Everything You Need to Know about the “Black Box”

AIRCRAFT BLACK BOX

A black box is a device that allows investigators to look back at the circumstances surrounding an aircraft crash. Many innovations have been implemented thanks to data read from black boxes, to both aircraft design and crew training. As you may have already noticed, the black box isn’t actually black at all. It has a bright orange color known as International Orange (the same colour as the Golden Gate Bridge). The reason for making the black box this orange color is for the purpose of finding it!

Incorporating black boxes into airplanes dates back to the 1950s, when the first commercial jet (the de Havilland Comet) met 5 accidents within the course of 2 years of passenger service. The causes of these crashes were essentially mysteries due to a lack of information. Investigators urged on the necessity of having a system that could record the activities of the aircraft before its crash. Based on the recorded data, the causes of the accident could be found. Then recommendations could be made to enhance the technology, engineering and crew training standards.

The Device

A black box has two main components. The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and the Flight Data Recorder (FDR). 

The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) stores, well… voice recordings. This includes captain and first officer intercommunication, air traffic control (ATC) conversations, communication with cabin crew and announcements to the passengers. It also includes alarms, warnings, and any other ambient sounds in the cockpit. These all contribute to the story of what exactly happened leading up to the accident. Several microphones in the cockpit do the recording, but the CVR is actually located in the tail section of the aircraft. This is where the least damage is likely to occur in a wreckage. In a modern-day airliner they will typically store the last two hours of audio.

The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) stores aircraft maneuvering inputs and commands given by pilots, and the motion and behavior of the aircraft resulting from these commands. It is now mandatory to measure a minimum of 88 different parameters, but with updates to technology, FDRs are often recording many more. Thanks to these different parameters, investigators can tell exactly how the aircraft was performing at a specific moment. When this data and information is compiled and played alongside cockpit voice recordings, a true picture of the happenings starts to appear.  

Black Box Durability

How can black boxes withstand something as violent as an aircraft accident? Well generally they can’t. The majority of these devices are destroyed in the wreckage. The Crash Survivable Memory Unit (CSMU) will survive, however, with near certainty. This is where the data from the FDR and CVR is stored, and is therefore the most important piece to find. It’s the only component that needs to be essentially indestructible.

CSMU before and after testing – The real “Black” Box

Black box memory boards are kept secure by the CSMU in steel and titanium cases that are rigorously tested. These cases can withstand an impact with the ground at 750kph (466mph), or the equivalent of 3,400 G’s. They can also burn at 1,100 degrees celsius for a minimum of 60 minutes, and survive 20,000 ft underwater for over 30 days. All this while still emitting ultrasonic signals every single second. This is accomplished via the Underwater Locator Beacon and the signal is picked up by locating equipment in order to find the black box. The data is then brought back to a laboratory for analysis.

Conclusion

Designing and developing such sophisticated systems requires years of research and millions of dollars of investments. Although the present technology used in black boxes is state of the art, incidents like the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 disappearance demand black box manufacturers and designers come up with more technologically sound systems than the current ones. Still, the black box is often the sole survivor of accidents and has played a pivotal role in aircraft safety, engineering innovation, and crew training.

Read more of our aviation posts here. Leave a comment below if there is a topic you would like us to cover in the future.

The Best Travel Tips for Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires City

Buenos Aires radiates a certain elegance that can only come from a capital city that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s often referred to as the Paris of the South, due to it’s architecture, wide avenues and outdoor cafes. While the picturesque architecture alone may affirm your decision to have flown a very long way to get here, there is a whole world of culture to explore in this sprawling city. Welcome to Buenos Aires.

Argentina Flag

Population: 15 million
Language: Spanish
Currency: Argentine Peso
Climate: Warm Temperate. Hot/humid summer (Dec-March) and fairly mild winter (June-Sept) with transitional seasons between.

Arrival

Chances are you’ll be touching down in Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) which, confusingly, is also known as Ministro Pistarini International Airport. It’s the home of Aerolíneas Argentinas, the nation’s flag carrier, and handles 85% of the country’s international travellers. EZE is very far from the actual city of Buenos Aires, as most major airports tend to be. I recommend you use Uber for ease, and to avoid getting fleeced. At the very least use Uber when arriving and departing, if only to get your bags to the hotel conveniently. The ~22km trip will take about 45 minutes while only costing $15.

[I left the airport into the sea of traffic that is “Arrivals” and was approached by a taxi driver. After telling him that my Uber was already en-route, he informed me that Uber is illegal here. I waved off his attempt at stealing my business and turned away with a polite “no gracias!”. I then saw Domingo waving from the Fiat Siena. God-bless Uber. It is not illegal here!]

Accommodation in Buenos Aires

Given the large geographic size of Buenos Aires, there are many options for areas to stay. It really boils down to your personal preference. I would actually recommend splitting your visit up into at least two stays in different parts of the city. Explore each place while you stay there. The upscale neighbourhoods of Recoleta and Retiro (side-by-side) are a good base if you want to be centrally located. These barrios are home to the 5-star hotels, luxury-brand stores and chic-rooftop bars, but staying here can actually be very affordable.

Buenos Aires

On the Cheap

Hostels are the only way to go when travelling on a budget or for extended periods of time. Sure, you sacrifice a bit of privacy and most of the amenities of a hotel, but if you flew to the depths of South America you likely aren’t anticipating to spend much time in your room. Hostels such as Hostel Colonial, V&S Hostel Club and Caravan BA are just a short walk from many of Buenos Aires’ main attractions and run for as little as $23/night while offering free wifi and breakfast. Most offer both dorm-style and private rooms depending on how much you want to spend. Consider storing your belongings in a locker/safe when heading out.

Hostel interior
V&S Hostel Interior

Air BnB’s are potentially another way to go, with endless options ranging from dingy apartments in unsafe-feeling areas at $40/night on up to $300/night two-storey penthouses and private villas. Just keep in mind that Air BnB is pimping out these properties. What I mean by that is they’re taking up to 30% of what you’re paying. The hosts don’t even know this. You could be paying $100/night for a place worth $70/night and that might bother some people based on principle alone.

Deep Pockets

If you’re here for a special occasion or just plan on spending most of your time in the hotel, Buenos Aires has a sophisticated selection of luxurious hotels to suit your fancy. You can travel like a Bond-villain and stay at 5-star palaces like the Palacio Duhao Park Hyatt or, just two blocks away, the equally-palatial Alvear Palace Hotel, which is the city’s first luxury hotel. Both have on-site butlers to unpack your luggage and draw you a bath if your ego requires such catering. Both also have 3 on-site restaurants.

Palacio Duhao Park Hyatt Hotel, Buenos Aires
Palacio Duhao Park Hyatt Hotel, Buenos Aires

The affluence of these two hotels can’t be overstated. It’s evident the moment you enter the lobby and are surrounded by marble, chandeliers and glass-enclosed Cartier purses/watches.

The recently developed district of Puerto Madero is another for top-tier accommodation such as the Faena Art Hotel, which was once a warehouse, but now has an infinity pool with a golden crown in the middle of it, surrounded by royal-red loungers. Budget between $250-450/night for these spots.

Buenos Aires During the Day

Explore

Vague, yes I know, but in a city like this, you really should just explore on your feet for at least the first day. Get your bearings in the area you’re staying in. Just pick a general direction and walk as far as your feet will take you (of course stopping in here and there for cervezas and cocktails). Doing this will have you feeling the pulse of the city right away. If you’re staying in Recoleta as I suggested, then walk North East through a seemingly endless collection of parks and botanical gardens. Or, walk South towards Plaza de Mayo and Puerto Madero and take in the architecture and shopping. Getting tired and can’t go on? Uber back to your accommodation for next to nothing (under $5) and rest up for the evening ahead.

Top-Down Buenos Aires

Another cool way to explore, though not unique to Buenos Aires, is to download the Lime app and get on one of the hundreds of scooters scattered throughout the city. Zip along at up to 20km/hr and save your energy. It’s more expensive than taking Uber, but you’ll actually be absorbing the atmosphere on your way to and from the sights you’ve picked to see for the day.

San Telmo Market

Scoot yourself to Plaza de Mayo, take a few photos of “the Pink House” and then look for Calle Defensa. Traffic stops on Sundays for tourists and locals alike to saunter down this cobblestone avenue in one of Buenos Aires’ oldest neighbourhoods.

Street vendors and artisans will be selling everything from vintage leather notebooks and original artwork to keychains and bottle openers. It’s the ideal place the get souvenirs to remember your trip by. One word of advice is to pick things up as you go. If you have the mindset of “let’s see it all and then decide what to buy” you will end up not buying anything. There’s just too much. The street is too long to procrastinate. Walk 5 blocks of the 10 checking out vendors on one side, then follow your nose into one of the smokey parillas serving up local beef. Enjoy lunch and a beverage, and head back while checking out the vendors you neglected.

Street tango dancers plaza de mayo
Street tango dancers

Expect to see live tango dancing and music performances. Drop a few pesos in the hat and support the local artists, if you like what you see. The San Telmo market is crowded and it’s known that tourists attend in droves, so keep your wallet/cell phone in your front pocket and don’t bother bringing a backpack.

Polo Matches

If the season schedule permits, head to the Cathedral of Polo in the Palermo neighbourhood for a once in a lifetime experience. This modern and comfortable stadium for the prestigious sport seats 30,000 and is the only way for a first-time viewer to revel in the horsepower and skill of the sport. The Argentine Open is the grandest of tournaments here and takes place in November/December.

It’s one of those sporting events where people go to be seen (think Monaco Grand Prix). Grandeur and money aside, Argentinians have an actual passion for this sport and that alone makes the atmosphere worth being a part of.

Buenos Aires at Night

Football Match

There are few places in the world more passionate about football than Argentina, and Buenos Aires is home to 6 teams in the Primera Division (First Division). These means that as long as you’re in town between late July and early March, you’re sure to catch a game. The top two teams to see for quality football and an electric atmosphere are Boca Juniors and River Plate. They also happen to be rivals so make sure you wear the right colours.

Boca Juniors Fans
Boca Juniors Fans

Tickets are almost all held by season ticket holders and can be hard to come by, but through AirBnB you can find many options to go to a game. You’ll pay a bit more than face value, but you’ll be safer. A beer and dinner are included sometimes. If you want to see a game for cheap, choose tickets in the standing section.

Steakhouses (Parillas)

The steak in Argentina is second to none and is a large draw for many tourists including those from Texas, where beef is king. You absolutely cannot visit Buenos Aires and not have a steak at least once (I recommend one every night). “Parilla” translates directly to “Steakhouse” but can refer to anything from a fine dining establishment to a street vendor and everything in between.

For fine dining, Don Julio in Palermo and Fervor in Recoleta are two parillas that I highly recommend. La Cabrera and Siga La Vaca were recently voted the #1 and #2 parillas in town, respectively, with Don Julio in the 3 spot. The prices are high relative to restaurants in this city, but are guaranteed to be much cheaper than any steakhouse in North America or Europe.

Street vendors are all over the city selling smoked meat. I wouldn’t know how to even start listing them. Take your chances – it’s probably going to be good.

Malbec

Malbec wine is synonymous with Argentina and it just happens that red wine pairs perfectly with red meat (see above). To accompany your tender cut of sirloin, be sure to try some Malbec wine. I won’t pretend to be an expert on wine, so you’ll just have to judge for yourself. Wine can be found for as cheap as $1.50 USD in the supermarkets. Try some at home before heading out for the night and finding out you don’t like it at the table.

Tango Shows

A traditional Argentinian style of music and dance, tango originated with the working class in the late 19th century. It’s influence in the country can’t be overstated. No trip to Buenos Aires would be complete without seeing a show. Tango shows typically start at 10pm, but if you opt for the hotel pickup and dinner packages then plan to get picked up around 8pm. Book Tango Porteño for a 1920s broadway-feel in a theatre setting, or El Viejo Almacén for a more intimate vibe with individual tables and service. Señor Tango, Rojo Tango, and Piazzolla Tango are other notables, but there are no shortage of options to choose from. You’ll also find tango dancing in the street in tourist-heavy areas throughout the day.

Tango Show
Tango Show

Quick Tips

  • Visit in November to see the city covered in purple Jacaranda trees
  • Tips not required or expected
  • The cash is dainty and you will have a lot. Use credit cards / Apple wallet
  • Ubers are absurdly cheap. Always your safest bet
  • Taxi drivers will tell you Uber is illegal here – it isn’t !
  • Free tango lessons in San Telmo Market at 8pm
  • Free public bike share program is an active way to see the city
  • Order your steak “Jugoso” for medium rare

This short guide to Buenos Aires could never hope to be an all encompassing guide to such a spectacular city. A lot of the charm you will find here is not listed in any tour guide or brochure. You will come across places and vendors sporadically and frequently that will make your visit feel more rewarding. That is a large part of the beauty of Buenos Aires. With hope, though, after reading this, you’ll have a much better guide of the must-sees (and tastes) of this fantastic city.

Sunset in BA
Sunset in BA

If you have any recommendations or tips for Buenos Aires, leave them in the comments below. Be sure to check back with The Modern Aviator for more travel, aviation, and lifestyle-related articles!

See our City Guide on Panama City, Panama

Career Path: DC-3 and Pilatus PC12 Bush Pilot, Nicolas

My name is Nicolas and I am a French citizen who came to this beautiful country that is Canada on my career path to becoming a professional pilot. Let me tell you my journey so far, and maybe it will help some of you, at any age, to fulfil your dreams as I am doing on a daily basis.

My dream of flying began as a child. Looking out the window at our wonderful sky while I was in school, day after day. As a French citizen and coming from a family with a big military background, all I wanted to do was becoming a fighter pilot for the French Air Force. 

Planning

After many years of training, I started to attain my dream by entering the French Navy Pilot School. Unfortunately I was unable to complete my training, and my dreams to become a fighter pilot ended.

French Air Force Training
French Air Force training

After one year of divergence and doubts, I met a man who became a mentor, instructor and then best friend. He brought back to me the love and the need of flying. I used up all my savings to get a Private Pilot License in France. I accomplished this, and my goal turned towards the commercial license. 

The questions that came into mind were “where and how much?”. Canada was brought up to me by many friends. Indeed, the training cost was close to 3 times cheaper to get to a full licence (CPL, ME, IR) than France, and the diversity and accessibility of a first job were exceptionally higher than in Europe.

So, I went to Canada! Unlike what you might think, I did not go for Quebec, or any French speaking province. My feet landed in British Columbia, or should I say: “Beautiful British Columbia”. And let me tell you one thing, they did not embellish the word beautiful. BC is absolutely gorgeous.

Training

I joined up at a school based in Delta, BC (just south of Vancouver). But once I arrived there, having broken English, my school suggested that I start my training in Kamloops, a city in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. The air traffic is a lot less condensed than in the lower mainland. It ended up being a good choice and I flew there until getting my Commercial Pilot License. I met many interesting people, who all shared their stories with young student pilots like me and my friends.

Kamloops - Career Path - Pilot Training
Kamloops, B.C.

Something that my instructors and CFI kept on telling me was that I will have to become an instructor to start my career because I was a foreign student and that no companies would hire me. 

One day, I crossed paths with a fire boss pilot for a firefighting company (Conair) based in BC. He asked me what my plans were after graduation. I told him that I would become an instructor, since I thought I had no other options. This gentleman almost raged back at me. He insured me that if my dreams where to become a bush pilot, I WILL find a job. His words were “take your car, drive all over the country, and knock on doors. You might not find a flying job, but you will find a job leading to a flying position.”

His words and experience convinced me. I then moved to Delta, to complete my ME IR and started sending resumes all over Canada even before I completed my course. I was offered a Ground Support position open to Flight Line based in Pickle Lake, Ontario. This is where my next adventure started.

Pickle Lake

I moved to Pickle Lake on a sunny summer day. With my nice shoes and my hair full of gel with no idea in the world of how I ended up here. Pickle Lake is a town of 300 people, lost right in the middle of Northern Ontario. It is the last town linked by road to the rest of Canada. Everyday, trucks full of groceries, building supplies, boats, and pretty much anything that anyone would need, arrive at the airport for shipment. They are then flown to all the very small and remote communities of First Nations up North.

Career Paths - Pickle Lake CYPL
Pickle Lake with airport seen top left

This is where my job comes in. A bunch of ground guys like me, all dressed with heavy duty work clothes and steal toed boots, are offloading the trucks full of groceries and plywood etc., and building the loads for our planes.

My company is operating vintage DC3 aircraft upgraded with turbine engines known as Basler BT-67s. It is an overpowered and perfectly fit aircraft to be operated on the small gravel and ice strips we land and take off from. Each flight leaves with over 10,000 pounds of freight to serve those communities. Despite the tough conditions of living up north, clouds of mosquitos, extreme cold temperatures in the winter, and very, very long work shifts every single day, my time working on the ground there will forever be one of the best decisions I made in my life.

Career Paths - North Star Air DC3
Nico and his DC3

All my co-workers from Pickle Lake became like a family. Everyone is linked together, helps each other, and understands each other. Everyone is here for the love of the job. No one goes to work with a bad attitude. I worked as hard as I could, and managed to pass over my ground time in only 4 months. I then started training to become a DC3 first officer.

The training was extremely fast, and the learning expectations pretty big. The captains here are aware that some of us did not touch a plane for many months, even years for some of us, and so they go “easy” on you, knowing that you will mostly learn as you actually do the job. 

Career Paths- Cold Mornings in the North
Cold Mornings in the North

Once on the flight line, the schedule is 14 days on, 14 days off. The company uses you to the maximum, but you get to rest for a full 14 days after that, with your family or traveling the world, it’s all up to each of us.

Day to Day

The typical day as a DC3 cargo first officer is to show up 1 hour before the first scheduled departure. Then you come to the plane and do the walk around. Then things start to move. Ground guys are coming around with forklifts and freight and show you the way they had it planned to be loaded in the plane. The more experience you get, the quicker you know what will fit in the plane with respect to the weight and balance. And then we load! It takes between 30 min to 1 hour to do a grocery load, and around 1 hour to 90 min for construction material loads. Once the plane is loaded, it’s time to fly!

After arriving at the destination, the offloading process begins. Trucks, loaders etc. are backing up to the plane and we start offloading. Depending on the location, we have to “handbomb” the full load. Sometimes we can use forklifts and loader to take it out. It’s a very fun part and you get to have a good amount of fun with the people around you, but it is also extremely tiring. Once the offload is done, we fly back to base, and load again. The average number of trips would be 3 to 4 a day, for an average flight time of 5 to 6 hours.

DC3 in Northern Ontario
DC3 in Northern Ontario

The company values hard work here. It is not rare to be upgraded from right seat of one plane to left sit of a different plane. After about 1 year and a half, and 1300h on the DC3, it was my turn to change seat! I am now captain on the Pilatus PC12, leaving 704/705 freight operation for 703 passenger operation. It is a pretty huge change, and I still have a lot to discover and improve in this new world.

I hope you can use a bit of this story to find your own career path, and don’t hesitate to take some risks! It usually pays off.

You can follow Nicolas on Instagram @nico_dupre. If you have a unique or interesting job or career path in the flying world, send us an email at admin@themodernaviator.com or leave a message below to be featured.

If you’re interested in becoming a pilot, checkout our post How to Become a Pilot in Canada.

Pilot Shortage

ORNGE PC12

With an industry-wide pilot shortage in its initial stages, young aviators are able to move from a 703 to regional airline quicker than ever before. This has a trickle down effect. To stay flying, these regionals are upgrading first officers to be their captains at a much quicker pace, which then results in the right seat of the aircraft being kept warm by even more inexperienced first officers.

This is creating an exodus of pilots from the north, where most attain their first flying job, to these now-available regional positions. 703 operators are having a difficult time finding first officers who want to upgrade and captains who want to stay. This should come as no surprise. Not many pilots choose to fly in the conditions manifested by the 703s. Most do it out of necessity and now it just isn’t required, or at least not for more than a year.

Jazz Dash 8 on the apron
Jazz Dash 8 on the apron

Decisions

For those flying in the right seat of a King Air, PC12, Navajo etc. at their first job there are two options.

They can upgrade to captain. This brings about a pretty good salary (comparable to a regional captain on a Q400) after just a year working as a commercial pilot. They will also log PIC time which increases a pilot’s confidence in their ability to make decisions. It gives them the ability to attain an ATPL and makes for a more attractive resume down the road. The downside of this is a pretty poor overall quality of life. Frequent 15 hour days. Minimum rest. 1 hour callouts in the middle of the night. A general disregard for safety when it comes to weight and balance/weather/icing. To top it off, there’s usually a noticeable lack of respect for pilots from management.

Ornge PC12. Medevac companies are feeling the pilot shortage.
Ornge PC12

Alternatively, they can move from their 703 to a regional airline and fly a Dash 8. This likely means moving to a metropolis like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver. These are cities that, despite the increased cost of living, young people would prefer to be living in. The regional lifestyle is objectively much more attractive than staying at a 703.

The schedule is easy to manage and known about well in advance. Even on reserve (which is likely a reality while junior), the callouts are well in advance and the duty regulations are more strictly monitored/adhered to. At no Canadian regional will you get called to start a 15 hour duty after being awake on-call for 12 hours already. The equipment flown is bigger (giggity), there’s health benefits and base is probably going to be much closer to home.

The pilot shortage is giving aviators a quicker path to a place where safety is more important than profit.

Porter Airlines is one of the big 3 facing a pilot shortage.
Porter Airlines in Toronto

PIC Shortage

So you’ve been first officer in the Dash 8 for over a year. You have your iPad, fancy luggage, and your 3 stripes – but you want another one. You start looking into the ATPL requirements, since your airline requires that for the captain upgrade. There’s something missing! Pilot in Command time.

Your only PIC time is from your solo flights in training, and you have around 100 hours. The ATPL requires 250 hours. The Pilot in Command Under Supervision (PICUS) program that airlines like Porter provide is going to be of great use to you, but its not good enough. For the ATPL, you can fly 200 hours of PICUS time, of which 50% can be counted towards your PIC time. This adds 100 hours of PIC to your existing 100 hours but you’re still 50 hours short.

Canadian Aviation Regulations – ATPL Requirements

Although a pilot shortage is a good thing for us plane fliers, a new and unique problem lies here in Canadian aviation. As the rapid flow from 703 to regional airline continues over the next few years, we will see more and more pilots who are unable to upgrade due to a lack of PIC time. The eager ambition and quick upward mobility of the fresh-faced pilot could quite possibly have their career left stagnant in the right seat at the regionals.

If you have any comments or questions make sure to leave them below, and subscribe to The Modern Aviator for future articles on this topic and others. If you’re thinking of becoming a pilot in Canada then click here for some advice on the initial stages!

The Best Travel Tips for Panama City, Panama

Panama City. Known for the Panama Canal but also Central America’s largest banking and shipping centre. The city is soaked in history and has plenty to see and do, whether you’re there for a cultural experience, or to let loose in the vibrant nightlife and take in the weather. Or both? This cosmopolitan city boasts glittering skyscrapers bordered by cobblestone streets, as well as Spanish colonial architecture and 18th-century ruins. It’s one of my personal favourite destinations and I’m here to give you the tips you need to have the best possible time.

Panama Flag

Population: 1.8 million (Metro Area)
Language: Spanish
Currency: US Dollar
Climate: Tropical Maritime. Hot and humid year-round with a wet (July – Nov) and dry season.

Arrival

When you fly into Panama City, you’ll land at Tocumen International Airport (PTY), the home of Copa Airlines. From here you’re about 20km from the downtown centre which you can reach by taxi for $15, Uber for $7-10 or the Tocumen-Corredor Sur Metro Bus for $1.25. Uber is recommended since the fare is fixed by the app. You just arrived and you don’t want to have to negotiate with a taxi driver who’s command of the area and the Spanish language is likely a touch superior to yours.

Copa at Tocumen Intl
Copa Airlines at Tocumen Intl

If you look like you don’t know what you’re doing they will take advantage. I’ve heard stories of people throwing their luggage in the trunk/boot and the taxi driver taking off before they can get in. More likely, they’ll tell you it’s $30-$40 with the confidence that you’ll accept it. If you’re lucky you’ll get a good one and they’ll grab you a beer from the cooler in the trunk and off you go. Always negotiate the fare before you get in. Either way, you probably want to avoid the bus since it’s going to take substantially longer and you’ll be lugging suitcases around. You might not get a beer, but stick with Uber.

Accommodation in Panama City

Whatever your budget, I recommend staying in Casco Viejo or “Old Center”. The historic district of Panama City is picturesque in itself, but also has tremendous views of the downtown skyline and provides everything you would want near your abode. It also happens to be where the President of the country lives, and as a result is very safe.

On the Cheap

If you’re on a budget (or just young and want to have a really good time), I can’t recommend Lunas Castle enough. It’s a hostel with a great sense of community and you can lay your head down for $14/night in dorm-style accommodation or $34/night for a private room. They have maps, free bikes, guitars, ping-pong, patios, luggage storage, on-site security and more. The staff is friendly and they are partnered with different excursion companies with good rates to go to San Blas Islands and Bocas del Toro if you want a taste of the island-life while you’re away. Did I mention they have their own underground bar with $1 bottles of beer? It’s central to markets, bars, restaurants and cafes and just a $3-5 Uber to the heart of downtown.

Deep Pockets

AMERICAN TRADE HOTEL
The American Trade Hotel

If you’ve got deeper pockets then you could consider the American Trade Hotel, also located in Casco Viejo. You’ll feel like Ernest Hemingway the moment you arrive, and if you elect not to stay here, you should at least saunter in and pretend you’re lost. I don’t need to drone on about all the amenities. It’s got what any other upscale hotel you’d find in a big city has, except with more character. One thing to consider is that this hotel is located near the end of the ‘safe part’ of Casco Viejo, so make sure not to have too many cocktails and take a merry midnight walk down to El Chorrillo (as I did).

I’ve obviously suggested two very different places at each end of the price spectrum. This is to try and cater to all readers, but as you know, with AirBnB you can find everything in between. If you go that route, I still recommend Casco Viejo. That being said, the neighbourhoods of Obarrio & El Cangrejo offer a more modern experience in the downtown core, while still being safe areas. Many hotels here will have rooftop pools with spectacular views of the sprawling Panama City skyline. Of course, you can find your usual chain hotels in this area, but try to stay somewhere you won’t find anyplace else. It will make your time here much more memorable I promise you.

Panama City during the Day

The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is obviously one of the things you’re supposed to see when you visit Panama. Humans manually connecting two Oceans is one of the greatest engineering feats to date. It enables ships to cross between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans without travelling to the Southern tip of South America (Cape Horn) and in fact, most ships are built with the canal’s dimensions in mind. Experience it with a 2-hour tour through the Miraflores Visitor Center for $20 a person – I wouldn’t make it a full day trip unless you’re really enthusiastic about its history or ships.

Mercado de Mariscos (The Fish Market)

An absolute must-see while you’re in Panama City. The food is as fresh as it gets and costs next to nothing. The ceviche here is like nothing you’ve had anywhere else (in a good way), and costs under $2. The area is great for people watching and has a great view of the skyline too. If you’re looking for exercise you could jog or walk from Casco Viejo, through the fish market all the way to the yacht club and downtown while being surrounded by water and beautiful parks the entire way. Work off last night’s indulgences.

Casco Viejo

Home to the trendiest restaurants, boutique shops and, if you heed my advice, your hotel/hostel/AirBnB as well. You might get yourself an authentic Panama hat from a street vendor and keep the sun off your face, or pick up some home decor. Maybe grab some souvenirs for those back home. Take in the architecture as you walk around. There are plenty of incredible buildings such as the Cathedral Metropolitana and the Plaza Bolivar.

Casco Viejo, Panama
Casco Viejo

If you like rum, stop into Pedro Mandinga or another dedicated rum bar, and have one for ol’ Captain Morgan who robbed, looted and set fire to this part of the city himself back in the 18th century. The streets are filled with cafes, restaurants and live music for you to eat local food and drink local drinks at your leisure.

The beaches in Panama are not great and typically people will leave the city bound for Veracruz which would be the closest option. Accessible via 20-minute city bus or a shorter, more death-defying cab ride if you’re pressed for time. If you’re anything like me you’ll prefer to hang out by a nearby rooftop pool with some good ambience and a view.

Panama City at Night

Calle Uruguay

‘Uruguay Street’ is one of Panama City’s top bar strips, located just west of downtown. It’s loaded with bars and nightclubs that get busy around 10pm and can stay open until morning. This is where both locals and tourists go to see and be seen, but can be relatively expensive compared to other parts of town – in fact you’ll probably pay about the same as a night on the town in Miami.

Places like The Wine Bar and The Londoner are good for a more laid-back vibe, otherwise just head to where you hear the music. If you’re a single guy and notice yourself doing a little too well with the ladies, just be weary – they are likely to be ‘working girls’.

Casco Viejo

Are you seeing the pattern here? It pays to stay in Casco Viejo. The historic quarter of the city is home to some of the best bars in the city, and, since you aren’t in the city, you can see the city. You’re more likely to see people from all over Europe and Australia than locals here at night.

Tantalo Roof Bar
Tantalo Roof Bar

Tantalo Roofbar, with its string lights and skyline views, is one of my favourite places to be in the city at night. It’s not just a watering hole though – it has superb food. Have a great meal on this rooftop, watch the sunset, and start your evening out properly.

Relic is a hotspot for backpackers since it’s located underneath Lunas Hostel and has very cheap drinks. It’s located in a stone cellar underneath the hostel which gives it a very cool vibe, but it’s nothing fancy, just a good time.

Other mentionables – Mojitos Sin Mojitos, Barlovento, Salvaje, Lazotea and Casa Casco.

Hotels and Casinos

The Hard Rock Hotel Megapolis is hard to overlook when it comes to nightlife. I spent New Years Eve here and was not disappointed. It houses 4 bars including one that’s 60 stories up for remarkable 360 city views. Free entry if you’re staying here, otherwise expect a $20 cover charge. The Riu Plaza is also located in the heart of downtown and has a great vibe in the pool area, complete with outdoor bar.

Panaviera View from pool
Infinity Pool view at Panaviera

It cannot be argued that the Trump Ocean Club Panama has the best view of Panama City. You absolutely have to make it here for at least one sunset on your trip to this city. You will pay top dollar for food and drinks, but it’s completely worth it. Regardless of your political views, the man has a great hotel here. Ocean Sun Casino is downstairs – go and try your luck on the roulette or blackjack tables and then head upstairs to Panaviera Bar. It’s open from 5 pm til 2 am and you will get the best photos of your trip here. The bar backs on to an infinity pool which backs onto the entire city, including Casco Viejo. Need I say more?

Sunset from the pool

Quick Tips

  • Take Ubers if you can. If you want to take cabs, negotiate the price before leaving
  • A little Spanish will take you a long way. Learn what you can beyond the cliche “dos cervesas por favor” (cringe)
  • Rain season is June-November. You’ll find cheaper hotel rates and flights, but…it will be rainy
  • Dress like you’re in a metropolis. Keep your shirt on in public, the police will hassle you. Don’t treat the city as a resort
  • No need to tip, but if you had great service at a restaurant, leave 10%
  • Carry small bills so you don’t need to deal with asking for change
  • Watch your belongings (as you would in any big city), but avoid El Chorillo. It’s a very poor and dangerous area
  • If you’re from the U.S., Canada, or Europe, you may notice the concept of personal space is not recognized
  • Get some culture – you don’t go away so that you can go to the same chain hotels and restaurants you have at home

This short guide to Panama City is obviously not all-encompassing, but if you get yourself to the general areas mentioned, you are guaranteed to enjoy your time here. Keep an open mind and take some risks (within reason of course).

If you have any suggestions for places to see, leave them in the comment section below, and be sure to check back in on The Modern Aviator for travel, aviation and lifestyle-related articles!

How to Become a Pilot in Canada

Becoming a pilot may seem like an intimidating goal, but with a little guidance from those who have done it before, you’ll have the tools to make your aviation training and career path progress as smoothly as possible. There is a very real pilot shortage at this point in time. It may not be as severe in Canada as it is in Asia and the Middle East, but it’s still very noticeable. It’s true that the shortage is for experienced pilots, but the effects trickle down, with younger pilots being hired and upgraded to captain at a more rapid pace in order to fill the gaps. For obvious reasons, this is a good thing for you, and we’re here to help you get started with how to become a pilot in Canada.

1. Decide How to Fund Training

Pilot training is expensive, we all know that. Canada, however, is one of the most affordable nations for pilot training. This doesn’t make it cheap, but it could be much worse. There’s a reason you’ll find pilots from all over the globe at most flight training schools in Canada.

One option is to pay as you go (modular) while working a part-time job or even a full-time job if you can manage both. This will ensure you have no debt at the end of your training, but your entire life will consist of work and training. The other problem with this is that it will take you longer to finish your training. If the goal is to become a career pilot, getting there sooner than later is ideal, as you’ll want to be upgrading your seat/aircraft type and earning bigger paycheques sooner than later.

Night Flight Training
Photo Credit Chris Leipelt via Unsplash

A better option is to take out a loan of sufficient size to cover both flight training and living expenses (rent + food). This way you can commit to training full time (integrated) and be done in as little as a year. Expect CAD $50,000 – $60,000 for Private/Commercial license and Multi-Engine Rating/Instrument Rating. The sooner you can start working as a pilot, the sooner you can begin to pay the loan back.

2. Choose a Flight School

If you’re choosing the loan option as we’ve recommended, your selection of flight schools is a lot more narrow. The bank you obtain your loan from will have a list of accredited flight schools that they deem worthy. That being said, the flight schools on that list should be of high quality. If you are paying as you go, you can pretty much select from any flying club or flight school out there that offer the licenses you need.

Flight Training
Photo Credit Alex Chuklanov via Unsplash

Visit each school’s website and if you are able to, visit them in person too. Check out the aircraft types and condition, as well as the character of those doing the training and those in charge. There are some cash hungry flight school’s out there who have no problem waiting until you’re locked in and then add all sorts of costs to your training (more about that in a later post). Check online forums such as AvCanada and Pprune for posts from current and past students to see what they have to say about the flight schools.

Location is very important to consider as well. Do you want to live in -25 degree celsius weather for a good portion of the year in Winnipeg? Vancouver has a much nicer climate, but often has low ceilings and fog that could inhibit your flying. You may want to live in a bustling city like Toronto, but the cost of training there is much higher. This will depend on what you like personally, but should not be overlooked.

3. Work Hard

Settle in to your new life and hit the books. If you’re becoming a pilot for the right reasons then you’re probably genuinely interested in the subjects. This being said, some topics are very dry (that’s you, CARs) and you just need to push through. Your life will now consist of reading and flying and hey… that’s not so bad.

Fly in the morning, have lunch/study, fly in the evening (sunset permitting), and keep a balance of social life/studying in the evenings. You’ll have exams for PSTAR almost right away, then private, commercial, and instrument. Stay on top of the material and don’t wait to cram last minute. Your in-flight tests will have prerequisite hour requirements so continue flying daily to keep training moving as seamlessly as possible. Once you’re going solo, take long cross-country flights. This will build valuable experience and time. Bring other pilots with you and explore. These are likely the only days where you’ll get to decide where you’re landing!

4. Network

Try your best to get to know people in the industry. Walk into some operator’s offices around the airport and talk to people. This could open doors for your first job if they like the cut of your jib. Keep in touch with other pilots who are training. Throughout your career you will find yourself giving each other valuable advice, news within your respective companies and job opportunities in Canada and abroad. Throughout your training, keep on top of job boards so you know the requirements and what to expect when you’re finished training. Don’t get an ego at this point, because you don’t know what you don’t know yet. You will learn a lot more when you start operating commercially, and continue learning throughout your career.

5. Seek Employment

This step is a lot easier currently than it has been in the past. Use your contacts along with the job boards below to find your first job as a commercial pilot. It will possibly take some persistence, and maybe even a stroke of luck, but you will succeed; especially the way the industry is today. With pilots needing less experience to move up to bigger aircraft, the gaps are there for you to fill with your low time.

DC3 with Canadian Air Force in background
Photo Credit nico_dupre

Some people grow to enjoy the North or the 703 operations and stay for a long time. You can upgrade to captain fairly quickly there and make some good money to start paying those loans back. Others seek a life back in a big city or close to home, with more stable hours and working conditions – to each their own. In today’s industry, once you’ve gotten about 1,000 hours total time (which you will likely achieve in a single year at your first job), you can start applying to regional carriers.

Helpful sites in Canada for finding jobs:

There are many different paths to take after you’ve built some time at your first job. This post is only intended to give you the initial steps on how to become a pilot in Canada.

Follow The Modern Aviator for upcoming articles, as well as more news and helpful tips about the aviation industry. Feel free to leave a comment with any comments or questions you might have!

Photo Credit to Caleb Woods via Unsplash