What is going on with pilots?


Call me old school…call me old fashioned, and even use the words, “old fuddy duddy“, but I really do not like or understand what is driving this rush to the bottom when it comes to new pilots.

On a purely personal level I have no ill will toward anyone seeking a career as a pilot. And I am sure there are many talented individuals out there who could really fly if they were given the right kinds of circumstances.

Since I became a pilot, two fundamental changes have occurred in the aviation industry that make the right circumstances less than likely. Those changes are one, the proliferation of jet aircraft, and two, the misplaced desire of airlines and corporations to reduce operating costs by lowering pilot wages.

Back in my day jet aircraft were just beginning to be accepted, hence there simply were not many of them around. Today, however, it is a much different story. Jets are everywhere and they all require pilots.

So how is that need being filled?

First let’s look at how it used to work. Back in the day (the 60’s) it was required that a “wanna be pilot” flew his 200 hours of training, one hour at a time, with some crusty old flight instructor to obtain the required commercial ratings. Those ratings qualifed a pilot to work as a flight instructor for three or four years. Ideally it was in some location where he had to deal with actual weather. In my case it was Cleveland, Ohio…not much sunshine there, a lot of ice, though.

After three or four years of harrowing flight instructing in all kinds of weather and almost getting killed every other day, you would move up to a small twin engine airplane and fly for some little local construction company or air freight outfit. If you survived that, flying in areas where the weather consisted of fog, rain, ice, snow, high winds, thunderstorms, tornadoes, blowing mud, oscillating runways, and the occasional sunny day, you had something called experience.

If you were still around, it was on to bigger twin engines, even pressurized twins. A few more years of experience flying in the weather, and it was on to a turbo prop. After several years and at least 5,000 hours as a pilot in command making 5 decisions a minute in several different kinds of airplanes and situations, you might move into a jet. That was where all the good pilots I ever met came from.

Flash forward to today…Today for the most part, it does not work that way anymore, now we have industrialized training. Today an individual who wants to be a professional pilot also needs a collage degree, so he or she winds up going to some kind of big flight school in sunny Florida and kills two birds with one fully intergrated brain dead flight training system/collage. Florida works best for flight schools because there is no weather to upset training schedules. This means more profits for the so called flight schools as they can slam more students through more quickly, plus the wanna be pilot pops out the other end with a collage degree and his basic ratings.

So in the blue skies and sunshine of Florida the student flies around and around in and out of the same airports doing the same approaches over and over and over. It is said you can teach a monkey to perform any act with enough repetitions. Of course the student never experiences any real IFR weather or has to make any real ass on the line approaches to minimums only to land on ice covered runways and blowing snow in strong crosswinds. No chance of that ever happening in Florida. Once our interepid student has his primary training out of the way, he moves on to automation. Now his entire training consists of takeoff, auto pilot on: climb, fly, and descend on auto pilot, auto pilot off, and land. With little hand flying involved this student is now only hand flying the aircraft 3 or 4 minutes for every hour he is in the air.

Of course this is all done under ideal conditions, so upon graduation, the newly minted pilot now has nothing more than a license to learn how to fly, and more importantly no one knows what this pilot is really capable of, or will do when the preverbal **** hits the fan.

What comes next however is where it really starts to get dangerous. The newly minted pilot, instead of working his way through the ranks of freight hauling and entry level corporate flying and transitioning through various types of piston and turbo prop aircraft, flying in all kinds of weather, developing his decision making skills through real life experience…NO, our guy goes directly to the airlines, and they accept him because he fills the FAA requirment of two pilots in the cockpit, and he does it very inexpensively.

At that point he is now called a first officer and rides in the right seat learning how to operate a 777. At least he learns where all the knobs and switches are. He never makes decisions; that is the captain’s job. He just gains hours as a passenger following orders and filling out his log book to show hours flown. Of course he never hand flies these aircraft or makes one decision other than Coke or Pepsi. But when he has built up enough time in the log book, he now qualifies as a captain, so they make him a captain…where he now gets to make the mistakes he should have made flying alone had he come though the ranks and not just started at the top.

Pilots are now being mass produced to operate flying computer games for the airlines and for corporate aircraft. OEM’s actually refer to pilots as meat servo’s. Of course, computers crash, lock up, fail altogether, or can be interfered with. The training system along with the OEM’s have now created an environment where the newer pilots are now the backup system to completely automated systems instead of the other way around.

Unfortunately the pilots we are talking about do not really know how to fly very well, have never had to make decisions, or deal with real emergencies. Consider the normal and routine event that took place at SFO. Maintenance shut down the ILS system for routine repairs on a totally sunny day. This basically disabled the computerized landing program on the aircraft and the pilot had to hand fly the aircraft to a landing…he could not do it and people died as a result.

The pilot situation today is akin to, and about as safe as, letting a three year old drive a Hummer on the 405 freeway all by himself, while texting.

But the corporate run airlines have an answer for this incompetent pilot problem; they simply do not fly if there is any weather. They negate the problem or try to negate the problem by mass cancellations of scheduled trips. Not becasue there is weather but because there might be some kind of weather at some airport in the next two days. Meantime the airlines like to say that they have never been safer, but then they have never been more unreliable either. I guess their theory is, “If you don’t fly, you really do not need pilots.” So the airlines are able to cover over this disastrous mess by simply not flying when the weather is bad. Of course, if you were depending on one of those flights that never fly to be somewhere, then it is still a disastrous mess for you.

I have seen reporters on TV talking about how this airport or that airport is closed because of weather. Sometimes they will slip up and let the cat out of the bag by saying something like this. “The airport is closed and the only flights coming and going are Air Canada.” Does it not occur to them that if Air Canada is flying in and out of that airport, then that airport is not closed? Unless, of course, you are flying on one of the US carriers…then the airport is closed.

So Air Canada does not avoid trips due to weather any more than my fellow pilots and I did. Ever wonder why?

Some good news coming in though, looks like the FAA is going to require at least 1,500 hours to get an ATP . And you cannot fly for the airlines without an ATP…that is one good way to solve at least some of the problem.

Erudite Solutions for Business Aviation

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