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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Editor's Note: Safe Flying

It’s a tough job being a pilot, and if industry reports and forecasts are to be believed, it’s about to get tougher. There’s growing demand for experienced and trained pilots to satisfy the exploding growth forecasted for air travel around the world in the coming decades. But I dare say a career in aviation, regardless of whether it’s a pilot, flight attendant or baggage handler, is still a tenuous one, with airlines still struggling financially, fuel prices remaining high and the global economy teetering on the brink of recovery. For pilots, there are other particular set of issues, including training. Avionics systems are getting more and more sophisticated. Avionics OEMs have taken great measures to lessen pilot workload when developing these systems, but with pilots used to working on the older-generation systems, is it a simple transition to this new equipment? There has to be a pretty significant learning curve, right? The systems are simpler, but more complicated at the same time. And with the coming onslaught of NextGen, SESAR and other airspace modernization initiatives that add increasing automation for the air traffic controller and pilot, the role of the pilot is an ever-changing position, it seems. (We delve more into the topic of pilot training, more specifically in light of the Asiana Airlines crash in July. See pg. 14 for more on that.)

And FAA is making it more challenging to become a pilot. Earlier this summer, with the intent of improving safety, FAA said it is increasing the qualification requirements for first officers who fly for U.S. passenger and cargo airlines. The rule requires first officers also known as co-pilots to hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, requiring 1,500 hours total time as a pilot. Previously, first officers were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time.

“The rule gives first officers a stronger foundation of aeronautical knowledge and experience before they fly for an air carrier,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which played a part in crafting the new regulations, said these rules might actually attract a greater number of individuals interested in the piloting profession.

“While increasing the safety and experience of many pilots, those new qualification requirements actually put more value into the individuals that hold the required licenses and qualifications. To attract those individuals some airlines will have to increase the pay and benefits offered to make the piloting profession a more attractive career,” ALPA told me in a statement.

Pilots are more in demand than ever, and that trend will continue apace. In a report released in late August, Boeing said by 2032 the world will require 498,000 new commercial airline pilots, many in developing countries. “This is a global issue that can only be addressed by industry-wide innovation and solutions,” said Sherry Carbary, vice president of Boeing Flight Services. “We need to attract more young people to careers in aviation by continually looking at innovative ways to train pilots and technicians, moving away from paper and chalkboard-based learning to incorporate tablets, eBooks, gaming technology and three-dimensional models. Aviation is a great field to be in we have a responsibility to make sure it’s a viable career option for the world’s youth.”

It remains to be seen how these changing requirements for pilots will impact the number of pilots in the skies. And it’s interesting that Boeing mentions new electronic methods of pilot training. But it is comforting to see the increased emphasis on safety and proper training from FAA and industry groups. Training is an important part of molding the next generation of aviation professionals, whether you’re talking about air traffic controllers, pilots or ground crew. And I’m happy to see the renewed focus on it.

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