By Dakota Neff
Aviation Flight Science
During my flight operations internship at Southwest Airlines, I was able to experience the daily processes of a major airline during one of the busiest travel seasons. My duties varied throughout the experience. I worked rigorously with fatigue-risk management, aviation safety action program (ASAP), flight data analysis program (FDAP), and safety assurance to ensure the overall safety of each pilot at Southwest. From analyzing fatigue factors, to observing pilot candidate interviews, my experience at Southwest Airlines was genuinely amazing.
I applied for the internship in October of 2016 thinking my chances of receiving a call were very slim. However, two months later I receive an email stating that a campus reach recruiter would like to schedule a phone interview with me regarding a flight operations intern position for the summer of 2017. I was quick to reply and the interview was setup shortly thereafter. After the initial phone interview, I was invited to an onsite interview for further questions and a tour of their headquarters in Dallas, TX. The interview consisted of a campus recruiter and three managers from flight operations safety, pilot hiring, and procedures. Leaving the interview, I was reluctant to say it went well. However, the following day I received a phone call from the campus recruiter offering me the position in the flight operations safety department and without hesitation, I accepted the offer.
The internship began in May and lasted nearly four months. My first day of the internship was exciting and I couldn’t wait to hear my responsibilities for my position. I was introduced to several people throughout flight operations and was struggling to remember the countless names of coworkers I had just met. However, the networking opportunities that arose from a simple handshake were endless. Flight operations safety and procedures work closely with each other and therefore the departments are located right next to each other. I was consistently working with pilots from each department that have flown various aircraft throughout their career. Many of these pilots had prior military experience including Air Force, Marine Corps, Air National Guard, and Navy. They were responsible for the flight operations manuals, checklists, and standard operating procedures for the airline. Needless to say, the amount of flying knowledge these pilots had was intriguing and I was fortunate enough to work with them everyday.
As a safety intern, I worked on many projects for the department. That said, the most memorable project was creating educational material for pilots regarding flap over-speeds. This was a safety hazard that the airline wanted to eliminate. I was tasked with creating educational pieces to display on crew IPads, crew lounge monitors, and posters throughout the training department. However, this was a learning experience for me due to the extensive research involved and the crucial mistakes leading to an over-speed. This project in particular truly identified what crew resource management is and how it can prevent catastrophic events from occurring.
The aviation safety action program (known as ASAP) is the primary source for pilots to report their mistakes or anything they believe is a hazard to the flight. This program is voluntary in nature and pilots were not required to participate. The program was designed primarily to prevent pilots filing NASA safety forms. I was able to read confidential reports that pilots submit on a daily basis and submit a summary of what happened to the ASAP manager. This program sparked my interest because if enough reports were filed over one topic, ASAP would target the issue and make changes to manuals, checklists, and procedures if necessary. I learned a lot from this program because it was designed to improve aviation safety for all, not just for Southwest Airlines.
Throughout my internship, I had several mentors. However, the standards office at Southwest Airlines was a group of pilots I really connected with. They demonstrated what it means to be a professional in the airline industry and what it takes to make it to Southwest. Maintaining the expectation that you will go above and beyond when nobody is watching was one of the most important values they taught me and customer service was one of the highest regarded values they wanted to maintain. The value of being a professional at all times was an expectation that the airline hopes you will meet. I was able to spend a week with pilot hiring and experienced firsthand their search for professional pilots. Each interview consisted of a human resources portion, logbook interview, and a line operating interview. I was expected to act as a “fly on the wall” during each of their interviews. Some of the values they look for in each of their candidates is a passion for flying, integrity, and professionalism. They also search for a candidate that will fit with the Southwest Airlines culture. It was a great experience and was very interesting to be on the other side of the table.
Networking was a huge part of my internship at Southwest Airlines, a quality I lacked throughout my freshman and sophomore years at Western. However, I worked with chief pilots, check airmen, standards office, and the training department throughout my time as an intern. I quickly outgrew the introvert status I had as a student and became an extrovert as an intern. For example, I was working with the training department on curriculum for new hire classes when I was told by a coordinator to go introduce myself to the standards office down the hall. I was quick to do so, and found that just by simply introducing myself, they needed my assistance for updating their advanced qualification program (AQP) or otherwise known as recurrent for their pilot group. I was shocked at the connections I had made in such a short amount of time. For the next few weeks, I worked in the simulators with check airmen testing their recurrent training modules. It was a surreal experience and I look forward to flying with them in the future.My internship at Southwest allowed me to realize what it takes to become a pilot at a major airline. I understand the values, expectations, and rules you have to abide by in order to become a professional in the industry. I was able to witness how crucial CRM is and how to apply it to my flight training now. I also witnessed pilot hiring interviews, which was extremely beneficial for my career aspirations. I hope I can one day be on the other side of the table interviewing for a more permanent position at Southwest Airlines.