Pro Pilot Training Evolving to Industry Needs

By Scott Spangler on March 29th, 2010

DWC Last week a number of sources, including the Nashua Telegraph, reported that Daniel Webster College was phasing out its professional pilot training program. It’s not the first flight training program to close, nor will it be the last, but that it is an accredited collegiate degree program is significant.  It means that the evolution professional pilot training, which started after Vietnam, may well be reshaping itself once again to meet the demands of the industry it serves. 

For an idea of what may soon face flight schools, collegiate or not, look at what the airlines have gone through over the past decade or so. Like any over populated species, the weak become carrion for the stronger lines. (A trivia question: can you name all the airlines now extinct that made a name for themselves in the last century?)

As the airlines contract, so does the need for pilots, so the death of respected pro pilot training programs is only natural, as in selection. Running a flight training op is expensive, which is why Danny Webster’s program is going away. And it is not the only collegiate program in jeopardy.

MSU Everyone is hard up for money these days (except Wall Streeters), so the shortfall in state funds to Minnesota State University in Mankato is in the $6-10 million range, according to a story in the Mankato Free Press. MSU’s aviation program leads the money-saving list of cuts, reducing the shortfall by $400,000. No decision has yet been made in Mankato, but it is a safe bet that it is not the only small collegiate aviation program facing this evolutionary decision.

We shouldn’t get too excited about this change. It’s just natural selection in action, the economic expansion and contraction of markets. Really, most small collegiate pro pilot training programs aren’t that old. They were born after Vietnam ended, when Jimmy Carter deregulated the airlines.

Before deregulation, most airlines pilots were former military, but the drawdown that follows any conflict severely reduced their numbers. At the same time, deregulation was an airline growth hormone and all the existing lines competed on price, doing more with less. Deregulation was also a fertility drug that produced the rapidly breeding litters of regional carriers. They all needed pilots, which they couldn’t afford to train, so they offered jobs to new and wannabe pilots who could pay for their own training.

student_loans_0630 At first, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, independent companies, including those like FlightSafety International were in the pay-for-training business. Setting up such a training program isn’t cheap, so many soon failed, and others gave it up for their corporate training bread and butter. Seeing an opportunity, two- and four-year schools, which have pockets a bit deeper thanks to state education funding, saw an opportunity and acted on it. Students were still paying for their training, but at an accredited, degree-granting institution at least they could get federal student loans (often totaling between $50-100K).

And now, it seems, that era is coming to a close. (New copilot flight hour requirements, if approved, might cause another evolutionary training turn of some sort.) Tomorrow’s professional pilots, most of them anyway, will learn the trade in a collegiate setting. But they won’t have as many choices, because the survivors will be the big schools, like Embry-Riddle and the University of North Dakota. And let’s not forget the evolution of a pilot’s workplace, from the cockpit to the cubicle. And here, too, training programs are evolving (see UND Plants Seeds of No-Pilot Airliners). –Scott Spangler

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43 Responses to “Pro Pilot Training Evolving to Industry Needs”

  1. Robert Barnes Says:

    On 30 December 2009, AVWEB reported on a series of articles by the Buffalo News stemming from the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407. It opened with an interesting question:

    Are today’s airline pilots, churned out by pilot mills that train to minimum standards, up to the task once entrusted to ex-military pilots with millions of dollars worth of intense and highly competitive training?

    Now, we seem to be experiencing a flurry of U.S. regulatory activity in response. Of course, this rush to more regulation raises the question do we really need more regulation or simply better pilot training? And, if the latter, how do we achieve it?

    More collegiate aviation background? It might help but I really credit the competency-based undergraduate pilot training I received in the military for giving me the foundation that I needed to become both a safe and skilled pilot. And, where does it say that such training methods have to cost millions of dollars?

    Perhaps we should be spending our time improving pilot performance and therefore safety through more effective training, not just padding logbooks. A good first step would be to find the training methods that have been proven to work around the world then ensure that everyone in the pilot training business knows what they are.

  2. Rob Mark Says:

    Interesting point Bob, one that I highly support.

    But precisely who is going to determine competency, FAA? I doubt they have the resources – financial and academic – to pull it off, although Randy Babbitt’s repudiation of this latest knee-jerk to turn everyone into an ATP does at least offer a bit of hope.

    And the flight schools? Doubt they’re up to such a judgment either. Are they really going to tell a student (customer) they are incompetent to fly an airplane when their own bread and butter depends upon saying just the opposite?

    Which leaves who exactly … some not-for-profit group with a bunch of smart people with a love for the industry and no particular financial interest. Sure. We just need someone to lead them and then convince the industry the advice is valid.

    I’ll raise my hand to help.

  3. John Bent Says:

    A small contribution:

    In response to Bob’s point, in my opinion yes “we just need better pilot training”. Aviation is a serious safety business impervious to state and national boundaries, critical to global economy, and likely to double is volume next few decades. In this setting, local authorities would profit more by looking for globally collaborative best practice solutions rather than quick-fix band aid solutions in their own back yard. The product of national decision making can be felt under any global flight path and a broader exchange is likely to produce more robust results. The UN entity for aviation is ICAO, and this body has responsibilities to raise the collective global awareness and standards via SARPS and contracting State audits. But there are many other organisations engaged in best practice exchanges, seeking to raise the global training bar. Flying is flying anywhere, and needs a global perspective of best practice. In this context some key words for any flight crew training programme should be SELECTION, RELEVANCE, QUALITY, EFFECTIVENESS, COMPETENCE, followed by appropriate acquisition of experience in operations. If these objectives are effectively addressed with new levels of instructor awareness and evidence based drivers (ITQI), knowledge will be transferred to the new student more deeply and effectively, and in turn the process should be less expensive.

    John B

  4. Bill Roe Says:

    In response to Robs question:

    Are they really going to tell a student (customer) they are incompetent to fly an airplane when their own bread and butter depends upon saying just the opposite?

    Yes, reputable programs, regardless of academic orientation must select out students either prior to commencement of training, or due to unacceptable performance. While this might be a naive view in light of the obvious financial disadvantages, flight safety depends on it. In my opinion, the new flight safety legislation should focus on mandatory selection processes rather than padding logbooks to fly-away aptitude-based training issues.

    I believe the problem is much more fundamental than just whether or not individuals’ possess the right stuff.

    One of the key problems facing our industry today is a lack of interest in becoming a pilot; therefore, initial screening populations have decreased and paved the way for decreasing input standards to the point that the only screening tool is an individual’s bank account.

    However, this is a discussion outside of the scope of this thread, but needs to be seriously addressed at some point, food for thought

  5. Scott Spangler Says:

    Good an interesting comments designed for a perfect world where those involved, schools, students, and the companies that hire pilots, all strive to develop and use best practices.

    Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where the bottom line and the quarterly shareholder report are the most important metrics. We live in a world where customers and employees are fiduciary lemons to be squeezed to deliver appropriate numbers to those prime metrics.

    When it comes to any aspect of life, let alone aviation and pilot training, the best we can hope for is par, the expenditure of enough time and resources that results not in perfect safety, but enough safety so that people aren’t afraid to fly from Point A to B.

    This includes acceptance of the undeniable truth that schools and avation companies of less than desireable character will exist, for a time, as they always have, and that people with less than adequate skills have and will become pilots.

    These facts do not suggest that we should just roll over and not try to improve. But saying these factors should not exist isn’t going to make them go away. That only happens in a dictatorship. Consumers, it seems to me, wield the most effective leverage, but the challenge is how to get them all consistently moving in the same direction.

  6. Peter Moxham Says:

    I believe that the hours based philosophies of the past have proved themselves inappropriate – indeed Colgan is not alone in proving this to be the case.

    Whilst training costs are continually driven down training has become the least important consideration when it comes to recruitment, hours seem to mean everything with no consideration as to how these hours are achieved.

    Automation in the cockpit is now taken for granted – even to the smallest of aircraft, and this has led to an unhealthy appetite for technology without knowing what will happen the day that it fails. That old fashioned word ‘Airmanship’ seems no longer in the training and pilot dictionary.

    This is not restricted to ab-initio training but to all subsequent training and refresher training.

    Unfortunately all is driven by money and not quality and, given time, I believe this will lead to an increasing number of major accidents and incidents.

    Thus it not just a need to improve training standards but the need to improve pilot selection and recruitment procedures that also need to be reconsidered.

    There is also a need to remind aircraft manufacturers that no aircraft is perfect and incapable of having failures. Checklists and type training needs to reflect reality.


  7. Ian Twombly Says:


    Good points. My one comment is that the DWC program is closing, not because of a shrinking need for pro pilots, but because a for-profit owner is under scrutiny to make changes. Mankato seems like a straight forward case of lack of funds, but DWC is an altogether different animal.

    Thanks for taking the time to write the piece.


  8. Scott Spangler Says:

    Is DWC really different than Mankato, or any other flight school or business? When a program costs more to operate than it earns–or will cost more than a sustaining number of customers can afford–cutting your losses is a prudent business decision.

    The need for professional aviators cycles up and down with the industry that hires them, and their education follows the same demand and supply relationship.

    What has changed is the value of a flying career. When it was a good paying job, students flocked to schools when the industry needed a new generation of pilots because the reward was worth the investment.

    That isn’t the case today. So the impending pilot shortage really has nothing to do with the number or quality of training institutions but the lifetime return on an education investment that is growing ever more expensive.

    It is really no different in other professions. If working on Wall Street wasn’t to lucrative, how many college grads would pursue this career and its legendary 12-hour, seven day weeks?

  9. Robert Barnes Says:

    So does that mean we need to strip down the training syllabus to make pilot training less expensive and thereby broaden the potential customer base?

    When I learned to fly, I had to master stalls, spins, and unusual attitudes because they were considered required pilot skills. It appears that these skills (and more) have been removed from the training syllabus over the last 15-20 years because they were no longer considered to be necessary AND to reduce training costs.

    Would better training in these skills have prevented Colgan? I certainly dont know but I do know that both pilots had more than 1,500 hours of total time (experience). The question should be: What was the quality of that experience?

  10. Scott Spangler Says:

    No, if anything, for pilots on a professional or career track, they need to be more rigorous.

    What is becoming clear is that one-size fits all pilot training no longer applies to the second century of powered flight.

    As I see it, there should be three pilot training tracks — recreational (Day VFR ala sport pilot & light-sport aircraft), personal transportation (almost all-weather flight in an aircraft with a glass cockpit), and professional (airline pilots).

    The training requirements should apply to their specific missions and success should be based on consistent proficiency, not flight hours.

    Ultimately, we have to accept that flying isn’t for everyone, and that the broad customer base is now relegated to history, like general interest magazines such as Look and Life.

    As the Internet has proven in publishing, life today is about serviing a narrowly defined niche. Aviation is no different, it’s just not as far along in the process as publishing is.

  11. John Bent Says:

    There seems to be an implied assumption in some of this string that better practice must be more expensive practice.

    My experience says the opposite.

    When pilot training becomes more focused and relevant, employs better educational process and more tailored-to-tasks training devices, it also becomes less expensive as pointless exercises are deleted and students are subject to higher impact information transfer where it counts.

    I have very strong agreement with those who have also implied that we must have (1) far more robust selection processes (2) the universal return of effective UA training in aircraft for all sectors of the aviation industry

    John Bent

  12. Peter Moxham Says:


    I follow this discussion well but would point out that, whilst not agreeing in any way with cheque book training, the schools do have to survive.

    The situation is however rather different in Europe to the scene in the USA.

    Reputable airlines recruit only from selected training schools who have themselves introduced far more comprehensive selection procedures thus the quality of student tends to be higher.

    Secondly the Universities in general are not interested in training pilots.

    Notwithstanding that above, because potential airline employers are not interested in spending money on pilot training we still end up with a cheque book situation.

    I am firmly of the opinion that, even if we end up with fewer training providers, the real key lies in careful selection followed by the best possible training.

    This leads me to a second point.

    There is a great deal of discussion about upset recovery training just now. This led to EASA forming a working group under the title ‘sixty seconds’. This was charged with producing the actions required by pilots in the first sixty seconds following an upset. Needless to say this is not the outcome BUT some 24 delegates from around the world |(not just Europe) and including all the major airframe manufacturers ended up with a five point answer – and all went back to basic training!

    One significant outcome was that, following a survey carried out by the TRTOs and Manufacturers they found that some 45% of all pilots undertaking either initial or refresher type training had never experienced or witnessed a stall at any time in their pilot lives. This was not surprising to some of us who have seen the syllabus whittled away to save costs over the last 15 years, but it did surprise the TRTOs and manufacturers who firmly believed that nobody could get a PPL or CPL who had not demonstrated their ability to recover from a stall or spin. Both these items are not required these days.

    The result is that a great many of today’s pilot do not even recognize a stall when they get into that situation.

    EASA has taken immediate steps to have this as mandated training when their rules come into force in 2012 and to issue a new Safety document as required reading for ALL pilots as soon as it is available – probably end June this year. Drafting Group meeting again late this month. The problem is that EASA can only mandate for Europe – although Boeing,Cessna, FSI, CAE were all members of the group, the FAA although invited did not attend. I believe a great opportunity may be lost of this approach is not reflected by regulators world wide.

    I have been asked many times why was the old training syllabus which required both spin and stall recovery demonstration not maintained? The answer lies in several areas – cost of the additional training, unsuitable aircraft available today, and, surprisingly, the unwillingness of instructors to deliberately stall or spin an aircraft in the ab-initio phase of pilot training. Hence we have for about 15 years failed to give pilots the basic equipment to recognize a stall and take the correct recovery action.

    I cannot begin to image just how many pilots have been trained in the last 15 years or so, but the evidence from the TRTOs is that approaching half of today’s pilots have actually not had this training in their careers – that is a great many pilots!

    Most good training establishment do offer an additional package known as ‘Upset Recovery Training’ but it is at a significant additional charge and I am yet to see a simulator that can accurately reflect a stall or spin, and certainly none can provide the g-forces associated therewith. These facts are admitted by the simulator manufacturers.

    In conclusion some major manufacturers insist that their aircraft cannot be stalled if operated correctly – this may or may not be true, but it is a fact that not all aircraft are always operated correctly!

  13. Norman MacLeod Says:

    Seems to me that there are several issues here. First, we need to separate selection for training from selection into the industry. There are several problems here. First, entry into the industry is still a voluntary act and there are still some people who want to be commercial pilots by vocation. Selection for training is a different issue. If the cost of training is borne by the student then selection is debatable. If the cost is borne by society (state funded) or the end-user (airlines) then selection is legitimate, In much of this debate I sometimes get the feeling that selection is seen as a away of keeping the ‘wrong stuff’ out of the industry.

    The issue of funding is important. I recently sat through a presentation from the CEO of a leading FTO who said, on the one hand, that airlines were having difficulty recruiting new pilots and the fault lie with the banks who were refusing to lend to prospective students. If we decconstruct this, what he was saying was that he had a contract to supply pilots, the airline was not going to pay for the training, the banks had stopped lending,the school could not get enough students with access to rich parents and so the school could not deliver. And that’s the banks’ fault? We have seen a change on the pilot training business model with more of the cost being front-loaded onto the student. Maybe the model is broke?

    As for what makes a competent pilot. There are 2 issues here. First, we could easily develop a competence framework. The template has been around for 20 years. It’s called AQP. Second, and here we have a moral question. If a training provider is only prepared to meet minimum regulatory standards at least cost, could it be argued that they are in default because models of competence and the techniques of establishing competence are known. The training provider has delivered a product that meets a training performance standard but not an operational performance standard- and this could be easily demonstrated. Who owns the risk?

  14. Robert Barnes Says:

    There seem to be some basic themes surfacing in this discussion:

    1. Pilot training needs to be guided by competence not hours;

    2. A college/university education may be helpful but the key is training to a level of competence based upon universally accepted best practices;

    3. There must be a selection/evaluation process before and during all pilot training programs;

    4. Best training practices do not need to be “more” expensive;

    5. Global best training practices should be identified and shared; and

    6. There may be a liability issue when training to any level other than competent.

  15. Norman MacLeod Says:


    Point 1 – yep.
    Point 2 – You are looking at this from the US perspective. There are different models of training, some of which piggy-back on the state systems. The college degree bit offers a fall-back position if a candidate washes out of training, So, in the former Soviet Union everyone did a 2 year engineering course before they started flying so that they were still employable if they failed to qualify as a pilot. Also, ‘universal best practice’ seems to suggest a common approach to training. If the competence framework is defined and the output standard specified, it should be up to the school to decide how to get there.
    3. There is already evaluation – it’s called the check ride. Selection needs to justified.
    4. Yep.
    5. In fact we should be using an evidence-based approach as is becoming common in healthcare delivery. However, see point 2 for what schools do with the information.
    6. For me this is an ‘elephant in the room’ . You and I have discussed ‘enhancement training’ for a VLJ training provider. Recognised by all as a good idea but refused point blank by the manufacturer on the ground that they were unwilling to add any costs to the type conversion course. And this at a time when everyone was afraid that VLJs would get branded as ‘doctor killers’ because of the mismatch between high performance and low experience.

    I think a previous post mentioned that many of these issue=s apply to airline recurrent as well as ab-initio. Colgan has been mentioned. It never ceases to amaze me that Training Manager is a post that requires no professional qualification …. in training management.

  16. John Bent Says:

    To Normans thread and Bobs succinct summary, I feel that really useful points have emerged and that Bob has captured well the main issues of this debate so far. My apologies in advance for the length of this contribution!

    For PROFESSIONAL PILOTS, the process should be quite straightforward:


    -training must be justified by customer needs-an appropriately trained pilot. Safety data from operations should drive training system refinements in real time, demonstrable to customers.

    The independent training supplier usually has only a distant operational awareness of customer flight operations. The contract between customer and supplier, should be justifiable evidence-based training such as ITQI, monitored by the customer, and continuously improved as better / more relevant practices and training devices emerge to enhance the process.


    -certified competence to select professional pilots, not yet regulated, would be a welcome new requirement to be based on evidence-based performance analysis now widely available in flight operations.

    If an operator is not competent to select, a certified selection organization should be used. One glaring omission in most selections systems, seemingly implied in one of Norman’s points, is do candidates themselves really know enough to be sure this is the career they want? Poorly motivated pilots are a threat to the airline system.


    -There are inevitable differences in training school approaches, but the requirements of training for modern safe flight operations are trans-national and trans cultural; where standardized knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours; essentially the same for all pilots working in the same cockpit or operational theatre.

    The basic instructional design to reach these competencies has to be similar, while individual training centre cultures and instructor strengths can be variable and valuable enhancers.


    -If regulators have political agendas or are improperly briefed on the complexities of modern operations, its the virtual free for all that we see so much of today.

    Training organisations may feel poorly regulated and take matters into their own hands, often with the best of intentions, but without adequate experience of customer needs to educationally address relevant operational training targets. Severely outdated regulatory requirements (such as process and theory based on 1947 needs) allow latitude to reach the ‘requirements for issue of licenses’ without the relevant training to competencies required.

    Traditional competency may have been proven in one check ride or route check, for that event only (in the latter case you have a competent pilot for certain for one day in 365!). Critical competencies must be holistically seen and frequently re-inforced until a learnt task becomes an automatic task.

    Conversely hours alone cannot be a valid substitute for any measure of competency, poor licensing criteria, or critical syllabus omissions such as the glaring failure to regulate the teaching of UA recovery for the past 15 years or more.

    Let me restate two previous assertions, (a) that more efficient and effective training processes need not be more expensive, and (b) that as a global industry we may need to jettison a few national paradigms and collaborate more in safety critical areas, in the same way that a multi-cultural crew has to do this in the cockpit every working day.

    If you read this far you deserve a medal! Thanks


  17. Norman MacLeod Says:

    A couple of points. I was recently taken to task for asking ‘why ITQI?’. We have raining design methodologies in place and these underpin AQP/ATQP. So why ITQI? It seems to me that ITQI is a canned solution – a replacement LPC/OPC/LC that is more ecologically valid than the maneuver/time model. I was told that ‘AQP has failed’ and that airlines do not have the time to follow ISD processes. Hmmm. So what we are saying is that even if we accept that existing approaches are ineffective in a modern era, we are still not prepared to do the job properly?

    On the topic of selection, I still feel John’s comment has a touch of the romantic. I remember a student of mine at the RAF Officer Academy at Cranwell. A graduate from Oxford, I asked him why he chose the RAF for a short service career. He said that all of his friends were heading straight for the City but he wanted to do something different for a few years. He was an outstanding young man and did well on the Initial Officer Course. However, when it came to graduation one of my peers suggested failing the kid because he did not have the ambition to join the RAF. I argued that he had done well in training and, to be honest, we could ill-afford to throw away brains just because he didn’t want to be Marshall of the RAF. I won the day and the kid graduated. He sailed through flying training, made it on to Harriers, was one of the first to fly the GR5 model and the last I heard of him he as a very your Group Captain (full Colonel). Motivation is a factor I success in training. That we know.

    But if someone wants to be a pilot for no other reason than they fancy giving it a go for a couple of years then the system should be careful abut exercising its ‘right’ to select. Selection, otherwise, is not a right, it’s prevention of wasted resources … depending upon who is paying the bill. We still need to accommodate self-selection.

    John, your point 3, I wonder if we are confusing output standard with method. What we want to achieve is a consistent requirement across all schools. How they get there needs to be flexible or you will put schools out of business.

    Finally, Upset Recovery. Peter Moxham covered the history and I can well remember doing recovery from unusual positions every time we went flying once out of the circuit (no, not my poor handling! it was just the way the RAF did basic training). Again, I listened to the Head of a school saying that they had canvassed all their customers and all were asking for UA training. His public plea was for the Regulator to mandate training. Hang on, why wasn’t that school responding to universal customer need? Because they were not prepared to do so unless all other schools were forced to do so, otherwise they would be a pricing disadvantage and their course would seem uncompetitive.

    Happy Easter!


  18. Scott Spangler Says:

    After reading all of these excellent comments, it seems clear to me that everyone involved is an aviator passionate about making flight training of professional pilots better.

    What strikes me most, however, is the absense of players critical to this situation, collegiate and commercial flight school operators, and the cadre of airline folks who hire new pilots and train them to company standards over their careers.

    It would be interesting to hear what they have to say. Based on what I see, and believing that actions speak louder than words, these important players will not change their bottom-line balancing, minimum-standards ways until some outside force–either governmental or consumer–mandates it.

    Until then, doing the least amount required for the lowest amount of money will continue to be the order of the day. Perhaps that day will when the airlines hang the help wanted sign and nobody applies.

    This may accelerate the move to unmanned, remote-controlled airliners, with safety by NextGen technolgy and managed by video-game masters in cubicles at some office building in some low-rent district.

    Ultimately, the problem may be insurmountable because doing things right will never win out over the primary goal of delivering good numbers to the bottom line, because it is my guess that all who have commented here are not the ones who make the decisions that will change a corporation’s way of doing things.

  19. Robert Barnes Says:

    I, too, would be interested in hearing more on this topic from other readers of this blog, Scott.

    The issue of effective pilot training and licensing is critical to the future of all aviation not just airline operations.

    However, I think you will find that everyone who has commented thus far is definitely a player critical to this situation and has considerable senior level experience in flight schools as well as airline opeations.

    Also, having run a major product line for a Fortune 100 company, I can assure you that in many businesses doing things right does take priority over simply delivering good numbers.

  20. Chris Says:

    The comment about commercial concerns being the overiding force is well-taken. I spend a lot of my life talking to the caliber of folks who are commenting here. They are training professionals who have a high degree of altruism in their makeup. They play in this sector and want to see it better, safer and more effective. Others – such as the bottom-line, mininum requirements mindset of many airline hiring people that Scott refers to, is based on their mandate to run their companies in a manner that is “competitive,” reflects the market realities, and which will allow their companies to survive. They cannot be faulted for this, despite how much we want them to “listen” to us. I believe that the public is as much to blame as the hiring managers and the regulators. They have spoken -they have told us that the number one criteria they use when they choose a transportation provider is price. The don’t care what the true value of a trip on the nation’s air transportation network is actually worth. The industry – and the regulators – don’t spend any time educating the travelling public as to the real value of their trip, they just try and accommodate this reality. Everything flows down from this reality.
    I rememeber counseling my young nephew AWAY from aviation a few years ago. He was exactly the kind of kid that we used to assume was in the system. He is a BSc in engineering (did his honors degree in 3 years, while serving as an engineering officer in the air force reserves), and had a PPL before he had a drivers license (I did a lot of his instruction). He added a float rating, tail wheel endorsement and was doing complex single engine training before he was 19. He was on his way, right? What is he doing now, just five years later? He’s a frickin’ lawyer making six digits. He’s a lot better off where he is, dabbling in recreational aviation, able to afford his Mooney, and not sitting in the right hand seat of a Dash 8 making $20K a year, all the while carrying $100K in flight training debt. THAT’s the reality of today. We ain’t getting the “best and the brightest” because frankly we can’t compete.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am just as passionate about trying to make our industry better as I have ever been, but we have to start speaking in a more unified voice, AND we have to understand exactly what the root of the problem is. Just look at the folks going up the jetway…

  21. Scott Spangler Says:

    I agree that training and certification is important to all. Ditto on the importance of those involved in this conversation. Their very participation speaks to that.

    And I’m happy to hear that some businesses look at more than the bottom line, but as an outsider looking in, I fear these businesses are the exception rather than the rule.

    Until doing more than meeting the minimum requirements becomes the norm, becomes the normlittle will change, I fear, because human nature leads people to the path of least resistence (or work).

    In 1976 I learned to fly at an independent flight school (Eagle Aviation at LGB) that surpassed the FAA minimums and required full stalls and actual spins before solo. The other schools, if memory serves, had better enrollments because they catered to the lowest common denominator.

    Why did I pick this school? Because they didn’t dismiss me upon discovering that I didn’t fit in the standard training airplane, which didn’t accommodate my 38-inch inseam and size 15 clodhoppers. The demo pilot, who became my instructor said, “Dang, you’re right. You don’t fit. But don’t worry, we have three other airplanes we can try.”

  22. Robert Barnes Says:

    Scott, you said earlier:

    What strikes me most, however, is the absense of players [in this discussion] critical to this situation, collegiate and commercial flight school operators, and the cadre of airline folks who hire new pilots and train them to company standards over their careers.

    Perhaps such an additional perspective can be found in the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) response to the FAA ANPRM regarding new pilot certification requirements for air carrier operations. Heres an excerpt:

    SAFE is a member driven organization of over 360 aviation educators from all areas of aviation. SAFE polled its members regarding the ANPRM issues, and consolidated those ideas, both pro and con, into this response. Members were passionate and outspoken in their views. Credentials of these members included Master Instructors, flight instructors, ground instructors, FAR121 instructors, Director of Training, aviation business owners, pilot examiners, a FAR141chief pilot, FAASTeam representatives, US Air Force instructor, airline transport pilots, a non-profit aviation safety organization, aircraft owners, a Navy captain, a Civil Air Patrol check pilot and check pilot examiner, a flight school owner, and university professors The quite uniform consensus among SAFE members was that a requirement for an Airline Transport Pilot certificate (ATP)/1500 hours would not help resolve the problem which caused the issue to arise in the first place the Colgan Air crash the overwhelming number of responses indicated that hours or a rating in and of itself was not the answer.

    SAFE summarized its conclusions on its website ( as follows:

    1. Hours alone are NOT an indicator of competency or public safety.

    2. Competency IS the indicator that should be emphasized to ensure public safety.

    3. Responsibilities lie with both the FAA and Air Carriers to ensure that the proper training and competencies are achieved prior to placing pilots into the Part 121 aircrew environment.

    4. It would be advisable for the Administrator to convene a panel of experts to determine the specific competencies that should be included in pre-hire decision-making as well as post-hire training and certification of Part 121 aircrews.

    5. The FAA should play a more aggressive part in monitoring and assuring that the competencies and training are, in fact, being carried out.

    The complete text of SAFEs response may be found at:

  23. Norman MacLeod Says:


    If hours alone are no indication, why does the SAFE response get into a discussion about how many hours credit you should get for a 2 year or 4 year college degree or whether an ATP-lite is of value. And if 750 hours is ‘lite’ does that make the Eurozone frozen ATPL a ‘skinny lite’?

    And if you look at the list of possible course content, LOFT is not a subject, it a training event configuration.

    This is the problem of having committees of experts – you get a camel when you wanted a horse.

    It is interesting that Colgan has been mentioned a few times. What has not been mentioned is that we are really asking how did that captain get a job. What no one seems prepared to ask is ‘how did Colgan’s Management Pilots get their jobs’. Now, before anyone starts passing on lawyer’s telephone numbers, this accident is as much a ‘systems’ accident as many others I have seen and the system that needs investigating is the airline training management system.

    As for saying the FAA should be more aggressive. This is at a time when the FAA (and all regulators) are under pressure to make cuts. Why is SMS being introduced? It’s a way of shedding oversight responsibility from the Authority to the Operator. In my new book on CRM I discuss the manner in which regulators contribute to accidents through stretched oversight resources. No, training providers should be more aggressive in dong the right job – and that includes having better graduation standards.

    I did some work for a fractional ownership bizjet company a few years back. The Training Manager was telling me of a guy that had come back from the third party trainer with a glowing report. However, on the line the guy was a nightmare. The Manager phoned the centre and asked to speak to the instructor who dealt with the pilot. It transpired that the guy was no better during training but it was not company policy to comment accurately on performance.

    I feel that there is still some way to go to getting houses in order before we beat up on the Feds.

  24. Bob Conyers Says:

    After reading this entire thread, I have a couple of comments.

    First, on the matter of training companies training pilots only to minimum standards to minimze cost to the customer, they are setting themselves up for a fall. If that pilot subsequently has an accident within the first year (my estimate) the training company will find itself in court trying to convince an aggressive lawyer and twelve idiot jurors that they provided the best training available.

    It won’t matter if the training program met regulatory standards. The trainig manager and others will still spend several very uncomfortable days on the witness stand. The school’s reputation will be hurt by all the bad press. If the plaintiff can show that other schools go further than regulatory minimums in their programs, it will hurt even more. The school might be forced out of business. Don’t worry about the bottom line. You’re there.

    On the training company whose policy was not to comment on student performance, I would make it very clear that my business was going elsewhere. Especially for a fractional company, who could take at least a portion of their business elsewhere. The fractional wasted its own resources trying to train someone who was not up to par, and it could have known that in advance, avoiding the expense.

    Similarly, for any airline training program. The airline is wholly responsible for the quality of its pilots, not the training company from whom they recruit pilots. Some airlines have working agreements with certain schools because they expect the quality of graduate to be higher – just as many law firms expect of the Harvard Law School graduate, or business firms from Wharton, etc. Hire well qualified people and train them well. That’s the best way to stay out of court.

    Notice, none of what I say has to do with the moral obligation of trainers, safety, or motherhood. Doing the right thing goes directly to the bottom line.

  25. Steve Lasday Says:

    How to improve flight training? This critically vital topic has again been brought to the forefront due to recent high-profile safety events, along with the inevitable governmental agency responses.

    First off, SMS was not devloped to shed regulatory oversight from National Aviation Authorities (NAAs) to commercial operators. SMS was developed to bring operational safety (to flight ops and maintenance alike) into the 21st century through the application of accepted and well-proven management priciples and procedures, period. If anything, SMS has introduced multiple additional layers of defense against undesirable safety events. NAAs have increased their interaction with operators to evaluate their programs and continue (or even increase) surveillance regarding program implementation and operation. The FAA itself, in an April 2007 presenation entitled “Intorduction to Safety Management Systems” stated in one of the slide’s notes “For certificated organizations such as Part 135, 141, and 145 organizations, their certificate oversight team or office participates in safety management through review and acceptance or approval of procedures and through surveillance. The FAAs objective for the SMS concept to combine system-safety based oversight systems and operator Safety Management Systems into a cooperative relationship.”

    OK, back to the subject. Scott Spangler has it right, different training tracks need to be developed in correlation with the student’s ultimate goal in mind. Students eventually planning to sit up front in a Boeing or Airbus absolutely need to experience (and demonstrate knowledge of/proficiency in) the full spectrum of what modern flight trainig has to offer:

    1) Competency-Based Training (CBT) Syllabi
    2) Use of TAA
    3) Use of FTDs/Sims
    4) Participation in a robust safety program
    5) Upset Recovery Training (URT), by the way, REAL URT, not just a couple of flights in an aerobatic a/c

    Flight Training Organizations (FTOs) now need to undergo the largest amount of cultural change, as the ultimate goal must shift away from cranking out pilots with the minimum of investment, meeting the minimum regulatory requirements, to having the professional integrity (and corporate intestinal fortitude) to invest in their students and do what’s right, not what’s cheapest. If little Johnnie or Suzie keeps busting checkrides, don’t keep taking their money!! Not everyone is cut out to be an airline pilot.

    Finally, we’ve seen these issues before. Look at Bob Barnes’ multi-year effort to get concerned stakeholders to develop and agree upon VLJ training/ops best practices. Many, many very intelligent folks, with tons of great ideas, but, in the end, not one single organizations stepped up to the plate and took ownership of the initiative. I fear the same will happen with this and we’ll end up with some unrealistic, politically-induced regs that fail miserably to truly address the situation. CAE, at a recent ICAO conference, advocated the formulation of a “global aviation training organization from which ICAO could seek cooperation and counsel on training of aviation professionals”. Any takers out there??

  26. Chris Dreisbach Says:

    Having been invited to interlope in this discussion, I wonder whether the study of professional ethics has anything to offer.

    This discipline recognizes a fundamental distinction between a mere job, in which making money may appropriately be an end in itself, and a profession, in which money should be no more than a means to practicing one’s profession well.

    In spite of the cynicism and materialism that is evident in media coverage of disgruntled professions and professionals, one can frequently find professionals who seek excellence and who delight in their success for reasons other than the money it brings.

    In well defined porfessions, such as law or medicine, it is easy to distinguish the consummate professional from the one who sees his or her work as a well paying job. And there is intuitively something more admirable about the former. In vocations whose professional status is more controversial, such as policing (my focal area of professional ethics), one can still distinguish those who feel called to the profession from those who primaruily seek job security. Nurses, incidentally, have worked hard over the past few decades to “professionalize” themselves, through rigorous recruitment and educational standards, surely making themselves more valuable financially, but more to their point, better able to serve their patients–their main clients.

    On the other hand, the Dean of Columbia’s journalism school lamented in a commencement address some years ago that journalism stopped being a profession as soon as it unionzed, because this broadcast to the world that the journalist’s bottom line was no longer the nobility of the profession, but adequate pay. Whether this a fair indictment, the fact remains that money’s role in one’s work is a clear indicator of one’s perceived status as a mere worker or a professional.

    Perhaps one aspect of this discussion into which I’ve intruded should be how to maintain–or restore–the notion of the professional pilot whose greatest reward is offering excellent service to clients and community. With this notion as the primary motivator, recruitment, professional education (not just training), and pay would emerge clearly as means to professional excellence and undoubtedly attract the best and brightest (while separating the wheat from the chaff) that humanity has to offer.

    Maybe there is a lesson to learn from the way the U.S. Marines market themselves. Nothing in their recruitment or training suggests that being a Marine is about the money. It’s all about excellence.

  27. Neil C Krey Says:

    My thanks to Bob for making me aware of this conversation. Sorry it took so long for my schedule to permit my participation.

    Scott noted the “absence of players critical to this situation” earlier, and perhaps I can do my part to correct that. For the last six years I have returned to my roots and have been involved in general aviation training – currently as Assistant Chief Flight Instructor at an FAR 141 school. I am a Master Flight Instructor, and long time participant in training industry working groups at many levels.

    I think many of the key issues have been surfaced here and will not rehash them. I WOULD like to add some perspectives that have not been raised.

    First, it seems clear there is an assumption that all flight training is aimed at creating airline pilots. This is far from the case.

    Our school enrolls customers whose goals vary widely – business people who need to travel in support of their careers, those who will fly for family holidays, those who just want to fly with a friend to someplace nice for lunch on a weekend, and those who will build and fly their own airplane.

    Some even have professional aspirations. Medical airlift, pipeline patrol, firefighting, traffic watch, flight instructor (some of us do it because we love passing on what we have learned in a 40+ year career), and many more.

    A few even want to fly for the airlines so they can make the big bucks.

    So, which of those do I tell “You don’t have what it takes”? And based on what standard?

    The current standard is provided by the regulatory authority (FAA) and is in the form of a certificate issued at the appropriate level (Private, Commercial, Airline Transport Pilot).

    I haven’t seen any discussion here or elsewhere about whether the standard embodied in the FAA Commercial Pilot certificate is even suited to someone about to enter an airline flight deck. If you review the Practical Test Standard [] , you will see that the test is primarily maneuver-oriented – probably well suited to the general aviation jobs GENERAL AVIATION professionals (not all professional pilots are found in airline cockpits, remember) may soon find themselves doing.

    So, if an airline hires a pilot who holds a commercial certificate as described above, have they obtained the correct set of competencies for their operating environment? Probably not.

    And it will not be the fault of the flight school who trained them to do a VERY different job. And adding some additional flight hours to those qualifications aren’t likely to make things much better.

    In the late 1970’s, FAA produced a job task analysis that was used as the basis for updating the certification requirements for the airline transport pilot certificate. It was based on the Boeing 727 and included the flight engineer’s duties.

    Today’s airline cockpit and operating environment are nearly unrecognizable from the days of the 727, and the “entry level” of the pilots is far different as well. I would suggest the time has come for a NEW task analysis reflecting today’s conditions. Then we can have a meaningful discussion of what constitutes the required competencies for the modern airline pilot. I don’t have much faith in the ability of a committee composed of the usual suspects to do that job.

    Oh, and don’t forget that those airlines who have been training under FAR 121, Subpart Y, aka AQP already have a pretty good start on that task analysis.

    I have been floating the notion that simply basing out system on a set of competencies and a defined level of proficiency isn’t enough in today’s world. We need a structure that assures professional GROWTH through a pilot’s career.

    But, that is a discussion for another time. I need to get to the airport to administer an insturment rating progress check to a private pilot who uses his airplane to travel to his company’s office 500 mile east of here. No chance he will be showing up in an airliner except as the provider of revenue.


  28. Neil C Krey Says:


    That link didn’t work very well. Try this one.


  29. Scott Spangler Says:

    Excellent comments by Chris and Neil.

    Regarding the ethics question, I wonder who decides whether a position is a job or a profession, the employee or the employer? And who arbitrates the debate between them?

    What is the answer when Walmart or Walgreens hires a physician for shift work at a walk-in clinic, a job not really that different from the people who provide a service at the checkouts? And what do you say the physician who’s invested a decade of time and money becoming a doctor?

    Restoring pro pilots to a profession is certainly needed, but again, in the broad context who has the final say so, the employeer or the employees. As I see it, it is the employeer, and the Marines are a perfect example because the Semper Fi spirit they embody comes from the top down.

    Is their an airline that has maintained this spirit of professinalism?

    Neil, you make an excellent point about the FAA’s practical test standards being out of touch with today’s diverse training needs, which is why I see aviation falling into three categories: recreational, personal transportation, and airline.

    Sport pilot seems to be well suited to the recreational flying for fun, but the training needed to safely fly a glass-equipped single and an airliner need a lot of work.

    Another important factor is the transition aviation as a whole is now undergoing, something I’ve broached in a post that should be online Thursday morning.

    Thanks to everyone who’s joined this conversation. It is your participation that will keep aviation moving forward.


    served by sport pilot; personal transportation, usually in a glass-equiped single,

  30. Robert Barnes Says:

    Not sure I accept your Walmart/Walgreens analogy, Scott.

    Chris clearly stated that theres a fundamental distinction between a mere job, in which making money may appropriately be an end in itself, and a profession, in which money should be no more than a means to practicing ones profession well.

    Ive known many people who have been motivated simply by being recognized as the best at what they enjoy doing and many of them werent in any organization. Some were artists, others actors or musicians, search and rescue volunteers, independent contractors, and, yes, even private pilots.

    An organization may facilitate an atmosphere of being the best by establishing expectations (like the Marines) but it is the individual who strives to achieve those standards and, thereby, be recognized as a professional in a particular field.

    When I entered the USAF, I received $600 per month total pay but at the same time my peers were receiving $2,000 or more a month in corporate America (it was a long time ago!). I wasnt motivated by money. I just wanted to become the best pilot that I could. Just like the young boots who put up with hell to be able to call themselves Marines. An organization may set the standards but it is still the individual who aspires to be recognized by his or her peers as a professional.

    Several years ago, Jack Olcott made a presentation at AOPA in which he said that anyone flying a VLJ would need to be as professional as an airline pilot. Our VLJ training discussion group found that defining what it meant to be as professional as an airline pilot was a true challenge but Jacks point was well taken

    No matter what one flies, he or she must continuously strive to be the best pilot possible a true aviation professional.

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  32. Robert Barnes Says:

    On 31 March, Rob commented:

    who exactly [is going to determine competency] some not-for-profit group with a bunch of smart people with a love for the industry and no particular financial interest?

    And Scott said on 4 April:

    these important players [i.e. players critical to this situation, collegiate and commercial flight school operators, and the cadre of airline folks who hire new pilots and train them to company standards over their careers] will not change their bottom-line balancing, minimum-standards ways until some outside force either governmental or consumer mandates it.

    It was suggested off-line by several following this discussion that WATS (Orlando, 26-29 April, might be an excellent opportunity for some informal discussions about this very subject.

    Therefore, several of us will be meeting next week at WATS to discuss whether there is a need for some type of international organization that would provide a forum such that all flight training professionals could participate in the identification, recognition, and communication of global pilot training best practices.

    We plan to get together initially on Monday evening, the 19th, at the WATS Welcome Reception (1800-1930).

  33. Robert Littlefield Says:

    I was introduced to this blog by Robert Barnes. I asked him to review the final draft of the manuscript of a book I just finished writing titled “Glass Cockpit Flying,” which deals with deals with deals with flying general aviation glass cockpit airplanes. After reviewing the manuscript Mr. Barnes suggested that I take a look at this blog thread as it addresses some of the training issues I address in my book.

    Glass cockpit technology offers general aviation pilots the promise of increased levels safety and performance. Unfortunately, the increased levels of safety have not materialized. A recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study analyzing data collected between 2002 and 2006, showed fewer total accidents for glass cockpit aircraft but a higher fatal accident rate and a higher total of fatal accidents.

    I specialize in instructing in glass cockpit aitplanes (you can find more info on my qualifications and experience on my web site at In my experience the promise of greater levels of safety for glass cockpit airplanes has not been realized because general aviation pilots and training providers have not yet evolved the way they train and fly to catch up with the advances in glass cockpit technology. Flying general aviation glass cockpit airplanes safely and effectively requires new approaches to how we train pilots, plan our flights, and fly these airplanes.

    Pilots of general aviation glass cockpit airplanes are usually not “professionals” in the sense that they get paid to be pilots. However, they must train like professionals if they hope to fly their complex and powerful airplanes safely.

  34. Robert Barnes Says:

    Bob makes an excellent point that all pilots should train like professionals.

    Thats the theme of a paper Im presenting this week at WATS: Pilot Training: The Case for Identifying Global Best Practices.

    Heres the abstract–

    Are todays airline pilots who are trained to minimum standards up to the task? Colgan Air Flight 3407 raised this question and now our industry is experiencing a flurry of regulatory activity in response. Do we really need more regulation or simply better training? And, what is the role of industry best practices in this process? This conversation involves the concept of competency-based training, the identification of universally accepted best practices, and a renewed spirit of professionalism. It includes some recent comments from an ICAO aviation professionals symposium and from a very active aviation blog about how professional pilot training is evolving to meet industry needs. The common thread is that no matter what one flies, he or she must continuously strive to be the best pilot possible a true aviation professional. The path to that level of professionalism starts with the identification of pilot training best practices.

  35. Robert Mark Says:

    Perhaps we’re all using the wrong words to describe how we teach pilots to fly aircraft of all sizes.

    Training makes it sound as if we merely need to keep repeating the behavior until it sticks and the pilot can regurgitate the necessary action.

    Perhaps we should be educating pilots about piloting and run – not walk – TO competency-based evaluation and AWAY from skills-based training standards.

    The question is how though, correct?

    Is anyone from FAA listening? We’re talking about a fundamental change to educating a new generation of pilots much as the last to readers have mentioned.

  36. Robert Littlefield Says:

    I agree that we should revise our language to talk about “educating” pilots instead of merely “training” them. It is no coincidence that aviation educational institutions such as Embry-Riddle consistently produce excellent pilots. The rigorous application of academic standards is certainly a big part of that but the attitude that they are “educating” pilots instead of merely “training” them is also a big plus.

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  39. Robert Barnes Says:

    Heres a follow-up to my post of 25 April:

    There was considerable discussion at WATS 2010 about the topic of pilot training best practices. It was decided that we should open a new e-mail discussion group similar to the International VLJ Training Stakeholders Discussion Group that ran for three years (2006-2009).

    Therefore, heres the first question for the new Pilot Training Best Practices Discussion Group:

    There are more than 25 aviation organizations that use the term best practices in regard to training. However, it seems there is no consistent definition for this term. Our first challenge, therefore, is to see if we can develop some sort of consensus. What does pilot training best practices mean to you?

    If you would like to participate, send an e-mail to All comments will be compiled anonymously into a summary document that will then be circulated for more comments.

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  42. Robert Barnes Says:

    Picking up on Scott’s earlier point about corporate decision-making (“Im happy to hear that some businesses look at more than the bottom line, but as an outsider looking in, I fear these businesses are the exception rather than the rule.”), there was an article in the NYTimes today that discussed what the Gulf oil spill and the financial crisis have in common.

    Heres a taste:

    Years before the Deepwater Horizon rig blew, BP was developing a reputation as an oil company that took safety risks to save money Much of this indifference stemmed from an obsession with profits, come what may. But there also appears to have been another factor, one more universally human, at work. The people running BP did a dreadful job of estimating the true chances of events that seemed unlikely and may even have been unlikely but that would bring enormous costs Most of the people running Deepwater Horizon probably never had a rig explode on them. So they assumed it would not happen, at least not to them.

    Don’t we, as aviation professionals, have a responsibility to ourselves and the public to ensure that this attitude does not prevail in our industry and to fight it every time it begins to surface?

    For the complete article go to:

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