Determined to fly following 9/11

Published: 19 Feb 2016

Katherine Wallace - WW 20160209

Years of training and quality flying experience couldn’t prevent Katherine Wallace from being furloughed after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, but her persistence has been rewarded as a Southwest 737 captain.

Katherine Wallace - WW 20160209 (Image)What are your current duties?

I am a Boeing 737 captain, and I also work with our pilot recruiting team, doing outreach events and pilot interviews. Typically I arrive at my base one hour before my first scheduled flight. At the gate I supervise the preparation of the aircraft and ensure it is safe for the flights we have planned that day. During a typical day’s flying I will fly half the legs and act as monitoring pilot on the legs my first officer is flying.

Where did you start out?

I attended high school in New Zealand and completed my college degree via distance learning. It took me about eight years of part-time study to finish a fouryear degree, but I got it done. I was concurrently flight instructing and flying for a regional airline whilst completing the degree.

My flight training was done in a compressed course that went from private to certified instrument flight instructor in about a year. I got most of my ratings in Tennessee, then moved to Southern California, where a friend helped me get a job at Van Nuys airport. Unbeknownst to me it was the busiest general aviation airport in the US. Needless to say, it was a steep learning curve, but a wonderful airport to base and work out of.

And then you took off?

With my air transport pilots licence and about 2,000 flying hours under my belt, I was able to obtain my first regional airline job, where I flew as a first officer and captain on a Beech 1900, then as captain and check airman on a Bombardier Dash 8. I then worked for three other carriers before landing at Southwest Airlines.

After obtaining a lot of Part 135 [charter] and 121 [scheduled commercial] experience, I moved on to a major airline job, where I was initially training as a flight engineer.

When 9/11 struck I was quickly furloughed. Getting back into the industry a few years later was very difficult, but I had re-evaluated my desires and had my sights set on Southwest. Although my qualifications were competitive, I was not current, so I obtained a 737 type rating, and then worked for two other airlines before I became competitive enough to be called for an interview. So I have flown for a regional, legacy, supplemental, major, and now Southwest. We currently operate four 737 variants – the -300, 500, 700 and 800.

What do you enjoy most?

The people I get to work with. Although piloting a plane is a pretty cool job, it’s the people that make it a great job. The other pilots, along with our flight attendants, operations, station and corporate personnel, are a phenomenal bunch of professionals. I am always amazed at what a dependable and capable group my co-workers are.

“Although piloting a plane is a pretty cool job, it’s the people that make it into a great job”

Do you get enough sleep?

The recent introduction of FAA Part 117 to amend the rest regulations certainly changed the duty/ rest landscape. Southwest has always been an excellent place to work with regards to managing sleep and rest.

First, we do not fly “red-eyes”, so that eliminates any back of the clock flying and trying to sleep during the day. Sure, we do have some very early starts and late finishes, but the beauty of our system is that our lines of flying are built into mornings and afternoons/evenings.

Most people generally identify themselves as an early bird or a night owl. So with our system, and depending what works for you, employees can bid to fly the early morning departures and generally be done in the afternoon. Conversely they can sleep in, head to the airport at midday, and fly on the afternoon and evening schedules. Of course seniority helps with the bidding, but even our reserve lines are built this way. 

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