Around the Airport

Friday, February 28, 2014

Good Judgment and the Mythical Pilot Shortage

Each wayward soul that pursues flight, as a sport or a career, must endure one overly stressful occurrence to earn the license; the checkride.  Similar to a hazing followed immediately by a strict initiation ritual, this event is easily the one thing all pilots could do without if given the choice.
Officially, the tolerances a pilot must adhere to in order to pass a checkride are really quite precise.  Yet, so specific and simultaneously subjective is every maneuver that on any given day two pilots with the same performance on the same maneuvers could either pass or fail.  Fortunately though, items other than maneuvers are scored.  One of them is “judgment”.
The line item “judgment”, if properly used, allows a check airman to see a greater trait than the ability to do perfect eights on pylons or a V1 Cut to the letter with exact phraseology.  Yes judgment, or should I say good judgment, as a trait is critically important to every pilot.
Good judgment will keep you away from trouble, help you overcome unexpected dangers, and if you find yourself in need of a maneuver that goes against the almighty FARs, then good judgment will allow you to do what’s necessary without remorse or hesitation.  Good judgment is therefore perhaps the single greatest skill a pilot can possess.  That is also often the reason two equally skilled pilots have different outcomes on checkride day.
So how does good judgment apply to the mythical pilot shortage?  When airlines completely ignore the most striking evidence of sound judgment, in favor of candidates who openly display a lack of it, then it is pertinent to the shortage debate. 
When I was still flying at a regional, one of my favorite things to do was to ask new pilots how they got into flying.  Amazingly, the most common answer had nothing to do with a passion for flight.  Instead, the most numerous answer by far was, “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I looked for a job where you work the least and get paid the most.  A friend was getting his pilot’s license, it sounded good to me, and so I went to Embry Riddle (or other 141 school) and here I am”.  That answer was so common and so identical to the next that I bet many of you reading this have heard those very words.  But how does that apply to the mythical pilot shortage?
If you don’t know the answer to that question by now, I should back up and walk through the last paragraph.
First there is the statement, “I looked for a job where you work the least and get paid the most”.  That’s funny because that’s not what young regional pilots bitch about most.  Instead, as soon as they sit in the seat their biggest issues with the job are the long hours away from home and pathetic pay.  Now to be clear about this, those conditions have never been a secret.  So why then did they not know about them before making it all the way to employment?  There are only two possible answers.  New pilots chose to ignore reality and hope for the best or they did zero research.
More critical to the point I’m trying to make is the next part, “…so I went to Embry Riddle and here I am”.  That pretty much says it all.  In order to get that glamorous job as a pilot where you never work and make lots of money, the next “logical” step was to apply for student loans and go to Embry Riddle.  There they could also get a degree which is required by the majors for employment, and in the door they go.
Exiting the other side of the building, four years later, is a person with one logged hour repeated 1500 times, a worthless degree, no passion for flying, an undeserved attitude, and a crappy job.  Now they’re mad.  And to some extent, they should be.
They were deceived by their friends from day one, student loans came easy to feed the machine, the school puffed them up with BS and a bogus degree, and the airlines told them to suck it.  $100,000 - $200,000 in debt, and with nothing to fall back on, they swallow their dignity and move on with flying.  But hey, there’s always that looming pilot shortage on the horizon to keep them around.
Many years later, when a wave a hiring (not a shortage) finally happens, all of them apply to the majors and a few get a slot.  Now they’re the major’s problem.  Angry, educated in the twisted slogans of unions, probably on their second marriage, in need of more money, and still possessing no passion for flight, the regional is glad to get rid of them.  Meanwhile, thousands of pilots who love flying, and are talented beyond ten 141 pilots combined, can’t get in; nor are they even considered.
What is it that holds these deserving pilots back?  They don’t have a degree.  It’s true.  Without a degree you’ll never be considered unless your dad is friends with the chief pilot.
But what about good judgment?  That's my point exactly.  You can't find better examples?  The typical pilot who meets the qualification for a job at the majors, except for the degree, is more skilled, more driven, more rounded, and more responsible.  They ended up that way because from the beginning they were realistic people who knew what the early jobs would be like.  Therefore, there was no way they were going to become slaves to the machine to get a degree (in name only) just so they might have a chance to possibly get a job at the majors where they would live half their lives on furlough.  Instead, they took every job they could get, paid for their own lessons, learned responsibility, and used a die-hard work ethic to scrape for every hour they earned.  My friends, that is good judgment.
So why are these hardworking passionate types overlooked at the majors?  Because the folks in HR rarely have any knowledge about flying and therefore they weed people out any way they can.  Since most of the people in the office have degrees, they reaffirm their own certificates by making the assumption anyone with a degree is better than anyone without.  And in the end, a huge segment of highly skilled and desirable employees are overlooked in favor of pilots who will do nothing but lug the attitude of entitlement into the seat.  That my friends is bad judgment.

Note to my 141 friends:
Yes I know it’s always painful when this subject comes up and I’m sorry to make you face it again.  If I had 40 more pages of space, I would list all of you who’ve personally told me that if you had to do it over again you would NEVER go the 141 route.  But remember, if you’ve admitted that, you are one of the good ones.  And quite honestly, most of you are far greater 121 pilots than I will ever be and these schools infuriate me on your behalf.  If I could get your money back I would.  Yet, on a more positive note, I am thinking back to something someone very dear to my heart once told me, “Never allow anyone to call you worthless.  If nothing else, you can serve as a bad example”.

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