Alison on Airliners-Where's the Passion
By Steve Allison
There is an old saying, a plumbers taps always leak. Why? Because the last thing he wants to do on his day off is mend his own taps, much to frustration of his wife. Things are very different amongst pilots. Yes, their wives are also constantly nagging them but for the opposite reason. What do pilots do on their day off? They fly aeroplanes and their taps also leak because they spend all of their spare time in and around aeroplanes.
There are very few industries that evoke passion quite like the aviation industry. There is passion throughout the industry, it's not just amongst pilots. There was an old story of a fellow that turned up at the doctor's surgery with a broken arm. When asked by the doctor what had happened, he explained that his job was to clean out the toilets on a Boeing 727 and that he had got his arm caught. The doctor suggested that maybe he should change jobs, to which he replied, "What and not work in aviation?"
It is quite common to see airline pilots flying displays at air shows as well as technicians that have given up their free time to maintain these display aircraft. There is something that I've noticed in recent years though. The average age of the display pilots is increasing and far fewer young bloods are coming through. The change is gradual but it is a trend not only among pilots but also among other aviation skilled professionals too.
I was quite surprised speaking to a captain that I have known for several years when she told me she never wanted to see another aeroplane after she retired. I have on occasions chatted to younger airline pilots and asked what else they fly. Often the response has been, "Nothing, I do this as a job." That to me is a worrying trend.
What has changed? Well, there are a number of factors and I think the industry itself has to shoulder some of the blame. Pilots these days are being discouraged from actually flying the aircraft and are becoming systems managers. Some airlines even insist that the aircraft has the autopilot engaged whenever it is more than 500 feet above the ground. The situation is concerning for the old guard too with some training captains now encouraging pilots to be trained in aerobatic flying and get back to stick and rudder flying.
In the technical arena, we find that technicians have become parts fitters. The aircraft manufacturer produces software diagnostic tools. The aircraft monitors its systems and does its own fault logging. The technician is then told what the repair procedure is and doesn't have to do any thinking. What would inspire passion in that situation?
There is another problem, which is common in a lot of industries these days is that they are run by accountants. Accountants don't understand personalities and can only measure percentages. They come up with meaningless calculations to "prove" that by having the autopilot engaged, they can save some small fraction of a percent in fuel usage. Not to mention the fact that if we eliminate pilot input there is less chance of a mistake and therefore the airline won't be sued.
Lastly we have an instant gratification culture among the younger generation. Ask a high school child they want to be when they leave school and the answer will be, "I want to make lots of money." How that is achieved is of no consequence. Doctor? Lawyer? No, pilot, that seems like a good job, I think I'll give that a try.
My view is that if we don't somehow get the passion back, the industry that we love is going to suffer as a result. It will become a faceless business that only exists for profit, much like banking.
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