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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Want to fly for the Airlines?


At the just ended Paris Air Show Boeing announced their projections for future aircraft sales and crew requirements. Maybe you’ve read about the huge number of new airplanes sold by Airbus and Boeing at the show—more than 800! Anyway, the pilot and mechanic numbers projected by Boeing are fantastic. Boeing says that between now and 2030 (nineteen years) airlines will need 466,500 new pilots and 596,500 new mechanics. Just those operating in North America will need 82,000 new pilots and 134,800 mechanics. Do the math: that’s more than 4500 new pilots plus almost 7100 new mechanics per year just for US airlines. The numbers are staggering. The Asia/Pacific area will require 180,600 new pilots, Europe 94,800, Africa 13,200, the Middle East 32,700, Latin America 37,000 and Russia/CIS 11,000. The total number of needed new pilots comes to 2,046 PER MONTH, every month, for the next nineteen years!


Some are wondering if US carriers will have to follow in the footsteps of the overseas airlines by training, and paying, pilots ab inito, meaning from the beginning; no more skimming the existing pilot pool. Almost ALL flight training occurs in the US because the costs here are so much lower than elsewhere. Who knows, the flight training business could morph into a way to actually make money instead of just being a fun way to lose money. And maybe pay for airline pilots will return to the good old days when the hump in the 747 fuselage was to make room for the pilot to sit on his wallet…


Stand by for news.

4:29 pm pdt

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hope and Despair


I’m not a Republican (or a Democrat). Mostly I’m just fed up. But maybe there’s hope. To wit: supposedly at the recent Republican presidential candidate “debate,” there was, so they say, some dissension among the ranks. Imagine that. If there’s one thing Republicans are good at its goose stepping in time to the mindless beat of whatever moronic, tone deaf drummer is calling the ancient cadence of lies that benefit their thieving campaign “contributors.” Not that Democrats are much better. If Republicans are still flogging the lies that Ronald Reagan told, Democrats seem unable to come up with any ideas not first given voice in the New Deal (not that it was a bad deal). Change, Mr. Obama? What Change?


So where did the Republicans break ranks? According to the New York Times none could articulate a reason for continuing the Iraq or Afghanistan wars and some even want to end them. “End” meaning, of course, end-less occupation by American forces, that is. A bit late, but a sort of progress, I guess and while not good, better than actual, live warfare. In just a few months it will have been ten years since 9-11. We’ve been at war almost continuously ever since. Actually, we’ve been at war since long before then, 9-11 just being the first retaliatory attack occurring on US soil.


I’m still waiting for Change. When it happens, I’ll believe it.

10:40 am pdt

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Flyin biz


Many of us in the flight training world are concerned about the number and quality of pilots being turned out by the system, stagnant accident statistics and the seemingly inexorable decay of the whole flying industry. AOPA, EAA, NAFI, SAFE, FAA and others are busy assessing the status of regulation, training practices, aircraft etc. to see if improvements can be made. Me, too. Having been involved in flight training since the early 70’s I’ve seen many changes in airplanes (mostly home-builts and avionics), regulations, experience levels and quality of instructors, quality of instruction and the types of folks who want to learn to fly. The whole flying business, including everyone from manufacturers to pilots and airlines, has gone downhill. Maybe especially airlines. And therein lies the problem.


Some changes have been good, others not so good. Regulatory changes, many intended to simplify training requirements and the airplanes typically used for training, have had mixed results at best. It’s been obvious for a long time now that all of the innovation in general aviation is coming from the Experimental world. Certificated airplanes, excepting LSA and avionics, haven’t really changed in many, many years. In part that’s because certificated airplanes are pretty good, but the nearly total absence of new US aircraft manufacturers in the certificated world should tell us something is amiss, as should the outrageous prices of new airplanes and avionics. The only really new thing about airplane manufacturing is that so many new airplanes, including nearly all LSA, are now imported from Eastern Europe—good on them, not so good for us in the US of A. Can’t we do better?


While LSA have some good things going for them, in many respects they’re a step backwards and don’t really address the problems of cost or the absence of innovation. Have you noticed that they cost way more than most people could ever hope or would expect to pay? We’re talking very basic airplanes. Those that are US manufactured are mostly just re-hashes of old airplanes, like Cubs. Can’t US manufacturers come up with something better than Cubs? Aircraft manufacturing has got to be the most hide-bound business in the world! Look at how much better cars are than they used to be. Is a Cessna 172 really better engineered, better built and more expensive to build than a Rolls-Royce or a Ferrari? You can buy TWO new Ferraris for the price a one new 172. “Aircraft quality” has fallen well behind what passes for everyday in the automotive world. Which would you rather have? Huge improvements in productivity and quality have totally bypassed the aviation world.


Avionics, especially GPS, the only innovative area in general aviation, reflect the world of computing. They’re capable of some pretty wonderful things, especially compared to the old tube radios of the 50’s and 60’s, but also have the same handicaps as computers: rapid obsolescence, disappearing manufacturers, needless complication, high costs and a complete lack of standardization. And, of course, they’re still attached to the same old airplanes so nothing has really changed, especially for the VFR pilot, regardless of what’s in the panel. And most are not certificated, especially for IFR flying.


So what does all this have to do with flight training? The same hidebound mentality of legal maneuvering and dreams of monopoly that has stifled innovation in aircraft manufacturing for decades is at the heart of the problems in flight training. Old thinking (meaning NO thinking) is the rule. "New" thinking is almost totally the same old re-packaging of old ideas (mostly advertising) in new wrappers, designed to promote monopoly and stagnation benefitting only the very few who profit from the status quo.


But it gets worse. First and foremost, let’s face it, flight training is really the farm system for the airlines. Yes, flying is fun, but the primary motivating factor in folks who get into the flying business, students, instructors, pilots and manufacturers is the Dream of the Airlines. Most would-be pilots dream of seeing the world and making some respectable money while working for the airlines. So problems in flight training have everything to do with the airlines. So what is the problem in the airlines and flight training—in aviation--that no one wants to talk or do anything about? It all comes down to that same old common denominator: money. The whole flying world--like the rest of the US economy--has become a backwater. The average pay of Americans has been stagnant since the 70’s. Airline pilot pay has actually decreased substantially. Does anyone really want to become an airline pilot any more, with endless starvation, long hours, always away from home as you struggle to work your way up the ladder (if you’re lucky), unending cuts in pay and benefits at every level and the total absence of any sense of fair play? No glamour (or money) there. Corporate flying means more lousy pay, never being home, always on call, no regular schedule (so no life), sitting in the terminal waiting, waiting, waiting in case the client wants to go NOW. No glamour, no fun, no money. CFI pay, CFI flying skill, teaching skill and experience levels are abysmal. Why: absolutely, positively no money in flight training because the demand for pilots has disappeared. Yes, CFI pay has always been lousy, but the Dream of flying for the airlines made it worthwhile to tolerate, but just for a short while until the Big Job came along. All of the big training schools make their money training foreign students who have already been hired by foreign airlines. Where have all those upwardly mobile Americans gone? Broke is where they’ve gone. The only ones who’ve seen any real improvement in pay in the last forty years are those at the top 5% of the income scale, especially those at the very top of that 5%. Wall Street monopoly and big bonus for the CEO is what its all about.


Until we go back to the idea that we are ALL in this together, that we should ALL benefit from increases in productivity and innovation we're ALL (except that lucky few) going to be stuck in this endless Great Recession. Wall Street monopoly and legal maneuvering to enshrine and enrich the few who benefit from the status quo are NOT how to build an economy or a nation. Neither is endless war.


So why would anyone want to become a pilot? There is an almost total absence of pilot career paths that are worth striving for. Who wants to spend years working 80 hours a week for a flying school or commuter airline at minimum wage—or less? Nobody dreams of becoming a professional pilot any more. Most of the “lucky ones” in the airline business complain endlessly about how miserable the business has become. Why spend huge amounts of time and money training for non-existent or miserable, low-paying jobs? When people ask me about careers in aviation I have to be honest: forget it, there’s no money in aviation any more. It’s lots of fun, but there’s no money in aviation.


Yes, better regulation, better airplanes and better instructors could turn out better pilots. Avionics improvements are great, LSA are fun (though the training rules are bogus) and we all love to fly. But a profession? Forget it. General aviation has become a recreational activity for a bunch of old duffers who can finally afford to fly for fun. Look around the airport café: nothing but gray hairs. Nobody else is interested. Why should they be? Until the piloting profession becomes something worth striving for—meaning more pay at every level--nothing is going to improve in aviation. And it has to start at the airlines. No money at the airlines means the American pilot’s Dream has disappeared.


Time to wake up.



There is one "bright" spot: radar screens at your local FAA ATC facility. Remeber the controller strike back in the 80's? That's when Ronald Reagan illegally fired ALL of the controllers because they went on strike. None were ever been hired back. FAA had to hire and train a whole new corps of controllers, ALL AT ONCE. That was 30 years ago. Now, they're all retiring, ALL AT ONCE. Thousands of good paying jobs are opening up. If you like sitting on your butt staring at a radar screen a stop at the jobs page at the FAA web site might be a good spot to investigate. 

12:55 pm pdt

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