The State of The Pilot
© February, 2003 Hal Stoen
A "discussion," albeit from one point of view, of the current situation in the world of flying airplanes- real, and simulated, and a prediction for the future.
If you've read any of the other material on the Stoenworks Aviation Page you pretty much know my background. Twenty five years driving airplanes through the friendly skies, 18 of the last years as a corporate pilot, and the balance doing everything from flying charter to flight instructing. All of my time is in General Aviation, I never was an airline pilot.
How it is
Bleak? Dismal? It's a tough world out there for airplane drivers, both those that are rated and those that are still in training. The world economy and the events of "9/11" have plunged the airline industry and aviation in general into a maelstrom that will, in my opinion, hold on to the flying community for a long time. Airlines are filing bankruptcy, renegotiating labor contracts, and General Aviation still faces some heavy restrictions in airspace, and airport, usage.
What's a Guy or Gal to do?
Well, for those that have been laid-off from the airlines it looks like there could be long dry spells ahead before being called back- if that ever even happens. Realizing this, many airlines pilots are giving up their seniority numbers and trying to enter the corporate, "commuter airline" and other facets of aviation. This "reverse glut" will only serve to make the fields that used to be the stepping stones to the big time filled with applicants of very high qualifications. Rather than competing with their contemporaries in that job for a commuter airline, the applicant may be up against an "old three-striper" from one of the majors- a tough go. The same goes for the rest of the flying jobs out there, from charter to crop dusting.
So, blow out the pilot lights and turn on the gas?
It's bleak, but not that bad. If you're currently an active pilot you know first-hand what the situation is, so from here on in we'll take a look at things from the perspective of the person just getting into, or thinking of getting into, the game of flying airplanes- and the potential for the computer flight simulator pilot.
On a general basis, you can divide the world of aspiring pilots into two groups: those that want to make flying airplanes a paying career, and those that just want to fly for the fun of it.
And another group: flight simulator pilots- the future just might be yours.
Flying airplanes for a career
This is a tough one, but it certainly isn't an unobtainable goal. The days of getting into a well paying position driving an airplane without having a college degree have pretty much ended. So, if your goal is to become a professional pilot you had best consider having your degree as a given. What type? Aeronautical Engineering, or any of the other engineering degrees would be a plus, a degree in meteorology is another possibility. And, as long as you're going to need that degree why not attend an institution that offers them AND has flight training right at the institution? Purdue in Indiana, and the University of North Dakota are two outstanding schools that offer this, and they also have job placement services. For more on this subject see "So you want to be an airplane pilot."
If you don't go the "combo route," you'll have to do your flight training either during your schooling or after graduation.
You have a degree, and a "wet ticket", now what?
There are services that offer pilot placement, but I don't know if you would want to stake your future career prospects with them. They have a lot of clients right now. Get your name in though, you never know.
A logical choice. You need the airplane time, and you need some income- although you won't be paid that much. However, given the right location, flight instructing offers a wealth of potential contacts. Contacts are a big factor in flying jobs, and the fellow, or lady, that you are teaching how to fly just might own a company that has a flight department, or is thinking of opening one. Or they may know someone that is. You want to have business cards printed up. Hand them out like candy. This is iffy, but the flying game is iffy by nature.
This is even tougher than flight instructing. On the up side you will often be flying business people- hand those cards out. On the down side you don't get paid much at all, and the trips can be far and few between. Charters are usually a spur of the moment thing- tough to have another job, and be well rested in this scenario. For all intents and purposes you only get paid when you fly- a tough go.
FedEx, UPS and the others are pretty much in the same situation as the airlines are, except their business is a little more robust. Their pilot turnover to the airlines is pretty much on hold right now, and most new hires are coming from military ranks.
Tough to come by. They used to be part of the flying career ladder. Those that had the jobs were former flight instructor and charter pilots. They left (if they left) to fly for the airlines. Now with the airline situation, the corporate jocks are staying put- and trying to fend off the laid-off airline pilot that now wants his job.
Flying the mail, cancelled checks, parts, they're all out there. Usually low paying positions but there are exceptions.
Possible the court of first resort. You need to grab this ring when you're young, and when finishing college. The military likes certain degrees better than others- pick a branch of the service and see what they're looking for. You'll receive excellent training, and fly excellent equipment- and give up a period of some years in your life for the experience. You can stay in the service, but they like 'em young too so count on being transferred to a administrative position eventually.
What about after your obligation is over? Well, the airlines used to be waiting for you because you were exactly the type that they were looking for. For the foreseeable future though this no longer applies. Perhaps it would be best to bask in the moment of knowing that you did "it," and that now your career will move on to non-flying positions- either in the military or as a civilian.
On 2/26/03 Army Aviator Ken Evans offered the following insite on Army Aviation:
" ...I fly the Apache Longbow (AH-64D). .....The service
has it share of ups & downs too though, (frequent moves, long
hours at times, & periods of family separation and hardship)
but your job security in never in question, and you get to do
some really great flying (and aerial shooting) that you would
otherwise never have the opportunity to do.
Your article briefly mentioned being relegated to a desk job eventually in the military. That may be true for pilots in most branches and I know that it is true for commissioned officers in the army, (Per Army Regulation 95-1, aviators in the rank of O-6 and above are even required to fly with an IP, a testament to their abilities for sure.) However, Army Warrant Officers (W1 - CW5) actually get to remain in the cockpit for their entire career. Sure, there are the non flying positions that a few aviation Warrants hold, but the vast majority become IP's, Aviation Safety Officers, or Maintenance Test Pilots (MTP) and these career tracks ensure years of flying as long as you are medically fit.
I bring this to your attention because this is a great option for those wanting to get into military aviation and do not hold a college degree. While having the degree is a plus, (it was needed to get selected "off the streets" when I applied) there is no requirement, and the age limit for getting in is officially 29.5 years of age. (Although there are rumors that age waivers are commonplace right now.) According to DA PERSCOM (department of the army personnel command) the selection rate for this program last year was over 90% due to the low volume of applicants, and they expect the select rate to increase in the near term, so getting hired is not all that difficult right now, and it's a way to have a very secure & somewhat steady flying career.
Also, if you start early enough in life, you can retire with a decent pension & medical for life, and still have 15 - 20 years or more to fly commercially. I know folks at commuters that have a $36k retirement to add to their current pay. this greatly helps with the low pay ion the early years and is great insurance in the event of furlough...."
Thank you Mr. Evans for that input.
Well that was pretty bleak, sorry. If you're wanting to get into flying airplanes for a living you are just a victim of bad timing. However, you make your own luck and if you are absolutely devoted to flying airplanes something may very possible work out. You never know.....
Flying airplanes for fun
As the old song goes, "If you've got the money Honey, I've got the time." Although becoming more restricted in the U.S. what with increased security measures (General Aviation still can't use Washington D.C. Reagan Airport, and it may never be able to go back), General Aviation will always be alive in America and the rest of the world. The only thing is that it's just going to keep getting more and more expensive to fly using your own pocket book as a ticket.
The Recreational Pilot license
Sure you can't fly for hire, and you can't carry the wife and kids but, you can FLY! And, if you have the money you can buy an old airplane, fix it up if you have the knowledge and training, have it inspected and signed off and save a ton of money compared to renting. Or, if that's too high octane for you, save your change until you have enough to rent one from your local friendly Fixed Base Operator. You probably will have to establish a rapport with the folks renting the airplane, but it can be done.
The bottom line is that this is the cheapest ticket to obtain, and it allows you to rent and fly airplanes. And, I think that this is the safest way for a General Aviation pilot to fly.
Tell you why I say that. A Recreation Pilot, by the very nature of the license requirements, has to fly in pretty decent weather- this eliminates a huge bugaboo in airplane accidents. In addition, he or she is just flying for the pure pleasure of the moment and not trying to impress anyone on board. There is no instrument flying, another major cause of aluminum bending. As time goes on with this relatively new license I think that the safety statistics will bear this out.
Flight simulator pilots
Let the circle be unbroken
Now we get back (finally) to the flight simulator pilot. I have this theory, and although I don't claim to be a great prophesier I can see this happening. Ready? Computer flight simulator pilots, the really good ones, are going to become high demand individuals- and well-paid ones at that. Why? Pilot-less airplanes, that's why. I see a future, perhaps not in my lifetime, but "out there" where all routine flying, mainly airline and cargo, will be done without a live crew in the front office. The controls will be automated, and the pilot will be on the ground somewhere interacting as necessary with the flight.
You can't be serious
It's already being done. The Boeing Predator has been used extensively, and even flew from the U.S. to Australia. The Russians launched their version of the U.S. Space Shuttle, the Buran (snowstorm), flew it two orbits around the earth and landed successfully back on the ground- 5 feet off of the runway centerline and with a 30 knot crosswind to boot.
The latest U.S. fighter that is under development (actually an international effort) the Lockheed F-35 JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) is widely regarded as probably the last manned fighter that will be designed and built in the U.S. Pilotless fighters will most likely take over after, or before, the F-35 reaches "end of life."
How about the "What If?" factor?
More reinforcement for my argument. The litany of airplane accidents is rife with cases where the pilot/crew only exacerbated the situation and ended up losing the flight by making wrong decisions- computer input and controls can eliminate that. Look, over 90% of all aircraft accidents are because of the "machine" that is handling the controls- the pilot. Now as a person that made his career and livelihood flying airplanes for a living, it's painful to say that. But it's true. Eliminate the pilot and you eliminate a lot of accidents, and the costs and loss of lives that go with them.
In my career I went through one incident where the aircraft was lost. Although the airplane was destroyed there was no loss of life, but the scenario keeps playing back and forth in my mind even after all of these years. I think pilots punish themselves like that, purgatory for our sins. At the time, and to this day, given the information that was presented to me by the instruments I think that the outcome would have been the same. But, and this hurts to say, a proper computer probably could have analyzed the situation better and most likely saved the day.
Simulator pilots that may have never been up in the air. Sitting there in front of a monitor and flying through the wild blue yonder.
You never know....
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© Hal Stoen