Sir - A career in the management of aircraft in the airline business has become a clearly identified professional area where the job description and the profile of the person to fulfil this exacting and responsible management activity can at last be specified.

The history of flying aeroplanes commercially is well defined. The person to meet both the technical-safety and profitable-management aspects, however, requires careful professional evaluation. The question which must be answered in a commercial sense - and this is more so over the medium term - is: what type of person can meet the requirements of managing a commercial aeroplane?

It starts from the commercial base of the capital spent on the purchase/lease of a commercial aircraft. While this varies, the minimum capital cost of a short-haul, modern, 140-seat multi-jet aircraft is of the order of £40 million ($66 million), depending on its configuration/age, with an amortisation rate of more than £3 million a year and an operating cost of £,3000-5,000/h. To get an effective return on capital employed one is looking at 15-20% net, or even higher.

It is a fact that, now and in the short-term future, in commercial airlines the demand for pilots has outstripped the normal supply routes such as that of the military or of the so-called self-improver. The technical demand in an overall skill sense has grown dramatically with modern cockpit displays, computer-controlled flying and navigation systems and associated communications equipment, as well as networking with ground- and air-traffic-control systems.

The shortfall in suitable commercial pilots is being met in an ad hoc fashion and an extension, granting the operation of air-transport-pilot's licences (ATPLs) for large multi-jet aircraft, is moving the age limit from 55 to 65 years. Can this be a sensible decision?

The cost of training a pilot who will eventually become a safe commercial operator is high. The system is geared to single-, then twin-engined, propeller-driven aircraft, giving the graduate a "frozen" ATPL at the end of training, costing some £30,000-70,000, depending on how it is done.

The next great leap is into the right-hand seat of an Airbus aircraft, a Boeing 737, or a Fokker 100 (or something similar). This is after initial conversion in an appropriate flight simulator. Thereafter, progression in professional ability begins as safety standards are confirmed and maintained. What about pilots' involvement in the airline's commercial activity? This is not even considered by most airlines.

The profile of the person entering commercial flying must be carefully evaluated and, with the employing airline, a very detailed job description agreed, from which a clear person profile is evolved. The selection process must be totally objective, so an external consultancy could therefore be the best way of achieving this.

T D A Lunan


Bull Thomson International

Stoke Poges

Buckinghamshire, UK

Source: Flight International