Do We Really Have A Pilot Shortage?

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The aviation world is by now well aware that we have a pilot shortage, and not only in the United States, either. The world’s largest manufacturer of aircraft, Boeing Company, keeps close tabs on the pilot market, for obvious reasons. If there aren’t enough pilots, then who will fly the planes they build? Seems obvious. What is less intuitive is that the pilot market has an impact on Boeing’s market because the airlines expand service based on their abilities to run their operations. If they can’t get pilots, they can’t very well introduce new routes. And if they don’t add to their business, they don’t need to buy new planes. Like Boeing, these airlines make their projections many years into the future. So the number of pilots available today and in the years to come directly affects future orders. Because airlines order their planes many years in advance, projected pilot staffing levels will affect present day orders, too. If there won’t be enough pilots to go around, let alone expand service, in 2022, that lack of confidence in the ability to staff up will affect the airlines’ outlook and orders.

In its Pilot and Technician Outlook for the next 20 years, Boeing estimated that in the period running up through 2036, the world’s airlines would need 637,000 new pilots. Note the word “new” carefully. That is in addition to current levels.

Boeing didn’t name its forecast the “Pilot and Technician Outlook” for no good reason. Aviation technicians are in short supply, as well, and by Boeing’s figures, for every pilot we need to add, we need to add at least one technician.

The term “technician” is a knowing term of art, not because Boeing is trying to be cute but because the term encompasses so many disparate disciplines. We need experts in airframe inspection and repair, including ones knowledgeable in composite materials. Techs skilled in engine maintenance, repair and overhaul are also desperately needed. And electronics. And hydraulics. And the list goes on. Boeing estimates that the industry needs to add 639,000 technicians over the next 20 years.

The needs don’t end there, though. The industry needs to add professionals in dozens of additional capacities. In business administration, marketing, IT, its desperately short of engineers. There’s a need for air traffic controllers, airport management, airport infrastructure, governmental regulatory and much, much more.

And the competition is only going to be heating up for what professionals are available. At the Florida Aviation Business Association conference in Florida last month that was reported on by Aviation International News, aviation companies were all abuzz about the shortage of aviation professionals. One workshop even addressed ways that companies could find the best applicants and successfully sign them on. And this was just one state in one country. This kind of environment is telling. It’s not the kind of workshop that takes place in a buyer’s market. The facts are clear. Aviation jobs couldn’t be any hotter.

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Gear And Products for Pilots

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Flight Outfitters Centerline Backpack

Flight Outfitters Centerline Backpack

A quality flight bag can help pilots declutter the cockpit and transport important gear on the go. The Centerline Backpack from Flight Outfitters is a compact rectangular bag that features several individual compartments for flying accessories, including a separate side-entry section for headsets and an isolated 14.5 in. x 10 in. laptop/iPad pocket. The Centerline also includes a pass-through cable port that allows users to charge their electronics in the backpack while they’re stored, as well as multiple pen holders and a side mesh water bottle holder. The shoulder straps are padded, while separable back padding allows the bag to fit over a luggage handle.

Check the price on Amazon!

Survival Card Tool 0.5

UST Survival Card Tool 0.5

The Survival Card Tool 0.5 combines several different basic tools into one pocket-size unit. The product, manufactured by Ultimate Survival Technologies, is made of stainless steel and includes a can opener, bottle opener, knife edge, screwdriver, a mini saw blade and three different wrench options (a butterfly wrench and two and four position hex wrenches). The tool also includes a 4 cm ruler as well as a direction ancillary indicator, which can serve as a makeshift compass in a pinch. The tool comes with a protective sheath to prevent users from cuts or nicks while carrying it and also features a lanyard hole for those who prefer to tie it to a keychain or wear it around their neck. The tool is small enough to fit in a wallet.

Check the price on Amazon!

PIVOT Omni 10.5 iPad Case

The PIVOT Omni 10.5 is a protective iPad case and mounting system made for the cockpit. The Omni’s patented mounting system forgoes a traditional cradle and instead utilizes a suction cup that attaches to the iPad through a simple slide-lock connection channel located on the back of the case. Once mounted, the iPad can be easily rotated. The case features a hard polycarbonate shell and is designed to allow air to circulate easily and thus prevent overheating. A 9.7-inch Omni model is also available.

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Going Direct: July 4th Edition: Is Flying Free Enough?

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We pilots pride ourselves in taking part in the most private and unfettered leisure activity that humans ever came up with. In the United States, that’s pretty much what it is. Free. If I want to go flying, I drive to the airport, I park my car, I walk out to my plane and I go flying. The county lines aren’t written anywhere in the sky. There are no speed traps in Sunset Valley to boost their tax revenue. You can pass from Texas to Oklahoma or Maryland to Virginia, theoretically, without seeing any “Now Entering” signs. And if you stay out of certain large swaths of airspace the government has cordoned off for military use or for security purposes, you can pretty much fly anywhere you feel like without getting permission from ATC or talking to a soul, so long as you stay clear of clouds within certain tolerances, don’t go over 17,999 feet, have a valid pilot certificate and medial authorization, have completed your currency in terms of a flight review or equivalent, have a recognized medical certificate for the type of plane you’re flying, don’t go too fast, fly at the right altitude and avoid flying over football stadiums and nuclear power plants. And when you come in to land, make sure you use the proper pattern altitudes, communicate as required with ATC—if they acknowledge your existence at all, because standard practice in Class B airspace is for the controller to not even respond to you if they’re too busy.

Pilots need to know all of this stuff and comply with it with, in most cases, no margins allowed. If all or most of that sounds free, well, I agree with you.

Freedom has always given us the freedom to do what we want when we want, so long as we abide by the rules. And in aviation, it seems sometimes as though there are nothing but rules. In fact, learning “to fly” is largely learning what the rules are that put demands on you and limit what and how and where and when you can fly. Some of them make perfect sense, like talking with ATC before you do a quick touch and go at Dallas Forth Worth International (I’m joking, don’t even do that WHEN talking with ATC, as if they’d let you) or flying the proper arrivals at Oshkosh when the flying circus is in town. Some rules are less easy to understand, like staying certain distances away from clouds when VFR…I’ve been flying for a few decades and have yet to figure out how far 500 feet from a ragged puffy cloud is. And others, like many of the FAA’s seemingly arbitrary medical standards, are impossible to understand. You just do it.

And when you have to do something that you can’t even figure out why you have to do it, let alone how to do it, it calls into question the idea of freedom. AOPA, for all the good they do, and its’ a lot, are largely politically reactive and not proactive. That is, they don’t do much to cut out the bad stuff in the regs that make us less free to fly; they just keep the feds from piling more bad stuff on top of it. Thanks, AOPA, for that.

But how about undoing a lot of the rules that keep us from exercising our 1776th Amendment to the Constitution that says that pilots ought to be able to fly in relative peace with only as much regulation as there needs to be in order to keep us and our passengers and ground bound citizens of earth relatively safe.

I’m not talking about any kind of wholesale repealing of the laws of the air, just a common sense paring down and common-sensing (a word now if it wasn’t before) of the existing regulations.

There may not be a Second-and-a-Half Amendment to the Constitution, but maybe there should be, one that states in no uncertain terms that pilots have a right to own and fly planes without even the need to mention a militia at all. What I’m all for is common sense plane laws. Because living in a nation that prides itself on the freedom of its citizens needs to be reminded on a regular basis why it exists, to serve the people of the land, and not vice versa. When it comes to planes, that balance definitely needs to flipped, at least in my humble, one-citizen’s opinion.




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How Temporary Are CFIs?

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Not too long ago, there wasn’t much hiring going on at the airlines. Many pilots interested in airline jobs took flight instructing positions and kept them for a while, building hours well beyond the 1,500 hours total time required for the airline transport pilot certificate (ATP) and waiting for a chance opening. Competition was high, salaries were low and opportunities rare.

Those days are gone. The long-predicted pilot shortage is upon us, and the number of pilots needed is only going to grow from here. Positions continue to open up at both regional carriers and major airlines. And flight instructing is no longer a long-term job.

The question of whether or not flight instructing should be treated as an hour-building position and stair-step to other careers options is an argument that is largely theoretical at this point. Flight schools and students are having to adjust to CFIs who might not be there long enough for a student to finish one rating, let alone two. With instructors moving on faster than ever, the way aviation education operates is in the process of some major changes.

How Fast And How Many

CFIs just aren’t staying in the job long these days. Of the schools I spoke with, the longest average time instructors were staying on was 2.5 years—and that involved a relationship with a college program where CFI-qualified students could teach part time while taking classes. The school also reported that most of those CFIs moved on within six months of graduation.

Interestingly enough, the fastest average times for CFIs to move on also involved college programs. Both the University of North Dakota (UND) and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) reported that their instructors are currently staying an average of just 14 months. While the numbers vary from school to school, evidence overwhelmingly points to the conclusion that flight instructing is an extremely temporary position these days.

It’s not just how quickly CFIs are moving on, it’s also about how many are going. Dick Schultz, director of flight operations at the University of North Dakota, reported that of the CFIs hired by UND in 2015, all but 2 percent have left for other employment—the majority to the airlines. Twelve percent of those they hired in 2017 have already moved on as well. ERAU saw an incredible 85 percent turnover last fiscal year.

The faster and more complete CFI change-over at schools like UND and ERAU is due in part to the lower hour requirements of the “restricted privileges” ATP (ATP-R) rules. Under Part 61.160, pilots who have a bachelor’s degree with an aviation major or have completed 60 hours of coursework “from an institution of higher education […] that has been issued a letter of authorization by the Administrator” (like both UND and ERAU) may apply for an ATP with 1,000 hours total time. Likewise, students with between 30 and 60 hours of coursework at such an institution may apply for an ATP with 1,250 hours instead of 1,500. Military pilots (750 hours) and pilots with enough experience who don’t yet meet the 23-year age requirement can also qualify for the ATP-R.

The ATP-R option does come with additional restrictions (hence the name), which include not being able to act as PIC on Part 121 or 135 operations. However, those restrictions disappear once the pilot meets requirements for the standard ATP, and airlines don’t seem to have a problem hiring ATP-Rs.

The difference between how much more quickly CFIs are moving on from schools that can offer qualifying training versus schools that don’t sheds some light on what might happen if the ATP hour requirement was lowered. More than one person at the schools I spoke to said the 1,500 hour rule was the only reason they still had enough CFIs on staff. There is significant concern that if the requirement is reduced, it will be extremely difficult to maintain any kind of teaching staff. Several of the flight schools reported that they monitor their instructors’ hours closely, expecting that once the ATP (or ATP-R) minimums are met, they’ll be needing to hire replacements.

Supply And Demand

As the need for pilots at the airlines goes up, salary and benefits for those jobs are improving as well. According to Dr. Kenneth Byrnes, chairman of the Embry-Riddle-Daytona Flight Training Department, regional airlines are getting involved at the university level, working with schools to set up feeder programs for young pilots, using salary and benefits as incentives to attract the pilots they need. Dr. Byrnes also said that some of the major airlines are looking into similar programs.

With more opportunities and better salaries, it’s no surprise that small and large flight schools alike are reporting that they’re also getting more students interested in flying in general and in careers with the airlines. High student interest combined with high instructor turnover makes for some very busy CFI schedules. In some cases, schools have said that wait lists for potential students and difficulties scheduling enough instructor time for current students are becoming much more common problems.

Similarly, the area where high CFI turnover is really starting to take a toll is teaching for the more advanced ratings. Plenty of people will stick around to get their multiengine rating. Many, many fewer will hang around for the purpose of becoming multiengine instructors. The same goes for finding people who meet the requirements for teaching prospective CFIs.

With fewer instructors staying long enough, schools are beginning to have to offer incentives—including free ratings and flight time—to entice people into lingering so that it will be possible to teach the next generation of instructors and multiengine pilots. Many expect that those incentives are going to have to keep getting better as airlines continue to improve their own offers for qualified pilots.

Planning For The Future

Many of the schools I spoke with discussed the need to plan for most of their CFIs leaving quickly. There was significant emphasis on tightening up training programs to make sure instructors are teaching to consistent standards and that programs make the most efficient use of time for both student and instructor. Quite a few of the schools discussed setting up mentoring programs where the “older” CFIs—the ones who have been there for more than a year—mentor new instructors.

Most schools agreed that having a program with defined, consistent standards for lessons and progression helps students transition more smoothly if their primary instructor moves on while they are in the middle of working on a certificate or rating. With schools that monitored instructor hours, several discussed trying to match average time students need with the amount of time an instructor is likely to have left at the school, particularly for private pilot students.

At the end of the day, the current trajectory of airline careers is changing how flight schools teach. Though many schools are adapting rapidly and well by streamlining programs and mentoring young CFIs, a new equilibrium has yet to be reached. With the demand for airline pilots continuing to grow and airline careers once more providing a reasonable living, it remains to be seen what learning to fly will look like when the dust clears.

Want more on pilot skills—from flight training to weather flying? Visit our Proficiency archives.

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Crew Members Need To Speak Up In The Cockpit

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I had been a first officer on the ATR for about a year when I was paired with a young captain who had just upgraded from our smaller turboprop. Tim was a nice guy and a capable pilot. He was friendly and easy in conversation. He seemed to treat the flight attendant with respect (a real test of a captain, as far as I’m concerned.) Our first two days together went well. He was “by the book” generally but also had a fundamentally laid-back personality. So it was with some disappointment that I noticed a bit of defensiveness creep into his manner after he made a bad landing in a strong crosswind.

Working elbow to elbow in a cockpit for three or four days at a time can be awkward and challenging under the best of circumstances. When things do not go as planned, tension can mount. Witnessing someone else make a mistake can put a strain on a new relationship. If you are not quick with a self-deprecating comment or fail to suppress the little gasp when the nose gear slams down hard, you may find an invisible wall developing between you.

After the bad landing, Tim became sour and taciturn. When he spoke, it was usually an order and lacked the warmth evident at the beginning of the trip. He seemed to take any question as a reproach or a small act of insubordination. I reacted by shutting up and tending to my own business. The cockpit grew quiet.

On day four we flew to St. Louis, Missouri. Though it is difficult to believe now, KSTL used to be one of the nation’s 10 busiest airports. TWA’s hub made it a bustling and congested place. The construction of the reliever Runway 11/29 was still in the future. To deal with the traffic flow, the airport authority for a time designated the taxiway north of Runway 12L/30R as Runway 13/31. It was narrow and short. It was used primarily for general aviation traffic given its proximity to the FBOs on the north side of the field. Our airline used 13/31 only for our smaller aircraft. It was not considered sufficient for the larger ATR.

I didn’t know a great deal about CRM (cockpit resource management) at that time. I had been through our company’s course during initial training. But I will have to admit that I didn’t take it very seriously. I probably undertook the role-playing sessions grudgingly and perhaps chuckled a bit at the naiveté of it all. After our trip to St. Louis, though, I gave CRM another look.

The flight in question had been uneventful, and we were being vectored for an ILS to Runway 12L. Ceilings were high and, when we broke out of the clouds, I reported the runway in sight. The tower controller, thinking we were a smaller plane, requested that we side-step and cleared us to land on runway 13. I hesitated.

I had never landed on Runway 13. I was pretty sure we were not allowed to use it for the ATR, but there was no time to grab the performance book and pour through the data tables to find the answer. I looked over at Tim, who had landed on Runway 13 many times. He seemed puzzled at my delay. “Well,” he said, “tell them we are cleared to land.” I stammered, “I’m not sure we can use 13.” He grew irritated. “Sure we can. Tell them we are cleared for the side-step.”

We were at an impasse. I had flown the ATR longer than Tim, but he was the captain and had more overall experience than me. Also, and perhaps more importantly, he seemed very sure of himself. “Tell him we are cleared to land, for goodness sake!” Tim looked at me like I was stupid. I looked up at the seemingly tiny runway. He was now pointing the plane toward it. I started to key the mike.

ATC saved me. The tower, probably wondering about my delayed acknowledgment of the landing clearance, looked out and saw our plane break out of the overcast. The controller immediately said, “Oh, you guys are an ATR, you are cleared to land on 12L.” I acknowledged the clearance and Tim aimed the nose back toward the longer runway.

For the rest of the trip, our conversation was mechanical and abbreviated. At our base, we landed and taxied in and shut down the plane and unloaded the passengers and went into the terminal and drove home and…Tim never said another word to me. I think he was so embarrassed that he had been wrong, and, worse yet, that he had been so emphatic in his wrongness, that he could not talk about it. I was embarrassed, too. I was embarrassed that I had not asserted myself when I believed I was correct. I was angry at myself for being so timid. I went home and thought a lot about what had happened.

I like to believe that, sometime in those next 30 seconds, I would have gotten up the courage to argue the point with Tim. I like to imagine that I would have, at length, called for a go-around and insisted we climb up and check the performance tables. I like to think that. But, what I really believe is that, had ATC not saved my bacon, I would have swallowed hard, accepted the clearance, and we would have landed on runway 13. We would have put our passengers in some jeopardy, and we both would have been subject to violation.

I used to say that the problem with CRM training is that the captains who desperately need it are not receptive to it, and the ones who are receptive to it don’t need it. I still think that is partly true. There obviously remain curmudgeonly old captains who want things done “my way” and who insist on a rigid military chain of command. Conversely, there are young Turks in the left seat who, anxious to exercise their new authority, are unwilling to admit errors or seek advice for fear of being seen as weak. These attitudes are self-defeating, of course, and the enemy of safety. But how can CRM help if the captains who could benefit from it won’t listen? Perhaps it helps in a less-obvious way. CRM improves safety because it also empowers first officers and flight attendants.

I often wonder why I did not stand up to Tim that day in St. Louis. I wonder if I would today. I wonder if my first officers would stand up to me. There are so many factors in play. They involve hierarchies, psychology, time pressure and confidence. Tim was my superior. He didn’t have as much time on the ATR as I did, but he was a captain and had more total hours. Though Tim was a “nice guy,” his ego had recently taken a hit in my presence, and he had retreated into a defensive posture that prevented him from admitting he wasn’t sure about the runway.

Since the events of that afternoon, I have attended many CRM classes as a first officer and as a captain. I have listened to cockpit voice recordings and read narratives about accidents that didn’t have to happen. Common threads run through many of these: ego, pride, intimidation, timidity, misunderstanding.

Captains and left-seat general aviation pilots should reflect on these soberly. They should take seriously the admonition that “what’s right is more important than who’s right.” A captain who alienates his crew and discourages their input does so at his or her peril. And, I have found, letting that pride go, that need to always be right and in control, makes life in the cockpit easier and better. Our first officers, flight attendants and right-seat passengers have something to offer. They have a different view and a different point of view that we do not have. Listen up.

More important than having a CRM-oriented captain, perhaps, is having an empowered and engaged crew. Speaking up to an imperious and dictatorial captain can be tough. It is probably naive to think first officers, flight attendants and GA passengers will be able to do this every time. And, of course, sometimes the captain is right.

Finding that proper level of assertiveness is difficult. Life is like that, too. But when safety is on the line, it is better to err on the side of too much crew involvement than too little. CRM has encouraged this dialogue. It has given other crew members the courage to speak up and has encouraged captains to sometimes shut up and listen.

Dustin Joy is a captain for a U.S. regional airline and a former flight instructor. He lives in western Illinois with his wife and three kids, where he enjoys fishing, gardening and beekeeping, none of which he’s very good at.

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