by Ian Calvert
CEO Ardmore Flying School
Flight training of new pilots has never been in a better position to grow and develop. The demand that has been signalled for several years now is already here and the issue of pilot supply (read: shortage) is finally being felt where everyone seems to think it matters – in the airlines.
But there is an even more important area where this issue is going to have a more profound and significant effect on aviation, especially airlines, if not addressed-that is the supply of competent, capable and motivated flight instructors.
Too many airline executives and, dare I say it, airline training departments including pilots, seem to forget that every one of their pilots was once trained by a “lowly” instructor – you know, one of those pilots who had not yet “made it” by becoming a real pilot (read: flying a jet airliner).
As a consequence of this general view (and I say general because there are those who do recognize the instructor’s importance and role) and attitude towards flight instructing, it is no wonder new pilots looking at an aviation career never consider it a role worthy of commitment or, if require d to instruct, constantly look for the first opportunity to get that “real job”.
We have had periods of high instructor turnover in the past, and the CAANZ’s report on the industry and flight training accidents indicated a corresponding decline in safety and standards-fortunately corrected in recent times.
However, the new shortage of experienced instructors, particularly B category and MEIR instructors, is hitting hard and fast and is not likely to change in the foreseeable (five years?) future.
We need, as an industry, to shift this attitude and increase the mana of the flight instructor, making it a role that is respected by airline pilots and industry leaders. Make it one that has a pay scale that says, “I can have kids, house and mortgage and still have a lifestyle”. Make it one that when asked what they do, they do not apologise for being “only” an instructor but rather say it with pride and in the knowledge that they are as important to the aviation industry as any airline pilot, captain or otherwise- because without them the industry will fold.
How do we do this? Pay is often the first item mentioned, and yes, it is important. Especially as most flight instructors are on or near the minimum wage when starting out and the increases for the upgrading that follows are often below reasonable expectation. So yes, better pay to a scale that makes transitioning to an initial airline role a serious and considered decision for the instructor (and family), rather than an automatic “I can’t wait” one, is very important. When we look at what a teacher, nurse, qualified lawyer and the like receives as base pay and how that can increase very quickly over time or with qualifications, then we treat our instructors appallingly!
The old argument, that if we pay instructors more, then flight training will cost more and be too much for anyone to do, is valid only if flight instruction and training is continued to be thought of as separate from the commercial aviation industry.
Airlines will have to become a part of this, with commitment to employment through early airline selection (pre-training) so that trainee pilots know they have a future and can therefore justify the expense, through to airlines sponsoring trainees for some of the training cost and accepting that cost as the employment expense required.
These options are well established internationally although not here in New Zealand, but still airlines seem to want cheap pilots and not to be involved in the training process, rat her preferring a ready-made pilot just to turn up on demand.
We need airlines to start looking at taking on pilots who have significant instructional experience as a preferred option-but in doing so to engage with the flight training industry to have a planned approach to recruitment at this level. Taking an instructor who has only just entered the MEIR instructional ranks is damaging and expensive for the flight training organisation but taking someone who has been in such a role for four or five years with a planned airline recruitment date well in advance is beneficial for all concerned.
As flight training organisations we need to expose our instructors to more experiences and opportunities. FTO and airline should be able to work together to give the instructor experience in full flight jet simulation or to take jump seat positions on commercial operations so that they can better understand that side of the industry and bring better knowledge to their own students.
We need those airline pilots who have not instructed to spend time at an FTO back-seating training flights so that they can get an appreciation of the skill and expertise instructors need to exercise and the difficulties when training ab-initio pilots that flight instructors face every day. In particular, the skills required to teach ME and MEIR flight in aircraft that do not have surplus power to use when getting out of a difficult flight situation, should a student put them in one. And finally, most importantly in my humble opinion, is that instruction is genuinely and visibly respected and acknowledged by those who enjoy their career of choice, travelling the world in powerful, well maintained equipment in a structured and well-paid environment.
Let’s start looking at instructors with envy, not pity.