Archive for the ‘Martin Rottler’ Category

Equipping the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals: GA’s Role

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

This future pilot’s start will occur not with the airlines but in General Aviation. Are we preparing them?Source

This past week, my department was honored to play host to a member of the United Airlines’ Pilot Development office who spoke at our annual year-end student celebration. He provided an enlightening and interesting perspective to students, faculty and industry members alike on the continuing need for highly trained industry professionals across all segments of civil aviation. This includes pilots (well documented by all and backed up by numerous airlines both regional and major), mechanics, operations professionals (airline and airport) and engineers (aircraft and component).

In addition to hearing from United, I recently attended the National Training Aircraft Symposium at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University with numerous airline representatives and university educators. The discussion surrounding the very real pilot shortage and issues with training was frank and pertinent to today’s flight training environment. The insights gained from the various airline hiring managers and recruiters were very useful to the universities that were present. The discussion did not touch on a key area that I feel should be addressed in the industry moving forward: the very real role the so-called “mom and pop” flight schools around the country play in the professional pilot pipeline.

Like many of my students at Ohio State and former classmates at the University of North Dakota, I arrived at college with a Private Pilot license earned from a flying club in high school and flight experience. There are some very good benefits to doing this. Depending on the student and the university they choose to attend, I often encourage prospective aviators to do the same thing as it saves time (and money!). The experience I attained flying out of two different “mom-and-pop” flying clubs at Centennial Airport in Denver was invaluable. That said, the transition to the “professional pilot” training and mindset required some significant changes to my study skills and habits. These skills and insights (spurned from airline pilot training) don’t often make it from the airlines to universities and other general aviation flight schools.

Here are a few of those insights for those aspiring professional pilots who are getting their start in the GA world and the flight schools starting them I’ve gleaned in the past several years:

It’s never too early to start networking with industry professionals.

Encourage Private Pilot applicants to reach out to one another and those around them. In an industry built on both what you know and who you know, getting an early start on meeting people will be invaluable to students as they progress in their training. A broad network of pilots and other professionals who can recommend and vouch for students will give them a leg up compared to their peers.

Thoroughly prepare students for practical exams.

Even with a shortage of qualified pilots, regional and major airlines alike are wary of hiring pilots with numerous FAA checkride failures. It might seem hard to fathom, but an aspiring 17 year old professional pilot failing a Private Pilot checkride might have career implications into their 20s and 30s with future checkride failures. Having more than two practical test failures significantly reduces the chances of getting hired by an airline. This includes Private Pilot checkride failures.

Emphasize professional conduct and appearance.

When I completed my Private Pilot checkride, my instructor told me to wear a tie lest I be turned away by the DPE. While the 17 year old me thought it strange, this first exposure to professional appearance in aviation makes sense. Would you fly with a pilot who walked through an airport (GA or airline) today with a disheveled appearance? A student who aspires to be a professional pilot needs to remember the first part of the job: professional. This will include dressing for the part. Professional conduct also includes avoiding issues with drugs, alcohol, and the law. Discussion of the implications of drug or alcohol problems and criminal charges should also be a key part of any student’s primary flight training. A drug charge or having more than one DUI will be red flags for airlines looking to hire pilots.

The ultimate point? The airlines, FAA, universities, local flight schools and other stakeholders need to recognize the important role played by the “mom and pop” flight school in getting tomorrow’s professional pilots adequately prepared for life in the cockpit. These “mom and pop” schools also need to recognize this importance and ensure that they are best preparing and equipping their customers yearning for professional pilot careers. Early intervention and coaching on a primary instructor’s part will help prepare students for the next stages of their flying career.

Welcome to the Pilot Shortage

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Can you see it? We’re going to talk about it.
Image via

For once in the airline world, something has arrived early. This time, however, it’s not-so-good: a long forecasted, sometimes delayed pilot shortage. From the Wall Street Journal to Brett Snyder’s CrankyFlier to BusinessWeek,the news of a significant shortage of qualified applicants to our nation’s regional airlines has captured the attention of the media and business world alike. Great Lakes Airlines has taken the extraordinary step of closing their Minneapolis Essential Air Service base and Republic Airways is parking airplanes. This is an area with which I have spent the past several years immersing myself in heaps of demographic data from the FAA in the form of reports and spreadsheets. With this post, I hope to elaborate on some of the key areas in this conversation all members of the aviation community need to know.



The Pilot Shortage is not a Myth, Despite What ALPA Leadership Says

Yogi Berra once said that half of the game of baseball was 90% mental. While an offhand mistake, there is a comparison to be made to airline unions: more than half of the game of airline unions is 90% politics and messaging. The Air Line Pilots Association has decided  to stake their political message in press releases and a video message from ALPA President Lee Moak. Within the talking points put forth by the pilot union, there are several key insinuations that represent misinterpretations of the market or outright falsehoods:

  • Regional airline pilots are not leaving the United States en masse to go work for companies like Emirates, Cathay Pacific, or Korean Air. A prospective pilot or even a somewhat-established regional pilot does not meet the very high published minimum hour requirements set forth by these companies which include thousands of hours of flight time and/or time in aircraft of 737/A320 size or larger (Korean Air’s mins; Emirates’ mins). Cathay Pacific isn’t even hiring American pilots at this point in time.
  • By the time a pilot meets the minimum hour requirements to fly for these global carriers, they are likely unwilling to uproot their families and daily life to move to Dubai or deal with a 7-14 day on-off commuting schedule. Is $20,000 enough to make you move you and a family halfway around the world?
  • The number of pilots on furlough by ALPA member carriers is greatly eclipsed by the projected hiring amongst legacy carriers. American alone has publicly announced they will be hiring more than the number of pilots ALPA says are on furlough in the next five years. Pilots on furlough face a difficult decision: start at the bottom of another airline, with a reduction of salary and seniority or wait out a callback from their employer.

These mixed messages by ALPA’s national office fall flat compared to the pointed comments of American Eagle’s ALPA leadership, which stated last week after rejecting a concessionary contract offer from American: “[American Eagle's ALPA organization] will be working with the American Eagle pilots to help them find placement with other airlines. ALPA representatives will ask management for their timetable regarding the liquidation of American Eagle.”

The Demographic Picture Looks Like One of My Paintings: Not Pretty

The 2012 US Civil Airmen Statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration contain several statistics that show things are going to get tougher for pilot supply and the aviation industry as a whole.

  • The average age of an Air Transport Pilot is 49.9 years old, an increase of .1 years from 2011. This is important, as many of the regional airlines began to transition their younger first officers to ATP holders during this time as it became clear that the certificate in some form would be required for FAR Part 121 operations. It is entirely likely the average age would be higher if it weren’t for these preparations.
  • Slightly more than 62,000 of the 149,100 active Air Transport Pilots in the United States fall between the ages of 50 and 64, which places them within 15 years of the FAA mandated retirement age. Some of these pilots will continue flying in other places, but they won’t be flying for the airlines.
  • There are 81,805 Student Pilots between the ages 0f 16-30 in the United States. While an okay number on the surface, there are several problems when reading between the lines. Analysis shows that somewhere in the area of 30-50% of student pilots won’t finish their Private Pilot certificates. The FAA doesn’t currently have a system in place that designates the number of these pilot certificates that are issued to foreign students who come to the country for flight training alone. Using written exam address data, colleagues at the University of North Dakota estimated that up to 40% of new Commercial Pilot certificates issued in the country were going to these pilots who will take their ratings home when training is done.

The Elephants in the Room (Pilot Pay, the New ATP Rules and Training Costs) Need to Be Addressed

Since the dawn of airline outsourcing after deregulation in 1978, the major airlines have pitted contractors and subcontractors against one another in an effort to reduce costs. Parlance calls this a “whipsaw,” where companies that provide some service, be it regional flying, aircraft cleaning or even aircraft maintenance, try to unsustainably underbid one another for an airline contract. The major airlines like this process because it keeps their costs lower. The employees of these contractors and subcontractors face downward pressure on their wages and benefits to the point where the starting salary for a regional airline first officer becomes $20,000 in their first year (less attention has been placed on ground crew as of late, but workers at Delta’s hub in Detroit were recently whipsawed for the fourth time since the airline merged with Northwest. Those workers that have stuck around between the four handling companies have seen their pay drop 50%). This race to the bottom is unsustainable for line employees and the air travel system as a whole. There’s near consensus that $21,000 a year is not acceptable for new airline pilots. At the same time, regional airline boards and CEOs need to be cognizant of the fact that offering their leadership raises in the area of 200% while asking pilots to take a pay cut is a slap in the face and highly unethical.

A student graduating from a university aviation program will do so with approximately 300 hours in their logbook. Thanks to the new ATP qualification rules, they are not able to begin flying for a regional airline until they earn 1000, 1250 or 1500 hours (depending on the program). This means they will spend an extra 1-3 years flight instructing or doing other forms of flying that don’t necessarily prepare them for professional piloting, thereby losing their honed study and professional skills from their degrees. This leads to increased training times once they do get hired at the airlines, and increased costs. Congressional and regulatory relief from the so called “1500 hour rule” is imperative. My proposal: a reduction of the restricted ATP certificate eligibility to college graduates to 500 hours.

Finally, aviation universities need to take a hard look at their training programs for ways to reduce costs for their students. This needs to be done on the micro (internal) and macro levels of aviation education. I cannot speak for individual programs and ways to save costs internally. On the macro level: Why is a new primary trainer from Cessna, Piper or Cirrus $200,000+? What can we do to reduce the cost of fuel & insurance?

Silo No More, Aviation Industry!

The most important takeaway from this situation is the need for the aviation industry as a whole to enter into a collective conversation about pilot and other aviation professional workforce supply. We can no longer afford to silo ourselves as labor, education, management, GA, and manufacturing. If we do not, the fundamental shift that will come won’t be pretty.

Aviation in Pop Culture: Our First Step in Recruiting

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014


How does one develop into an aviation geek? Is it something that develops as we grow up or is it that, to quote noted philosopher Lady GaGa, we are “Born this Way?” I’ve been pondering this issue over the last few weeks as I’ve recently been reunited with one of my favorite childhood movies, The Rocketeer. A comic book movie released before the onslaught of comic book movies, aviation makes up a large part of the setting and storyline. While not on the epic scale of The Avengers, the film is a fun trip to a fictional 1930s art deco California. Aviation was prominently featured in another integral part of my (limited by childhood) pop-culture life around the time of The Rocketeer‘s release: the television show TaleSpin. Re-imagining Jungle Book characters into bush pilots, the 43-episode series and its catchy theme song continues to hold a place of wonder and nostalgia in my heart.

My primary exposures to aviation came from two outlets: these two popular culture favorites and a bedroom window in a house under the approach path to Centennial Airport in Denver. I wasn’t lucky enough to have family that were pilots…but I was lucky enough to have family that supported my interest in the field. The Rocketeer and TaleSpin were a “hook” for my young mind, broadening my interest beyond toy cars to toy airplanes. That interest led to a sixth birthday party at the Stapleton Airport in Denver and an introductory flight lesson on the day after my tenth birthday at Centennial Airport.

In the months after Top Gun was released in 1986, the US Navy saw increased interest in naval careers, especially those in aviation. A recruiter at the time summed up the effect of the movie: “There seems to have been a big rush in those categories that I have to attribute to the movie. I’ve asked several of these individuals if they’ve seen the movie and if that’s why they came down to talk to us again and they’ve said ‘yes’.” A different audience than that of Saturday morning cartoons, yes, and another example of aviation in popular culture driving interest for people that otherwise wouldn’t had exposure to the field.

In some measure, my entire professional life can be tied back to a moderately successful comic book movie and 43-episode television series. Thanks to the mainstream success of Disney’s Planes and its associated merchandising, we now have another captive audience of young people that have been exposed to aviation. The stories of Baloo the bush pilot and Cliff the Rocketeer were enough to captivate my attention at a young and impressionable age, just as the story of Dusty Crophopper captivate many kids today. In 1986, the US Navy took the unusual step of setting up recruiting booths outside of movie theaters to build on the increased interest from those leaving screenings of Top Gun. Were it not for a family that actively supported my interest in aviation at that young age and enabling further experiences, the Rocketeer and TaleSpin toys might have ended up relegated to the same place as my wannabe construction worker hard hat. We are lucky now to have Planes and the upcoming Planes 2 to draw interest in the field to our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandkids and family friends. See the movies, support the kids’ new interests in aviation and we’ll hopefully recruit a new generation of hobbyists and professionals both.

Realistic Expectations: Telling the Truth About Aviation as a Profession

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014


As of this writing, I find myself in the lull between semesters. Grades have been submitted, courses closed out, and my students have all gone to their respective homes until Spring Semester 2014 comes calling in a week. In the life of faculty, there’s lots of catching up to do: on projects that were pushed back, on thank you notes for guest speakers, and (most importantly, to me) sleep. On the day after grades are due, the university releases our Student Evaluations of Instruction, or as we lovingly call them here, SEIs. The SEIs are supposed to give us (and our department chairs) a better idea of where we are in our teaching and courses via the generic 5-point scale we see everywhere (1 equals bad, 5 equals excellent). There is also space for students to leave comments anonymously.

In all reality, the five point scale has very little use to me in the management of my classes. The real part worth diving into is the space for student comments. Students have shared many things in this section…suggestions for exam changes, requests for less work, and even their favorite joke from the semester. One of the more opinionated comments I received this past semester from my Introduction to Aviation class was from a student who self-identified as an Aviation major about the negative light placed on the airline industry by several guest speakers in the class.

The Introduction to Aviation class at OSU is what I like to refer to as our program’s “gateway,” in that it is a prerequisite for further classes, and has also been a very successful “gateway drug” to the aviation field for previously unaware students. Depending on the semester, 50%-60% of the students  in the class are not aviation majors. They sign up as freshmen, exploring the opportunity for a major or a minor or as seniors looking for elective credit that is a bit different than a normal class. The class is my baby, and I do my best to recognize that this could be a make-or-break introduction to the aviation world.

There are segments of the course devoted to history, aerodynamics, pilots licensure, airports and the airlines. The best part of the class (and of being in a program in a major aviation city) is the fact that the university and myself as the teacher have access to a cadre of fantastic aviation professionals from around the US that will take time out of their day to share their experience and wisdom with a class of beginning aviation students. These students bring expectations about the various professions that visit to the table, especially when the professional pilots visit. As part of their visit, I encourage everyone, and especially the regional airline pilots to be as truthful and realistic as possible about their careers, in light of the bad press regional airlines have received (and continue to receive) over the past four years. None of the stories told so far in class have been particularly awful, but each pilot does an excellent job of sharing the struggles of living lives on reserve and with (all considering) very little pay alongside the awesome benefits of a life in the cockpit.

I consider this exposure to the industry for my students to be of utmost importance in helping them set standards and goals for the future. As aviation supporters and professionals, we do our prospective future professionals a disservice by painting the aviation field as excessively rosy or excessively gray. In dealing with our student pilots, we should be sharing our experiences and encouraging the next generation to start building their professional network now. The student mentioned at the outset of the article had a particularly rosy view of the industry as a whole. Unfortunately, as it is for every career, there are downsides that one must be made aware of. Perhaps if we are more forthcoming about the challenges we face, our success rate in things like pilot starts will improve.

The Huerta/Tilton Diet

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Pilots and controllers: thinking of having that extra helping of gravy this Thanksgiving? You might want to think twice.

Earlier this week, the Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton notified the Aviation Medical Examiner community of a soon-t0-be calculation as part a standard medical examination moving forward. This calculation? A pilot’s Body Mass Index, which is a commonly used measure of obesity. For those pilots (and controllers, soon) whose BMI falls above 40 and a neck circumference of greater than 17 inches, the FAA will require evaluation by a sleep specialist for “Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” A medical certificate will not be issued until the “almost universal” diagnosis of OSA for those with these conditions is treated. It is intended that the minimum BMI for consideration of these extra steps toward medical certification will be reduced over time.

Maintaining a healthy body is of utmost importance to pilots and controllers. I am not a small guy by any definition of the term, and this new guidance from the FAA had me running to the National Institutes of Health calculator for BMI. Under the current guidelines, I fall outside of the 40BMI/17″ range of the calculation, but not by much. This doesn’t effect me…yet. By the FAA’s own admission, these requirements will effect 100,000+ pilots eventually. Are you ready to head to the gym with me yet?

For doctors and the FAA, a person’s BMI represents an easy calculation that can be done in seconds during an exam. Unfortunately, the concept and reasoning behind the BMI’s usage has been under increasing scrutiny in the past several years from the medical and academic communities.  Can one boil down a person’s level of activity, obesity, and potential suffering from OSA to a simple math formula?  Much as we all love and are attune to instant gratification and information that might come from this math, obesity and personal health are much more complicated. While short of a BMI of 40, I consider myself to be a fairly active individual who could still stand to shed weight. I’m not running marathons (bad knees), but do walk 30-60 minutes a day, make it a point to take the stairs, and practice yoga several times a week. I’ve also yet to display any of the symptoms of OSA. Does that mean I’m not at risk for it at some point in the future? Absolutely not. OSA can happen to anyone, but does occur more often in obese individuals. The above-linked articles also mention how the BMI can shield obesity in those that have lost a lot of muscle and show that more muscular people are obese when they might not necessarily be that way.

Having someone from the FAA paint with a broad regulatory brush when it comes to medical certification and aviation health issues is unhealthy for commercial and general aviation industry. Sleep and rest are significant issues in the aviation industry as a whole and, come January, we will see fundamental changes to the regulations pertaining to rest at airlines. The 2009 incident which sparked the change to BMI calculation rules came from an incident in Part 121 operations, and, as AOPA itself notes, has not been an issue in General Aviation accidents. Are we risking a significantly inconveniencing change that will lead to extra cost to aviation as a whole for something that could be fixed very soon in Part 117?

As it stands now, for most pilots, we are placing this calculation and assumption of OSA in the hands of a doctor that we may see every 6, 12, 24, 36 or 60 calendar months, depending on level of certification and age. Instead of a blanket requirement, the AME should serve the role of counselor, especially in light of the fact that any issues with OSA or obesity are already discussed with our personal care physicians. This change represents an overly restrictive cost and time burden that does not provide near the safety benefit it claims.

In the meantime, I’ll be at the top of my yoga mat prepping for an extra downward dog or two over the next few months.


Aviation’s University Education (and Industry) Challenge

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

In the world of  “Higher Education,” I am an anomaly amongst the masses at my university. In the majority of the classes I teach, I’m closer in age to the students in the room than I am to my faculty colleagues. With this reality comes additional responsibilities (namely, modeling good behavior), several challenges (the ever present need to maintain decorum amongst millennial peers who happen to be my students), and many benefits (a different take on the professor/student learning and mentoring relationship, where students may or may not feel comfortable seeking the advice of someone much closer in age comparatively). When amongst my colleagues from other aviation universities, it’s not uncommon for myself and a handful (but growing) of young aviation faculty.

This week, I’ve traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a meeting of aviation faculty from universities around the US. Gather a large number of aviation faculty like this group in one room and you’ll notice one thing: the demographics are not much different compared to those I’ve written about at Oshkosh: Predominantly above the age of 50, and white. For many, this is a second career after years spent in the trenches of the military or airline industry. Sadly, it’s not a vacation; we will be spending time in meeting rooms that may or may not have windows that look out on palm trees. During these sessions, many things will occur: professors will present about best practices in the classroom; graduate students will share their successes and failures in research toward their theses and dissertations; everyone will collectively throw up our hands and panic about the new Restricted Air Transport Pilot Certificate & an impending pilot shortage.

As education professionals in a university environment (one far different than what you might find in public K-12 schools), the large majority of us see this opportunity to gather together as one for professional development and the betterment of our efforts to better educate the aviation professionals of the future. Thanks to changes in priorities across many university systems (best evidenced by this comic), we find ourselves ever focused on “research” instead of “teaching.” Instead of learning by doing and discovering new methods of teaching material, a large portion of the meeting will be spent waging a near-constant battle against Death By Powerpoint. Many colleagues have a minimum number of research articles that they must publish each year as part of the justification for tenure or further employment. For many, this comes at a sacrifice of continuing to develop new methods and tools for our classrooms.

Today we took a break from research presentations to throw our hands up and bemoan a lack of cohesion between industry, alphabet groups, and higher education on dealing with the impending potential pilot shortage. For what it’s worth, this concept is something I’ve wanted to address for a very long time, and will likely address in a future blog post. One of the key areas noticed from the meeting? There are very few members here from industry. When I attend industry shows, there are very few attendees from higher education. We need to better improve our collaboration and communication between all groups in the industry. We might be surprised at just how many different stakeholder groups are throwing their collective hands up in frustration for the same issues and might have solutions for one another.

The Importance of Hitchhikers and Fence Lice

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

A few weeks ago I found myself at the airport on a beautiful Sunday afternoon after helping out at a practice for OSU’s NIFA competition Flight Team. It was one of those days where everything lined up near-perfectly (save for some annoying haze) that it seemed like the universe itself was begging me to fly. All I needed was an excuse, and that justification came from the fact that it had been two weeks since I had last flown, and that was just too close to the 90 day currency limit on our school’s insurance. With that reasoning in mind, I knew it was time to cheat gravity in our school’s Cirrus SR20.

As I finished the paperwork and waited for the plane to be pulled from the hangar, I noticed two students loitering in the school after Flight Team practice. While I cannot confirm nor deny that they loitered closer to the dispatch desk when they heard I was flying, it seemed like a waste  to let seats go empty for what was to be a flight for the sake of fun and currency. Magically, headsets appeared, and release forms were signed.

The flight itself was remarkably uneventful…a few landings at a satellite airport and a landing back at KOSU. The students had the opportunity to see their professor in action (and whiff a landing) and experience the side-stick controls of the SR20. Both are certified pilots who showed the child-like wonder of flight in a new type of airplane. This child-like wonder that is far-too-often lost on harried veterans of the aviation field.

I’ve spent the last several weekends out at the airport for Flight Team practices, where I see that same child-like wonder displayed on the faces of actual children who literally hang onto the airport fence watching our flight operations. Parents bring them to the airport to watch anything and everything from a Cessna 152 to Gulfstream V taxi by.

For many of us in the industry, this is how we got our introduction to the field–attaching ourselves like lice to the goings-on of the airport at the fence, or getting to hop along on a ride in a new airplane once we move to the other side of the fence. For many people I see at airports around the country, these young (and old, as the Fence Lice phenomena knows no age limits) are considered a mild annoyance or are ignored outright. We walk by, as vaunted insiders to the world behind the fence, not stopping to say “hi,” to point out an airplane taxiing by, or to engage those on the “wrong” side of the fence in our super-awesome aviation experience.

I make it a goal when walking from our flight school at KOSU to the FBO along a fence line to, at the very least, say hello and make sure to direct our airport visitors to a dedicated observation tower with a better view of the airport and information about the airport, including coloring books. If I have time, I’ll even offer to bring young visitors and their parents to the other side of the fence for a brief tour of a flight training aircraft.

How many of those kids, if given the chance at an impromptu tour, would return home that day ready to return in 10, 15, or 20 years to join those of us on the “right” side of the fence? It is our responsibility, as current aviators, to pass along the passion for flight to the younger generation. As I’ve written about before, we pilots are, on average, getting significantly older. We should make it our goal to engage these fence-lice and hitchhikers every time we see them at the airport. It represents a long-term investment in our community and our industry.


The automation challenge: A young person’s problem?

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Otto Pilot

Image Credit: Screenshot from Airplane!

In the aftermath of Asiana 214 in San Francisco and UPS 1354 in Birmingham (even reaching back to Air France 447 and Colgan 3407), much of the collective conversation, soul searching, and heated argument has revolved around the issue of cockpit automation and pilot interaction with onboard technology. There has been a collective cry from much of the “old guard” in the aviation field saying that these accidents prove that the modern pilot spends too much time monitoring systems and not enough time honing their old-fashioned “stick-and-rudder” skills. A recent blog post from the Economist even went so far as to say:

“Many of today’s younger pilots (especially in the rapidly expanding markets of Asia and the Middle East) have had little opportunity to hone their airmanship in air forces, general aviation or local flying clubs, allowing them to amass long hours of hand-flying various aircraft in all sorts of weather conditions and emergencies.”

Are the recent airline accidents a direct result of a lack of stick-and-rudder skills amongst younger pilots? A look at the demographics of the flight crews tells a different story. The two captains in the left and right seat onboard Asiana 214 were 48 and 45 years old, respectively, and the relief crew was 41 and 52 years old. The captain of the UPS aircraft that went down in Birmingham was 58; the first officer was 37. Air France 447’s crew had the youngest first officer (32 years old) amongst these major “automation interaction” accidents; the captain was 58 and the relief first officer onboard the ill-fated flight was 37. Without getting into the training priorities of each airline and nitty-gritty of procedures relating to hand-flying, it would seem that more of our accident-prone problems today stem not from a lack of stick-and-rudder skills of the millennial first officer, but (to borrow a colloquialism) teaching our old dogs new tricks and displays in the cockpit.

In general aviation, we see this new challenge with the implementation and increased use of technologically advanced aircraft (TAAs) by our pilots. The standard story goes something like this: VFR-rated pilot gets in TAA, encounters marginal weather, potentially thinking he’s safer behind a glass cockpit, becomes disoriented, and crashes. Is this a stick-and-rudder skill problem, or is it indicative of a broader problem that we still have failures in how we train our pilots to make good decisions?

If you want to buy a new airplane today, be it a 172 or SR22, it will be equipped with glass cockpit technology and the automation that comes with it as standard. Our training and testing methodologies have not adapted to meet these new, fantastic technologies, giving pilots the opportunity to learn both stick-and-rudder skills and the systems management/awareness skills to use the automation to its best and safest abilities. It’s been far too long since the FAA in consultation with the industry has taken a look at its requirements and testing methodologies for pilot certificates in this country. The new ATP certification process presents some revamping of testing and subject areas, but we still fail to begin our training by reinforcing both stick-and-rudder and technical skills.

My fellow “younger” pilots (those lacking in stick-and-rudder skills as the Economist blog post suggests) are incredibly comfortable with technology. For many fellow graduates from large universities, we have extensive experience training and learning in TAA. Where do the airlines see challenges in their training of new hire pilots from these big schools? Not in systems management or basic stick-and-rudder skills. The biggest issue with near consistency across airlines whose new hires trained in all-glass fleets is basic instrument competency. Small things like holding, VOR tracking, and setting fixes in the “old-fashioned way” with two VORs make up a large portion of the feedback universities receive.

In the United States, GA will continue to serve as the primary pipeline for tomorrow’s professional pilots. It behooves us all as GA pilots and instructors to emphasize both of these elements in our training and day-to-day flying. We need to continue to explore better methods of training, especially for the “new dogs” that are already used to GPS on their phones and in their cars and those “old dogs” who grew up in a time when LORAN was a common tool for navigating.

Oshkosh 2033: Who will carry the torch?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Early August, 2033

The 81st EAA AirVenture fly-in and airshow  ended this past week with continued declines in General Aviation participation from peaks in the 1990s and early 2000s. Attendance this year was not expected to break 200,000 and this year’s flight activity of little more than 2000 aircraft during the week was once again to not high enough to qualify the tower as “The World’s Busiest.” Reflecting the continued reality of declining interest in aviation and airshows, EAA once again kept the once-popular North 40 parking area at the airport closed, consolidating all aircraft parking near show center. In spite of separate efforts by EAA, AOPA, and several other aviation organizations, there seemed to be no coherent solution on the part of any of organizations’ leadership as to how to stop the declining interest in airshows and aviation.

Columbus, Ohio

Mid-August 2013

Mention Oshkosh to your non-aviation inclined friends, and you’ll likely get a “B’GOSH!” out of them. Mention Oshkosh to your aviation friends, and you’ll get a starry-eyed look of airplanes, airshows, and the celebration of all things avgeek.

For the first time in 11 years, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to return to the premier general aviation celebration a few weeks ago. A mix of work and pleasure, I spent ten days amongst friends, former classmates, coworkers, students, and random strangers brought together by a common love of flying. My AirVenture experience included airshows, meetings, networking, a fantastic College Mixer organized by EAA, and time spent “working the lines,” reaching out to prospective students, alumni, and the general public in the booth organized for my employer. It was a wonderful and tiring experience and very different to see from a professional lens.

One of the areas of focus in my academic research is in analyzing demographic data for pilots. I spend many hours pouring over FAA spreadsheets, industry analyses, and forecasts. As my time at AirVenture reminded me, there’s a lot of basic demographic analysis that can be done by traveling to Oshkosh and seeing who is in attendance. Who are the typical attendees? In nonscientific terms, it boils down to three words: Old White Guys.

EAA’s 2014 Exhibitor application noted the following specific demographic attendance data as a sales pitch for exhibitors:

84% male

2/3 of attendees over the age of 35

50% of attendees have a household income over $100,000/yr (US average: 20% of households meet this number)

What, in this portrait of current AirVenture attendees, strikes today’s millennial (of which I’m included) as an event they’d want to spend their time attending? As members of aviation organizations such as EAA and AOPA, what are we doing to ensure the future of our orgs? Why aren’t we directing the leaders of these organizations to make meaningful actions at bringing more people into the fray? Why are we allowing the huge disconnect between potential aviation fans of all varieties and organizations that aren’t doing anything meaningful or coherent to bring them into the field?

The narration of a demonstration flight during an afternoon airshow  at this year’s AirVenture really brought home this disconnect. The person explaining the airplane being demonstrated said that the goal behind their product was to “open up the world of aviation” to more individuals. The cost of this opening product? $250,000+. How many millenials have a fraction of that to spend on flying? How many middle-aged people in the US have that kind of money? Does this product really do anything to open the market up to new blood? Probably not.

This is a theme and question I will return back to many times over the course of my blog posts for AOPA: What is the future of aviation?

What will AirVenture be in 20 years after the majority of today’s attendees are unable to travel to Oshkosh? Are the days of 500,000+ attendees and 10,000+ airplanes numbered? Will the above fictionalization of 2033 become true?

Most importantly, who is going to drive all those awesome VW Beetles around?