Pilot shortage tackled – the D.A.T.U.S. plan
This opinion piece was written by Alexis David Fafard, LL.L., J.D., Ottawa Aviation Services. The opinion of the author does not necessarily correspond with that of the editorial team. Want your opinion to be featured on AeroTime? Send us a line at [email protected]
2017 was the safest year in the aviation history, thanks to the multiple high-tech and engineering advancements ensuring the fundamental key element that safety represents in any commercial flights. We, however, too often take for granted the excellent service provided by the professionals operating these complex flying machines.
There are enormous quantity of infrastructure (facilities, simulators, aircraft, etc.), continuous efforts and, even, personal sacrifices implicated in the creation of a proficient airline pilot. Indeed, there is not really a “final product” in the flight training industry. “Being a competent commercial pilot” is a continuous examination process, it is a profession demanding a high level of professionalism and commitment. Pilot candidates and professional airline pilots must learn and process the information fast, very fast.
Some would be afraid by this “professional commitment”. Some would not, as their passion for flying would prevail before anything else. However, our commercial pilot population is currently in peril and high demand, and we must attract more individuals who will operate the sophisticated aircraft of the future. “We Need More Pilots To Fly Us” as I wrote before the Holidays 2017-2018, and now I will try to elaborate my strategies that our industry could rely on to counter the shortage. I called this the “D.A.T.U.S. Plan” standing for Data-Assistance-Technology-Unmanned-Seasonal. Let me explain.
A. Pilot Population Data Collection
1. Pilot Candidates – on an individual basis
Unfortunately, not everybody has the necessary aptitudes and character to become an airline pilot. It demands a tremendous amount of self-discipline and responsibility with some boldness to conduct an intense flight training program and pursue an airline career. While pilots are not necessary geniuses, idiots and hot heads usually do not fly for long. Flight Training Units (“FTUs”) do not retain such individuals for safety and liabilities reasons. The shortage is so important that no time, nor resources shall be wasted. A sustainable data collection process that would constantly analyse the pilot candidates’ aptitudes, whether academic or behavioural, should be put into place in any FTU to measure the needs and progress of the pilot candidates during his/her training. Upon completion of the flight training, the FTUs and air carriers could analyse the profile of the pilot candidates with the data collected and see in which environment the trainee will be suitable to start his/her career.
2. Flight Training Units–Air Carriers–Transport Canada – on a pancanadian basis
To better follow the industry’s needs and trends, a continuous and transparent data collection process on the pilot population shall be directed to all FTUs and air carriers (CAR 703, CAR 704) on a national scale. At the moment, there is no real tangible data collection process implemented on which the government (Transport Canada), the FTUs, and the air carriers could rely to better assess and analyse our national pilot employment reality. How useful would it be for this tripartite group to know how many flight instructors with 500 flight hours in 2017 got hired by the air carriers or how many captains in a tier 3 company have been hired as first officers for a tier 1 airline. This continuous data collection on the pilot population would allow the tripartite group to better understand the traditional pilot career path “flight instructor – tier 3 – tier 2 – tier 1”.
Everybody knows it in this industry, the turnover rate could be extremely high and somewhat disconcerting for the HR department, especially for the FTUs hiring flight instructors and tier 3 air carriers Pilot Shortage – The D.A.T.U.S. Plan first officers and captains as the vast majority of pilots want to get in the big league and fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This is becoming a major problem right from the start of the pipeline as several Canadian FTUs struggle to retain their flight instructors – they all want to go on turboprop and jet – and I personally understand them! However, the federal government and key stakeholders must establish better processes that will provide useful data for pilot employment forecasting purposes. These forecasts would be brilliant tools for the day-to-day business operation of the FTUs (i.e. ensuring a greater retention towards flight instructors by offering employment contracts with longer terms and fixed salary in the event the industry forecasts a pilot high turnover within the next three years).
B. Flight Training Financial Assistance
When Budget 2018 was tabled on February 27, I took the time to skim the document to read and verify the principal policies opted by the government in the aviation sector. To be honest, I was not expecting much and was not surprised to see the lack of substance vis-à-vis flight training and financial assistance.
As of 2018, the government of Canada has no special financial programs to assist pilot candidates in the flight training fees. It would be unfair however not to mention that pilot candidates can apply to the Canada Student Loans and the Canada Sudent Grants programs. However, their FTUs have to be recognized as a “Designated Educational Intuition” by Employment and Social Development Canada, and this is not an easy exercise to execute as provinces have their say in this process. Indeed, since flight schools oriented on commercial flight training in Ontario are institutions delivering “vocational programs”, these institutions must comply to the Ontario law. The law in question is called the Private Career College Act, 2005 (Ontario) and under the responsibility of the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development. To be recognized as a “Designated Educational Intuition”, an Ontarian flight school conducting “vocation programs” must comply to specific requirements, apply and be registered to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (“OSAP”) by the Superintendent of Private Career Colleges.
I hope I did not lose the reader through the last paragraph, but needless to say that this is a complicated exercise to execute.
It is therefore true to say that any flight schools in Ontario is regulated under two levels of government (I would assume it is the same in the other Canadian provinces). As a former policy advisor who worked and chatted hours with a Canadian Senator who led the “No” in the 1995 Quebec referendum along side Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, I truly understand federalism and all its implications, but I will always find it amazing that a flight school conducting “aviation business activities” – aviation is an exclusive competence of the federal – on federal land – operating on the National Airport Systems – must comply to an Ontario law. Is Ontario legislating the Royal Military College in Kingston or schools on Indian reserves located in Ontario?
All this to mention that there is a significant lack of understanding amongst our public decision makers in regards of flight training in general and their business operations despite all the attentions provided in relation of the shortage and our “Canadian expertise in aeronautics”. I find this to be a huge challenge for any associations that represent Canadian FTUs. I truly sympathize with them.
I am convinced that all levels of governments are well aware about the current shortage of pilots, but it is time for the federal and provincial governments to put their ducks in a row and facilitating the establishment of a Flight Training Assistance Funds to help our pilot candidates to finance their commercial and airline pilot licences. Canada could follow the example of Germany where the Pilot Shortage – The D.A.T.U.S. Plan government provides such financial mechanism to pilot candidates. Aren’t we in a 200-commercial-pilotdeficit situation per year in Canada? Given the fact that several FTUs provide direct entry opportunities with competitive remuneration to their pilot candidates through various partnerships, if I was a bank I would salivate. What are the governments waiting for to ease the access to OSAP, Canada Student Loans, Canada Student Grants, etc. and create an ad hoc Flight Training Financial Assistance program directly to Canadian pilot candidates in financial need?
C. Learning Technologies
As I mentioned in “We Need More Pilots To Fly Us”, it has become more and more challenging for the airlines to fill their cockpits. Globally speaking, more than 620,000 commercial pilots needed within the next 20 years, in Canada it’s 6,000. Moreover, these people will operate more complexed aircraft with brand new cut-of-the-edge-systems. The industry has no other way than training these thousands of people with celerity and efficiency without sacrificing the proficiency. Technology is the key.
TECHNOLOGY = CELERITY + EFFICIENCY + PROFICIENCY
High-tech start-ups, large corporations and universities/colleges must work in concert to innovate and create better learning technologies for flight training. Governments must carry their massive investments in innovation to fuel the R/D groups such as the Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada (“CARIC”). Once designed, created, patented, the products will have to be certified and regulated by governmental officials.
On the operational side, Transport Canada should approve more hours on simulators for commerciallyoriented flight training programs in which the airlines have thoroughly monitored and quality assured. Research has proven that a flight training involving more flight simulator time increase the quality and safety components of the trainee’s flight training experience. For example, it is easier for the instructor in the synthetic environment to evaluate the personality – personality and professional traits arising while performing a complex or dangerous air mission – and adaptive – habits executed by the trainee before or while performing an air mission – functions of the trainee.
D. Unmanned Aerial Systems
This could be the most controversial of the five pillars as several aviation professionals do not seem to be on the same page in regards of the arrival and implementation of the Unmanned Aerial Systems ("UAS”) in the industry. It appears that cohabitation is sometimes difficult… but, nevertheless, efforts delivered by the market and the innovative trend around UAS seem to propel these devices beyond science fiction to become a reality. Indeed, UAS seem to be in our daily lives as they could be operated to respond to a multitude of civil air services which do not requires a licence (i.e. aerial advertising, aerial fire-fighting, aerial survey glider towing, aerial photography, aerial spraying, etc.)
However, the Canadian Transportation Act states that any entities conducting an air services that is publicly available for the transportation of passengers or goods, or both must be licensed (schedule/unscheduled flights). Air transportation is an highly regulated sector in its own nature, it is reasonable to believe that the government will take its time in regulating air transportation for passengers and goods performed by UAS in Canadian air space. While the government of Canada proposed new regulations on March 16, 2017 for recreational and non-recreational (commercial) purposes. At the moment, the government currently prohibits air transportation conducted by UAS.
Other jurisdictions around the world seems to be taking a different direction in that regards. The Chinese made EHang 184 manufactured by the drone-giant EHang Corporation has become the first passenger UAV . The most interesting key feature of the electric-powered UAS is that its commands are managed by an automated flight system. It basically flies by itself with its flight computers analysing data from onboard sensors assisted with satellite navigation which is computing the path. As of February 2018, more than 1,000 test flights with and without passengers have been taken place. Dubai has huge plans for the EHang 184, the EHang 184 has already become an icon of the Metropole.
The innovative solutions designed and created by EHang Corporation constitute only the beginning of the UAS movement, and could be envisaged for a long-term solution in addressing the issue of the shortage of pilots.
E. Seasonal Flight Training
The flight training industry has been experiencing an interesting trend over the last few years – seasonal flight training. Large flight academies among the world such as Oxford Aviation Academy (“OAA”) are conducting business on two even three different continents to allow their pilot candidates to obtain commercial pilot licences within different jurisdictions but also to optimize the flight experience and capability of their pilot candidates.
For example, establish in Oxford, England, OAA mainly conducts its flight portion in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, but also in Melbourne Australia. This brings a new international dimension to the flight training experience. Weather constitutes a significant challenge in the delivery of flight training, and Canadian weather brings its load of complexity especially in winter time. Pilots usually experiment on a daily basis nice unlimited visibility clear blue sky over the desert in Arizona from November to April, but the situation defers in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. While a flight training may take longer to complete in Canada compared an operation in Arizona or Florida, one may say that the experience gained in the Canadian weather on the decision-making (i.e. go or no go calls), flying skills (i.e. landing crosswind in snow storm), and knowledge (i.e. icing) sides of tings constitutes an important feature in the establishment of the reputation of Canadian pilots.
The international operational opportunities should be considered by any Canadian FTU – aren’t all tier 1 Canadian airlines delivering scheduled flights down South in our cold snowy winter after all? Not only developing partnerships between Canadian and international FTUs would optimize the flight time of pilot candidates, but it would also acclimate them to several weather situations (tropical, snowstorm, mountainous, sea, desert, etc.) at an early stage in in the flight training which certainly add value on a pedagogic level.
The objective of this article is certainly not to blindly criticize or selfishly impose my views on other solutions that may have been envisaged by other individuals, various committees, organizations or associations. This “D.A.T.U.S. Plan” – as I call it – simply constitutes my thoughts that I have crafted since my entrance in this industry as a pilot and professional. According to me, the data collection, financial assistance, learning technologies, unmanned air systems and seasonal flight training are the five pillars to build up a viable, effective, proficient and profitable flight training business, but more importantly to remedy the current shortage of pilots. Aviation is a hard, but extremely stimulating sector – and I believe that if anyone has some creativity or set of ideas, he/she must put them together and share with the community. I therefore encourage any aviation professionals from Canada or around the world to join me in this discussion as we may have a few more years to find and, especially, execute the solutions related to this issue. Acta Non Verba.
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