Playing Jeopardy with Aviation’s Future

By Robert Mark on August 23rd, 2010

That Future of Flight Training session at AirVenture a few weeks ago left me feeling pretty cranky … whiny even.  Not because of the session itself. All the folks on the panel, including moderator Greg Laslo, couldn’t have been nicer.

But we all walked away from the discussion with the same thought … now what? Considering the lousy turnout, as Scott Spangler mentioned last week, I left wondering how anything we spoke about could in any way affect how the management types view flight training or its foundational position within the industry? image

So here’s an idea, let’s not make the argument for flight training any longer.

Let’s focus the light where it really needs to be, on the Big Picture, where everyone claims they’re looking anyway.

Without pilots, there is no aviation industry, period. No Part 135 charter, no corporate flight departments, no sightseeing flights and most of all, no airlines … nothing.

We need to stop pussy footing around trying to grab a few new students here and there to fly our shiny new Cessnas, and Cirrus SR-22s and Piper Warriors. Let’s be serious, none of the previous incarnations of any Learn-to-Fly programs have ever come even close to returning us to the old days when 17,000 new airplanes were delivered in a year and a commensurate number of pilot starts kept the Government Printing Office in business producing student pilot certificates. We’re all so focused on Learn-to-Fly though as the solution as if the only audience we need to succeed with are those potential customers for flight schools.

Another Perfect Storm?

We all hate listening to the fact that 75 percent of new student starts last year quit before they ever earned their Private Pilot certificate. But for the moment, how we deal with that one issue is irrelevant.

The Big Picture question really is why only a few of us appear to see the writing on the wall … that very soon, we’re again going to be short of qualified pilots not simply to teach people to fly, but with the commensurate skills to compete for professional pilot cockpit jobs coming down the road?

Making matters worse is that fewer and fewer young people see flying as a career … starting pay is almost food-stamp level and the amount of debt to pay for the training is beyond most. The military long ago dried up as a viable source of pilots and the passing of HR 5900 – the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act – that could force airlines to require an ATP from all candidates (with a few exceptions) will only make the situation worse. We haven’t even spoken yet about the rash of “Fly-til-their-65” airline pilots who will very soon be grounded.

It’s time we stopped looking at each individual business as separate from what make aviation fly … airplanes. No pilots, no FBOs … no pilots, no need for many training airplanes … no pilots, no need for airlines, no pilots, no need to see John and Martha much down the road. But we all seem to look at the shortage of people learning to fly as if it really has nothing to do with these individual segments … but it does, all of them.

A Bright Spot

At AirVenture this year, I met a really bright young Singapore Airlines pilot who was just crazy in love with aviation. One reason he was so enthused was not simply because he had a job, but because he’d always wanted to fly but was successful even though he lacked the funds to pay for the training. Originally from Mumbai, he mentioned it was a tad more expensive there to learn to fly.

So how did he reach the skill level of licenses and hours necessary to get hired by Singapore? Easy. He didn’t. He was hired through Singapore’s cadet program, better known to us here in the states as an ab initio training system.

Singapore paid for all his flight training from his private right up through his turbine time via a Lear 45 type rating. His total time is somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 hours and he’s soon off to school on the Boeing 777 all at the expense of Singapore Airlines. His commitment to Singapore for their commitment to him … seven years of his life after he completes training.

In the U.S. of course, no such programs exist. Our airlines – in fact every organization that uses pilots in this country – assumes the pilots should bare the costs of learning the ropes because that’s the way we’ve always done it. This strategy of course makes pilots rather expendable when it suits the company. That strategy is going to begin biting us all in the butt pretty soon though.

Our Future

“This whole pilot shortage thing doesn’t seem that bad to me,” a fellow told me at AirVenture over a cold drink one afternoon. I asked this young man to consider that the only item that has kept this pilot shortage chaos from running rampant right now is that our economy tanked which forced many companies to lay off crews. But that life preserver is going to sink once  we’re all back in business again.

Think back though, to just a few short years ago when anyone with a pilot’s license was being hired and upgrade times were shoving questionable captains into a command role, a topic that forced some of the recent regulatory chaos in the aftermath of the Colgan crash in Buffalo.

image The question again is why we aren’t working as a group on this. Wait you say? What about DOT Secretary Ray LaHood’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee (FAAC) seminars coming soon to a town near you?

With only Cessna’s Jack Pelton representing general aviation vs.. a slew of airline and airline union people, I doubt LaHood’s future will have much to do with people learning to fly. Of course, I could be wrong. Let’s take a look at the agenda for this week’s meeting in Chicago. There’s NextGen, and Financing, Safety, Competition, the Environment and Work Force Issues. Nope, nothing about the foundation of the industry there.

If these sessions are really about the future of our industry, it’s time someone thumped Mr. LaHood on the back of the head and told him that without a steady supply of men and women to drive these ever-evolving aerial machines, there won’t be much of an industry for aircraft manufacturers like Cessna, Boeing, Airbus, Embraer … the list goes on. That also mean the parts and service suppliers are going to get a whack as well. Flight training is simply the foundation upon which our industry is built … and trust me, the low-fuel light is on and no one seems to notice, or if they have, they seem clueless to solve the problem.

Now if, as some industry insiders have told me, the LaHood shows are simply PR fluff to make it look like someone is taking action, then I say shame on Mr. LaHood – as well as our President – for wasting a precious opportunity to actually use the experts gathered together for these little pow- wows to try and solve some of the problems we’re desperately struggling with in the industry.

If these FAACs aren’t fluff, and if you really believe that a steady supply of pilots is critical for success, why is Cessna CEO Jack Pelton the only man in the room representing the general aviation side of the world … the foundation of our industry?

What’s it going to be? Are we going to build yet another general aviation Learn-to-Fly program to encourage more people to take to the air or are we finally going to gather the industry’s best and brightest together – the Cessnas, the Boeings, the John and Martha Kings, the Garmins, the airlines, the FBOs, the charter industry and people from every other segment of the industry to solve the problem?

If we don’t, there’s no need for a Flying magazine, no need for Aviation International News, no need for Avweek, and certainly no need for @flightblogger, or @avweekbenet, no @getintheair, no Airplane Geeks podcasts and of course, no @jetwhine. Without a way to encourage people to choose aviation as a career, we won’t need any of this.

Whatever we do, we’d better get moving pretty quickly. Pilots are turning away from the industry much faster than they’re signing up. If we’re going to gather all these experts together, lets put them to work on a problem that needs solving … building a foundation for every other element of the aviation industry. That’s a Big Picture idea.

Visit the FAAC page here and tell them you’re mad as hell and you’re not going to watch our industry crumble while the politicians play pretend. The next FAAC meeting is in Chicago on Wednesday, but here’s a thought. When the invites go out for that next Big Picture meeting, let’s not invite the people who put that guest list together for our Transportation Secretary because it’s pretty clear they don’t have a clue.

Rob Mark, editor

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33 Responses to “Playing Jeopardy with Aviation’s Future”

  1. The Aspiring Pilot Says:

    Playing Jeopardy with Aviations Future – from…

    This is a must read post, I will write up a reply and my additional thoughts shortly. This post is a great write up on the future of aviation, and it is bleak. Playing Jeopardy with Aviations Future By Robert Mark on August 23rd, 2010…

  2. John Kosak Says:

    Rob –

    I think you’ve nailed it yet again! I’ll be following the link and making my voice heard for the inclusion in the FAACs.

    Also, I’m very happy that back in my home town of Grand Rapids, MI they are starting the West Michigan Aviation Academy this fall, right on the grounds of GRR. I wish something like this had existed back when I was in high school. I might have gotten started sooner on my aviation career.

    Also, if someone here in the US had a cadet program like Singapore’s, I may have been able to continue through my flight training beyond my Private Pilots license. I’m still very happy with my role in the operations side but agree with your point (it would be difficult to argue against it) that none of us are needed without the pilots.

  3. Jon Says:

    I feel fortunate to have just earned my private ticket about 2 months ago. It took me 9 months due to medical reasons and most of all, finances. With the average cost for renting a 172 being $130 and my (very old, very experienced) CFI coming out at $65/hr, I’m looking at $200/hr to fly dual instruction. I managed to get by, but went red just about every month trying to get to the end of it.

    Now, I’m married and can’t progress any further aside from proficiency. I can fly enough to stay proficient each month, but I want to progress on to my instrument, commercial, and CFI rating, but the cost is more than I can take. It’d take me 12+ months just to get my instrument rating with the costs associated with it, much less commercial and CFI. As a result, I can’t really (in good sense) make long trips w/o IFR and flying is just something I do for fun, not something I can prove useful.

    I’m very fortunate, but I know a lot of people (10+) who would like to learn to fly, but can’t because it costs so much. I can’t even imagine trying to shoulder that burden as a student, it’s hard enough as an adult with a steady job. Consider that and the low income of an entry level pilot, there’s no way someone without some secondary financial backing could ever progress enough to fly professionally without going into mounds of debt.

    I also think this introduces a safety problem. Pilots today are less proficient because they can’t fly as often. This is pure speculation, but based on some personal experience.

    I’m not sure what the solution is. With fuel prices going through the roof ($6/ga where I’m at), rental prices ridiculously high ($130/hr for a 172, $180/hr for a 182), and instructor prices equally high, it’s hard to imagine someone wanting to learn to fly. Granted, I’m fortunate in the ability to find partnerships that will mitigate some costs, but for most people and anyone that wants to be a professional, I don’t see that as a viable option.

    Anyway, I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining. I am able to do far more than many are, but this is the perspective of a new pilot at least.

  4. Dave Montgomery Says:

    Or, is this a turning point where the industry uses the UAV technology developed by the military for freight hauling, first, and later for passengers.

    I can see it cutting costs. I can see it reducing labor strife.

    It seems like substitutes for pilots are bound to be developed and deployed, if the supply of pilots is reduced and the cost of training and use of the labor increases. In such a scenario, much of low end GA will go away.

  5. John Says:

    Wow, what an excellent post. I am a 22 year old student pilot and I love aviation. I want nothing more than to fly for a living. However, I am going to continue working in the computer science industry because there is no way I can spend thousands of dollars on flight training and get paid $16k starting out. Not when I can making $55k starting as a programmer. I may not be doing the thing I love the most, but at least I can live off it and start a family.

    I needed no help getting started in aviation or loving everything about it, I need a reason to choose it as a profession, and right now, there are few reasons to start a career in it. So, I guess I’ll grab my private and instrument and fly around for fun wishing I could make money doing it.

  6. skydaddy Says:

    It comes down to one word: Money.

    When you can’t rent a light-sport plane at the FBO for less that $100 an hour, when you can’t buy a new airplane for under six figures, when almost any homebuilt kit will set you back nearly $100k by the time it flies (especially if you want a glass panel), when even a 35-year-old Cessna is half the cost of a 35-year old suburban home, who can afford to fly on a middle-class income?

    Thanks to the P.I. lawyers, the cost of everything associated with aviation has liability insurance premiums built in.

  7. Finding (And Keeping) The Best Pilots - Wheels Up - The business of aviation - Forbes Says:

    […] from “Playing Jeopardy with Aviation’s Future” […]

  8. Robert Mark Says:

    And as everyone seems to be saying here, the cost is a major factor. Right now the airlines are still acting as if this is not their problem and right now it probably isn’t.

    But it won’t stay that way forever. We’ve become a nation of reactionaries. No sense worrying about it until there’s a crisis.

    Maybe I wouldn’t have written this if that FAAC hadn’t started up and rubbed the insignificance of learning to fly in my face.

  9. Dave Montgomery Says:

    How do we know the airlines aren’t working on this, albeit silently, because each airline sees a competitive advantage in how they address this problem. If they are making plans like this, why should they disclose them now ?

    Alternatively, what are the pilot unions doing to address this issue ? Some unions, such as OperatingEngineers, electricians, plumbers, ironworkers, all have apprenticeship programs to train people in those trades. They supply the labor to the contractors, as it is needed. For people wishing to be professional pilots, why wouldn’t this model work in the airline industry ?

  10. Matt cadwell Says:

    Flight schools are doing a pretty bad job at sales and marketing.

    The flight training industry as a whole is lucky to break even in many regions, and many flight schools are rely on flight instructors to handle the sales and marketing when their expertise only lies in flying.

    The flight training industry is not sustainable at their current business practices.

  11. Robert Mark Says:

    Well Dave and Matt, I think you just reinforced my point precisely.

    Certainly we don’t know what the airlines are planning, nor the unions or anyone else.

    The story wasn’t really abut flight training itself though, but about the fact that it still represents the place from which our industry blossoms. I used the word foundation.

    Unless the companies stop acting alone – much like the Republicans and Democrats need to begin actually solving problems that matter – we will indeed be headed down a dark hole not too long from now.

    Everyone thinks this is someone else’s problem to solve.

  12. Tim Busch Says:

    I am glad to hear even a few people have realized that aviation has a severe problem. I have been speaking on the subject since 2004.

    Fundamentally, we are continuing to operate flight training as a support system to airlines and Part 135 operators. Here is the issue with this plan: As seen from the perspective of every airport community in the country, we are teaching local people to leave their communities. We have difficulty convincing local leaders that funding their airport is a benefit, because it isn’t a benefit. We’re supplying a mass transit system in a country full of individuals!

    Turn it completely around: Let’s train local current and future business people to use their local airports as a tool to benefit their communities. Teach them to fly and travel to their business and vacation destinations. They will buy airplanes, fuel, maintenance, rent hangar space. This will support local leaders’ funding with an obvious benefit to their communities.

    Where to recruit? No more “Maytag Repairman” marketing, i.e. waiting at the airport watching the phone ring. Go to town Tonto! Civic groups, chambers of commerce, schools, etc.

    I know that pilots with airline and Part 135 aspirations need to build time, but we can’t allow them to do it on the backs of student/clients. No more 6 – 8 “warm body” instructors and 75+ hours on the way to a Private Pilot license. We owe them quality training from highly paid, highly experienced instructors who WANT to teach. Flight instructor pay today compares poorly against many other professions with far less training & responsibility.

    We need to create a culture of aviation. Every kid in the country knows how old he/she needs to be to earn a driver’s license, but I can’t find a kid or adult outside of aviation who has any idea how old they need to be to become a pilot. Let’s work to make it an expectation for them to attend “Flyer’s Ed” right after Driver’s Ed!

    Schools need to run their operations as businesses. We all need to know how many hours it takes to break even & what kind of profit can be made after that, then plan a student load that uses the machine.

    Everyone in and out of aviation complains about the cost. The one thing aviation has never enjoyed is the “Henry Ford” moment in history where everyone enjoys the result of mass production. A “large” number of aircraft these days is a factory capable of 2000 airframes per year with 1000 hours of hand touch labor per unit, yet one production line at Toyota makes 250,000 cars per year at only 19 hours per unity. Who will take the risk and create a real aircraft factory?

    Will we accept the challenge of training pilots for that many aircraft?

    Tim Busch, President
    Iowa Flight Training

  13. Austin Says:

    If there is truly a looming commercial pilot shortage, then we need not worry that Shelton is the only GA rep on the FAAC. The airlines, who will have to pay the escalating wages such a shortage would entail, will be leading the charge.
    What does “playing Jeopardy” have to do with this anyway? Seems like a cute hook that trivializes such a worrisome issue.

  14. John Says:

    I’m in the same boat as everyone else. Soon to be 27 years old, living in a terrible part of town, living paycheck to paycheck to complete my flight training. I pay roughly $2000-3000 a month in flight training. It’s not an easy situation and I know realistically that’s not much waiting for me at the end of the road.

    You’d be surprised how many professional pilots attempt to deter me. A lot of people complain about QOL and pay. To describe the situation in one word I would say depressing.

    Right now I believe flight training is a steep uphill battle with not much to look at when you get to the top. I’m not sure what the answer is to the situation but I see 0 incentive for an average middle class person to get involved in aviation right now.

  15. Mal Gormley Says:

    Maybe we should take a clue from the agricultural community with its “No Farms – No Food” bumper sticker campaign.

    What’s needed–and fast–is a consortium of stakeholders, including the airlines, flight schools, OEMs, air travel industry, air-freight industry, and all the aviation alphabet-soup groups, etc. need to get behind the effort to keep enough pilots in the training pipeline, whether it is via ab initio programs or a federal grant enterprise.

    Thanks for beating the drum on this issue, Rob.

  16. Clint White Says:

    Bravo Jet Whine!

    Perfect article echoing exactly what I have been thinking over the last two years. Ive been literally jumping up and down trying to talk to NBAA about this issue to deaf ears. Ive also talked about the impending pilot shortage but the indsutry seems determined to shoot itself in the foot once again.

    One point about the new legislation coming down the tracks it that it will require your ENTIRE pilot record on computer file for Part 121 (and soon to be 135 and 91) literally from they day you started. So now, are you going to have companies telling 50 year old pilots they cant get hired because they busted a checkride when they were 19? What other industry does this!? Doctors,lawyers…nope. Another reason why young people arent goint to want to be part of this business.

    To tell you how actute the problem is, I recently talked to a major flight training center on the West Coast. They had over 50 instructors but NOT ONE domestic student. It is truly becoming a crisis that everyone is ignoring.

  17. Robert Jandebeur Says:

    Right on the point Sir!

    Once upon a time I had a flight school and 20+ planes with half on lease back until the economy and high insurance cost hit us early 80s. Tulsa has a terrific Vo-Tech and while serving on one of their advisory boards recall how they struggled to determine what classes to promote for students given the uncertainty and lead time to graduate with a job opportunity.

    A subsidy for schools and or tax credits on the training airplanes (which costs are out of line now, over 4 times what they used to be) would go a long way to help stimulate things.

    I now server on the Board of Starbase, a great non-profit hosted by DOD and supported by Natl Guard which provides classes and activities for young at risk kids combining aviation and math/science to stimulate their interest in school (sad to learn we are trying to keep kids in school!), and hopefully encourage them to consider aviation as a career.

    As we all know FBOs and flight schools were run by those how loved flying and had a passion for aviation back when and loved seeing the moment when a student had his shirt back cut out and now the transition from family run to chains and large firms with the love for money which does not include a flight school.

    Time to focus on the solution as you are eluding to and not just the problem

    Thx for writing the article and good luck influencing the movement and getting people off their duff on this critical topic!! Where does NATA stand on this?

    My two cents..

    Brother Bob

  18. Tom Haines Says:

    Interesting post. However, if we frame general aviations future only as a training ground for airline pilots, general aviation as you and I know it (or at least as I and most of the members of AOPA know it) will cease to exist. Even in the very best of times the airlines will hire only a very few thousands of pilots a yearnot enough to sustain any sort of market-based training infrastructure unless it is one underwritten by the airlines through ab initio programs as many foreign airlines do.

    We need wholesale change in the training industry in order to sustain or even think about growing GA as we know it. Look for news on this coming out of some industry groups in the next few months.

  19. Robert Mark Says:

    I absolutely agree Tom. We do need major change in the training industry which is why I was so disappointed in the lack of any solid results after Oshkosh. We were all just preaching to a very small choir.

    Right now we don’t seem to have things organized in a way that enough critical mass of smart people have signed on to any worthy change, at least any I’m aware of.

    But if you took my focus to be only on the airlines here, I missed the mark.

    We have all become incredibly interdependent … airlines, GA, FBOs, aircraft manufacturers, avionics, unions … we just either don’t know it yet, or don’t want to acknowledge it though.

    So wholesale change yes. But it needs to be change in which we not only bring new pilots into the system, but we also get the other stakeholders to at least acknowledge they share the responsibility for the industry — good and bad.

  20. Mike Flannelly Says:

    Well said…
    This is a first step to solving the problem. Those of us who are in the industry recognize what lies ahead. It is our responsibility to ensure we are heard and contribute to what is needed to reverse this trend.

    There are numerous areas which need to be dealt with on an almost simultaneous basis requiring all hand on deck. The pilot shortage, the fate of 100LL, the very airports we use, training standards to be met (ie. Colgan air) the perception of aviation as a whole (ie automakers NOT jet pooling) and on and on.

    Every person that loves and depends on aviation needs to speak up and contribute. Talk to you neighbors, bosses, wives, girlfriends, state and local officials and anyone within earshot that aviation contributes greatly to the economy and the well being a of millions of people.

  21. @williamAirways Says:

    I like to separate this issue into three types of pilots: hobby, career, and wanna-be. There will always be hobby pilots. These individuals have the disposable income to dabble in aviation and will most likely never be a part of the pilot shortage solution. This population is declining because disposable income is scarce these days. As a flight instructor, I’ve provided free flight instruction, but the student still has to deal with the $140+ per hour on the airplane! I suspect that when the economy improves, so will this group’s participation numbers. It’s just a matter of predicting when the economy will improve.

    The career pilot. My first question that comes to mind is why would anyone with any sense of logic and understanding of the airline industry want to become a career pilot these days? Training is very expensive. The entry level regional airline FO pay is pathetic. I’m sure a stronger and more accurate word can be substituted, but I’ll stick with pathetic for now. The quality of life sucks. The unions do nothing but take a cut of your pay check. Furlough is an inevitability. And once you’re furloughed, what do you do for money; and for how long? The chances of an upgrade to captain these days is horrible. Are you aware that someone people can’t afford to work for the regional airline because the pay is so pathetic? The heydays of the airline career is over. And the word is out on the streets.

    The wanna-be pilot. These people will have “the dream” and we in the industry will always want to bring forth these folks into the world of aviation. But, the harsh reality of this group is, they don’t have the money to do it. Flying is expensive! Let me say that again. Flying is expensive! I think I need to say this again. Flying is expensive! I know people who makes good money, but need to support something elusive…I’m trying to recall the word…oh right, family…the wife, kids, house, car, dog/cat, clothing, daycare, food, entertainment, insurance, vacations, etc. $200 for 1 hour of flight training, or, quality time with the family? Maybe pay that monthly mortgage? Perhaps groceries for the month? Oh, and the bills, those damn annoying monthly electric/water/heating bills.

    As a matter of economics, I can join a top shelf gym for $1500 for a whole year and go any time I want to, get in shape, meet new people. Or, I can get 7.5 hours of flight instruction and wet ink in my logbook. There are MANY more things in life that are worthwhile to do besides learning to become a pilot.

    The bottom line is simple. If you don’t have money, you’re not flying. Period. The economy has to improve first. Most people live pay check to pay check. So who are these people who can afford to fly today? Those who already are! And if you don’t see these people at your local airport, well, that gives you a good idea who has disposable income or a nice trust fund to afford it and who does not.

    And I suppose I should also add the last group that I did not mention above. It’s the group called the “I don’t give a crap about aviation” group. Yes, there are actually 99% of the US population that could care less about becoming a pilot or learn to fly an airplane or have anything to do with it. These people are perfectly happy to live out the rest of their lives not knowing what flying an airplane as PIC is all about. There are even people who have flown and not been “wow-ed” by the experience because flying to them is just an ends to a means, a way to get from point A to point B so that they can move on with their lives at point B.

    If being a pilot is really that critical and that substantial in people’s lives, you’d see 16 year old teenagers getting their pilot’s license first, and our infrastructure developed around this need. I took a few people flying recently and they were more excited about being on a boat at our destination than the flight there! Yes, there are people who actually don’t think anything of aviation except the media mention of another crashed airplane overheard at the local watering hole.

    While this comment is long, it’s also superficial as I can’t possibly type a book here. Will there be a pilot shortage? Yes. Will there be a solution when the proverbial crap hits the fan? Absolutely. The only question that remains is, those who care about this issue, what are YOU personally doing about it? And I do hope writing to your Congressmen is not the only to-do item in your list.

  22. Adam Says:

    With all of the meetings of the “experts” discussing how to address the impending pilot shortage, not one person has stated the obvious solution: PAY THEM! If you want talented and qualified employees, you must compensate them properly. A pilot must be able to recoup his or her massive flight training investment within a reasonable amount of time. The fact is that the entire aviation industry has become dependent on cheap and readily available labor, and paying pilots appropriately destroys the business model. Who in their right mind would spend $150K on training to make wages around the poverty level?

  23. Dave Montgomery Says:

    Is anyone reading this an airline stock analyst for an institutional investor who can ask the airlines what their plans are to address this issue on the next quarterly earnings call ? Can you post what you learn to this blog ?

    Is anyone here an member of an airline pilots union who can describe what the airline pilot unions plan to do to address this issue ?

    It seems like everyone posting, so far, works on the supply side- pilots or pilot trainers who see the issue. It would be interesting and useful to hear the demand-side perspective on the issue.

  24. austin Says:

    So far we have 3 categories mentioned here, and two (hobby and career) groups that are the focus of this discussion. I fit into what I hope will be the strongest future of aviation. Pilots flying part 91 as a means of transport for business.

    As traffic congestion increases and our road infrastructure continues to crumble, i believe (or hope) that on-site professionals will increase reliance on air transport as a business asset. I cover a territory which includes most of california and nevada. My competitors can’t touch my on-site schedule in terms of # of customers visited or time from request to appearance, because they don’t have a plane! I can defray the costs of training and flight as a business expense, and it DOES produce a profit. I’ve taken several lucrative jobs I wouldn’t have touched because I could get them done using the plane. Lawyers and bureaucrats have done a fine job increasing costs and restrictions with no corresponding increase in safety. How do we fight this? Most of the costs people mention here are the fuel and the aircraft. for a $130 cessna figure $40/hr is fuel and the rest is maint. Why can’t we get a second-gen GARA act that provides immunity for manufacturers of aircraft parts if the parts are used in a part 91 aircraft? Something like this that sidesteps the lawyers would allow for a more lucrative parts market (i.e. lower costs and better opportunity for manufacturers so more competition) and possibly make that 100,000 planes a year manufacturing plant a viable business opportunity.

  25. Bo Henriksson Says:

    Rob, you are right on!
    The airlines(not to mention the country, but who can blame it, with Lindsay Lohan getting out of rehab and whatnot…) are in complete and utter denial on this!
    However, the major’s will be OK for a while. People forget what a huge part of the industry the “regionals” are, with roughly half of airline movement. And believe me, my colleagues on the little Embraer I fly are salivating!
    The “regionals”, or the commuters as they used to be called, that’s where the squeeze is going to come in a year or two! Don’t forget that young people these days are used to airline travel, they’ve experienced the misery of everyday flying. To them there is certainly no romance in flying anymore! Knowing that they have to plunk down an enormous amount of time and money (especially now with ATP required for 121) just to earn food-stamp qualifying paychecks….

    There is only one solution to this. Pilot pay has to go up significantly! Having up to 100 peoples life in your hand should entitle you to a safe middle class lifestyle, its simple as that. The cost…. On my airplane, a $ 3 increase in the ticket price would DOUBLE my entire crews paycheck! And get us back to where we were 20 years ago….


    CA Embraer 145

  26. cliff Says:


    Almost all professional pilots I know, or have read about, say that there is no shortage now, and there will never be one again.

    They have no clue. I would say that airline management is even more behind the power curve.

    When the bottom drops out for the airlines’ HR departments, they will be shocked, and have no clue what to do.

    This is already happening in the Middle East and China, but the US entities are keeping themselves in the dark.


  27. Robert Mark Says:

    Holy Smokes. I leave you people alone for a day or so and look what happens. Are we a little passionate about the topic perhaps?

    Thanks heavens. I spent today at the FAAC meeting near ORD. Let’s just say that if you think the airlines are the only future for aviation, you’d have been pleased.

    On to a few specifics.

    AUSTIN: I wasn’t trying to be cute when I used the word Jeopardy in the title the other day. I think the FAAC I witnessed today makes me believe more than ever that right now, our future is being decided by people that don’t even seem to know we exist.

    That’s a travesty and it will continue because as TIM BUSCH said, we’re supplying pilots to an industry that doesn’t care – yet = about what happens to us. And I mean that not simply as a flight instructor, but as a GA pilot and as a regular corporate pilot with a few hours under his belt.

    Another important e-mail came from DAVE MONTGOMERY who wondered why everyone posting here was on the supply side and asked why analysts aren’t right now quizzing airlines about how they’ll cope with this approaching black cloud. Or why aren’t there any union folks up here adding their two cents Dave wondered too.

    I’d say that’s probably because they hadn’t yet read the story. Dave has a good idea. I’m going to ship the link to some airline and union folks I know and see what kind of response we receive. If you do the same, can you let us know here at Jetwhine when you receive a response? I’d be interested to hear another perspective too.

  28. Jim Chambers Says:

    Rob –
    I’ve been finishing up my instrument rating as 91 student at a busy flight school, packed with 141 students from Asia. The only way to survive (and earn a little money) these days is to train foreigners. Guess what country is going to have yet another class of professional flushed from the populace, and shipped over seas – Yes, professional pilots!! At some point the foreign job market will be saturated, and Indians, Chinese, and Koreans will be filling the flight decks of US 121 and 135 carriers. Death by a million paper cuts and nobody is doing anything about it!

  29. Martin Says:

    The article and comments encompass my thoughts on this subject so I’d only like to suggest that you look abroad in your ideas for “Aviation 2020”.

    I agree that the cause for inaction so far is that the United States model of pilot education simply worked – the large supply of military-trained pilots kept the airlines flying without a real need for large numbers of self-sponsored types (extremely well-classified by “austin” by the way). One proof of its efficacy was its use worldwide. The coming professional pilot supply shortage will, we all agree, be a unique instance of an otherwise cyclical industry problem because this time there’s no obvious military supply solution.

    I can assure you that the Singapore airlines pilot you mention is part of the far and few. Such schemes were also common in Europe until about 5 years ago, when even KLM stopped guaranteeing jobs for people trained in its own sponsored flight school, KLS. Now there are intermediaries such as the European Pilot Selection and Training, which train and supply pilots at a certain guaranteed level of quality to several airlines at a time. Might this be a useful idea in the US?

    It certainly worked for me. And, being a supply-side voice, I also hope to hear some demand-side arguments.

    Best of luck,


    P.S. I think you have to differentiate that for general aviation the student pilot is indeed the customer but for an airline with pilots, planes, scheduling, and so on the customer is Robert in seat 4C – without them, there is no need for the mentioned publications, machines, and people who never get enough of the view from the front deck. Those ultimate stakeholders should also be in your discussion.

  30. Best of the Web - Golf Hotel Whiskey Says:

    […] of Flight Training and Aviation. On an interesting note, Robert Mark has written a lengthy post about the future of flight training, an overview of the big picture and the potential for a […]

  31. Comrade E.B. Misfit Says:

    Why would anyone want to expend the money necessary to get to having a commercial instrument MEL ticket only to land a job paying under $20K? As long as the regionals can get away with paying pilots barely above the “will fly for food” level, then there isn’t a pilot shortage.

    GA itself is dying by inches. LSAs cost north of $100G, which is a lot of cash for a toy. Unless the Congress changes the tax depreciation rules back to what they were in the 1970s, the glory days of GA are behind us.

  32. Robert Mark Says:


    If you thought this article was about flight training, I think you might have missed my point.

    Sure flight training is dying. But as flight training goes, so will the rest of the industry.

    No pilots, no airliners, or corporate airplanes, or FBOs etc. We seem to know it, but the folks in the rest of the industry don’t seem to want to acknowledge that fact.

  33. Tim Busch Says:

    Saying things like GA flight training is dying is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Start by saying GA is GROWING and then figure out how to grow it! Flight schools are every bit as viable as their business model is sound.

    Training attached to FBOs is not doing well because its least profitable of their profit centers. That means a different business model is needed. Thats what were doing at Iowa Flight Training.rather than one location with many services, we do one service at many locations.

    There are other ways as well: nearly everyone in this country learns to drive at school:
    Drivers Ed. We need to work on the culture so that Flyers Ed is an expectation of every school kid.

    Im tired of hearing whining about $100k+ airplanes. Its all about quantity. Turn the quantity up and youll see the cost go down dramatically.

    My offer is open: you want to change GAs growth rate at your airport? Call me (numbers on my website). I will come and help.

    – Tim

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