To Be or Not To Be.....An Airline Pilot - July 6, 2012

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To Be or Not To Be…..An Airline Pilot – July 6, 2012

“Robert Novell’s Third Dimension Blog”  

Good Morning and welcome back to the 3DB. I hope everyone had a good 4th and you are ready for the weekend. Today is the final blog on the “Pilot Shortage.” I have a few more interviews for you to read, one video, and a few links. Then, we are going to close it with the story of the “Aussie Check Ride.” You will have more than a few laughs when you read this. 

First lets consider the up side. This article was written by Adam Twidell, CEO of, to summarize a discussion he chaired at the “The Future of Business Jets” conference in London in November 2011:

Pilot Shortages in Business Aviation

The Future of Business Jets conference in London in November 2011, I chaired an industry round table on pilot shortages. This is a very brief summary of the discussion (please excuse the bullet points format) and includes some comments from those who took part which may not reflect the groups overall opinion. Please do contact me ( if you would like any more details; or indeed if you took part and think I have missed anything! 

Current professional pilot numbers & predictions of requirements for the next 10 years

There are currently 250,000 commercial pilots globally. IATA (Air Transport Association) predicts that over the next 10 years the aviation industry will need 17,000 new pilots every year. The table decided this could be a very conservative estimate and the actual numbers of new pilots required could be significantly higher.

We checked IATA’s calculation by looking at Airbus & Boeing’s order books and for Airbus:

  • Airbus have 4216 aircraft on order yet to be delivered

  • Currently output from Airbus is 500 aircraft delivers per year @ 15 pilots = 7,500  Airbus pilots

  • Highest number of Airbus deliveries per year is expected to be 1,500 eg 22,500 Airbus pilots

The assumptions being:

  • Scheduled airlines have an average of 15 pilots per aircraft

  • Highest output of aircraft from a single manufacture in recent history was Boeing at approx 1,500 in 2007

Factors affecting the global shortage of pilots 

The majority of airline pilots have traditionally been recruited from the military or civilian training establishments. Most nations are now drastically reducing their military organizations. On top of this reduction, Air Forces are using increased numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and globally are reducing pilot numbers.

The average cost of pilot training in Europe is now EUR 80,000 – 100,000. Banks are not lending and so new young pilots must find this funding from friends & family. The low cost carriers have set a precedent of very low pilot starting salaries and charging for aircraft type ratings. The return on (a pilot’s training) investment is very low and is not a motivating factor.

The difference between private jet and airline pilot recruitment

A scheduled airline will order an aircraft for delivery in 3-4 years time and can plan their pilot training and recruitment with long lead times. A private jet operator on the other hand may only have one month’s notice before the arrival of a new aircraft – and so has very short lead times when new pilots are required.

At present no private jet company supports or sponsors pilot training. The NetJet pilot training programme established in 2008 (in association with Oxford Training School) is believed to be cancelled. Private jet companies compete with airlines (with considerably larger budgets) to recruit new pilots. The question is whether business aviation is doing enough to attract pilots to fly private jets instead of scheduled airliners.

Scheduled airline pilots have a regular schedule, good career progression, and a stable job. A private jet pilot has a less regular schedule, and limited career progression opportunities within typically very small companies. But flying private jets does offer more of a flying challenge, pilots fly into smaller airports and have much more operational control over their flights.

Current statistics from training schools show that amongst student pilots, 96% are interested in an airline career while only 4% are considering a career in business aviation.

Pilot shortage or experience shortage? 

Regulation changes mean that less experienced pilots will be in the cockpit. For example Europe’s new multi-crew license, which allows abinitial (new) pilots to fly with as little as 200 hours flying experience. Asian airlines will prefer to have home grown pilots rather than expensive ex-pats and Asian flight training establishments are expected to gear up extensively to meet demand. Regulations and training will adapt to ensure any pilot shortage is met. The future First Officer will have significantly less airmanship than in the past. 

Pilot shortage impact on private jet charter market 

The expansion of the business aviation industry over the next few years will be limited by the lack of available pilots and crews. Charter customers may need to book their flights further in advance in order to guarantee crew availability for their flight. A private jet operator will always ensure their owner’s flights are crewed before a charter flight is crewed. Aircraft owners will see less return on investment of their aircraft. This may produce a ‘snow ball’ affect, as more private jet customers turn to charter as opposed to ownership. 

How can the business aviation industry solve a future pilot shortage? 

The private jet charter industry is calling for industry organizations such as EBAA and BACA to investigate possible pilot shortage solutions. One possible option is for business aviation operators to share their pilots in a “pilot pool”. Aviation Authorities (such as the CAA in the UK) should review the possibility of private jet operators having shared licensing qualifications for pilots. eg 2 European operators who both fly the Citation XL, should be able to share pilots for charter flights. Currently pilots can only fly charter flights for an operator if they have a OPC (Operator Proficiency Check) with that specific company.

These private jet industry organizations should also actively promote ‘private flying’ careers to student pilots at training organizations. An industry wide crew benefit scheme would also help to persuade student pilots to take private jet jobs as opposed to starting an airline career.


Now let us consider the words of Mr. Willie Walsh, chief executive officer of British Airways’ parent International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, as he talks about acquisition strategy and the outlook for the airline industry. He is speaking with Bloomberg’s Stephen Engle in Beijing where he was attending the International Air Transport Association’s annual general meeting.

Willie Walsh, British Airways CEO, on Airline Failures.

Now, let’s talk about how Ryanair sees the airline business in Europe:

Profitable Ryanair expects more European airline failures.  

Irish budget carrier Ryanair is expecting more European airlines to collapse in 2012 as a result of rising fuel prices and the broader economic situation. 

The carrier made its claim as it posted a 25% increase in full-year post-tax profits, to €503 million ($639 million), after revenues rose by 19%. Passenger numbers were up 5%. 

But it expects that its profit this year will fall to around €400-440 million. 

Higher fuel prices meant the airline’s fuel costs increased by more than €360 million. But it says that, excluding fuel, its adjusted unit costs stayed “flat” during the year.  

Ryanair has responded to the collapse of Hungary’s Malev and Spain’s Spanair with new services in each country, and says it expects “more European failures” this year.

The carrier says fuel costs contributed to the closure of Malev and Spanair. It says its own fuel purchase is 90% hedged for 2012-13 at about $101 per barrel.  

While this is a 22% increase on the previous year, it says this is still “significantly lower” than current prices. The airline forecasts a €320 million rise in its fuel bill for this year.  

Ryanair also says that the oil prices make it “more logical” for the carrier to ground aircraft – up to 80, it says – during the winter rather than suffer losses through low yields.  

But it says it expects passenger numbers for the year to rise by 5% to 79 million. The first half will see a 7% rise in passengers with a 3% rise in the second half. 

I have one more link I would like you to see, CLICK HERE, and then think about where Europe is going, where the US is today, with their scheduled carriers, and make a plan that has an alternative to aviation should you not be able to live your dream.I wish all of us the best as we move forward but we all must plan for the worst and hope for the best.

I hope you have found some substance in all that we have talked about the last few weeks and please post any comments you may have here on the blog. Have a good weekend, enjoy the short story below, and take care of yourself and keep your loved ones close—life is short.

Robert Novell

July 6, 2012   


P.S. I am not sure who wrote “The Aussie Check Ride” because it was forwarded to me by a friend; however, the author’s wit is very sharp and his descriptions of events are hilarious. Enjoy………………… 


 “The Aussie Check Ride”


Hi Mate, 

I am writing to you because I need your help to get me bloody pilot’s license back. You keep telling me you got all the right contacts. Well now’s your chance to make something happen for me because, mate, I’m bloody desperate. But first, I’d better tell you 
what happened during my last flight review with the CAA Examiner. 

On the phone, Ron (that’s the CAA d*#”head), seemed a reasonable sort of a bloke. He politely reminded me of the need to do a flight review every two years. He even offered to drive out, have a look over my property and let me operate from my own strip. Naturally I agreed to that. 

Anyway, Ron turned up last Wednesday. First up, he said he was a bit surprised to see the plane on a small strip outside my homestead, because the “ALA”(Authorized Landing Area), is about a mile away.   

I explained that because this strip was so close to the homestead, it was more convenient than the “ALA,” and despite the power lines crossing about midway down the strip, it’s really not a problem to land and take-off, because at the halfway point down the strip 
you’re usually still on the ground. 

For some reason Ron, seemed nervous so, although I had done the pre-flight inspection only four days earlier, I decided to do it all over again. Because the prick was watching me carefully, I walked around the plane three times instead of my usual two. 

My effort was rewarded because the colour finally returned to Ron’s cheeks. In fact, they went a bright red. In view of Ron’s obviously better mood, I told him I was going to combine the test flight with some farm work, as I had to deliver three “poddy calves” from the home paddock to the main herd. After a bit of a chase I finally caught the calves and threw them into the back of the ol’ Cessna 172. We climbed aboard but Ron, started getting onto me about weight and balance calculations and all that crap. Of course I knew that sort of thing was a waste of time because calves like to move around a bit particularly when they see themselves 500-feet off the ground! So, it’s bloody pointless trying to secure them as you know. However, I did tell Ron that he shouldn’t worry as I always keep the trim wheel set on neutral to ensure we remain pretty stable at all stages throughout the flight. 

Anyway, I started the engine and cleverly minimized the warm-up time by tramping hard on the brakes and gunning her to 2,500 RPM. I then discovered that Ron has very acute hearing, even though he was wearing a bloody headset. Through all that noise he detected a metallic rattle and demanded I account for it. Actually it began about a month ago and was caused by a screwdriver that fell down a hole in the floor and lodged in the fuel selector mechanism. The selector can’t be moved now, but it doesn’t matter because it’s 
jammed on “All tanks,” so I suppose that’s Okay. However, as Ron was obviously a nit-picker, I blamed the noise on vibration from a stainless steel thermos flask which I keep in a beaut little possie between the windshield and the magnetic compass. My explanation seemed to relax Ron, because he slumped back in the seat and kept looking up at the cockpit roof. I released the brakes to taxi out, but unfortunately the plane gave a leap and spun to the right. “Hell” I thought, “not the starboard wheel chock again.” 

The bump jolted Ron back to full alertness. He looked around just in time to see a rock thrown by the prop-wash disappear completely through the windscreen of his brand new Commodore. “Now I’m really in trouble,” I thought… 

While Ron was busy ranting about his car, I ignored his requirement that we taxi to the “ALA,” and instead took off under the power lines. Ron didn’t say a word, at least not until the engine started coughing right at the lift off point, and then he bloody screamed 
his head off. “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” 

“Now take it easy Ron,” I told him firmly. “That often happens on take-off and there is a good reason for it.” I explained patiently that I usually run the plane on standard MOGAS, but one day I accidentally put in a gallon or two of kerosene. To compensate for the low octane of the kerosene, I siphoned in a few gallons of super MOGAS and shook the wings up and down a few times to mix it up. Since then, the engine has been coughing a bit but in general it works just fine, if you know how to coax it properly. 

Anyway, at this stage Ron seemed to lose all interest in my test flight. He pulled out some rosary beads, closed his eyes and became lost in prayer (I didn’t think anyone was a Catholic these days). I selected some nice music on the HF radio to help him relax. 
Meanwhile, I climbed to my normal cruising altitude of 10,500-feet. I don’t normally put in a flight plan or get the weather because, as you know getting FAX access out here is a friggin’ joke and the weather is always “8/8 blue” anyway. But since I had that near miss with a Saab 340, I might have to change me thinking on that. 

Anyhow, on leveling out, I noticed some wild camels heading into my improved pasture. I hate bloody camels, and always carry a loaded 303 clipped inside the door of the Cessna just in case I see any of the bastards. 

We were too high to hit them, but as a matter of principle, I decided to have a go through the open window. Mate, when I pulled the bloody rifle out, the effect on Ron, was friggin’ electric. As I fired the first shot his neck lengthened by about six inches and his eyes bulged like a rabbit with myxo. He really looked as if he had been jabbed with an electric cattle prod on full power. In fact, Ron’s reaction was so distracting that I lost concentration for a second and the next shot went straight through the port tyre. Ron 
was a bit upset about the shooting (probably one of those pinko animal lovers I guess) so I decided not to tell him about our little problem with the tyre. 

Shortly afterwards I located the main herd and decided to do my fighter pilot trick. Ron had gone back to praying when, in one smooth sequence, I pulled on full flaps, cut the power and started a sideslip from 10,500-feet down to 500-feet at 130, knots indicated 
(the last time I looked anyway) and the little needle rushed up to the red area on me ASI. What a buzz, mate! About half way through the descent I looked back in the cabin to see the calves gracefully suspended in mid air and mooing like crazy. I was going to comment to Ron on this unusual sight, but he looked a bit green and had rolled himself into the fetal position and was screamin’ his freakin’ head off. Mate, talk about being in a bloody zoo. You should’ve been there, it was so bloody funny! 

At about 500-feet I leveled out, but for some reason we kept sinking. When we reached 50-feet, I applied full power but nothin’ happened. No noise no nothin’. Then, luckily, I heard me instructor’s voice in me head saying “carb heat, carb heat.” So I pulled carb heat on and that helped quite a lot, with the engine finally regaining full power. Whew, that was really close, let me tell you! 

Then mate, you’ll never guess what happened next! As luck would have it, at that height we flew into a massive dust cloud caused by the cattle and suddenly went I.F. bloody R, mate. BJ, you would have been really proud of me as I didn’t panic once, not once, but I did make a mental note to consider an instrument rating as soon as me gyro is repaired (something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now). Suddenly Ron’s elongated neck and bulging eyes reappeared. His Mouth opened wide, very wide, but no sound emerged. “Take it easy,” I told him, “we’ll be out of this in a minute.”  Sure enough, about a minute later we emerged, still straight and level and still at 50-feet. 

Admittedly I was surprised to notice that we were upside down, and I kept thinking to myself, “I hope Ron didn’t notice that I had forgotten to set the QNH when we were taxiing.” This minor tribulation forced me to fly to a nearby valley in which I had to do 
a half roll to get upright again. 

By now the main herd had divided into two groups leaving a narrow strip between them. “Ah!” I thought, “there’s an omen. We’ll land right there.” Knowing that the tyre problem demanded a slow approach, I flew a couple of steep turns with full flap. Soon the stall warning horn was blaring so loud in me ear that I cut it’s circuit breaker to shut it up, but by then I knew we were slow enough anyway. I turned steeply onto a 75-foot final and put her down with a real thud. Strangely enough, I had always thought you could only ground loop in a tail dragger but, as usual, I was proved wrong again! 

Halfway through our third loop, Ron at last recovered his sense of humor. Talk about laugh. I’ve never seen the likes of it. He couldn’t stop. We finally rolled to a halt and I released the calves, who bolted out of the aircraft like there was no tomorrow. 

I then began picking clumps of dry grass. Between gut wrenching fits of laughter, Ron asked what I was doing. I explained that we had to stuff the port tyre with grass so we could fly back to the homestead. It was then that Ron, really lost the plot and started 
running away from the aircraft. Can you believe it? The last time I saw him he was off into the distance, arms flailing in the air and still shrieking with laughter. I later heard that he had been confined to a psychiatric institution – poor bugger! 

Anyhow mate, that’s enough about Ron. The problem is I got this letter from CASA withdrawing, as they put it, my privileges to fly; until I have undergone a complete pilot training course again and undertaken another flight proficiency test. 

Now I admit that I made a mistake in taxiing over the wheel chock and not setting the QNH using strip elevation, but I can’t see what else I did that was so bloody bad that they have to withdraw me flamin’ license. Can you? 

Ralph H. Bell 
Mud Creek Plantation