The New Normal for Pilot Experience
So what is the “New Era” of pilot experience? There is a funny joke that has been around for years, How do you know if you have met an airline pilot? The answer is “they will tell you” A lot of non aviators will make fun of that fact and often confuse it with bragging. A lot of inflight (flight attendants) also make that same mistake, considering they work with pilots very closely. Granted there are some jerks out there, but one of the reasons a pilot is proud of what he/she does is the immense amount of accomplishment they have attained. Not many people have truly understood the length of time it usually takes to go from zero hours to the left seat of an airline cockpit. And now those times are changing too as we are fully immersed in a pilot shortage, the traditional course a pilot takes to the airline job is considerably shortened. That does not take away from today’s aviators, it is just different now then it use to be.
Pilot Experience use to be the key metric to making it to the next step in the aviation industry. Total time or hours were only part of the equation. Pilot experience or as I like to call it “mileage” is attained by the length of time a pllot has been flying times the number of opportunities for things to go wrong. For example, sooner or later you will experience a situation that is challenging such as an engine failure, landing gear failure, crew failure or anything similar. Flying at night, flying while tired, flying to chase hours are all factors that weigh into this experience model. It’s the grind that the older generation went through, the real problems that they have to overcome was called “paying your dues”
Today’s pilots may not have that opportunity simply because they are put through a short course that gets them through the requirements set forth by some insurance company and thus fill the need of the pilot shortage. Again, nothing wrong with that however there is a lot of value in the grey headed pilot who has seen it all. That means they have also solved it all too. Pilot experience includes decision making and problem solving that a lot of newer pilots just are not exposed too these days. They are put through a system of checklists and standard operating procedures that minimize risk and poor decision making. This is taken from aviation history of problems and how pilots solved them in the past which is excellent. However it has been said that some of the new pilots are coddled in a way that removes the experience factor and has replaced it with a robotic system of learning a new airplane. The new real measuring line of an pilot is how he gains his/her knowledge out on the line.
The “Old Long Road”
When I went through training it took me about 8 years to reach my goal of working at an airline. This included a college degree (which is good) where I learned to fly and majored in aviation. After the four years of college was when the REAL education started, fighting for every hour I could get and doing whatever it took to make myself marketable. This included moving all over the USA to whatever opportunity that I could conger up.
The real value in this is the full roundness of a pilot that has had massive exposure to different aviation communities. You have to work for a crappy 135 operator and deal with poor maintenance at least once to understand or appreciate the value that airline maintenance has and their dedication to safety. There is something about having a good scare in your life that helps you grow up and mature in the industry. A lot of our newer pilots are isolated from this. They are put into systems that get them to the next insurance level. Make no mistakes about it, the insurance companies rule the world and aviation is no different. Not to mention that college degrees are not always required now to work at a major airline, which is really a matter of opinion that i will save for another article. It may sound like I am bashing the new system, I am not, its not right or wrong, it is just different than it use to be.
To give you an idea of what i am talking about I will briefly highlight the jobs I had in the industry in order. Hopefully this will give you an idea of mileage and experience.
Flight Instructor (approx 1000 hours worth), Part time charter, Part 135 Freight company, Regional Airline both as First Officer and then Upgrade to Captain, Major Airline, Furloughed, Back to Freight Flying, Return from Furlough and return to Major Airline, furloughed again, 2nd Major Airline till present. The residence portion involves moving from state to state in chasing all of this. Starts in Michigan, then to California, then to Nevada, then to Kansas, then to Missouri, then to North Carolina, to Florida, to Iowa, then to Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and back to Florida (whew)
The New Normal
Pilots now have the opportunity to pay for courses that take them from zero flight time to being hire able at a regional airline. There is a lot less running around than the old style of experience. Chances are the instruction is all done in one or two states depending on the schools levels of agreement with each others. Then you are on to either a small amount of time building at a contracted company for hours and then you move into the right seat training program at a regional carrier. This are what we call “brand new” limited experienced pilots but nonetheless they made it to the seat that will get them jet time much faster than traditionally accomplished. After some time there, (economy pending mind you) they are now marketable with a couple thousand hours of jet time to an eager mass of major airlines for hire. This can take a fraction of the time, I have heard it done in less than 3 years and there are some companies that claim of being able to do it in even less time. The point here is not in the details but in the overall fact that it takes less time. Its up to time to decide if that was a good system or not.
So….Does it really matter?
Good question, and i would surmise to say that we probably will not know the answer to this question for quite some time. How do you measure pilot experience from the old long road to the new short road? How do you know that today’s aviators are not better equipped than the older generation? No one knows, the only factor is time, time will tell everything.
One thing I can tell you is the longer a pilot works at his profession the better he becomes. Today pilots have more facts and exposure to what works and what has not worked in the past. Knowledge is power, it may create a better pilot. The last thing I would want you the reader to think is that I am biased towards my journey, that the way my generation did it was better. That would be foolish, you cannot discount the amazing amount of data and increased training proficiency pilots have available today. Online training and course ware that is available digitally makes a huge difference. So does software that actually helps pilot learn more efficiently and faster but is much more complete than anything I was ever exposed too.
However behind every set of graying eyes is a lifetime of knowledge that should never be discounted. Keep the blue side up, we are all in this together.
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