As another year begins, and CAT Magazine’s editorial cycle begins anew, it’s apparent that the industry concern about the supply of qualified personnel shows little sign of abatement. In fact, this issue remains the primary concern of the aviation training industry generally.

It is encouraging that public narratives around the importance of the international aviation sector to both national and international economies are increasingly noticeable, including the role of aviation in emerging economies and global social development and harmony. This is welcomed, as is the growing realisation that over the 100-plus year history of this industry there has simply never been a better time to pursue an aviation career.

In the US, the regional airline community is where the rubber truly hits the road. As the classic entry point for new pilot employment, there has been concern about the diminishing size of the pool of qualified candidates able to pass airline new hire training. Regional carriers have responded by not only supplying additional training - and bearing the cost - but also to pursue and strengthen their relationships with the source institutions such as collegiate aviation. Further, candidates have had to deal with new legislation that requires an airline transport rating before they can be hired as a first officer, adding a further financial burden, and delaying the start of meaningful professional employment. The challenge for many is getting from the typical 250 hour level at graduation to the minimum of 1,000 required if they’ve completed a four year program (1,250 from an approved two year program, and 750 for an ex-military pilot).

CAT Magazine has long been interested in the US regional scene and has had a regional airline stream at its annual WATS conference for almost two decades. Watching how this sector has digested changing regulatory requirements, the rapid expansion of the overall industry and changing demographics has been eye-opening. Regionals are dealing with enormous variation in the experience and makeup of a typical new hire class, and many have found that candidate paper qualifications and licences do not necessarily reflect skills, aptitudes or employability. University admissions officers have been known to say the same thing about high school diplomas and the lack of consistency in graduates from one school to the next.

And there are similar perceptions in Europe. At CAT’s European Airline Training Symposium (EATS) in Berlin last year, delegates heard that some 7,000 “qualified” pilots with frozen ATPLs in Europe are considered “unemployable”. This bombshell stimulated much discussion. Comments included the need for a re-think of how the industry functions, with emphasis on rigorous selection before training, the development of a “professional and career long flight instructor concept,” and most importantly, increased ATO-airline engagement.

Regionals have told CAT that the most common causes of new hire training difficulty are a lack of developed instrument skills; dealing with the pace of training; and balancing the management of automation with the need to actually understand that automation. Clearly, the costs and burden posed by a disconnect between some candidates training and skills, and those needed to be successful as a professional pilot, are disproportionally borne by the regional airline industry.

Of course, it`s both quality and quantity that is the concern. In North America, exposure to the phenomenon of general aviation (GA) has long been the manner in which interest in all things aviation has been stimulated. But accessing the “grass roots” of aviation has been severely limited in recent years. Small municipal airports are disappearing in droves as development overtakes them and disinterested and inept politicians allow their closure. Those that are left are often surrounded by high security fences with “restricted area” signage, and even razor wire. And the GA community is aging, with the number of certificated pilots continuing to fall. Sadly, the small private aircraft owner offering the youngster peering through the fence his first airplane ride is all but gone. Even worse, a child taking an airline flight on vacation with his family can no longer visit the flight deck.

The next time you hear about youth being “disinterested in aviation and surgically attached to their smart phone”, think about how you were bitten by the aviation bug and ask yourself if the circumstances still exist for it to happen the same way today.

Safe travels, Chris Lehman, CAT Editor in Chief

Published in CAT issue 1/2018