Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Flying The Friendly Skies: No Better Time!

This may be the perfect time to achieve your aviation dream

Changes On The Horizon
In terms of professional aviating’s future, exciting changes are in store. The last decade has seen the introduction of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) Flight Crew Licensing (FCL) for pilots operating aircraft in Europe. The year 2010 and beyond also will bring sweeping changes to domestic cockpits.

On September 23, 2009, Captain John Prater, president of the ALPA, the world’s largest pilot union, spoke before the House Subcommittee on Aviation regarding the FAA’s “Call to Action on Airline Safety and Pilot Training.” He recommended sweeping changes in the way pilots are trained and how they fly in the U.S. Prater suggested the formal adoption of the “Code of Ethics and Canons” (a set of standards of professionalism for pilots) into airline training programs, and recommended changes in training standards so pilots are trained far beyond FAA minimums. Suggested changes include implementing “safety management systems,” nonpunitive sick-/safety-reporting programs, revised cockpit procedures and ground operations to reduce distractions, pilot mentoring, greater management responsibility for safety, and enhanced simulator training standards. ALPA also suggests new duty standards to reduce pilot fatigue and enhance safety.

In the future, monitoring pilot performance on checkrides and in the long term also will become an area of focus, as will new “professional development programs” for university-based training programs.

Professional pilots will see the introduction of new, more efficient aircraft to replace the 50-seat jets being parked in the desert by regional carriers. Boeing and Airbus will continue to enhance their long-haul and “super” jets, and the skies increasingly will be filled with VLJs and higher-efficiency turboprops. As airlines enjoy the increased revenue of “a-la-carte” pricing for such things as meals and extra bags, they’ll introduce more routes and destinations. Biometric screening is expected to all but eliminate security waits at large airports, and reduced delays are expected to make airline travel more pleasant. In all, the industry is predicting “friendlier skies.”

Getting There
Pathways to the professional cockpit haven’t changed much, but the characteristics have. The military is no longer a rich source for pilots. Reductions in budgets, changes in threat profiles, small skirmishes around the world and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have changed the face of military aviation. Combined, the military graduates only a small fraction of the pilots it did during the heyday of the 1950s through the 1980s.

Today, prospective professional pilots can choose to train at dedicated flight academies, or they can attend universities with programs that combine a degree in aviation-related fields with top-notch flight training. Additionally, friendly neighborhood fixed-base operators (FBOs) can happily take pilots through most of their ratings.

The long and short of it is that now is a great time to begin training for a professional cockpit. To keep all this in perspective, remember that a short 24 months ago, the industry was gripped by a pilot shortage so severe that regional airlines were lowering their minimums to 250 hours, total time. The talk then was of how to retain flight instructors because they were all being recruited away by the airlines. The aviation industry is and always has been volatile. But if your dream is to fly, now is the time to take action. “This has been a tough lesson for this generation,” comments Louis Smith. “But it’s great because, in the aviation industry, there are no pessimists left.”

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