Historically the training road to becoming a commercial pilot was somewhat ill-defined and haphazard but pilot shortages are changing that, including at the commercial pilot school level.
“DANGER-DANGER-DANGER!” The red PILOT SHORTAGE light on your career’s instrument panel is flashing! A severe worldwide pilot shortage has spawned many new schools oriented to preparing pilots with the skills that are most beneficial AND YOU ARE IN THE POLE POSITION TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT!.
Aviation, like technology, is now vastly more sophisticated and complex. The explosion of turbine-powered aircraft sales (turboprops and jets) has outpaced commercial use of non-turbine aircraft and that has created the need for better trained pilots. In 2014, there were 2,066 turbine airplanes and helicopters delivered as compared with 1,359 piston airplanes and helicopters.1 This represents a 3.5% increase over the previous year. It’s also interesting to note that sales appear to be swinging away from propeller aircraft and even turboprops have incrementally dropped over the last few years. The trend clearly appears to be in favor of jet aircraft.
With increases in commercial operators’ use of turbine aircraft comes the attendant utilization of more sophisticated flight management systems and aircraft automation. Such “gee-whiz” technologies paradoxically make some things easier but also introduce additional duties due to the necessity to monitor and manage these systems to ensure that the automation functions as desired.
Because commercial pilots are more likely apt to be flying sophisticated jets and most jets require two pilots, emphasis on flying as a crew has come into focus more than ever. There was a time when single-pilot flying was what one expected to be doing in their career and it was only the fringe of the aviation industry (mostly airlines and corporate jets) that relied on multi-pilot cockpits. But that is changing and fortunately “crew concept” is now part of the pilots’ training regimen. This is good because flying as a crew is considerably different than flying alone.
We now know more about adverse weather than we ever knew before. And, although commercial pilots will still be encountering bad weather that has existed since Wilbur Wright made his first flight at Kitty Hawk, aviation meteorology has advanced and today we have better knowledge of the cues that lead to unsafe conditions. In concert with this new knowledge, new technologies and systems such as the wind shear alert system, work very well so long as a pilot’s responses are appropriate to it.
It is obvious that when you step up into a faster aircraft, things will be happening much more quickly. Shooting an approach in a single-engine reciprocating engine aircraft at 80 or 100 knots gives a pilot more time to interpret and react. This is changing with the trend now moving toward faster turbine equipment. For instance, typically jets fly instrument approaches at 140 to 160 knots. This obviously requires faster scan, responses, and better planning.
Fortunately for pilots, the aviation training industry has answered this need and schools are beefing up their courses by introducing more pertinent curricula. Flight simulation, once available only with airlines, business pilot schools and in the military, is now being found elsewhere. Companies that have been building simulators longer than anyone are producing advanced simulation products and they’re being gobbled-up by general aviation flight schools as well as colleges with flight training programs. When checking out a commercial pilot school for your commercial training ask if they have simulators. If they do, it indicates more of a commitment to your training quality and ultimate success. Simulators are very expensive for a commercial pilot school to buy but for the student they not only reduce the cost of training but they add flexibility to repeat maneuvers more easily and learn new skills without the need to holler over engine noise. Of course, there are now many new procedures and types of approaches with which pilots will encounter. It is much more economical ticking off your flight time. You’ll probably find that by nailing down the maneuvers in a simulator, you will find them much easier to demonstrate in the actual airplane.
Many schools are making another huge commitment to your preparation for a solid career as a pilot; they’re actually buying turboprops or turbojets as well as helicopters for training! Each one of these optional things that you might find at a flight school is significant and underscores their commitment to your success.
There are fewer active pilots these days which is great news for anyone thinking about flying as a career. Although the numbers of private and commercial pilots have decreased since last year, the number of pilots obtaining Airline Transport Pilot certificates have actually increased.2 This trend suggests that serious pilots are increasingly in pursuit of aviation’s “doctorate degree” and realize that it is no longer competitive with anything less than the FAA’s gold standard. The progressive flight schools are placing more emphasis on training that will familiarize the pilot seeking a career with those things that the pilot will likely encounter and that means advanced aircraft and aircraft requiring type ratings. By the way, if a pilot has passed the ATP written and meets the flight time requirements for the certificate an ATP is almost like a “freebie” and is automatically awarded for a successful type rating check-ride. And keep in mind another “freebie”- If you get your commercial license and instrument rating from an FAA Part 141 school and you meet the academic requirements, the 1,500 hour requirement for an ATP is reduced to 1,250 hours!
So do your homework and check out the flight schools with a keen eye on the ones that are tailored to prepare you beyond just meeting minimum standards and requirements to sneak through the check-ride. The commercial pilot school that has your career success in the forefront of how they will prepare you is the one that will help you most.
1 – 2014 General Aviation Statistical Databook & 2015 Industry Outlook – General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Washington, DC
2 – Ibid