Insanity and the DOT Pilot Shortage Solution

By Scott Spangler on December 4th, 2017

Image result for pilot shortage 2017As most sentient people know, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Or maybe it is just laziness because developing a new, more efficient way of educating pilots is too much time, effort, and money. When it comes to evening out the pilot shortage cycles, it is much easier and economical to put a new name on a century of tradition unimpeded by progress.

That’s what Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao did in announcing the department’s Forces to Flyer Initiative that will explore ways “to address this pilot shortage, and ensure our nation continues to be a world leader in aviation.” This three-year demonstration program has two objectives: to learn how interested veterans might be in becoming commercial pilots, and to help train those who are not already pilots.

That last part is where the insanity comes in. The program will provide financial support to veterans to earn their CFI. “As many of you know,” said Chao, “flight instructors can use their paid time to earn hours toward their airline transport pilot certificate.” Clearly, she doesn’t know or hasn’t talked to a flight instructor, ever. She probably thinks that the average flight instructor earns enough to keep a roof over their heads and food in their bellies by teaching alone, and that they are so busy that they’ll log the ticket-punching 1,500 hours in less than a year. Never mind that 1,500 hours in GA aircraft offers little preparation to fly an airliner of any size.

Image result for gi bill flight trainingFor those old enough to remember the GI Bill flight training benefits, see the definition of insanity. Such programs rarely last long enough for a good number of vets to complete training because politicians with short memories want to spend the flight training money on something more important to them and their campaign benefactors. For everyone else, consider the aviation tradition of “paying your dues” as a CFI and working your way up. It worked when aviation was in its infancy, but it no longer meets the needs of 21st century aerospace. But the people who own, operate, and invest in airlines like it because it saves them a lot of money that they skim off the bottom line as bonuses and dividends…until they don’t have enough trained people to drive their winged buses, but that only happens every decade or two.

If government rule makers were really interested in bringing pilot training and certification up to date, they should take a lesson from the performance based navigation system of requirements that is making flight from Point A to B more efficient. Performance based pilot certification would not be based on an arbitrary number of hours, like 1,500, but rather of each pilot’s demonstrated ability to meet the requirements of a particular type of flying in a particular type of aircraft.

Performance based pilot training sure seems to work for the military, which updates the performance parameters with the current and coming technology and equipment. And from their first flight pilots learn to fly so they can meet their ultimate performance requirements. Student naval aviators, for example, learn that pitch determines speed and power controls altitude, and flaring to land doesn’t work on an aircraft carrier. And as they meet the performance requirements at each stage of training, they will have logged about 200 hours, give or take, when they make their first trap.

Image result for t-45 carrier landingThis is a case where a tradition is the source of progress. but making this change in civilian flight training might just be too much to hope for because bottom-line interests of those who will support the education of the pilots they need are more important than progress. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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