How airlines are beating the system

If airline passengers knew what a lottery the route to an airline pilot’s first job was in Europe, there would be more white knuckles gripping armrests at take-off and landing.

The European Cockpit Association has made a study of the inconsistencies in today’s pilot supply system. The first observation is that there is no system, but multiple routes. All pilots, of course, have to get a licence, but so do all car drivers, and it is common knowledge that rather than indicate quality, a licence only proves a minimum legal standard on the day of the test.

Becoming a pilot today, the ECA observes, requires a personal investment of more than €100,000 ($130,000), so as the only aspirants that can raise the finance are rich – or have rich parents – the airlines are fishing in an artificially small pool. The other factor related to the cost is that the pressure to economise on training is high for both the pilots and the airline. Add to that the seemingly intuitive belief that today’s flying is so highly automated that pilots don’t really need the skills any more, and the result is what the ECA calls “one-dimensional and incomplete” training for pilots.

The industry knows this is true, but modern aircraft are so reliable that fatal accidents are rare, so while the airlines can get away with it, nothing will change. As Flight International has observed before, there is much hand-wringing going on, but no action. ■

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