Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Declining Piloting Skills

Given that American youth are not much different from their counterparts north of the border, it might be informative to consider a report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that warns future pilots may not be up to snuff. And no, this doesn’t mean they’re shunning oral tobacco and taking up smoking.


October 1, 2010
By Ken Armstrong

Topics

Given that American youth are not much different from their counterparts north of the border, it might be informative to consider a report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that warns future pilots may not be up to snuff. And no, this doesn’t mean they’re shunning oral tobacco and taking up smoking.

The NTSB study concluded there are signs future pilots will be less experienced, less ethical and in short supply. For anyone conversant with the laws of supply and demand, the short supply of pilots (and for that matter technicians) will result in less qualified individuals available for working from cockpit seats and shop benches. As a result, standards will be lowered closer to the level of “any warm body will do. . .”

Panel members determined there are far fewer military pilots leaving for jobs with airlines and college graduates shun careers in aviation because they see aviation as an “economic dead end.” Exacerbating this issue is the fact U.S. airlines will need to find 42,900 additional aviators over the next decade due to retirements and estimated expansion, according to well-known aviation expert, Judy Tarver.

Add in the fact that American teens find airline careers unattractive, you can subsequently assume few will want to become helicopter drivers when they consider operations are subject to demanding hours of work, low-level flying through inclement weather and mediocre long-term living conditions in the field – not to mention direct contact with challenging clients.

Advertisment

Moreover, there isn’t a system of unions in place to represent their interests. So, what would be the attraction?

Frequent readers of my column will recall my almost constant urging for pilots to follow safety guidelines and fly with as much skill as possible to minimize risks. But it’s not just about safety. It’s also about pride and professionalism, personal satisfaction and elevating the public’s opinion of our industry. Personally, I never much liked our industry’s pilots being called “glorified taxi drivers” or “over-rated Caterpillar operators” by those that don’t understand the profession.

When I run across individuals who conduct their flights in a careless manner, I am repulsed because observers will lump all pilots into the same abysmal class. How do you feel about your professionalism?  Are helicopter operations just a job – just a means to get by? Do you cut corners and “bend” regulations, perhaps calling it efficiency, to get each task over with as quickly as possible so you can get home – or to the bar? If so, you fit the NTSB’s forecast for the future of our industry.

Incidentally, I’m not just referring to young members of our flying fraternity because there are a lot of old timers who fit the mold described here. Frankly, it’s appalling when a highly experienced pilot lacks professionalism and, even worse, when he recounts close calls to low-time pilots – the hero stories where he used superior skills to narrowly avoid catastrophe.

Newbies to the industry should also take these stories with a grain of salt as they are often exaggerated for effect. Close brushes with disaster are like playing Russian roulette and should never be condoned.

There’s a very real sentiment that Americans are disillusioned with the increase in high-profile accidents recently and are urging pilots and air traffic controllers to “consistently strive for a high-level of professionalism.” Tony Kern, author of five books on pilot performance, observes that safety levels are “eroding because of an attitude of casual compliance” prevalent among pilots. The NTSB is asking the FAA to: “(1) Evaluate prior flight check failures for pilot applicants before hiring, and (2) provide training and additional oversight that considers full performance histories for flight crewmembers demonstrating pilot deficiencies.”

The NTSB report outlines such key safety issues as: flight crew training and experience; sterile cockpit compliance; pilot training records; remedial training for pilots; and fatigue management.

Because our helicopter accident rate is too high, we can anticipate Transport Canada will increase safety demands/regulations on our industry. So, as pilots and operators, the choice is yours. Do you want to avoid excessive regulation, additional oversight, burdensome paperwork, public scrutiny and the resulting loss of acceptance and revenue or let TC load us down? Perhaps there is a silver lining to doing nothing since the loss of business will potentially eliminate some competition and the perceived pilot/engineer shortages.


After 45 years of flying, Ken Armstrong is still passionate about aviation and feels blessed to be Canadian — and to have lived and shared the best of times on our planet.


Print this page

Related



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*