Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington…

Noel Coward wrote this song in 1935. While there are a few theories about what induced him to write it, the gist of the lyrics is a list of reasons why Mrs Worthington’s daughter should not be allowed near the stage. Whether intended as a genuine rebuke or simply a bit of (very tongue-in-cheek British) humour, I’m appropriating it today for another ditty (you can use the original music, should you please).

Actually, it won’t be a ditty – my musical ability lags too far behind. But the revised title is:

Do or don’t you put your daughter or son in the air, Mrs Worthington?

It is a topic I’ve briefly touched on before, in 2016 and the Future for Pilots. The situation (halfway through 2018) is much the same, but a few pointers need discussion.

Over the past years, a number of forecasts have indicated that a world-wide pilot shortage is looming. At the RAeS Conference of September 2017 (Training for the new Millennium) the demand for airline pilots was depicted in this graph:


So we would need 70 new pilots per day to be trained – a total of 255 000 pilots required over the next nine years. For Africa and the Middle East the quoted number is more than 30 000 new pilots. The question is, where are they going to be found? I’ve discussed this before in Of Expensive Dachshunds and Landings, but my cue from Mrs Worthington is whether the prospective new replacements would be appropriately suitable, capable and safe.

In another RAeS paper, the International Pilot Training Association quotes the high cost as a barrier to entry for prospective pilots:
“The Outreach, Recruitment and Retention Workstream is targeting the pilot demand and aims to find ways of funding the ab initio training of pilots. With a demand of 600,000 pilots in the next 20 years and an average cost of £100,000 per Air Transport Pilot License, there are not enough pilots produced per year to cover both retirement and the growth of the industry”.

Also this:
“Next to the costs, there is a growing decline in the attractiveness of the pilot profession, as there are many other opportunities for young people. Women still represent only 7% of the pilot population. In China and India it is 13% but the interest of women in becoming pilots is likely still influenced by the myth that it is not a family friendly job”.

I would submit that this completely underestimates the current level of “unattractiveness” of the pilot profession.

The high cost should have been addressed long ago – a small group of airlines are now, belatedly, looking at finding ab-initio cadets to train. So yes, the cost is certainly a major barrier to entry.

To state that it is a myth that it is not family friendly is disingenious. The harsh reality is that a career as a pilot plays havoc with your family life. The fact is that pilots now no longer remain with one airline for a multi-decade career, but switch employers on average seven times during that career. This could mean moving a number of times to different continents – not necessarily what young families with children would find attractive.

That leads us then to the further problem our proverbial Mrs Worthington would face: The many thousands of new pilots required by 2027 would, of necessity, be so-called millennials – actually post-millennials, people born after the year 2000.

Millennials are a constantly connected, always mobile generation. Perhaps this could explain the decline in flying as a desirable career – aircraft (whether piloted by humans or machines) are simply another means of connecting them to the “now” experience. It is not something that warrants their total dedication and attention for many years.

I don’t believe that piloting could offer young post-millennials the instant rewards they seek – employers in other sectors would warn that millennials tend to “job-hop” very easily and regularly (for too many reasons to allow discussion here).

From the RAes Conference: “According to Rod Wren, CEO, Wings Alliance and Director Bristol Groundschool, around 50% of flight school graduates are not selected for airlines. “We need to train the right people,” he said. “Self-selection does not work. Instead, selection should be based on pilot core competences. Airlines need to engage with the flight training industry.” “We need to look at the person first before we look at their skills,” 

This is a scary point – one I’m afraid the training industry mostly overlooks to ensure a financial future. Not every bright-eyed millennial candidate arriving at your flight school would possess the competencies required to become a pilot – some should simply be pointed in another direction, rather than them wasting money on a very expensive training course.

These competencies have been well identified and documented, as set out in the Evidence Based Training (EBT) documents of ICAO, and IATA. In short, nine required competencies have been identified:

Two dealing with Flight Path Control – Manual and Automation;
Two dealing with Procedures – Knowledge and Application of Procedures;
and the remaining five all dealing with Human Factors or CRM competencies –
Leadership & Teamwork,
Situational Awareness,
Workload Management, and
Problem Solving & Decision Making

Generalising, I understand the millennial mantra to be (remember, Mrs Worthington is all about generalisations):
(a) I am not responsible (for anything)
(b) If you hold me responsible, I will be traumatised and need counselling.
(c) My life is ruled by social media – I don’t need to learn all this stuff. If I need to know anything I simply ask Siri or Google.
(d) I live for now, your fascination with tomorrow is your problem.

This poses the problem that most of the competencies required for pilot training would not be met – unfortunately, acquiring the required level of knowledge and skill demands unwavering dedication and the acceptance of total responsibility.

Thus it would appear that the industry is soon going to run out of willing and suitable candidates.

What does that mean – what would the answer be?

The answer lies in algorithms and artificial intelligence – which already runs much of our lives (Google and your cellphone probably already know you better than you know yourself…)

In the US there is currently a concerted effort by ALPA to avoid a vote by Congress that would mandate manufacturers to research the potential for single-pilot airliners – and, by extension, pilotless airliners.

I believe that is simply delaying the inevitable.

The future of aviation is eventually going to be a pilotless environment, with autonomous aircraft whizzing your millennials’ kids between continents – and possibly between planets.

Fortunately for me, it is not likely to happen within my lifetime – oh, hang on, my cell-phone is telling me that my roster has changed, and with it my future…

So, should you put your daughter or son in the air, Mrs Worthington?

Featured image: Noel Coward and Julie Hayden, The Scoundrel.



The Symphony of Flight

“Only once we had started, did I notice that part of the orchestra was dark – the percussionist had misread his schedule and did not arrive!”

I met Kwamé Ryan by chance – I was alerted to the fact that he was a passenger on one of my flights, heading to London via Cape Town after conducting the KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic. Through third parties we had arranged to meet in Cape Town to go up Table Mountain and to lunch afterwards, while he had a few hours to kill between flights.

Kwamé is a renowned international conductor, who has worked with many of the major orchestras in Europe and the UK. He currently freelances all over the world, while heading up the Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. Here he works on educational and community development projects.

We hit it off immediately – him the unassuming music man with an interest in aviation (he did consider piloting once), and me the pilot with an interest in music. (Many years ago I was one of the few brave souls who started a commercial classical music station, but that’s another story).

Over a vegetarian lunch (his preference) we shared life stories and anecdotes, remarking on the similarities between the roles of conductor and captain.


Maestro Ryan conducting the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. (Pic: TSO).

The conductor has to know his craft and the music well, then he has to meet a diverse group of individuals and win their confidence. Once they trust you and your abilities, you now need to mold their separate skills into a well coordinated human machine. This human machine has to be controlled, but also cajoled into performing better than spec – not just playing the notes, but making extraordinary, beautiful music. Only once this is achieved do the bravos and encores follow.

And if something goes awry, you need to think on your feet and save the performance. Kwamé related the story of the percussionist who did not arrive for a performance of Cavalleria Rusticana. This he only realised once they had started – he then had to improvise, letting another player (I think it was in the horn section) crack the whips and ring the bells, while still playing his/her own parts! The whip cracks, exactly seven of them, also served as cues for the choir to enter – you can imagine the potential for some discordant disaster!

The airline captain’s role is much the same. You need to win the confidence of the crew, the engineers, the ground controllers, the load masters and dispatch (and the passengers). All the time keeping a close eye on all of the many players in this huge orchestra and picking up the false notes or someone playing behind the beat. Only once everyone is inspired to play their part perfectly, do we achieve a push-back on time, a smooth flight and an early arrival.


Intense coordination and concentration required to arrive at this point, the finale.

Naturally, it does not always work out as planned. And now the captain has to keep calm, track the parts which can be improvised and which not, arrange and re-arrange, keep others’ frayed nerves calm and still conduct the orchestra of flight to please a very finicky audience – the passengers.

Once the flight is over, once the performance is done – it is gone, history. Now the next performance beckons – with all the associated challenges. No two flights are ever exactly the same, just as no two performances are ever the same.

And why do we do it? For the satisfaction of achieving something extraordinary, molding a team into a successful performance.

Then the encores and standing ovations (the compliments on a smooth flight, outstanding service and a brilliant landing), then these only serve to affirm that you have indeed attained what you set out to do – creating something truly beautiful.

(The featured image is from Le Figaro).