How do you teach flying in the age of autopilots?
There is no simple answer to this question, so we can start by dodging it. In Canada flight instruction is done according to the Flight Training Manual. There are thirty exercises to be mastered.
The airplane used for the training will not have an autopilot.
But it is true that students have been overheard saying, “Why do I have to learn this? I’ll be on autopilot anyway.” They are counting their chickens, looking forward to their lucrative airline career before they finish qualifying. They are thinking of money rather than learning. But it is also laziness, akin to saying, “Why should I learn trigonometry? I’ve got a scientific calculator. It’s got trig functions.”
Motivation is slippery. A good teacher can inspire. He can say, Look at this! No, from this angle. See what’s happening? Is that cool or what? But inspiration is hit or miss at best. Because a teacher loves his subject doesn’t mean all his students will. Teaching is a connection between people, like family, friendship, or love. It doesn’t always work.
But let’s move on to the practical: there are major forces at work that will make the question moot.
First, airline pay is low and getting lower. Those who are simply after the money are already pursuing careers elsewhere. Second, pilots who can’t fly know it. That is (unfortunately) evident reading the transcripts of interviews with the pilots of Asiana 214.
Motivation comes from within, from experience. It comes from actually doing or understanding something and thinking, “I could do this!” Pride in your work comes from thinking, “I can do this! I can do it well!”
The bottom line is that to learn something – to learn anything really well – you have to love it.
In Canada, the simple answer is: you teach navigation according to Exercise 23, Pilot Navigation, as laid out in the Flight Training Manual and the Flight Instructor Guide. Then, to pass the Private Pilot flight test, your student must meet the standards set out in the Flight Test Guide. There is no reference to GPS in these publications.
But that is also dodging the question. Students will likely be aware they can open their smartphone, touch Maps, and find out where they are. But caution is in order. A recent study found that people who had a good sense of direction did worse when they used a GPS or smartphone. The technology somehow shorted out their natural talent.
So the real question is How do you nurture situational awareness in pilot trainees?(Charles: link is to Technology section in Challenge article)
That’s not easy. A teacher can ask questions: all the way from “How does GPS work?” down to “So you’re going GPS direct. Is that the shortest route? The fastest route? What is the heading for Montreal direct to London, England?”
The last is a trick question. Any direct route west to east in the Northern Hemisphere, in mid-
latitudes, is a continuous right turn. If you have a globe and some string handy, you can see it. Put a finger on Montreal, holding the string, and stretch it tight to London. Look at the angle it makes crossing each meridian. Montreal to London starts on a heading of about 070° Magnetic and ends, 2800 nautical miles later, on a heading of almost 120° Magnetic. That’s a right turn of nearly 50 degrees, or more than half of a right-angle.
It is, however, the shortest route over the surface of the globe.
Restoring the Pipeline
Since the 1980’s various commercial strategies have had the side-effect of dismantling the pipeline of apprenticeship. In the 1970’s, a new student would know several very experienced pilots, and a new line pilot would fly every leg with a very experienced captain, often one with military training. Today the experience gap between the Captain and the First Officer has dwindled, often to nothing. Falling salaries have led to fewer young people entering the trade. Today feeder airlines are parking airplanes and suspending service between city pairs because there are not enough pilots. And since the first so-called loss of control accident (Colgan Air 3407 at Buffalo, NY, February 12, 2009), regulators have been looking at ways to address these problems.
Different countries have responded in different ways. The USA now requires that both Captain and First Officer have an ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot Licence) and 1500 hours flying experience.
Europe has introduced the Multi-Crew Licence, holders of which can occupy a pilot seat as long as a captain with an ATPL is on board. Canada has doubled the amount of regulation on flight training, and recently introduced Integrated Courses, where students can obtain a limited ATPL with 205 hours flying experience (“enabling them to operate as co-pilot on multi-crew, multi-engine airplanes in commercial air transportation” CAR 426.75).
None of this has had much effect on either the pilot shortage or the amount of communication between new pilots and experienced pilots. In the June 17, 2014 article What Shortage?, Flight International explored these issues. In it Roger Cohen, President of RAA (Regional Airline Association) coined the phrase “severed pipeline”, speaking of “a huge demand as pilots leave the workforce but a shrinking number of people come in”.
How can the pipeline be repaired? Commercial forces and regulation have failed. Both the pilot shortage and the number of loss of control accidents are increasing. What remains is teaching. We must find a way for old and experienced pilots to pass on their knowledge to young, aspiring pilots.
Inspiring the youth of today to want to become the pilots of tomorrow
In today’s climate they are probably turning away, looking for economic security somewhere else.
But the piloting trade has always been boom and bust. Timing is everything. And the lack of well-
paying jobs today will winnow out those who don’t fly for the love of it. In a decade or so those who have been inspired to stay with it will find a place. They will be once again able to make a living flying airplanes.
At least that’s what Chris hopes. And he hopes that he will have inspired and taught some of them.