Congressional Air Cargo Caucus Meets to Learn About Vaccine Distribution Issues

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Congressional Air Cargo Caucus listened as the world’s top cargo carriers echoed IATA’s recent call urging governments to begin coordination now on Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

What IATA termed the “mission of the century,” is already being heeded by cargo carriers with both FedEx and UPS gearing up logistics support for pandemic-related PPEs and investment in dedicated facilities designed for the health care community.

The event was organized by Air Cargo Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives Paul Mitchell (MI) and Cheri Bustos (IL). Members heard from executives at Atlas Worldwide, UPS, FedEx, DHL, ABX Air. Also speaking were Representatives Garret Graves (LA) and Sharice Davids (KS). The session was organized with the Cargo Carriers Association (CAA) which invited The Regional Air Cargo Carriers (RACCA) to listen in.

Bustos noted chicago Rockford International Airport, in her district, was the fastest growing cargo airport in the world in 2018 and growth has remained high in 2019 and 2020. “This is a true economic driver for a region like mine where a family of four makes $48,000 a year,” she said, echoing her Congressional colleagues on the importance of the cargo industry. “We need these jobs.”

Cargo Operators Urge Action in Planning for Vaccine Distribution

“Distribution is the question of the moment,” Roger Libby, EVP Corporate Public Policy, DHL Americas, told the caucus. “We are looking at the distribution of 10 billion doses globally. There are specific requirements for distribution including storage temperature requirements to ensure the efficacy of the vaccine. This is all part of what DHL is working on.”

He explained the immense task, predicting 200,000 pallets across 15,000 flights. It will not only be a global effort, but the industry must look at inbound logistics and domestic distribution.

“The development of an emergency response plan for this is critical,” he said, calling for public-private partnerships to resolve warehousing issues and IT infrastructure to measure inventory and predict demand. “The government must partner with pharmaceuticals, cargo and logistics to ensure distribution.”

All the executives urged crews get the vaccine early.

Bobbi Wells, VP-Safety and Airworthiness, FedEx, said policy makers should be thinking now about air cargo distribution pointing to the unprecedented collaboration within the industry, sharing ideas and best practices and developing better ways to meet PPE distribution requirements.

“I see a need for regulatory authorities to have the same sort of transparency and collaboration,” she told lawmakers, noting governments around the world see cargo as critical infrastructure. “We need consistent definitions and regulations to describe essential workers, simplify customs clearance and the adoption of performance-based regulatory infrastructure that makes us safe but meets our needs. The response to the crisis is limited by regulations and we need to develop contingencies ensuring we address risk while enabling distribution. Such collaboration will only make us stronger and more resilient in the future.”

Bob Boja, Director-Operations, ABXAir, agreed. “What challenged us the most was the changing and inconsistent regulations around the world that our pilots had to endure,” he said. “Rules were changing daily. The G7 worked to coordinate a statement of principles on the treatment and protection of air crews especially in China. Expanding those principles more broadly is critical. We also need better testing methods. We applaud FAA for its flexibility on training, checking and medical regulations and encourage that to continue.”

Libby indicated flexibility has been paramount throughout the pandemic especially given the drop in capacity with the grounding of passenger aircraft belly capacity. He, too, pointed to other challenges such as the differing flight restrictions, pilot restrictions, changing rules and customer procedures.

Unicef

“If governments take a prescriptive approach, it could hamper the ability to gain maximum flexibility that allows us to do our jobs,” he said.

Jim Forbes, EVP and COO, Atlas Air Worldwide, noted the role of the Congressional Air Cargo Caucus in resolving many government-to-government restrictions on serving different destinations, including lifting the cap on cargo charter flights to China and the open skies agreements that provide flexibility for overflight and landing rights.

Wells indicated FedEx flexed its networks to meet the evolving demand and that needs to happen again in vaccine distribution. The company flew 530 extra flights out of China, replacing belly cargo capacity, over and above its basic schedule.

Huston Mills, VP-Flight Operations & Safety, UPS, also called for the risk-based approach guided by collaboration with CDC and others. “We don’t want to be hindered by overly prescriptive rules,” he said. “The one-size-fits-all concept won’t cut it. We need to ensure the testing protocols, especially for pilots, is not overly invasive and we need to harmonize that worldwide to keep us moving.”

Air Cargo – Transportation Lifeline

“One thing is evident,” said Libby. “Small business is more vulnerable because they don’t have access to capital or redundant supply chains or the footprints to cope with what we have experienced. They don’t have the flexibility to engage in e-commerce strategies and pivot their operations. Small businesses are relying on air cargo to access global markets and make their businesses more resilient. They have seen how important air cargo is to health and safety, and now, for economic recovery.”

Mills reported UPS is already building on the pandemic response in place since the outset of the outbreak. “It’s going to be the cargo express industry that will be responsible for distribution both domestically and worldwide.”

A pair of Shorts Photo: Kathryn Creedy

He described facility requirements in recounting the company’s efforts. A recent press release outlined facility enhancements, saying the company has committed to building additional cooler space (2-8 degrees Celsius), and freezer space (minus-20 degrees to minus-80 degrees Celsius) in its new GMP facility in Louisville. UPS Healthcare is also expanding its GDP facility space in Hungary, and GMP space in the United Kingdom through its Polar Speed subsidiary where it operates a dispensing pharmacy that serves more than 20,000 patients daily. The new GMP warehouse and transportation hub will be located in the Midlands, UK, to further facilitate its clients’ growth needs.

“The ability of our crews, maintenance professionals and dispatchers to respond to the demand, meant we could provide assistance and the delivery of goods,” concluded Wells. “That is going to continue to be important as we now pivot to vaccine distribution and the economic recovery around the world.”

The meeting was recorded for access here (Passcode: .1.Xn7yw)

Pilot shortage affects mainline financial performance

2018-pilot-outlook Boeing

Many suggest the pilot shortage only impacts the regional airline industry, but its effect extends to mainlines, LCCs and ULCCs and goes far beyond putting qualified bodies on the flight deck of passenger and cargo carriers.

The pilot shortage is shrinking mainline revenues and yields and the ability of LCC and ULCCs to compete, according to speakers in the recent Flightpath Economics’ podcast which gathered an industry analyst, a labor specialist and a manufacturer to discuss the impacts.

The podcast revealed the industry will be short 5,000 pilots by 2021 and 15,000 by 2026 when one in 10 pilot positions will remain unfilled.

Bloomberg Business Intelligence Analyst George Ferguson said rising costs are affecting mainline revenues and margins, suggesting their ability to staff their aircraft comes at the expense of LCC and ULCCs and second-tier cargo carriers who can’t offer either the dollars or the career progression intercontinental carriers such as the legacies, FedEx and UPS can.

Ferguson noted the last round of contract negotiations yielded pilot increases of 20%, noting American added an additional increase mid contract, indicating the power pilots now have at the negotiating table. While a lot of that was bounce back from concessions, the shortage has only increased pilot power.

“United’s in the midst of discussing a new contract and my guess is they’re going to come out with a better-than-inflation raise again,” he said. “Pilots want to be at United, American, Delta, Southwest. Those airlines won’t have a hard time finding pilots to fill the cockpit, they’ll just suck the pilots out of the regionals and the smaller carriers.”

Kit Darby Updated Chart

Sucking pilots out of the regionals, however, has its own economic impact on airlines.

“Airlines benefit from having a pilot and a flight crew on that airplane that’s much cheaper than the mainlines,” Ferguson explained of the shrinking regional footprint.

Bombardier Director-Sales North America Courtney Miller added reducing regional lift is counterproductive. “The regional connectivity is where the yields are, because that’s where the low-cost carriers are not,” he explained. “Down the line if they don’t have the connectivity into the mainline network to the tune 37% of revenue at present, and the highest yields, that has an impact on the mainline.”

Miller told Payload Connector regional contributions to mainline revenues could shrink further to 25% or 30% which does not bode well for the regional industry or mainline revenues since regional traffic is higher yielding because of the lack of competition.

“It could be somewhere in between 25% or 30%,” he explained. “The math isn’t too hard to run if you just look at seats. The compounding effect is the mainline fleets and revenues would grow as they take on more larger regional markets to mainline which would put more pressure on the regional revenues as a percentage.”

Fleet changes mitigate some of the impact. “What they have done is upguage aircraft to defray the cost of pilots over more seats but that exacerbates capacity increases which means they have no pricing power which impacts their cost performance,” said Ferguson. “They’ve been buying back shares to grow the EPS, but margins remain under pressure and the cost of flight crews is a big portion of this pressure. If they don’t have pricing power and costs rise, you are diminishing profitability over time. Those with best balances will survive. The rising cost of pilots from not having enough pilots, is a constraint on growth and revenues and that is what investors should be paying attention to.”

Impact on regional fleet

Miller discussed regional fleets with Payload Connector. “The problem I see is a fleet of 50-seat jets with no replacement,” he said.  “The 70/76-seat jets are scope limited.  There may be some relief there, but by-in large, I think you are looking at an industry that will grow by the remaining 70-seat jets that can be converted into 76-seaters, and whatever incremental scope room is negotiated.  That is then offset by the number of 50-seat jets that will retire.

“The pilot shortage matters because it makes it too expensive (or impossible) to replace this lift,” he continued. “Mainline carriers will continue to compete at the mainline level for pilots, and the regionals will struggle to keep the through-put balanced.  Essentially, the regionals are running out of airplanes to fly, which is fine because they don’t have pilots to fly them.  The two problems are cancelling each other out, and preventing the problem of no 50-seat replacement from being solved. So, I would take the number of CRJ700s and E170s still over 65 seats, plus whatever scope clause relief you think regionals may get over the next five years, and subtract the entire 50-seat fleet.  That would be my 5-year forecast.  It will be a smaller fleet.  There would be an increase in average seat gauge as 50-seaters leave, which would help with your revenue break-down. Mainline will likely absorb the remaining seats. I think it bodes well for the E2/A220, but poorly for the regional carriers.”

However, upgauging is finite. Miller indicated once fleet changes are complete, the number of growth opportunities through upgauging in the entire industry will go down.

Ferguson worries less about staffing levels at mainlines than at second-tier cargo and passenger airlines. “I’m not worried about big four and even Alaska will be fine. The challenges in recruiting will be at the faster growing LCC/ULCCs like JetBlue, Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier [and, by extension, DHL and Atlas, among cargo carriers]. Mainlines are using the pilot shortage as a competitive weapon against LCCs and ULCCs.”

And LCCs and ULCCs are finding it hard to cope. “Regionals,” said Miller, “have proven capable to finding creative solutions to the supply problem. That problem has declined in the last couple of years as block hours have been reduced across the regional industry. The challenge is not the loss of pilots but managing the inflow and outflow and regionals have been doing a fantastic job of managing that. That is not so at ULCCs and LCCs. They’re getting smaller and smaller pieces of the pie because they’re not producing economics competitively that some of the other carriers are. Mainlines say they don’t have a pilot shortage problem, and they would probably be right but that’s because they are putting the most dollar signs on that portion of the pie. The question is where is that coming from? As the legacy contracts get better and better anything below that is considered a steppingstone.”

Akin agreed. “They’re having a difficult time right now,” he said. “Pilots aren’t viewing those carriers as viable long-term career airlines. I look at the cargo industry as being sort of two different groups of players, the FedEx, UPS group, which has experienced a 30%, 40% increase in pay over the past bargaining round. And then the other groups, which have also experienced huge increases in pay as a result of the need to attract and retain cockpit crew.”

He cited another factor at play. There is a disconnect between what management thinks and what pilots think,” said Akin. “Management thinks their airlines are career destinations while pilots think of them as a steppingstones. Pilots see chaotic schedules because of the pilot shortage at these second-tier cargo companies resulting in a huge churn. And at the worst analysis, the management team doesn’t really know how to cope with someone who wants to fly a 777 when they’re only flying 737s. Southwest, interestingly, faces this problem. It takes 10 pilots to staff a plane and if you lose 10 pilots you can’t fly the aircraft. That is what is happening at these contract carriers, the subgroup below FedEx and UPS.”

Speakers concluded the pilot shortage affects every passenger and cargo carrier and has serious implications for investors as well as the competitiveness of an already challenging industry. While regionals and legacies have put in systems to cope, that may not be enough, and it may mean business models have to change to accommodate the fact the pool of pilots is largely static and not promising to increase.

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ALPA Unconvincing in Opposing Single-Pilot Ops

By Kathryn B. Creedy The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) published a White Paper outlining its opposition to single-pilot operations (SPOs) but rather than making a case against SPOs the document reads more like a laundry list of challenges to be overcome. The Dangers of Single-Pilot Operations is right that SPOs is not a risk … Continue reading “ALPA Unconvincing in Opposing Single-Pilot Ops”

By Kathryn B. Creedy

2018-pilot-outlook Boeing

 

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) published a White Paper outlining its opposition to single-pilot operations (SPOs) but rather than making a case against SPOs the document reads more like a laundry list of challenges to be overcome.

The Dangers of Single-Pilot Operations is right that SPOs is not a risk worth taking today. But it is extremely weak in arguing for a ban for the future.

The biggest problem with the white paper is the fact its arguments are largely for the here and now and assumes technology and the industry will not advance or, if it does, it would risk safety. The fact of the matter is, no one – manufacturers and regulators included – will let SPOs happen without first proving it is an equivalent level of safety.

This premature White Paper assumes that will not be the case and it is that assumption that is insulting to all the people working in the industry that have given us the safety record we have today.

The document comes as the pilot shortage is stunting airline growth forcing many small operators to ignore new business opportunities such as taking on new customers or expanding service to communities dropped from the air transportation system for lack of pilots. SPOs would be part of a multi-faceted solution especially since small cargo operators are already doing SPOs with a laudable safety record. The shortage and advancing technology conspire to make SPOs more likely especially in cargo operations.

ALPA points out SPOs are allowed in Part 135 operations, but operators schedule two pilots for such flights citing increased safety. But, again, this is more reflective of the aircraft state of the art. It is also related to requirements for pilots to drill holes in the sky to build time to meet a ridiculous hourly metric foisted on the industry by ALPA wishing to cause a pilot shortage. It has nothing to do with what can be accomplished in the future.

Pilot Workload

ALPA speaks of the dangers of increased pilot workload and points to numerous NASA studies showing increased pilot error accompanies increased workload. But this assumes the current technology will stand still and not address that.

If ALPA hopes to stall such advancements, it is too late. That ship has sailed. Engineers are already imagining and preparing for that future driven, in part, by the pilot shortage and that is why the ALPA imposed pilot shortage has backfired on the profession. Manufacturers will not stop now because all have identified the pilot shortage as a serious issue. They have a high bar to reach but they know that.

ALPA pushes the importance of non-verbal communications between pilot and first officer while ignoring the fact that standardized procedures and check lists don’t accept non-verbal cues as appropriate. That is why communications come with a command and a verbal response ensuring the pilot understands and is executing properly. More importantly saying non-verbal communications is a safety issue is like saying aircraft operations are unsafe because air traffic controllers and pilots do not share non-verbal cues.

ALPA also points to rapid and dynamic decision making during anomalous events. It addresses the prospect of artificial intelligence, calling it the biggest technological hurdle that is, at least, two decades away. No one argues with that.

But it pulls out the tired Miracle on the Hudson, saying a machine could not have done what those two pilots did. The problem with that argument is it erroneously assumes that all pilots could have pulled off landing on the Hudson when most pilots suggested otherwise at the time. Why else would Sullenberger and Skiles be put on the exalted platform they enjoy now?

Engineers already working on solutions

Does ALPA assume the engineers are not thinking of the issues it raises? Full automation must account for these harrowing dynamic situations. That is the challenge to be overcome.

OEMs are quick to remind us that autonomous systems were not created as a convenience tool – allowing humans to work on other things – they were installed as safety tools trying to engineer out the leading cause of accidents — pilot error — which ALPA does not address. They also point out it is hard to make an economic case for a convenience tool while making the case for a new automated safety feature is really the only reason to put a new system on board. If it doesn’t improve safety – they are not going to do it. Simple as that.

With many accidents associated with automation, there is still much to be done to close the loop ensuring automation is as safe as intended. But that is down to pilot training more than technology.

ALPA again illustrates its arrogance suggesting the current level of aviation safety is exclusively owing to pilots. No true safety expert would agree. In fact, ALPA has been widely criticized for making this statement. Flight Safety Foundation rightly put the credit where it is due.

“Today’s outstanding safety record in commercial aviation is largely the result of a wide variety of diligent efforts by thousands of aviation professionals around the world,” it wrote, “who design increasingly reliable aircraft, engines, and parts; maintain, repair and overhaul aircraft; regulate and enforce performance-based safety rules; investigate accidents and incidents; manage air traffic; develop sophisticated avionics and navigational aids; operate airports; and fly sophisticated aircraft in increasingly complex environments. It is not the result of any one factor.”

I don’t even think ALPA would agree that it is the sole reason for improving safety in the first place, if it really thought about it, because it seems to contradict its support of critical safety programs like ASAP, FOQA, LOSA. This, at a time, when data analytics has proven its role in reducing the accident rate. That goal was set in the mid ‘90s and was successfully achieved within the 10-year mandate of the goal. The increasing use of data has only made the industry safer in the intervening years. Furthermore, inflight monitoring systems broadcasting via data links will only improve the safety of the industry more.

Pilot Incapacitation

ALPA makes a strong argument for needing an extra pilot to deal with a pilot incapacitation but notes the “chances of a pilot becoming incapacitated or impaired during flight are statistically low.”  The volume of flights shows just how rare it is but that does, says ALPA, translate into multiple incidents each year.”

The White Paper cited FAA data used to study the reduction of flight crew from three to two. The 1993 AC 25-1583-1 reported between 1980 and 1989, 262 incapacitation incidents occurred in single-pilot Part 91 flights whiUch caused 180 fatalities; 32 in single-pilot Part 135 flights resulting in 32 fatalities and 51 in Part 121 operations with no fatalities thanks to the second pilot. It also cited an Australian safety board study showing 32 such incidents between 2010 and 2015, 75% of which were in high-capacity air transport operations, again with minimal disruption to the flight and no fatalities.

This could be addressed by using the same technology that allowed NASA to monitor astronauts’ vital signs way back in the 1960s despite the fact ALPA says it will take “significant advances in technology.”  Not so. Qantas is now using wearable technology to assess pilots and crew for its proposed 19-hour flights. But such daily monitoring would take enormous investment.

However, ALPA is likely to oppose this idea, likely on privacy grounds as was done in opposing cameras on the flight deck. But that makes it a privacy issue. Such surveillance is definitely a safety issue in the minds of the National Transportation Safety Board, one of the world’s foremost arbiters of safety, which continues to seek such cameras saying the resulting information would improve safety. But ALPA remains opposed.

Indeed, most people would object to their employer doing real-time health monitoring on the job just as they did when employers monitored computer usage.

Airbus has already accounted for inflight emergencies in its SPO proposals. It would include ground-based pilots monitoring multiple flights. In the event of an emergency, like controllers, these pilots would offload all other work to others and focus 100% on the problematic flight. Still, it remains unproven and that is a task for the industry.

ALPA’s Most Effective Argument

ALPA rightly points out the economic argument for replacing pilots doesn’t really hold water. While airline analysts suggest billion-dollar cost-savings by eliminating human pilots, such statistics don’t tell the whole story. For instance, as ALPA points out, these estimates do not account for the cost of setting up such ground-based systems. More importantly for me, they don’t account for the cost of further automation needed on the flight deck to address increased workload or the changes to training; the very reasons SPOs are so far out in the future.

ALPA also makes the argument FAA should be focusing its limited resources on modernizing the NAS, funding electric and supersonic propulsion or more fuel-efficient wing technology than “wasting” money funding research for SPOs. This stems from a failed provision that stalled the passage of the last FAA bill which called for a study of SPO operations. First, the billions invested in NAS modernization is continuing to happen as is research on all three futuristic technologies.

In addition, in order to get SPOs certified, such studies will be necessary. All ALPA accomplished is delaying government studies. But private industry is already doing the work necessary to ensure SPOs can be done safely. Remember the burden is always on them to prove what they are doing is safe.

ALPA makes the argument we are already over relying on automation and safety experts agree driving training changes emphasizing such things as basic flying skills. However, it said automation may mask problems in aircraft health and monitoring at a time when new technology is being used right now to address that and improving safety to boot.

The union then turns around and says reliance on automation is at fault for pilots having a hard time transitioning from autopilot to real flying. But that argument doesn’t fly because over-reliance on automation is a pilot problem, not an automation problem as recognized by safety and training experts the world. And it is already being addressed by changing training to address the problems already found with automation.

As for public acceptance, ALPA polled the public and found it is rightly uncomfortable with SPOs. Hell, the public also opposes automated vehicles (AVs) because the technology is not ready for prime time. More importantly, it assumes uninformed public opinion should trump science. The fact is, if no pilots meant cheaper tickets, polling results would be very different.

Second, it assumes technology will remain static and disregards the advancements in other transport arenas such as cars, drones and urban mobility. Any acceptance of radical technology happens first on the ground, not in the air. But once it has gained widespread acceptance it could inevitably include SPOs and even completely automated flight decks. It is only a matter of time and technology. That’s why incorporating what we find with drones and AVs is so important.

Most agree the loss of the pilot profession would be extremely sad, but engineers are already imagining that future and much of the reason relates to the union-caused pilot shortage.

If the economic argument cited above is a strong argument so too is the fact we don’t know what we don’t know. Can we automate the flight deck enough to accommodate single – or even no-pilot – operations?

Remember what the question is. We don’t need proof that two pilots are safer which is what this White Paper sets out to do. We need proof that SPOs are as safe or safer and that is the challenge for the industry and regulators.

We don’t know but it is clear, as technology advances, we’ll find out and it is also why SPOs are so far away. And we may find that we cannot safely do without pilots.

So ALPA has given us all the reasons why SPOs can’t be done and it is am impressive list. But that list pales in comparison with what the technology development underway to enable SPOs to happen. The question then becomes whether or not it can be done safely and economically.

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Keywords: air cargo, pilots, regional air cargo carriers, RACCA, automation, single-pilot operations, airlines, aircraft, passengers

Workforce Summit: Solid Solutions Already Underway to Address Shortages

By Kathryn B. Creedy

A Pair of Shorts BKW
A Pair of Shorts Photo: Kathryn Creedy

No one could walk away from the recent FAA Workforce Summit without feeling optimistic and energized about the future, especially given the fact the summit attracted 700,000 online viewers on FAA’s Facebook page. Speakers reported there was more interest than ever in pursuing aviation as a career and solutions targeted both pilots and aviation maintenance technicians.

“There were a lot of concrete ideas for solving our problems and it was great to hear all the grass roots programs to get kids interested in aviation,” said RACCA President Stan Bernstein of the one-day event. “But it was also sobering. There is a lot of work needing to be done to reach workforce goals including the changes needed in the financial, regulatory and legislative arenas which constitute a significant barrier not only to entry but to incorporating 21st Century training techniques into civil aviation programs.”

Speakers called for a holistic approach and training reform.

“Nothing can be off the table,” said National Air Carrier Association President George Novak.

Experts, including Bernstein, reported how pilot shortages are affecting cargo carriers and e-commerce as well as communities and the fact many training slots are taken by students from other countries.

Others recounted recruiting efforts expanding down to the elementary school level and the return of “cool” to the aviation career. Perhaps most gratifying, however, was the training changes being tested now by the US Air Force that will produce better pilots in half the time.

USAF Provides Path to Train Better Pilots in Half the Time

The inclusion of such groups as Women in Aviation and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) provided a unique look into one of the most problematic issues in the industry – the lack of racial and gender equality in the workforce. Indeed, many speakers, including OBAP, spoke of their efforts in getting off the airport and into the inner cities to attract the next generation and the importance of addressing transportation for under-served communities. Republic Airline even has a mobile classroom with four Virtual Reality simulators to reach beyond the airport into local schools.

“It is part of our solution to help ensure we stay ahead of the tsunami shortage,” said Senior Vice President Matt Koscal. “We need to replicate this nationwide. We need a lot of help to ensure financing is available and we definitely need to address this at the regulatory and legislative levels.”

Rising Pressure to Make Changes

“I’ve never seen such a collection of experience talking on a single issue,” Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell, said in his closing remarks. “We have ‘violent agreement’ that workforce development is a real and pressing challenge and shortages are already costing the country and the industry.”

Recruiting issues are compounded by training issues, said Bernstein. “If you visit the larger flight schools, the population is largely made up of foreign students whose training is being paid for by their governments,” he explained. “Few stay in the US. When they return home, they become first officers on an Airbus with 300 hours, while our students are still flight instructing.”

Elwell agreed. “This is a global problem but we are spending a large portion of our training resources on solving other countries’ problems,” he said. “We are spending our national resources on helping the rest of the world to catch up.”

But, according to Novak, it is actually the US that has fallen behind.

“Europeans and Asians are in front of US right now in terms of solutions,” he said echoing many speakers. “The US is behind the curve on this. ICAO is in front of us and we have to look at what they have done. This is not just about the loss of air service as aircraft are grounded. It means that manufacturing is not taking place which is an indirect result of shortages. This impacts manufacturers and defense readiness and will be a crisis in the coming years that will have larger impacts than we see now.”

Millennials Demand Changes

Bernstein also pointed out the industry is facing a new generation unlike any encountered before. “One of the most important issues is the fact we are dealing with a different generation of pilots in the same old-school way,” he said, echoing US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s comment training regimes haven’t been changed in 30 years. “We are encountering the millennial generation and have to adapt and change our ways to address that. This new generation is looking for quality of life and we have to find ways to deliver that. Addressing workforce issues that need to change allows us to grow and expand, something we can’t do now because of the critical shortage.”

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He also spoke of other shortages, echoing several other speakers. “Simulators are taxed to the limit and it takes months to schedule a session,” he said. “There is a shortage of designated pilot examiners and CFIs. These are all issues that need to be addressed. There is no one solution to all the problems we face. It is our long-term, strategic responsibility to develop programs, training partnerships and flow-through programs but our immediate problem is real because aircraft are grounded. Management is flying more often and that is taxing other departments. There are no magic wands here so we have to attack this on multiple fronts including modernizing training and developing financing. What we have not mentioned is national aviation academy. Perhaps it is time to look at that as one of the solutions.”

RACCA, said Bernstein, has long been working with universities to restore the pipeline. “We have a long-term, strategic responsibility to develop programs, training partnerships and flow-through programs,” he said, citing the FedEx Purple Runway and the UPS Gateway programs. “These new flow through programs are up to date examples of meeting the new pilot needs for our regionals as well as guaranteeing future pilot availability for our integrator partners. I’m proud to point out one of our members – Cape Air – created the nation’s oldest pathway program with JetBlue and has provided the model of all other programs.”

The effort to develop pathway programs, said Jason Blair, representing the Flight School Association of North America (FSANA), must be replicated at the flight school level.

“The collegiate training environment is doing a fantastic job, but is only one part of the training pipeline,” he said. “When we look at the numbers, we find that even though there are technically over 100,000 CFIs in the FAA database, many of them are working other aviation jobs, such as airline pilots, and that on any given two-year period only about 12,000 of those CFIs have actively signed off even one applicant for a rating or certificate.”

2018-pilot-outlook Boeing

Courtesy: ERAU Prescott

Speakers suggested the creation of a professional CFI, giving greater recognition to this lynchpin job. “Our CFI jobs are transient and many that do the job flow upward to other jobs and only do it for a short period of time, but keep their CFI certificates active so they don’t lose them,” explained Blair. “Additionally, we have lost many Designated Pilot Examiners (DPEs) over recent years. Couple this with a drop in pass rates on practical tests across the board of 5-6% and we see a need for an additional 5,000-6,000 practical tests in our system. With fewer DPEs, and more tests needed, we have seen constrictions of testing availability in the high-density training areas with some areas experiencing wait times upwards of five weeks to even schedule a test. FSANA and an industry group are working actively with the FAA to address this challenge, but it takes time and it will also take attracting qualified individuals to become DPEs and to the FAA in Air Safety Inspector (ASI) positions that oversee the DPEs and help keep them current and qualified to do their work.”

Many speakers urged industry to think outside the box viewing the problem of recruitment and training holistically.

MRO Industry Needs to Think Outside the Box

Bernstein’s comments were echoed by Aeronautical Repair Station Association Vice President Brett Levanto who noted that thousands of young people who self-identify as wanting an aviation career go elsewhere upon graduation.

“By 2027, we will be 9% short of what is needed,” he said. “The shortfall can already been seen by the money left on the table and aircraft left on the tarmac for lack of personnel. The capacity for maintenance is not about square feet in the hangar or the number of benches in the component shop. It is about the people you can put into the space that have the experience and technology to work. The inability to find workers is already costing billions in our inability to take on new work, expand and meet demand. The problem is maintenance skills, knowledge and experience are in incredible demand. They get the training and then go to other industries because of wages or location. This is a tremendous opportunity to address this challenge to not only get them in the door but develop a formal pathway through mentors. This is how we not just replace the current generation but how we achieve a healthy workforce so we never have to talk about this again.”

He also said one of the bigger hurdles is convincing parents to allow the pursuit of careers as an aviation maintenance technician. Also needed is supporting an increase in technical and vocational education by returning to such options as apprenticeships.

Cost of Doing Nothing

Levanto reported members have 1,045 open technical jobs but, projected across the entire FAA-certified repair stations in the US alone, the shortfall is closer to 11,000.

“The weakening focus on technical skills development and hands-on careers, which have been sacrificed in the name of ‘college-track’ learning in primary and secondary schools, has produced a deficit in applied knowledge,” he said, echoing many speakers who mourned the lack of focus on vocational and technical schools to help solve industry problems. “Without basic understanding of tools, mechanical systems and repair fundamentals in potential applicants, both technical schools and employers are left scrambling to fill workforce gaps without a reliable pipeline of individuals ready to fill open positions. Instead, we must think holistically about the maintenance workforce. In addition to individually-certificated A&P mechanics, which tend to dominate the discussion, employers and policymakers must embrace and encourage growth of repairman and non-certificated technicians.

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Aviation Technician Education Council’s Chuck Horning agreed. “While certification remains the gold standard, and I don’t want to diminish its value, we have to recognize no one is hired for their certification,” said Horning. “They are hired based on their character, their willingness to learn and be part of a team. The pathway concept needs to be applied to the maintenance side. We need to develop a three- to five-year program to train them up. We shouldn’t be hidebound by what is needed coming in the door. Being open minded can help us in terms of what we need. Without technicians airplanes are only yard art.”

He spoke of the fact education starts at what a wrench is. “In the past, teenagers were taking apart cars and lawnmowers but they don’t do that much anymore,’ he said. “Today, schools have a conundrum because students are coming in without mechanical aptitude they once had. That is compounded by employers wanting higher skills than was in demand years ago. So the curriculum is in need of modernization, including simulation. The technology used in maintenance training has to be develop to make it more efficient.”

Elwell agreed. “We have also seen that a four-year degree is often not necessary and we have to expand the horizon,” he concluded. “We have to focus on solutions because I know, in my gut, opening aviation careers to all Americans who have the skill and aptitude only gets us so far. The question is how we improve training so new pilots can be transformed into to safer experienced professionals the traveling public deserves. We are not going to compromise we need to remember it is not going to be enough to maintain our current level of safety we need to actively improve on it.”

Maintenance also took center stage as Suzanne Markel, president and CEO of Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA) of training students while minimizing cost burdens and complications. She underscored the challenges facing any organization seeking to develop technical talent, including duplicative and inconsistent FAA oversight, lack of available testing resources, restrictive curriculum and poor outreach to underrepresented populations. This mirrored what AF Secretary Heather Wilson said in her remarks about the unnecessary duplication in pilot training.

Conclusion

The FAA Workforce Summit was unique because it did not stop with just quantifying the problems and consequences industry faces if nothing is done. Speakers came armed with ideas and solid recommendations on what needs to be done. It is clear the work needs to happen on multiple fronts, as Bernstein suggested. NACA suggested looking abroad and at the international pilot training standards created by ICAO. ARSA, ATEC and Elwell favored expansion of vocational education and apprenticeships. The Air Force is developing programs to train better pilots in half the time. All careers can also benefit from mentoring programs which not only helps students remain in the aviation game when they are faced competing careers upon graduation.

The question remains, however, whether the summit will result in a good feeling with nothing concrete to show for it. Or, will it result in wholesale changes to how we recruit, educate and work with the next generation. The good news is it was clear participants were very anxious to get on with the many tasks ahead.

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Pilot Shortage Backfires; Takes Biggest Toll on Pilots

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By Kathryn B. Creedy

  • Pilot shortage threatens airline growth
  • Shortage, rising pay driving unprecedented demand of automation
  • Shortage of CFIs, DPEs create months-long bottlenecks 
  • Limited training resources, simulators exacerbate the problem
  • Pilot bad mouthing industry, pay is real reason for shortage
  • Pilot recommendations on CBT/EBT suggest US out of step in training
  • Current pilot trainers can’t fly the line in the US while their foreign students return home to begin their careers.

As the Federal Aviation Administration convenes an historic Workforce Summit on September 13 in Washington, the industry must consider several trends conspiring to limit, not expand, pilot jobs. It is very likely the pilot shortage is backfiring as these trends reveal it will have its worst effect on pilots themselves.

Hyberbole? Reporting on both flight deck automation and the fact the shortage is limiting airline growth is increasing.

The first trend threatens the health of the industry because it means airlines won’t be able to grow thus limiting pilot jobs. Passenger demand is expected to double by 2035 while e-commerce is creating a boom in the cargo industry. Where are we to get the pilots?

Demand is pushing the second trend. The pilot shortage has provided an unprecedented urgency driving advances in automation that will ultimately put pilots out of a job. Airbus and Boeing are already there because we simply can’t train enough pilots fast enough to avoid the problem.

Quantifying the Problem

Cowen and Company keeps a very close eye on pilot demand and provides one of the best forecasts in the industry. Last year, it said by the end of 2026, about 42% of the active pilot workforce at the five largest airlines will retire. Recently, it said in its latest pilot report, the Big 4 – American, Delta, United and Southwest – will need 44,000 pilots in the next 12 years to replace retirements and accommodate a small 1% growth rate, far less than the anticipated of 3% which would require 65,000 pilots. Every percentage point requires 10,000 pilots.

The regional industry pilot workforce is estimated at 20,000 pilots. The top 11, said Cowan, have 14,000 pilots.

Boeing Global Services Director – Air Crew Operations Carl Davis reported during the World Airline Training Summit (WATS) Conference the world will need to hire and train 32,000 pilots annually to accommodate the demand it forecast.

But the lack of airline growth is only part of the problem. While few disagree rising regional pilot pay is long overdue, pressure on pilot pay it is also a substantial headwind at a time when airlines are having a hard time raising revenues, especially coupled with rising fuel costs. The obvious solution is looking for alternatives.

Shortage drives automation

Consequently, the pilot shortage is also driving advances in automation to the point few will be surprised to see single-, or even, no-pilot flight decks in the next 30 to 50 years. Unions are already fighting proposals to test it in the cargo industry.

We are definitely not ready for such automation but as it is proven on the ground and in the air, passengers will not think twice about boarding an unstaffed commercial aircraft. It will mean redesigning aircraft and making them highly augmented to accommodate single-pilot operations, according to Airbus. It will also meaning changing training programs.

While pilots cite the Miracle on the Hudson and the successful landing of Southwest 1380’s un-contained engine failure as reason to oppose no-pilot or even single-pilot ops, proponents have turned that safety argument on its head. “Pilot error,” they say, “is responsible for the majority of accidents, so, if you take the pilot out of the equation….”

It’s a reasonable argument. “What if the pilots hadn’t been there in the Asiana crash,” asked AirInsight’s Addison Schonland. “There might not have been a crash.” We do know automation has been a factor in crashes in which pilots relied too much on it while failing, or not knowing how, to fly by the seat of their pants. The Air France 447 also comes to mind but there are many others. Indeed, such accidents forced changes to training to ensure pilots not only know how to avoid stalls and upsets but how to get out of them.

Frightened Pilots

With good reason, pilots are so frightened about eliminating the human flight deck, they put on the usual, full-uniform display to oppose a provision in the FAA reauthorization to even study the issue. Their objection is political posturing; studies are ongoing because Boeing, et al don’t need union permission.

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Source: Dan Nguyen

And, it is hard to argue with the cost savings. At WATS, Airbus suggested single-pilot ops could yield $60 billion in savings in pay, benefits and operational efficiencies.

Regardless of the speed of automation, two other trends will also impact pilots. The increase in both the density and size of aircraft and increasing utilization, further limit pilot opportunities.

Then there is the shift beyond aircraft manufacturing to services. Pilots were upset when Boeing provided pilots to replace some Avianca-Colombia pilots who were fired for striking. The pilots were not actual Boeing employees but were from Cambridge Communications Limited, a contractor supplying pilots to Boeing, according to Forbes Contributor Ted Reed. But it does show an entire industry has developed for sourcing pilots which has implications for unions.

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Source: Kathryn B. Creedy

Conflicting Support Among Union Rank and File

“I really think ALPA is declining into irrelevancy and only has itself to blame,” a union member told me during WATS. Since then, so many members have echoed that sentiment or indicated their displeasure with the union as pilot shortage debates blow up online, as to open my eyes to the many problems the union has.

However, other pilots argue with me over Twitter or LinkedIn, reverting to antiquated rhetoric about “scum-bucket” regionals refusing to pay a decent wage as if that were in the regionals’ control. They refuse to acknowledge the role of the CPAs and unions’ own role in failing to advocate for better regional pilot conditions at the mainline level.

These pilots insist there is no pilot shortage but, rather, a pay shortage, which could not be further from the truth since regional pay has risen dramatically and tens of thousands in bonuses have become part of base pay. Regionals are also offering tuition assistance.

Bad Mouthing the Industry Counterproductive

Harping on a pay-shortage is a double-edged sword. The more they talk about low regional pay the more aspiring pilots are dissuaded from pursuing a career that costs them more than $150,000 and years of time before they can qualify.

There is also an anomaly which is driving current pilots crazy, further alienating them. As CFIs they are training foreign pilots who then return to their home countries to fly the line while they stay home drilling holes in the sky to build hours that the NTSB and other safety experts say is a poor metric for pilot quality.

And then there is four decades of bad mouthing the profession which is, I think, the real reason we face a pilot shortage today.

For more than two generations, pilots spent most of their public time complaining about how bad they were treated and how bad their jobs were. While this may have been union posturing, the message got through. Case in point: Congress called Captain Sullenberger to Capitol Hill to bask in his reflected glory shortly after the 2009 Miracle on the Hudson. He spent the majority of his time complaining about how bad his job was. Half way through the hearing, I thought to myself, “no wonder no one wants to be a pilot” and that was before I knew how much it cost.

Ironically, this was at the same time of the Colgan crash when almost the entire narrative was about low pilot pay. We all remember the rhetoric about qualifying for food stamps which is still entrenched in the public mind because pilots still use that talking point.

While ALPA can point to the dramatic regional pay increases and say Mission Accomplished, it has come at a cost of discouraging interest in the career, despite rising enrollment.

Historic Interest Not Indicative of Pilot Future

Today, we are at an historic high in interest in becoming a pilot. Universities report rising enrollment. The entire industry is pulling out all the stops to tout the glamour of becoming an airline pilot. Aviation programs designed for middle and high schoolers are developing all over the country. But that is not what it seems.

“The FAA’s 2018-2038 Aerospace Forecast shows the number of civil aviation pilots moving in the wrong direction, relative to the demand projected by the aviation industry,” noted The Pilot Liberator on Twitter, recently, posting a chart from the FAA’s latest forecast.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 10.53.19 AMBut rising enrollment has also forced two allies in the fight to eliminate the 1500-hour rule apart. At the Spring RACCA meeting, UND Professor and Director of Aviation Industry Relations Kent Lovelace warned airlines not to poach CFIs because that would break the pipeline once again. The statement was greeted with a dull thud on an audience facing few alternatives.

We also heard JetBlue Senior Vice President Safety, Security and Air Operations Warren Christie explain the airline’s ab initio program takes 4-5 years despite the fact it takes half that time to teach them how to fly an airliner. American also created an ab initio program but, combined, these two programs will produce only a handful of pilots at a cost between $100,000 and $125,000 to each candidate.

Then there are all the bottlenecks students face beyond costs. The industry is facing a widespread lack of resources including flight instructors and designated pilot examiners which force months-long delays. Airlines, training and simulator companies all report a shortage of sim time which impose further delays. Carriers are using double and even triple the amount of time to get a new hire through the training because of these shortages.

So, even if we could attract the pilots needed to replace those retiring in the next dozen years, we can’t train them fast enough because we don’t have enough resources to get the job done.

The rest of the world is confronting the shortage by redesigning training programs around Competency/Evidenced-Based Training (CBT/EBT) which streamlines training while being careful not to dilute safety. These programs were developed by pilots, by the way, but my pilot contacts on Twitter reject such programs as the Multi-Crew Pilot’s License which is accepted around the world.

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US mainline pilots prefer instead the time-consuming, lock-step licensing method that begins with the private pilot license and, several long steps later, ends, for those seeking a career, in the ATP. They say safety experts – the Flight Safety Foundation and Royal Aeronautical Society, for instance – pushing pilot-developed CBT/EBT are just industry fronts out to compromise safety.

The JetBlue ab initio program embraces CBT/EBT but the regional industry’s efforts to adopt it has been stymied by the same political interests that gave us the nonsensical 1500-hour rule.

Boeing’s Davis discussed at WATS 2018 what customers want when they contract for pilots. High in their requirements is CBT/EBT.

Last Generation of Pilots

I question how long this historic interest in piloting will last. A decade? Fifteen years?Those entering the industry today will, no doubt, have long, lucrative and productive careers. But what about the next generation? How enthusiastic will they be to invest $150,000+ in the career if what they see in the end is being replaced by a computer? Automation promises a new kind of job in the future but as we have seen in the last 30 years, it has also meant fewer jobs and the necessity to retrain which has never happened on the scale needed.

Solutions today are piecemeal. There are workforce bills working their way through Congress and efforts to overcome the 1500-hour rule. But they will do little if the training capacity is not expanded and if US pilot development remains unchanged. What is needed is what I called for two years ago when I wrote my landmark Forbes Online pilot shortage series calling for a wholesale redesign of the pilot training to streamline the process while retaining safety.

It’s already been done in the rest of the world so why can’t we do it in the US?

Good News on the Pilot Front

By Kathryn B. Creedy

  • Robust commercial pilot enrollments at universities
  • Time between graduation and airline hiring reduced from two years to 37 days
  • CFIs desperately needed
  • Pilot age rising to between 47 and 50
  • Pilot quality and shortage issues remain unresolved

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Cargo carriers are gaining interest from University of North Dakota students who said they would likely choose cargo operations as a career move, University of North Dakota Director Aviation Industry Relations Kent Lovelace told attendees at the Regional Air Cargo Carriers (RACCA) conference. But the industry needs to do more to get them in the door. He also noted the time it takes to get a job has shortened to months, not years.

However, it should not be assumed that robust enrollments and accelerating flight hours before graduation has solved the pilot shortage. It has not, according to numerous speakers at the World Airline Training conference in April. In fact, speakers at the conference advocated for overhauling how airline pilot training is done, streamlining the process using advanced learning technologies, getting students out of the classroom and re-designing training programs to better suit how students want to learn. Many speakers offered ways to do that while maintaining high training quality.

Using the results of the university’s latest pilot supply forecast, Lovelace reported students are now more aware of cargo operators as a career option and, more importantly, understand the quality experience cargo operations offer.

“We asked how likely they were to choose a regional cargo carrier and 53.8% said they were likely to do so,” said Lovelace, adding there are things cargo operators can do to improve those odds. “We also asked them to describe why they wouldn’t choose cargo carriers. Half the comments related to compensation with salary being a big influencer although quality of life is still big. Other issues include the type of aircraft, missing a social connection and wanting to work with people/passengers. Others said they didn’t want to work alone or fly at night. There is a misperception of how the industry actually operates. We have told them working for a cargo carrier in a single pilot operation at night over the mountains will make them a much better pilot.”

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Lovelace cited concerns there were no defined career pathways at cargo carriers. “They want to know they have a path to the next step,” he said. “They want to know what they need to do to have the quickest route to the major. Cargo carriers need to educate them on what is involved in flying for their airlines.”

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Applications and Certifications Up

“The good news is, according to the FAA, student pilot certifications are up a little, while private pilots and commercial certifications are both up for the second year in a row,” he said. “CFI certifications are up for the third year in a row. The only bad news is the age of the pilot population is also growing to between 46 and 50 for a commercial or ATP license and that is a little troubling.”

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For the Fall 2018, there are 800 new commercial flight major freshman and transfer admits, he reported. “Over a three-year period we have doubled our input of students because of all the opportunities that are now out there,” he said. “Opportunity equals demand. Our typical yield rate from such admissions is 60-70% and that translates to 500 new commercial flight majors.”

Lovelace also reported the reversal of a trend away from pursuing an airline pilot career. “A decade ago, students who wanted to pursue a piloting career was on the downslope,” he said. “Now it is rising. Interest in military careers, however, is way down.”

One of the biggest changes is the time it takes to get a job. “Among UND graduates the time between graduation and applying for the R-ATP is shorter,” he said. “It is down from two years to 37 days. That means they are achieving more flying time while they are in college so by the time they graduate they almost have the time accumulated to be hirable. Our December 2017 graduates had many who had nearly 1,000 hours. The students themselves are accelerating the process.”

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The shortening of the time between graduation and hiring has significant implications for safety as WATS speakers reported the more time between the two milestones, the greater the decline in pilot quality. Studies have found the further away a candidate is from the structured training environment they enjoyed in college or flight school, the more discipline and professionalism they lose. The trend toward hiring so soon after graduation is expected to improve pilot quality.

Training Industry in Desperate Need of CFIs

The university’s CFI class this summer has a record 50 students scheduled. “They are scheduling summer sessions to get flight courses done,” he said adding the same trends are being played out at Auburn and Embry Riddle. “We are up 35%, Auburn is up 30%, Middle Tennessee is up 19% and ERAU is up 20%. For the most part, all the collegiate programs are reporting a noticeable increase in enrollment of students wanting to fly professionally. In addition, the percent of international enrollment is down at our Grand Forks campus as we have shifted more of our contract student training to our facility in Mesa, AZ.”

All schools are reporting CFI staffing issues with top concerns focused on high turnover and the lack of multi-engine instrument (MEI) and initial CFI instructors. At UND the average CFI tenure is 13.9 months. It has only 171 of the 220 CFIs it needs to operate at an optimal levels. Only 17% have an MEI, with the university footing the $6,300 bill for MEI training.

Lovelace reported university resources are being stretched.

“Instructors are leaving when they get close to 1,000 hours,” he said. “High turnover is a problem for the training community. The 18- and 12-month commitment we were asking for in exchange for free MEI, did not have a high acceptance rate. When we changed the commitment to 150 hours of twin instruction the acceptance rate went way up. Students are flying more while they are in school and are working as flight instructors their senior year and some in their junior year. If  they instruct  their senior year they have moved on to the next step in their professional piloting careers within five to six months after they graduate. Because there are so many opportunities we can’t provide enough incentives for them to stay and instruct. The training community needs more CFIs.”

UND has nearly 900 students on the flight schedule with 32% of its CFIs already at 750-1000 hours. Some 69% of MEIs have between 750-1000 hours. If the R-ATP rule were to change to 750, 40% of students would be without an instructor.

He cautioned the industry to be careful with efforts to lower the pilot hourly requirements of R-ATP with institutional authority from 1000 to 750. “We computed that would drop our production by 40% so it could have serious negative impacts for the training community to give you enough pilots down the road,” he said.

Lovelace echoed JetBlue Senior Vice President Warren Christie, who also spoke at the conference, in saying the number one reason for losing a student is cost, with most losses coming in the first to second year. The industry may need to consider financial solutions to mitigate the issue, he said.

 

Game Changer: Flight Safety Foundation Weighs in on Pilot Training

Independent safety experts are being ignored in favor of legislative politics

By Kathryn B. Creedy

In the pilot training and experience debate, little coverage is given to independent safety experts who call for an overhaul in the way we train pilots. In all the political rhetoric, the two sides – Colgan families, a labor union and legislators vs. the regional airline industry – often talk passed each other while independent safety voices are drowned out by politics as the pilot shortage worsens.

The Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), one of the most highly respected aviation safety organizations in the world, issued a Position Paper calling for science-based pilot training solutions versus relying on a minimum number of hours to assess pilot quality.

Disappointingly, but certainly not a surprise, coverage was limited to the issuance of the paper and failed to explore the subject further. In fact, no one has explored what aviation safety experts think is necessary, despite the wide-spread agreement by experts who have no other motivation for their efforts than safety.

FSF conclusions echo a 2015 report by the Office of Inspector General calling for an overhaul in pilot training to address concerns in how crews monitor aircraft in an automated age. It cited the Air Asiana crash in San Francisco, the crash of a UPS cargo jet in 2013 and the Colgan 3407 accident in Buffalo, noting crews were not properly monitoring the condition of the aircraft  and confirming training issues were not just restricted to regionals.

OIG also cited a 2010 Flight Safety Foundation study reporting 80% of the 30 veteran commercial airline pilots it studied flew manually under 10,000 feet but were unable to meet standards using only basic instrumentation if automation failed. Indeed, OIG and FSF recommendations are the same made by a score of speakers at last Fall’s Royal Aeronautical Society’s Maintaining Pilot Recruitment and Training Standards conference.

The question we should be asking legislators and ALPA is why they ignore the mounting evidence and the collective wisdom of what needs to be done from independent experts from around the world. They raise red flags on pilot training methodology that goes far beyond the petty war being waged by legislators on regionals.

Safety arbiters sidelined by politics

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The nation’s two safety arbiters – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) – openly admit they have been sidelined by politics in the wake of the Aviation Safety and FAA Reauthorization Act of 2010. This despite the fact during hearings on the bill before it passed, both rejected the idea hours alone are an appropriate metric of a pilot’s skill citing the fact all the pilots involved in regional and most commercial accidents had far more than 1500 hours.

FSF agrees. “It cannot be assumed that critical skills and knowledge will be obtained only through hours in the air,” said FSF President Jon Beatty, in releasing the Position Paper – Pilot Training and Competency. “A data-driven approach to pilot training is an essential element in continuing to improve the industry’s safety performance. Training must target real-world risk and ensure a progressive and satisfactory performance standard.”

Beatty countered assertions made as recently as the February 27th House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee hearing the outstanding safety record was due solely to the 2010 law.

“The results speak for themselves,” ALPA President Tim Canoll testified. “In the 20 years prior to the 2010 rule, 1,100 passengers lost their lives in Part 121 accidents. Since the rule that has been reduced to zero.”

ALPA’s statement is misleading since the 1,100 including 9/11, TWA 800 and other accidents, but ALPA would have you believe they were all, with their myriad of causes, resolved by requiring every pilot to have 1500 hours and the new law. In fact, the 1500-hour rule did not become effective until 2013 with no accidents in the intervening three years. Seems the industry got the job done without it.

But such reality doesn’t stop ALPA. When asked for a comment on the FSF report, ALPA spokesperson Corey Caldwell sent this: “While ALPA appreciates the work that went into the white paper, we are disappointed that the Flight Safety Foundation chose to omit the fact that since Congress passed the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Extension Act of 2010, there have been zero fatal passenger airline accidents in the United States. In the two decades prior to enactment of the law, which strengthened pilot training and qualification requirements, more than 1,100 people died in U.S. passenger airline accidents. This change in the law and associated rules have moved the United States into an environment where flight training, flight time, and demonstration of competency are well balanced – and has resulted in safer skies.”

On the contrary, FSF, rather than omit the relationship between the law and the safety record, addressed it head on.

“[The industry’s] outstanding safety record is attributed to a variety of factors and the diligent efforts of thousands of aviation professionals around the world…,” said the FSF press release. “It is not the result of any one factor, including any particular change in the hours requirement for pilot experience.” (My emphasis.)

In fact, it put credit for our safety record where it belongs.

Big data important to aviation safety

FSF cited the collection and analysis of safety data and information as key to mitigating risks before they lead to accidents. That risk-based approach clearly is successful and applies just as much to pilot training as any other aspect of aviation safety.

The regional industry has been saying for years the experience garnered by flying banners, reporting traffic and instructing is actually doing more harm than good based on data on how new hires fared in training. This was later confirmed by academic studies showing the quality of some pilots has deteriorated because they lose the professionalism and discipline so important to NTSB. As a result, regionals have increased their training footprint from 10 to 15 sessions.

“Pilot experience, which also is an important safety factor, historically has been associated with the number of flight hours accumulated over a pilot’s career,” FSF said. “What often is overlooked, however, is the quality of flight time and how it is accumulated. Was it in single- or multi-engine aircraft? In visual or instrument conditions? In a structured, professional environment, or in an often less intense, general aviation environment? The type of experience and the flight environment must be considered to provide meaning to the [flight hours] number.”

FSF’s final conclusion is simple: “[FSF] believes the pilot career path we have today will not take us where we need to go tomorrow. It is time to take a data-driven, pragmatic approach. The industry has reached a crossroads in determining how pilots need to be selected, hired, trained and mentored for career growth. Changes need to be made if the industry is to continue its stellar safety performance in an era of expected rapid growth in many regions of the world.”

Being bold

FSF’s Position Paper, the OIG report, the collective wisdom of global experts and concerns raised by the regional airline industry itself, demand we put politics aside and clear a path for the future.

“The industry needs to be courageous and bold to make these changes and not simply rely on the ways of the past,” Beatty concluded. “Through these changes, the industry can continue to serve the needs of the airlines while enhancing safety standards on behalf of the traveling public.”

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Pilot shortage, consolidation, aircraft threaten 200+ communities with loss of service

By Kathryn B. Creedy

A lot of focus has been placed on the so-called 1,500-hour rule requiring regional airline pilots have a minimum of 1,500 hours before taking the right seat of a commercial aircraft. Obviously, it has created the pilot shortage we have now and threatens to ground 1500 aircraft in the regional airline fleet, according to industry.

Little coverage, however, has been devoted to what that means to the towns that have lost or are about to lose service because airlines don’t have enough pilots. In 2016, then American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) Chair Jeff Muldar said 30 communities lost air service since the 2013 implementation of the 1500-hour rule. He said another 86 lost 10% or more of their service including such major markets as Cleveland, Memphis, Louisville and numerous state capitols.

Fast forward a single year and InterVistas Consulting President Deborah Meehan reported the number has risen to nearly 50 communities. Perhaps a more daunting number is a comparison to how many communities have been lost since the 1990s. Regionals once served more than 800 communities, some of which were the bread and butter of the regional airline industry. Today that number is less than 400.  More telling still, she said 168 US airports rely on aircraft less than 19 seats, 69 of which are in lower 48. Another measure of losses is the fact regionals used to provide over 50% of all passenger lift but today that number is down to 44%.

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Source: Regional Air Service Alliance (RASA)

The risk of increasing losses was put into high relief by Meehan who briefed Regional Air Cargo Carrier Conference attendees in April about her organization Regional Air Service Alliance .

“In 2015, the economic impact of small community air service was conservatively estimated at $121 billion,” she said, discussing the importance of air service to the economy of these communities. “That supports 1.1 million jobs and $36.1 billion in direct economic activity. Small communities are losing service at five times the rate of large hub airports.”

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Source: RASA

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Source: RASA There are more than 350 small communities, of which 64 are small hubs, 105 EAS points and 186 non hubs. Together they field 4,000 daily flights and more than 300,000 seats. Tellingly, the average distance to a medium or large hub is between 125 to 200 miles. That is a lot of windshield time. Equally telling is the average seats per departures which shows that frequencies are far lower than they once were.

Industry trends conspire against community air service

Interestingly, she pointed to three reasons for the loss of community air service adding airline consolidation and the lack of a suitable aircraft for community air service.

“Failing to resolve these issues will undermine the economic development efforts in 200 small and rural communities,” she told RACCA attendees. “That means that regulatory change is necessary and we need to focus on increasing the pilot supply and the development of small turboprop that can economically serve small communities for them to remain economically relevant. We are in real jeopardy of being regulated out of business.”

The problem, however, is a matter of time. Even if the rule were overturned tomorrow, it would take three to five years before the industry sees these new pilots. This, at a time when fully 42% of pilots from the big five airlines will be retired by 2026, less than a decade away, according to Cowen Research analysts.

Meehan noted the number of the losses between 2014 and 2016 were mitigated because lost frequencies were replaced by larger aircraft minimizing seat loss. However, we have reached a tipping point today because new larger RJ orders are few and the mainline scope clause restrictions prohibit increasing RJ size to allow full replacement of lost service.

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Source: RASA

“This year – 2017 – marks the year when frequency cuts will likely not be met with seat increase,” Meehan reported. “The fear is that 150 to 200 markets likely have insufficient traffic or population to support larger jet service.”

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Source: RASA

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Source: RASA

One of the major issues Meehan cited was the prohibition against airport use of their own revenue to enhance service. However, that does not preclude cities and counties from fielding such funds as the city of St. George, UT, and Washington County did to field service between St. George-Phoenix and St. George-LAX providing start-up subsidies to SkyWest Airlines.

Airport service losses resulted in the creation of the Regional Air Service Alliance (RASA) which she introduced to RACCA members during her speech. This important organization, a research-based advocacy group, joins RACCA and others in working to bring sense to a nonsensical regulation imposing an arbitrary metric to pilot skill which both the FAA and NTSB opposed.

RASA membership includes 80 airports and one airline, Meehan told Payload Connector, many of which are very familiar to RACCA members who struggle with the same issues as their passenger airline and airport counterparts.

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The greatest risk, said Meehan, is at non-hub airports where reduction of seats is greatest.

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“Airports that cannot support 76-seat aircraft have to decide whether to fix the problem or continue to let air service and economic development at our nation’s small communities suffer a death by a thousand frequency cuts,” she warned.”

Aircraft solutions are being ignored

“Aircraft with less than 50 seats or less represent 32% of departures at small hubs and 71% of departures at non hubs, making them vulnerable as airlines trade up to larger aircraft to partially offset the pilot shortage,” she said.

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Source: RASA

What is so interesting about Meehan’s remarks is they echo regional airline presidents who are in search of a new aircraft to fill in the losses wrought by consolidation and other changes in airline service. One airline chair said he’d chuck his entire code sharing business to serve intra-regional and intra-state markets abandoned by the majors. The only thing stopping him, he said, is the lack of a new small turboprop that would make these markets successful. Otherwise he sees  these abandoned markets as have high profit potential.

While the rise of subscription airlines such as Surf Air provides a promise of regional airline service replacement in these markets, it remains to be seen whether this model would ultimately morph into the type of service once provided by regional airlines in their heyday.

Today, only one aircraft designed for community air service is under development and now in the testing phase – Tecnam’s P2012 Traveller – the push for which was led by RACCA’s own Cape Air. But many airlines around the world need something bigger in the 19- to 30-seat range and there is no activity on this front. Still others around the world, rely on Cessna’s robust Caravan and provide safe and affordable Single-Engine Turboprop (SET) operations even over extended water flight owing to the reliability of modern engines.

A look at the map of 272 airports served by 50-seat-or-less aircraft shows the opportunity and the increased convenience of an airline concept that removes the hub from the equation. Hubs are great for airlines but not for passengers who lose valuable productivity in being routed through them. Still, such a concept would still face the pilot shortage problem.

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Source: RASA

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Source: RASA

Most of the arguments surrounding the pilot shortage issue are very emotional, based on a single accident that had little bearing in the reality or safety of the industry, especially since both Colgan pilots had far more than the minimum now required. Despite that, none of the proposals offered by industry to help ameliorate the pilot shortage advanced to date have advocated for a reduction in the 1500-hour time although they should.

“The problem is we are all tilting at the same windmill,” said RACCA President Stan Bernstein. “The airports have RASA, then there is RACCA and RAA. What needs to happen is we need to join together and speak with one voice about the true impact of the 1500-hour rule.”

The other problem is trying to cut through the emotional, non-science based arguments that powerful Washington interest groups push. Perhaps if we do join together with science and facts, something can be accomplished. But as Meehan points out, all issues pivot on the pilot shortage. You cannot create new solutions with innovative aircraft or route connections without first having enough pilots to fly them.

 

Air Cargo Airlines urges industry to come together to address skills shortage

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A Pair of Shorts: Two of Air Cargo Carriers’ Shorts 360s, a venerable bird, sit on the ramp.

 

By Kathryn B. Creedy

As if attracting pilots to the aviation industry is not tough enough, airlines are also facing shortages in other areas and such shortages are already stifling the ability to grow and expand, according to Steve Altnau, president of Air Cargo Carriers (ACC).

The 30-year-old airline, as with other members of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA), is struggling with Aviation Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) which Altnau sees as important an issue as it is for pilots.

“We could put three more aircraft into service if we had more flight crews and AMTs,” Altnau told Payload Connector, explaining the company also has a large Part 145 Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operation. “The global airline industry, needs a more than 500,000 pilots but it also needs the same number or more AMTs. The problem is, collectively, we have done a poor job of selling the industry. We need to rekindle the romance of the industry to compete with other industries.”

Then he said something few realize. “Everyone sees the forecast need,” he said. “But adding a half a million pilots and AMTs only gets us back to where we are today. There will be no room for growth or expansion.

The issue is not new. At a recent conference, airline and computer reservation company representatives said it is extremely difficult to attract IT talent at a time when airlines are finally addressing their IT infrastructure. “We can’t compete with the innovation promised by working for the Googles or Amazons,” they said. “That’s where these kids want to be because we are viewed as old and industrial with limited opportunities for advancement.”

Altnau agreed. “We need to sell the glamour and passion of the job for both passenger and cargo carriers,” he said. “These are great places to work and the prospects for advancement to a UPS or DHL are huge and come with the benefit they fly around the world or get airline benefits. Being an airline employee is a great way to see the world.”

While that is a great recruitment strategy, it also lies at the heart of the industry’s problem – rapid advancement to mainline passenger and cargo carriers. “Retention is all but impossible after about a year or two,” he said. “We may be able to attract what we need to serve our current business but not to expand and we are always in recruitment mode. We have to rekindle the desire for a career in aviation!”

That also puts huge pressure on the training department as well as the bottom line. The last time the industry faced something like this was back in the post-deregulation chaos of the 1980s when rapid advancement to the majors found regionals spending tens of thousands of dollars for training only to watch their pilots walk out the door in a year or two. At the time, they found enforcing retention contracts was of little use.

Today, airlines are facing the same conundrum. Republic Airlines, for instance, spends $30,000 on training a pilot. Regional carriers are also upping labor expenditures including generous new-hire salaries of up to $60,000 plus hiring and retention bonuses and tuition reimbursements. And, they are still struggling to find pilots and AMTs.

“Everyone knows it is far safer and more cost effective to retain employees than it is to recruit and train new ones,” said Altnau. “The rest of the industry is soaking up all the pilots and AMTs from us and other RACCA carriers. Our people get multiple offers and that puts a horrible strain on our training departments. We feel more like a flight school than we did when we actually worked at a flight school.

“Attracting pilots isn’t the main issue for us. It is retaining them,” he continued. “When you have that much opportunity this early in your career, even if we offered them the sun, moon and the stars, they’d go elsewhere.”

ACC is rotating schedules to provide better quality of life but they still leave for corporate aviation like FlexJet where they are operating eight days on and six off, he explained.

“It’s difficult to compete with that,” he said. “And let’s face it, our bases and our schedules are not exactly in the garden spots o the world.”

Altnau noted another problem. “Many look down their noses at Part 135 operations, especially in the freight world despite the fact it is one of the best ways to build, hard-core experience in airline operations,” he added. “That attitude toward Part 135 is not going to change overnight. What the industry is lacking now is the raw skill of flying the airplane. The benefit of flying air cargo feeder operations is you maintain the discipline learned in training, you operate to a fixed schedule. You understand the standard operating procedures. All that makes it much easier to transition to the next airline and next aircraft because you understand how an airline is run and have stick and rudder skills.”

Altnau finally pointed to one of the biggest problems in the industry – the denial by mainline carriers that there is a pilot/AMT shortage. “We have to get our partners on board the bandwagon,” he said. “We have to rekindle interest in aviation. We have to figure out a way to help pilots pay for their education. It may take the government to get involved to develop a program as they do for teachers where they work to maintain rural and small-community connectivity to the national air transportation grid to gain student loan forgiveness. That would help with both attraction and retention.”

He also said the entire industry has to talk about the value of the cargo industry. Atnau and Chief Pilot Luke McGrath saw a marked change in recent years when industry pilot employment specialists and universities began to push passenger carrier careers to the exclusion of all other avenues to build time.

“The pipeline dried up because everyone was saying you have to get a seniority number at the regional passenger airlines,” he said. “That has to change. In 2014 we began to see pilots walking away from an opportunity to become a captain and gain Pilot-in-Command experience. The fact they were making a lateral move to become a first officer elsewhere floored us because PIC time is so important to career advancement. The only reason we could see was they were going to a different aircraft and they were getting their seniority number.”

Air Cargo Carriers is doing the best it can in attracting talent but it will take the entire industry to attract enough talent to enable growth.

“We don’t want to get to 2035 and still be where we are today fighting to recruit more talent,” Altnau concluded. “We have to increase the attraction of the industry.”

Pilot shortage issue gains new advocates, renewed attention

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How do we compete with this? The company was recruiting at Women in Aviation International ’17 Orlando for a Chinese airline.

 

By Kathryn B. Creedy

US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein joined the rising call for changes to the so-called 1,500-hour rule, in one of many stories about the pilot shortage circulating in the last week. An article in Flightglobal along with coverage of last week’s testimony by SkyWest President Chip Childs provided more fodder for the fight to amend the rules so that the industry can improve safety while helping the economy.

The movement is definitely gaining traction and RACCA has leveraged these stories with pro-active outreach to reporters who are doing follow-up stories on RACCA’s issues. RACCA’s blog, the Payload Connector, for instance, prompted Air Cargo World to take a second look for the April issue.

Prompted by RACCA’s efforts last year, the association was covered by The Street, Air Cargo World and supply chain publication The Loadstar. Last week saw Jon Hemmerdinger’s report in FlightGlobal Analysis: Controversy over pilot shortage heats up, important for how it broadened the issue to the military but also for recounting regional airline problems as well. Hemmerdinger did a follow-up story published this week including interviews with Stan Bernstein and Tim Komberec.

Hemmerdinger’s original story quoted General Goldfein, in agreeing with both FAA and NTSB, when he said 1,500 hours may not be required to make a good pilot and could be amended to alleviate the pilot shortage. Goldfein echoed years-long complaints about the military shortage. However, he added a nugget of which few are aware. The rule is a major factor in losing military pilots, which, of course, affects readiness. Once military pilots achieve 1500 hours, they leave.

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Empire was one of many RACCA members recruiting at Women in Aviation International ’17 Orlando.

More important, however, is his efforts with the airline industry. The Air Force is in talks with major airlines on how to mitigate the pilot shortage. For RACCA, that means gaining a seat at that table when discussions continue in May because the industry needs a holistic approach to finding solutions and that means including everyone.

Community air service losses are also providing more traction. ATW’s Aaron Karp, who also plans a follow-up story thanks to RACCA’s pro-active outreach, covered last week’s hearings before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee in SkyWest CEO warns pilot shortage could lead to big service cuts. Since 2013, 50 communities have lost air service, according to the Regional Airline Association. Last year, when I published my series in Forbes, it was 30.

Karp was savvy enough to included this:

Asked by a House member about expanding service to rural areas in the US, Childs said, “The reality is if there are not enough pilots … [and] you’re trying to get new service—that is not going to happen unless we resolve this.”

ALPA immediately came out with its usual misinformation in an AvWeb story saying the loss of these communities was an economic decision not because of the shortage. That stands in stark contrast to what airlines are telling airports which is, economically, they wanted to serve these points but can’t because of the pilot shortage.

Pilot Shortage may ground two thirds of the regional fleet

More ominous was Childs’ warning about decimated regional pilot rosters and the grounding of two thirds of the fleet. Normally, I don’t buy such sky-is-falling rhetoric but as Komberec told FlightGlobal, there are no easy solutions because the pipeline is broken.

Here’s what Karp wrote:

US major airlines…are expected to hire 18,000 pilots in the next three years, nearly the size of the entire regional pilot workforce. He warned that the shortfall in pilots could ultimately lead to the parking of as much as two-thirds of the US regional airline fleet.

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CapeAir has a great slogan — Your Wings To A New Career

One of the biggest problems is RACCA’s message is diluted by major-carrier partners who deny the pilot shortage. Case in point. Last year, The Street’s Ted Reed interviewed Empire Airlines President Tim Komberec for his article: Idaho Cargo Airline, a FedEx contractor, Can’t Find Enough Pilots to Grow major partners demurred on the issue.

The good news is major carriers are acknowledging the pilot shortage. Recently, the NBC station in Dallas profiled both Southwest and American on the issue, concluded the pilot shortage is real and regional pilot pay has risen. At one of the largest aviation pilot recruiting events of the year, the Women in Aviation International conference, UPS, FedEx, American, Delta and United joined a host of regional passenger and cargo carriers including Air Cargo Carriers, CapeAir, Ameriflight and Empire Airlines in trying to attract pilots. Bemidji Aviation Services’ Tracie Walter was also there. Lines for UPS and Fed Ex alone were very long as I tweeted during the conference.

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The Problem!

Equally important is the fact that at the World Aviation Training Conference and Trade Show last year the pilot shortage was a much-discussed problem among regionals, low-cost and legacy carriers alike. I’m expecting the same at this year’s conference in May.

All this is very good news for RACCA members. These stories add to the mounting evidence the pilot shortage is real and critical. Without the easing of the rule, the future is very uncertain for RACCA members and small communities alike.

But RACCA still faces an uphill battle against powerful special interests even if it does have a valid safety argument to make changes. It is up to everyone to take individual action, clipping the articles and sending them to local representatives and senators as well as any state officeholders and customers. Every article provides an opportunity to tell your story about what the pilot shortage is doing to your business and the difficulties you face in hiring pilots.

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Hope for the Future: Arlynn Harris checks out Women in Aviation International ’17 Orlando. Mom, Kelly, says Arlynn thinks the conference was better than the Disney theme parks!