What does it take to be an airline pilot? Being a team player might help, also being able to work and take decisions under stress, or covering several tasks at the same time. For sure, it is not enough to simply love flying. An airline pilot needs a lot of skills. And if one of these is missing, s/he will know, sooner rather than later during their career.
The accepted model for selection of candidates for the pilot profession in Europe included a screening process before the start of initial training. Airlines wanted to make sure that the money spent on training would pay a dividend one day – and yes, airlines actually used to pay for the initial training of their cadets. Many companies therefore invested money into this screening process, and also into initial training. They tried to ensure that their pilots are highly skilled and exemplary when operating their aircraft. Over time, the quality of this two-step approach has been constantly refined and improved.
Nowadays, however, the situation has changed. Screening and training are only seen as cost-driving factors that can easily be avoided or reduced. In fact, it has become standard now that the whole process of both selection and initial training is outsourced to private flight schools. And this not only by the relatively young airlines on the market, but also by many of the well-established ones across Europe.
But suddenly, many in our industry start realising that we have a problem with this outsourced approach to selection and training. Even Low Cost companies – many of which keep hiring due to their sometimes high pilot turnover – are now complaining about the quality standards of new pilots entering the profession. They are also complaining that they do not find enough sufficiently skilled candidates anymore.
No wonder! After the airlines had completely withdrawn from their responsibility to find good people to be trained, the new private flight training industry has developed into a money printing industry. Selling a non-existing dream to young people and telling them that everybody can be a pilot (as long as their wallet is big enough), they kept selling lucrative hours and additional training for expensive prices.
This leaves the young generation with no choice: with airline sponsored training schemes not existing anymore – or those, who still have one, not hiring anymore for some years already – they have to accept the only available alternatives: i.e. self-sponsored training at private flight schools. But on those alternatives, the feedback channel from the operator or airline back towards the training facility is mostly completely missing. Airlines are hardly able anymore – or even willing – to influence the selection and initial training of their cadets. Even worse, some of the airlines themselves have started to copy this business idea by using the self-funded model for their type rating or even more: Pay-to-Fly was born!
All efforts for a safe aviation industry must be part of, contribute to and be consistent with a holistic safety system. It does not make sense to allow gaps in one part of the system to develop into loopholes. But when it comes to selection and training, the industry did allow a big loophole to be created which has become a threat for the future of the whole industry. It’s NOW up to the entire industry – including its safety regulator EASA – to change that. But it will have to be the airlines that have to be at the forefront of this effort – understanding that money spent early on those who will fly their most expensive asset – the aircraft – is money well spent and money saved later on.
by Dirk Polloczek