became a commercial airline pilot. Marc interviewed with and received conditional job offers from Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and XOJET. Marc is now a pilot with Southwest Airlines. He and Missy live in Dallas, Texas.


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