As aviation continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, many airlines across the globe are launching recruitment campaigns to encourage people to consider a career as an airline pilot. Meanwhile, experienced pilots grounded for two years during the pandemic are also looking to get back in the skies.
A reference book co-authored by AeroTime’s very own Recruitment Director and brand-new columnist Captain Michel Treskin aims to demystify each step in the pilot selection process.
To mark International Pilots’ Day, AeroTime spoke to Michel about the book, what makes a successful pilot and how it feels to join our editorial team.
“I’m passionate about flying of all types and about the people operating the aircraft,” Michel explains. “My articles will focus on the journey and experiences of those who enjoy being in the wild blue yonder. Plus, I will be discussing and analyzing flying events that might impact the way we fly.”
Michel, who has a long history of flying, began his aviation career in the Canadian Air Force where he flew jets and tactical helicopters for 13 years and did his ground tour as a pilot selection specialist for the military. Michel was then recruited by the Royal Saudi Air Force as a maintenance test pilot and type rated instructor and examiner on the Pilatus PC-9 turboprop aircraft. After returning to Canada, Michel flew for several airlines and many corporate jet operators and joined Transport Canada as an aviation safety system inspector. He has also worked in Dubai, UAE as a pilot selection specialist, where he selected more than 3,000 pilots for Emirates, conducted more than 10,000 interviews and was an evaluator on Boeing and Airbus aircraft. In 2015, he joined OSM Aviation as head of pilot selection but was furloughed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, clearly, he knows his stuff.
“I have gained a lot of experience and I thought that it would be great for me to pass it on to other pilots going through a selection process,” says Michel. “I’ve conducted over 15,000, if not 20,000, pilot interviews, and I know exactly what to look for.”
And so, Michel decided to pen The Complete Pilot Selection Handbook, alongside co-writer, flight instructor Stein Mjåtveit, for anyone who is considering becoming a pilot. The book is unique because it is written by pilots, for pilots, and aims to provide readers with details surrounding all phases of the pilot selection, from the initial interview, psychometrics, group exercises, simulator, and core competencies, to the final interview.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a cadet, first officer or an experienced Captain, you can open the book and see exactly what airlines and companies are looking for when they’re selecting a pilot,” says Michel, who believes the book can “increase a pilot’s chance of passing by 50%”.
He continues: “The book covers everything: the simulator assessment, the psychometric assessment, it covers the philosophy of selecting the right pilot and it also gives a pilot, who is starting their career, exactly what they need to work on to become a better pilot.”
Why do pilots go through a selection process?
Every pilot is required to go through a selection process before they can join an airline or even a flight academy. But why is that? Well, when a company is preparing to spend thousands of dollars on training, they want to ensure candidates will be successful. Reputable flight academies also have a rigorous selection process that filters out those who might fail.
“The selection process for me is extremely important. Out of 10,000 pilots, I will probably only select 1,500,” reveals Michel. “When I select a pilot, I can guarantee the company that they will never have a problem with that person, that they will always be top-notch.
“You have to go through a selection process, even to become a student, because they want to make sure that if you’re going to spend a lot of money on training, they want to make sure you’re going to pass. This is something I also talk about in the book.”
So, what does it take to become a successful pilot?
“First of all, a good pilot is a very good flier,” Michel explains. “For me, the most important part is that the pilot is able to control the airplane in all conditions.
“But a good pilot is also a good manager and a good instructor. They are taking care of the person on the right and actually helping them to grow into a better pilot, while they [also continue] to grow themselves.”
Equally, Michel also notes that there are ways to identify a pilot who, put simply, probably shouldn’t be flying.
“There are a lot of pilots who have got through the hoops but when it comes down to the nitty gritty or finesse, they don’t have it and, unfortunately, they’re still flying,” he says. “I’ve seen chief pilots at big companies that could not pass my [flight] simulator, and I’ve seen it so many times.”
But Michel is also keen to point out that this is often a result of inadequate, or simply bad, training.
He explains: “If they have received poor training at the beginning, then they will struggle. So, if you can train correctly and [pilots are] given the right tools from the start, then you should be able to form a really good structure.”
What’s hiring like now?
As carriers recover from the global health crisis, what is the climate like in pilot recruitment? And are there now fewer barriers in the selection process?
“There are a lot of pilots out there,” says Michel. “So therefore, it’s a dime a dozen and a lot of companies will actually take whatever is out there. They’ll say, ‘Oh, you flew at this airline before but now you want to join this carrier. Okay, no sweat. We will take you, don’t worry about it’.
“There is a tendency post-pandemic because there’s a surplus of pilots, that companies will sometimes say, ‘Well, we don’t have time to do this. It’s a lot of money’ as it takes time and money to do a selection process, so they’ll say, ‘Well, don’t worry about it, we’ll just give you a little test. ’.
“That’s why, I think, we’re seeing a lot of incidents, accidents, and mishaps post-pandemic, because pilots haven’t been flying for a while and now, they get back in the cockpit, [and] think it’s going to come back to them,” he adds. “But it takes a while and it’s not as easy as we think.”
Instead, Michel argues that companies should continue to ensure that pilots continue to “go through the hoops like they used to before”.
“After two, three years of not flying, you become extremely rusty,” he says. “We’re not perfect, so we do forget and that’s why, psychologically, there are some issues here and there. And, like I said, that’s why we can see the spike in accidents and incidents in the last year.”
He adds: “I couldn’t go back [to] flying. I’ve been away for so long. I was born to fly, I’ll fly anything, helicopters, whatever, but to go out there and get a job in the airlines? Never. I’ll never do that again because I can admit to myself, ‘you don’t have it anymore’ and I’m completely okay with that. I’ll go fly a small airplane and have fun.”
Two pilots, then one, then…?
After 47 years in the industry, has Michel seen many changes to the way pilots are trained?
“There are more people becoming pilots, so now they [are referred to] airline ready programs. The program is much more extensive,” he explains. “However, the flying is much easier because automation has been introduced into training. The pilot is more of a system monitor than hands-on.
“If the system crashes, even though there is backup, you want to make sure that the person in the front can at least bring the aircraft down safely, without people getting hurt and properties being destroyed.”
“Training has changed a lot. That doesn’t make the person a bad pilot, it’s just that I prefer having an old school guy in the front over a new school guy, but that’s just the way I am.”
He continues: “We’re all going through this automation phase and, eventually, we’re going to go to the single pilot, then the single pilot will disappear and we’re going to come to artificial intelligence.”
Over the years, technical advances have made it possible to safely fly a passenger plane with just two pilots. But now there’s talk of things being scaled back to just a single pilot on the flight deck for both commercial and cargo flights.
“The single pilot will be relying more on the automation,” says Michel. “But what happens if something happens to the pilot? So, there’s a lot of things that we need to think about before we say ‘yes, that’s a good idea’.”
So, does Michel have any advice for budding pilots?
“Don’t stop learning,” says Michel. “But also, don’t accept the command just because you’ve got the hours and they offer you the seat. One of my biggest recommendations or tips is never accept the command unless you feel 100% certain that you’re ready.
“Also, keep on opening the books, be the best you can. Don’t rely on your automatics, fly as much as you can, when you can.”