Aviation experts are embracing a variety of approaches to source and develop potential pilots of tomorrow, and it’s an industry-wide issue. Jo Hjalmas and Colin Rydon of L3Harris discuss the challenges.
A 'shortage of pilots' has been widely discussed in the aviation industry, but its potential impact across most of the world is still somewhat hypothetical. Regional airlines in North America and some operators in Australia have been forced to cancel flights or change routes due to insufficient pilot availability but this is a substantial global challenge which requires a collaborative focus from airlines, regulators and training providers.
As it stands, the commercial aviation sector is developing at around 6% per year, which means it is essential for pilots to be trained and placed within airlines, both as efficiently and as effectively as possible.
People and preparation
According to Airbus and Boeing order books, from now until 2024, almost 10,500 new aircraft will be joining the global fleet, which amounts to approximately 2,100 per year. This will require 30,000 new pilots every year for the next five years – 70% of that number to support predicted demand and 30% to replace those retiring.
Within some regions, the shortage is being exacerbated by the number of pilots who are about to reach the mandatory retirement age of 65. Furthermore, there is a shortage of captains for expanding airlines, which means a solid foundation of training is even more vital in helping to fast-track pilot careers.
Demand for pilots is simply outpacing supply and airlines are looking to organisations, such as L3Harris, to help address the matter. The ‘pilot shortage’ is an industry-wide challenge, thus the responsibility to address it lies not only with training providers such as ours, but also with regulators and airlines alike. We believe that there are two main areas where pilot training providers can really support the supply of new training. Firstly, diversifying and, therefore, widening the pool of pilots we instruct, and secondly, revolutionising and modernising the way in which pilots are prepared to use new technologies to improve both the quality and efficiency of their learning.
In terms of widening the talent pool of aspiring pilots, it is vital that we attract a more diverse group of potential flyers. With women only making up an estimated 6% of commercial airline pilots globally, a lot of focus is rightly placed on improving gender diversity.
However, it is important that we also improve the representation of pilots from all backgrounds in the cockpit.
At L3Harris we are trying to improve accessibility to training by lowering barriers of funding and increasing awareness and understanding of the career opportunities. Last year, we launched the L3Harris Pilot Pathways Program, which aims to address both factors through providing scholarships. We launched a UK and EU Female Pilot Scholarship which offered ten scholarships worth £25,000 towards the cost of our airline transport pilot licence training programme. In November 2018, we announced that all the places had been offered and cadets have now started their training, and last year we launched a similar initiative in the US in partnership with SkyWest Airlines, which has resulted in a huge amount of interest. All ten of our US scholarships places will be confirmed in early 2020.
Our vision at L3Harris, is to eventually reach a 50/50 gender balance of pilots with applicants from all backgrounds – raising awareness both inside and outside of the aviation industry and ultimately increasing the size of the talent pool.
However, as much as we must be agile in the ways in which we attract new talent, we also need to be flexible and forward-thinking when it comes to the ways in which we teach our cadets, carefully considering how we can use new technology to improve both the quality and efficiency of training.
The new generation of pilots’ methods of learning are changing – and we are making sure that the tools we have at our disposal reflect this. Moving from the traditional classroom-based learning to more mobile digital tool sets – which provide a more immersive and engaging training experience. These digital tools provide much more capability in both enhancing the quality of the learning experience and also the amount of data being created to support the training programme.
Monitoring the journey
Data is also at the heart of the future training environment and enables the shift to evidence-based instruction. It allows improved monitoring and, therefore, support with an individual cadet’s training journey. With correct analysis through big data, training providers are able to tailor elements of the training course to better match the varied requirements of different airlines, aircraft and regions. The more data that is collated on a trainee’s performance, the better we will be able to manage and customise the programme. It allows us to better measure and evaluate the pilot’s competencies for the specific airline or aircraft. This data can be obtained from aircraft, to Full Flight Simulators to fixed panel devices and iPads.
We are constantly looking to expand the data sets that we analyse. In June 2019 we acquired Flight Data Services, who are experts in aviation data monitoring and analysis. This technology and expertise will be integrated into our training devices as well as our courses to better support our instructors and cadets. We are talking with some major airlines to help them develop their own evidence-based tailored programme, through better utilising data sets which we can now analyse to develop insights with greater ability than ever before.
The breadth of the data we can record, monitor and assess is also increasing, providing a more rounded view of the training. For example, for the first time in civil aviation training, we have integrated innovative eye-tracking solutions into a full flight simulator (FFS), through a partnership with Seeing Machines, the advanced computer vision technology company designing AI-powered operator monitoring systems to improve transport safety.
This means that detailed recording and analysis of the trainee’s eye movements around the head-up display can be known, dramatically assisting the instructors to monitor and evaluate the performance of the pilots. Something which previously has been very tricky to undertake.
We are not acting alone in looking at innovative and forward-thinking approaches to attracting and developing more pilots. Airlines and regulators alike are also launching new reforms and initiatives to address it. This is vital to tackle the industry issue collaboratively. We will continue to work with our customers and partners to help ensure the impact of the pilot shortage remains a hypothetical one, and our aviation world never has to stand still.