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The true cost of doing business in the regional sector

Today, USA Today published an article eluding to the coming economic pinch that will hit the regional airline sector in the coming years.

The article is accurate and on point, and states the problem simply; there aren’t enough pilots willing to operate regional airliners for the wages being offered today. That is to say, highly trained and experienced pilots are unwilling to offer their services for, at the highest paying regional airlines, around $25,000 per year.

While I could take the time to detail the moral and economic absurdity of these pay rates, I will instead present an argument that I’ve made in the past as it relates to the actual cost that each passenger is paying for their first officer at a regional airline.

Let’s assume that a group of 50 passengers wish to engage my services in the operation of an EMB-145 aircraft, for which I am type rated, with a one hour flight. If I were to hold myself out at the first year rate of an ExpressJet pilot, which is $23 per hour, each passenger would end up paying me 46 cents. Obviously, if this were a two hour flight, each passenger would realize a net cost for my services of 92 cents.

Quite the deal to fly 800 miles.

But we know labor costs aren’t the only fee when operating an aircraft, so to put this in perspective, let’s figure out the fuel costs for this flight.

Let’s assume the EMB-145 burns around 3,000 pounds per hour, which is 441 gallons using a conversion ratio of 6.8 pounds per gallon. AirNav tells us that, today, the average price nationwide for JetA is $5.49 per gallon. This means that the total cost for fuel for this one hour flight would be $2421, or $48 per passenger.

Compared to the 46 cents that the first officer costs.

And if I were paid at Delta’s first year pay rate for the 717 instead of ExpressJet’s first year rate for the EMB-145? I would charge each passenger $1.36. Still quite the deal.

Conclusion? Labor costs are never dispositive when determining an increase in fares at an airline.

More strange places

The litany of strange places to study continues, this time in the Rochester public library in Rochester, NY. A 19 hour overnight means an extra couple of hours to study for the bar.


Let’s try this again

So, let’s try this again.

I’ve begun to start for the bar again. I am have completed training at my new company, and now that I’m sitting reserve on the opposite end of the country from where I live, I figured it would be a good time to start studying for the bar again.

So I’m making flashcards.

Lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of flashcards.


I figure refreshing the black letter law is one of the most important things I can do in starting this process again, and frankly, I find it much easier now that I have a whopping 252 days until the bar exam and a whole lot of reserve days to fill up.

So over the next few months, my posts will likely start to come from stranger and stranger locations. Like right now, I’m in the El Segundo Public Library, which is on the opposite side of the country from where I live. Tomorrow, I’ll be sitting ready reserve at the Los Angeles airport and writing even more flashcards.

Swelbar’s analysis of the future of the regional airline industry

William Swelbar, a research engineer at M.I.T., has the following take on the future of the regional airline industry:

Republic Pilots: Forget the Leaks and Prepare to Change Vessels.

Failed the Bar Exam

It’s official, I’ve failed the bar exam. My jurisdiction required a score of 270, and I received a score of 254. Overall, my essays were better than my multiple choice scores.

This is not surprising to me in the least.

As I posted before, I gave myself a very low possibility of passing after everything that happened with my study schedule. After the exam, I thought I had a chance, as I had known a few of the essay areas fairly well. I was lucky to have a secured transactions question, along with a criminal procedure question that I understood well.

At this point, I see myself as being within striking distance of being able to pass the bar, and as such I will attempt the bar again in February of 2015.

While common logic would dictate that I take the bar again in July, there are some reasons that I have decided against doing this.

First, I am in training at a new airline, and I am learning a new aircraft right now. While I have no doubt that I could study for the bar exam and learn a new aircraft, I have no compelling reasons to do so. I don’t have any plans to make a living as a lawyer in the short term, and as such I have a vested interest in maintaining employment as a pilot, and that means passing training.

Second, while the February 2015 MBE will include Civil Procedure questions, I believe that spending a solid 6 months studying for the bar exam to include Civil Procedure multiple choice questions is a better decision than trying to cram down the academic areas I don’t understand over the next few months.

Third, time. During my first year or two at this new airline, I am likely to be on reserve, which means I will only be working when the company calls me into work. This is both good and bad, in that if the company is staffed well, then I won’t work much. If the company is staffed poorly, then I will work constantly. I’m basically rolling the dice on my new employer looking ahead with their staffing needs, meaning I will work less than if I were holding a line. Additionally, I’d prefer to spend the next few months after training, but before I begin studying for the bar again, with my 18 month old daughter. Put simply, she’s more important than the law will ever be.

So there you have it. Once I decide upon a new schedule for studying for the bar exam, I will post it here and then keep the results updated.

Scheduling Problems

Most of my colleagues in law school studied for the bar right after graduation, before they started their legal careers in ernest.

Some employers will provide time off to employees to take the bar.

Others will provide a leave of absence to accomplish this task.

At the airline, I can stack my vacation weeks up against each other. With the way our vacation works, any trips that come into contact with my vacation week drops them with pay. This means, if I bid properly, that I can turn one week of vacation into 3 weeks off.

I’ve turned 1 day of vacation into almost a week and a half off.

As such, I placed one day in early January, another week in late January, and then a week in February. My plan was to take a good 6-8 weeks off from work to study for the bar.

But my employer had other plans for me.

My company has decided that they are so short staffed that vacations for February would be cancelled. All that time off for the bar went away, and my revised, post CMV study schedule had a very large hole put through it.

So now I have less than 2 weeks before the bar, and I can’t defer my exam. I give myself a 25% chance of passing the bar. I’ve managed to hobble through all the academic areas that will be covered, but I haven’t had enough of a chance to cover the material in the way that I’d like.

So I’m going to take this last week, hammer MBE questions, go out to Utah and see what happens with this exam.

And then I’m quitting this job, and starting a new one at a company that isn’t having a problem staffing their operation.

Pass the MPRE

I meant to update this a while ago, but life seems to have gotten in the way. A few updates:

First, I “passed” the MPRE with a score of 106. This has been sent to the State Bar and I have been cleared to take the February bar.

Second, I got sick during the second week of my studying. As in, sick for a month with a fever of 103 without any explanation. After losing 4 weeks of studying to sleeping 14 hours a day for a month, I became well almost overnight. The verdict? CMV, a member of the herpes virus. Other exciting ailments in this same family: chicken pox and mono. The doctor told me that this can be a typical presentation of symptoms when adults are exposed to CMV. In any event, I’m back to being healthy.

Third, I gave myself about four weeks of wiggle room when I made up my study schedule, and at this point I’ve blown through that and then some. I’m glad I was so conservative when I made my schedule, but now it means I have no fudge factor in case anything else goes wrong.

Fourth, and speaking of things going wrong, my company has canceled my vacation for February. I had originally bid for my vacation to be over the bar, with an additional day of vacation a few weeks prior so that I could study as much as possible in February. Not only that, but I put my other week of vacation in January. The good news is that I don’t have to go to work after January 16th, and I can study for the rest of the month on a full time basis.

The very, very bad news is that I’ll have much less study time when February rolls around. We’re bidding for our February schedules now, and I should know if I can hold the bar exam off in another few days. While I suspect I should have no problems holding the days off necessary to be present for the bar exam, I won’t count on being able to make it until I’m actually in Utah.

One of the other pleasures of working for an airline, in addition to the ability to have our vacation taken away from us with 30 days notice, is that my company can take away ANY of my days off. I could, in theory, get to the end of my last trip before the bar exam, and then be told by the company that I can’t go home. If I tell the company that I’m refusing the extension and that I’m going home anyway, I can be disciplined for doing so.

In any event, I’m back on the study train and I’m hacking my way through the property lectures. While I’m still in the core subjects. Thus far, I’ve found that how well I do on the multiple choice questions for each subject area has nothing to do with the score I received in that course, but instead on the quality of that professor. As an example, I did poorly in constitutional law, but it has easily been one of the most straight forward sections that I have run through so far. My constitutional law professor was, in a word, brilliant. Other courses that I did well with in law school have not gone as well for me so far. I expect this trend to continue.

Retook the MPRE

The MPRE is finished for me, hopefully for the last time.

Where most people take the MPRE shortly after they finish Professional Responsibility, I was not so lucky. Between going back to work in the middle of law school, having a pregnant wife, and then a small child during my last two semesters of law school, I didn’t have any time to take the MPRE while I was in school.

Common logic for the MPRE says that this will come back bite you, and it has for me.

I originally took the MPRE in August of 2013, only to find out that I did not get a high enough score for the jurisdiction that I’m applying to. Where I needed an 86, I missed by a few points, producing a score of 79.

When I took the MPRE the first time, I studied when I could over a 2-3 week period. I thought that having a longer period of time to study for the MPRE would be helpful, but in the end I don’t think it was, and my score reflected the method I used to prepare.

This time, I dedicated a week to the subject matter and followed the BarMax schedule. Overall, I think the exam went better this time, but I won’t know for another few weeks. My only hope is that regardless of what score I’ve obtained on this attempt, that it does not derail my attempt to be accepted to the bar.

In other news, I start my preparations for the bar on November 11th.

The Schedule

The plan, as thugs stand right now, is to start studying on September 15th with the intent of being to study 3 hours per day (on average), 5 days per week for 22 weeks. While I expect to only need to study around 280 hours in that period (assuming 8 hours per day, 5 days pr week for 7 weeks under a normal study schedule), I’m expecting to have to back track a bit during this process due to the length of time that I’ll be studying. In weeks, this gives me roughly 3 weeks of wiggle room, or a little more than 10% fudge factor. Being that I’m both a pilot AND a lawyer, this seems reasonably conservative enough to accomplish my goals.

The problem, of course, is burnout. 5 months straight of studying for the bar exam, while trying to keep my wife happy, while trying to make sure my kid remembers who I am, should prove to be interesting.

That being said, I can get almost all of this studying done while I’m at work, in October, I start a 2 hour commute (each way), plus all the time that I spend sitting in hotels. On the level, I should only have to study one day per week at home, which seems like a reasonable trade off.

The Tools

Most folks seem to use Kaplan and Barbri for their bar prep. As much as I would have preferred to use one of these traditional methods of studying for the bar, neither company seemed willing to work with me when it came to lengthening the amount of time I could access their material to study for the bar. Where most people will study in a strict, regimented manner with one of these programs, I am not so fortunate. At this point, I assume I will have to stretch my studying out between 4 and 5 months. The schedule, combined with the absolutely obscene cost of bar prep ($2,600), combined with not wanting to haul books around with me at work (I CAN and I HAVE done this, but I very much prefer not to) lead me to a company called BarMax

The BarMax program is done completely on an iPad, and in my case, an iPad Mini. It contains lectures, flash cards, and everything else that’s included in the whole nine yards of studying for the bar.

The only drawback to BarMax is that because it’s a new company, they don’t have the kind of statistical data behind them showing that they can get students to pass the bar exam. While they have produced results, their sample size is much, much smaller than Kaplan or Barbri.

That being said, they were the company that could provide me with the scheduling flexibility that I needed in studying for the bar. If their program works with my hectic schedule, it will be a testament to their studying philosophy.