Most airlines still haven't got the message that, in today's world, provision for an adequate supply of ab initio pilots is, quite literally, their business.

They haven't realised what a high proportion of their pilots arrived courtesy of the military, and always has done. Until now.

Airlines' historical aircrew needs have been significantly boosted by three massive military pilot demobilisations: post-Second World War, after the Vietnam war and the 1990s "peace dividend demob".

It is to be hoped that, in leaving behind the 20th century we have also left behind big wars and big demobs. But the "war dividend", whatever the price paid for it, has always resulted in well-trained ex-military personnel joining industry. Some were engineers and mechanics and some pilots. Today the military is puny compared with the expanding airline industry.

Now, to the surprise of the airline old-timers, there are indications that progressively more of today's young people are going to have to be persuaded that a career as an airline pilot is worth considering. It may be clear to anyone in the industry that there are still many young men dreaming of being the ones who put those contrails in summer skies, but that only contributes to the airlines' ability to stick their heads firmly into the sand. There are, however, proportionately fewer than there were - and practically no young women see piloting as a good idea.

According to a survey carried out by a Swiss airline, which was puzzled as to why it had to hire expatriates to fill its cockpits, the image of the airline pilot is not what it was. The two greatest obstacles to a piloting career among students were, predictably, entry cost and, less predictably, the threat to family life. If airline chief pilots think that today's youngsters think like they used to, they'd better think again.

Source: Flight International