The last time we spoke with Kevin Ardaugh in October 2018, he was about to begin initial first officer training with Envoy Air, American Airlines largest regional carrier. Before his arrival in Dallas to begin two months of intensive classroom and simulator training, Ardaugh completed the required ATP-CTP certification program that prepared him for the ATP knowledge exam. A few months later he passed his ATP checkride and earned his type rating on the Embraer 170/190 aircraft. He’s now an Embraer 175 first officer (FO) based at Chicago O’Hare, quite a culture jump for the Manteno, Illinois pilot who, until he began training with ATP, had never even flown near a Class Bravo airport, let alone into and out of one.
We reached him at a hotel in Little Rock following a day of flying and he began the conversation enthusiastically. “I think this is the best job I’ve ever had,” he told Flying. He also detailed some of the past year or so following his instructor time with ATP mostly at the Chicago DuPage airport location. In early 2018, Ardaugh became a lead instructor at DPA, about the same time ATP and Envoy announced their cadet program, essentially Envoy’s implementation of ATP’s tuition reimbursement program. He signed up right away and soon noticed his paychecks switched from an ATP logo to one with Envoy’s stamp on them. He also remembered being delivered a $500 pay bump for every 100 additional hours he flew as part of the cadet program. Once he logged 1,500 hours and started training at Envoy, he was able to choose the aircraft and the base location he preferred based on the seniority he started earning as an ATP Envoy Cadet instructor.
Ardaugh explained some of the transition process, especially last summer when it became clear he’d be leaving ATP with his 1,500 hours and headed to Dallas for Envoy training. “I only had one interview with Envoy before I was accepted into the cadet program,” Ardaugh remembered. “That locked in my position as an FO with Envoy and a flow through to AA when my seniority number is called up. Only one interview and I have a job at the biggest airline in the world. That’s pretty sweet.” Until he’s called up to AA, he’ll be building turbine time, eventually in the left seat as a captain with Envoy. He needs to spend at least one year as a line captain at Envoy before he can move up to American Airlines. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing Envoy pilots projects a flow through to AA in 6-7 years. Ardaugh says, “Envoy management is saying less than that.”
For now, Ardaugh’s pretty much consumed with life as a reserve FO, which means he’s on call and never really knows where he’ll be flying next, or when. Pilots normally work four or five days each week, just waiting for scheduling to call should another pilot call in sick or be off duty for training or vacation. The reserve pilot with the lowest seniority number is called first, then the second lowest number and so on up the list. He said the reserve duty periods run from either 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 10 a.m. to midnight. “Tonight for instance, I’m on an overnight in Little Rock. For tomorrow I’ve already been told I have a leg to Florida and another back to El Paso.”
While sitting reserve at the ORD base, Ardaugh must be able to check in at the airport within two hours of the time scheduling rings his cell. Not quite firefighter response time, but close. Because he lives less than a two hour drive from ORD, he often sits reserve at home or at the gym, although he said he keeps his uniform close by, his suitcase packed and his car full of fuel. As more FOs are hired and as the airline adds flights and aircraft, Ardaugh’s seniority number will begin to climb until he can bid on a month of flying that includes known days off and all the cities he’ll visit that month. He’ll also fly with a different captain each month.
When asked if he had any advice for someone considering a career at Envoy, he quickly admitted, “It’s a mountain of work. You need to break it down piece by piece. Give 100% of your attention to the task at hand. When you’re working on your private certificate, don’t even worry about your commercial. Conquer each step individually and before you know it you’ll have reached the summit. Trust me, the views from here are all worth it.”