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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.