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.