Rebekah Robertson: Upgrading to Captain

Moving from the right seat to the left.

When I first began chatting with Rebekah Robertson about her recent upgrade to captain on one of Trans States Airlines EMB 145s, she said the process reminded her of her early days as a flight instructor. Training for the flight instructor certificate includes learning to fly and reach for the appropriate switches from the right side of the airplane. Robertson transitioned from the first officer side of the Embraer to Denver-based captain in December 2018. Part of that training meant learning to handle the regional jet from the left seat.

Robertson took her first flying lesson in a Cessna 172 with ATP Flight School in the summer of 2014. Remarkably, just 4½ years after her first flying lesson, this Colorado Springs native is now a proud airline captain, responsible for two other crewmembers and as many as 50 passengers at any one time—and, of course, a multi-million dollar asset.

Recalling her flight instructor roots, she says, “I’m now flying with a bunch of new first officers just starting out on the line and I’m one of the people charged with teaching them what they need to know. And of course, now I’m flying from the left seat.” And she says about her first days in command. “As the captain, I think it was a little unnerving at first, but now I think it’s awesome.”

Having spent nearly 1,100 hours in the right seat of the EMB 145, she said her upgrade education really began while she was still a first officer. “Each captain I flew with had their own particular style of how they wanted to handle the flight. I made notes about the things that would someday help me be the kind of captain I wanted to be.”

Rebekah Robertson in airplane cockpit
Robertson says her upgrade training took about a month and began the basics of what she needed to know to be successful in the left seat. Courtesy Rebekah Robertson

Robertson says her upgrade training took about a month and began the basics of what she needed to know to be successful in the left seat, including how to read Trans States-issued flight plans and dispatch releases—not to mention how to call on maintenance about mechanical issues. Even more important, she said, “They teach us the people issues, like how to deal with various threat levels or uncooperative passengers.” Neither of which she’s needed.

Her actual upgrade training included a review of the EMB 145’s systems, something she found much easier the second time around with all that practical knowledge under her belt. “We also spent between eight and 12 hours in the simulator. About half that time I was acting as captain and about half I was acting as first officer for my training partner.”

She admits the training was challenging at first because she’d never flown the airplane from the left seat. Back to being a student of sorts: “I had no feel for where the switches and levers were because I’d used my left hand for everything. Now I was learning everything with my right. I had to learn to steer the airplane on the ground too—because the only nosewheel tiller is on the left side.”

There’s more responsibility for Robertson as a captain, but in just the few short months she’s been managing her flights from the left seat, she has drawn accolades some pilots never hear.

Rebekah Robertson next to an airplane
Having spent nearly 1,100 hours in the right seat of the EMB 145, Robertson’s upgrade education really began while she was still a first officer. Courtesy Rebekah Robertson

“After a flight one day, a passenger in the cabin gave me a note as she was leaving the airplane. It said, ‘thanks for a great and safe flight. You represent what strong, intelligent women should be.’ And she wasn’t a pilot either,” Robertson said.

She sees her future pretty clearly, now that she has 350 hours as a captain in her logbook.

“My goal is to fly for United Airlines.” But until her experience matches that company’s requirements, she says she’s perfectly happy to keep flying the line at Trans States.

“I’ve had a wonderful experience just to reach this point,” she says. “The entire training process really does work the way the ATP and the Trans States people first explained it to me.”

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