Bizav 101 lacking from future pilots’ curriculum

 - May 8, 2008, 11:30 AM

Where will we find tomorrow’s pilots? The military, long a provider of trained aviators, hasn’t produced sufficient numbers to satisfy the civil aviation demand for quite some time. It is the collegiate and private-academy flight-training programs that have taken up the slack and will continue to be the primary provider of pilots indefinitely.

While anyone in corporate aviation can tick off the ills of airline operations, the one area in which airlines are very successful is recognizing the quality of civilian-trained pilots and recruiting them. Part of the reason for their success is simply because an airline pilot’s career is far more visible than its corporate counterpart, but the airlines are also playing it smarter. They are actively engaging civilian professional pilot training programs with internships and bridge programs.

“There is a real lack of exposure to corporate aviation for students,” said Sheryl Barden, vice president of business development and recruiting for New Orleans-based Aviation Personnel International. “Airlines are the most visible simply because you don’t really see corporate pilots in everyday life.” Barden wonders if universities are doing enough to inform students and give them corporate-aviation-related programs. “Most universities have a nearby corporate flight department that would make a wonderful resource,” she said. “Their pilots could speak to students, maybe teach a class, give tours of their facilities and generally act as a resource person for the institution.”

Paul Vincenti graduated last year from the FlightSafety Academy at Vero Beach, Fla., and opted to go into corporate aviation. “I was fortunate because I was able to talk to a family acquaintance who is in corporate aviation,” he told AIN. “I thought it over and decided I liked the idea of corporate aviation better than the airlines, and it turns out I was right. I like every aspect of the job. When I look back at my time in training, it would have been really helpful if the academy had corporate pilots come in so we could pick their brains and learn from them. At the same time, they could have looked over the program and gotten a feel for just how good it is. Here’s a brand-new pilot who’s new to the industry, who’s really well trained and well suited for corporate aviation, and who’s dying to get his first job. You couldn’t ask for someone more motivated.”

Carolyn Williamson, executive director of the University Aviation Association, agrees that there is a need for educating students about the corporate-aviation option. The UAA is the voice of collegiate aviation education and represents 800 members, including 115 institutions. She pointed to the student seminar held during the National Business Aviation Association annual convention as an excellent example of a partnership between business and the collegiate aviation community. This year, the corporate aviation career session at the NBAA/UAA Reaching Future Business Aviation Professionals seminar was attended by more than 240 students representing 15 college and university programs from Florida to Minnesota. Jay Evans, NBAA’s director for operations, served as facilitator. Evans opened the session with good news about $100,000 in corporate scholarships available to students at UAA and NBAA member institutions.

Panelists for this year’s event included Bill Wagner, director of aviation for Townsend Engineering; David Benoff, editor and maintenance specialist for Business and Commercial Aviation magazine; Jason Gunter, a Beech Baron 55 captain and King Air A100 first officer; and Steve Quilty of the University Aviation Association. According to Williamson, while the majority of students who attended had an interest in pursuing pilot careers, the seminar also highlighted other opportunities such as maintenance, avionics, marketing, dispatching, cabin attendants, manufacturing and FBO services.

Evans explained that NBAA has a long history of taking aviation to students. “NBAA is dedicated to the promotion of aviation education over a wide range of age levels,”
he said. “For instance, we have AvKids [www.avkids.com], a program geared for elementary-school children. The Web site contains a teacher’s resource manual, kid’s center with activities, a kid’s art gallery, a resource center, a presentation on careers in business aviation, a list of hyperlinks to other Web sites of interest and a wealth of other resource information.

“We work very closely with UAA now, and all students enrolled in UAA member institutions can attend the NBAA convention free,” Evans said. More than 240 students registered for the convention this year. But knowing that corporate aviation exists and being able to get a job as a corporate pilot are two different things.

The problem is a lack of understanding on the part of corporate flight department management. According to NBAA, about half of the organization’s members learned to fly in the military and about half were trained in civilian pilot training programs. Today’s flight department managers tend to range in age from their late 40s to early 60s. If the managers were military-trained pilots, they tend to have an inherent distrust of civilian-trained pilots, according to NBAA surveys.

Distrust of Civilian-trained Pilots

Ironically, those managers who were civilian trained often have a similar distrust of today’s civilian-trained pilots. They are remembering civilian flight training programs in the late 1950s and 1960s that were very fundamental. The common misconception today is that students graduating from civilian training programs lack the knowledge and experience to act as first officer on a corporate aircraft. The truth is, contemporary professional pilot programs are as comprehensive as, if not more than, military flight training programs with respect to preparation for corporate aviation.

“Let’s face it, flight departments are bad at recruiting pilots,” said Townsend chief pilot Wagner. “I’m passionate about the idea that corporate aviation is on the brink of a decade of good times. I see us coming out of the current problems very strong and I think we have a spectacular future. The problem is we’re going to experience a significant attrition of pilots through retirements because so many are from the Vietnam era. We’ve not done a good job of cultivating pilots in the past, so here’s an opportunity to start over again and put greater emphasis on working with the young and inexperienced.”

Wagner stressed there’s more to flying than just stick-and-rudder. “Tomorrow’s pilots must be well-rounded. They need problem-solving skills, a working knowledge of crew coordination and crew resource management, for instance,” Wagner said. “Formal training programs such as university flight programs and professional flight training academies graduate pilots much more suited to corporate aviation than ever before.”

“Corporate flight departments need to know what a great resource we have in these programs,” Dick Skovgaard said. As center manager of the FlightSafety Academy at Vero Beach, he is critically aware of the perception many flight department managers have of civilian school graduates. “We need to get chief pilots in here to see training in progress. They need to meet the students and instructors, interview some of them and fly with them in our aircraft, the simulators and even in their own aircraft. What we’ve found is that once they take a look for themselves they become believers. These young pilots are trained and disciplined in a structured environment. They understand the importance of the rules, the airspace and the operation of a professional aircraft.”

Like Father, Like Son

Bill Wagner is an example. He is a Navy-trained pilot, so when his son told him he wanted to go to the FlightSafety Academy to learn to be a professional pilot, Wagner was skeptical. He decided to pay a visit to the school and came away so impressed that he has become a resource person and even appears in an academy ad with his son.

What Wagner learned was that FlightSafety Academy produces a highly knowledgeable 250- to 300-hour commercial/instrument pilot. The academy also has a program in which graduates take a specialized jet orientation course after which they are considered capable regional airline first officers.

“We’ve had 100 graduates complete the RJ [regional jet] indoctrination program, then go on to fly for ASA in Atlanta,” Skovgaard said. The program includes training on jet aircraft systems, high-altitude operations, glass cockpits and crew coordination. Students also get training in a level-D flight simulator with a glass cockpit. “We actually use ASA procedures and call-outs,” Skovgaard explained. One of the key elements of the academy’s program is that about half of the students’ commercial/instrument dual instruction is flown in multi-engine aircraft.

Skovgaard said select graduates are chosen to stay on at the academy to be instructors. “The student takes the flight-instructor single-engine course and is then interviewed for an instructing job. The interview includes a sample teaching lesson and a simulator ride. If the candidate successfully completes the interview phase he or she enrolls in the instrument-instructor course and goes through a three-week single-engine standardization course. At that point about 60 percent of them get hired and agree to instruct for a minimum of 800 hours at the academy. In return, we reimburse them for the instrument-flight-instructor course. They begin flying with students in single-engine aircraft and we put them through the multi-engine instructor course at our cost.

“At 200 hours of single-engine dual given, the instructors go through a two-week multi-engine standardization course. Upon successful completion they begin instructing students in multi-engine aircraft for the duration of their 800-hour commitment,” Skovgaard explained. “As the instructors approach the end of their commitment, we put them through a jet-orientation course at our expense, including the level-D simulator sessions. It’s a somewhat abbreviated version of our $25,000 RJ indoctrination course, but these instructors are a lot more experienced at that point. The average instructor will have been teaching for us about a year and will have approximately 500 hours of multi-engine time.”

Jason Gunter is a product of that program. He left the academy about eight months ago and went directly to Laconia, N.H.-based Sky Bright, a Part 135 charter operation. Gunter flies the company’s two Beech Barons single pilot and serves as a first officer on its King Air A100.

“I started out in the Baron, sat in the right seat briefly, then just started flying PIC on charter,” he said. “I was comfortable making the transition to a Part 135 operation. The academy put heavy emphasis on instrument training, which is done in multi-engine aircraft. I had 500 hours of multi-engine, all from the academy, when I was hired. I was comfortable and felt prepared for the real world, even though I had only 1,400 hours total.

“The only problem I saw was that rarely did anyone from corporate aviation come talk to us at the academy. The airlines came and interviewed us, but I don’t remember any corporations coming to interview us. I was probably at the academy about a year before I knew corporate aviation was a viable option. Everyone there pretty much had their sights set on the airlines.” A lack of corporate involvement isn’t limited to the academy. Everyone interviewed expressed the same concern.

Corporate Aviation Is a Secret

Barbara Snoden, assistant professor in the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Prescott, Ariz., said, “Corporate aviation is a secret. Our students don’t have a clue; most haven’t even heard of Bill Lear. The problem is that corporate flight departments don’t get involved with students, so everyone thinks ‘airlines.’”

Snoden echoed the sentiment of other academics: “Corporate flight departments need to be involved and especially need to provide students with meaningful internships.” Beyond that, Snoden said she could use basic materials for her corporate aviation classes. “I need pamphlets, videos and other resource material geared toward corporate aviation,” she said. “Even corporate aviation-related magazines price themselves out of the reach of the average student. I teach only two corporate aviation classes, with a total of 28 students out of a student body of 800. I think they may be the only ones on campus who have even an idea that corporate aviation exists.”

Vincenti, another FlightSafety Academy graduate, had an experience similar to Gunter’s. He too finished his stint at the academy about eight months ago and is now flying as first officer on a Sabreliner. “I went from 13 months of instructing at the academy to the right seat of a Sabre 65 in a corporate flight department,” he said. “As luck would have it, after about five months they sold it and bought a Gulfstream 200. I’m still in the right seat but it looks as if I’m going to be typed in about a year.”

Vincenti said he felt comfortable starting out in the Sabreliner. “The academy’s emphasis on standardization and the instruction in crew resource management, cross-country work, the ATC system and turbine equipment in general made the difference.”

“Today’s civilian flight training programs can be every bit as sophisticated and comprehensive as their military counterparts,” Al Ueltschi, president of FlightSafety International, told AIN. “If you’re going to fly professionally you have to have discipline, honesty, integrity and manners. Those are major issues in our program. It isn’t simply stick-and-rudder flying anymore; it’s about being a professional in a sophisticated aircraft operating in a complex environment. You take one of our instructors after 800 hours of teaching and you have a first-class pilot. I’d put one of them in the right seat of any corporate aircraft. They’re the future of our industry.”

Bill Gibson, manager of flight operations for a major corporate flight department, agrees with Ueltschi. “These young men and women are highly talented. They come out of collegiate aviation programs and professional academies such as FlightSafety with excellent training. Add to that the proper entry-level aircraft familiarization program and you’ve got a highly qualified copilot. These programs are putting out a significantly more qualified graduate than was the case 20 years ago.”

Don Baldwin, flight department manager for Coca-Cola and the vice chairman of NBAA, has hired graduates of collegiate programs. “When I was with Texaco I sat on the FlightSafety Academy advisory board because they wanted corporate representation,” he explained. “What I saw was graduates instructing at the academy then going direct to regional carriers, and the regional carrier members of the board were highly complimentary. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure regional jets and corporate aircraft are very similar. So I also started looking at Embry-Riddle because I had some of its graduates working for me at the time. They had a bridge program with some regional airlines, somewhat similar to the academy’s, and it too was working just as well. So I thought, why can’t we do this in corporate aviation?”

A bridge program provides a structure in which the student completes training, typically is recruited by a regional airline, and then continues on as a flight instructor for some specified period of time while accumulating both flight time and advanced training. At some agreed-upon point the candidate is hired by the airline. Details vary among programs and there are seldom guarantees of employment, but the programs have proved highly beneficial for both student and airline.

Convincing Management

Baldwin discovered that the real challenge wasn’t finding qualified graduates but overcoming management’s comfort level with hiring an entry-level pilot with as little as 800 hours. “These guys were used to having pilots with a lot of experience in the cockpit. I made a presentation to key Texaco management, zeroing in on the quality of the program and its benefits. I stressed that a qualified entry-level pilot makes a loyal employee who’s likely to stay with the company for the long term. Management finally bought into the idea and we hired a couple of graduates. They did a fabulous job, but when Texaco merged, our flight department closed.”

Since taking over as flight department manager at Coca-Cola, Baldwin has hired other collegiate-trained pilots, including a graduate of Purdue University’s Department of Aviation Technology. “I was particularly impressed that she had completed a Beechjet initial program while at Purdue,” Baldwin said.

Dr. Tom Carney, professor and department head of the aviation technology program at Purdue, explained the program. “I believe one of the reasons our flight students excel is that they have a firm grounding not just in the flight ratings, but they spend a lot of time on Part 25 aircraft operations. During our students’ junior and senior years, they fly our Boeing 727 full-motion simulator with heavy emphasis on the crew concept and jet operations,” he said. “They understand the components, systems operation and procedures of Part 25 aircraft. It isn’t so much that it is a type-specific course, but rather they learn how to approach that type of aircraft to prepare for a flight check.”

Carney said five of the faculty, including himself, are captains on the university’s staff-transportation aircraft. They operate two Super King Air B200s and a Beechjet 400A with a four-tube EFIS system, dual FMS, TCAS II and TAWS. He said they are currently in the process of having the Beechjet certified for DRVSM. “Every student in the professional pilot program flies a minimum of nine hours in the King Air on corporate flights in support of the university faculty and staff. Because of the nature of the flights, students don’t pay a penny for the flight time,” he explained. “They operate as a corporate aircraft copilot in every respect, including flying alternate legs.”

Carney said that every year four students are selected for an internship with the university. “Those students go to SimuFlite, where they are type-rated in the Beechjet at our expense. They then work for a year as a copilot. It is an unpaid position, but all expenses are covered when they’re on the road. The interns get between 125 and 150 hours of flight time during their internship. That’s a lot of jet experience for free, and they are immersed in advanced navigation, aviation weather and all aspects of corporate flight operations,” he said.

“The point is that collegiate professional pilot students get more than simply stick-and-rudder time. These are well educated individuals with classical mathematics, English, humanities and physics taught by people who have Ph.D.s in those areas. They get the advantage of a large research institution and a four-year degree. They’re not just trained, they’re educated,” Carney stressed.

Curriculum Standards

The driving force behind the significant improvements in collegiate aviation over the past 15 years is the Council on Aviation Accreditation (www.caaaccreditation.org). The CAA has developed academic standards for various aviation-related disciplines in concert with the airlines and corporate aviation. “It is industry and academia coming together to develop curricula that are appropriate for today’s marketplace,” Carney explained. “What they provide are standards rather than a specific curriculum so it accommodates the creativity and diversity of individual institutions.”

CAA member institutions are provided with core topics that must be covered for a given degree program. The institution must show it covers those topics with at least the minimum hours specified but allows for each institution to design a program that takes advantage of its own strengths.

Western Michigan University received CAA accreditation in July for its Bachelor of Aviation Science degree. The College of Aviation has more than 950 students enrolled in B.S. programs covering maintenance, flight and management. The college operates 60 training aircraft, including two Extra 300s used for unusual attitude training. It also uses five Frasca flight-training devices and a full-motion Boeing 737-400 simulator.

Bob Aardema, interim dean of aviation at WMU, agrees that his graduates are ready to move into the right seat of a corporate aircraft. “Our graduates have successfully completed a highly dis- ciplined and structured flight training program. They are familiar with modern flight management systems and digital electronics and controls. These are educated pilots with a solid depth and breadth of knowledge in many areas, including interpersonal communications, psychology, mathematics, physics, business and economics. You simply can’t find more trainable and highly motivated individuals.”

Insurance Issues

In discussing the issue with various corporate flight department managers, the most common concern was insurance. One flight department manager felt his insurance company would never allow a fresh graduate to fill a seat on his company’s midsize jet. “Insurance requirements keep getting tougher, not easier,” he said. But Mike Sweeney, president of USAIG, was much more open-minded about the prospect.

“The concept of taking a less experienced but well trained pilot into a jet or turboprop program is not new,” Sweeney told AIN. “Several regional airlines have been involved with such programs in conjunction with a university or flight academy program. The keys to success are screening the candidates and the quality of the program. A properly motivated and qualified pilot can be prepared for a corporate flight department flight crew position, just as the military or regional airlines have prepared pilots, with what might be considered minimal flight experience.”

Sweeney said that with airline cutbacks swelling the pool of experienced pilots, the need to turn to universities and flight academies may have lessened of late. However, he cautioned, it will eventually change and the need for pilots will reappear. “Corporate aviation leaders should anticipate this need and work with the university and flight academy program directors to establish standards for training programs to meet their future needs,” he urged. “The program should be designed to introduce the pilot to new technology in the cockpit, crew resource management, aeronautical decision-making as part of a crew, high-altitude-flight physiological training, emergency training and extensive simulator line-oriented flight training. As with any program, it must be constantly challenged and ‘tweaked’ to keep it fresh and current. Input from corporate operators is critical to ensure the quality and value of the program.”

While Sweeney did say that insurance underwriters rely heavily on experience in turbine aircraft–particularly in the make and model–when evaluating an aviation risk, he also said professional initial and recurrent training could be considered as an offset to total flight hours. Since expensive aircraft and high limits of liability are at risk, underwriters will err on the side of caution when approving a pilot. Nonetheless, insurance providers shared the belief that a clear, well designed program for the less-experienced pilot will be the determining factor in gaining their support and confidence.

Debbie Fanjoy, an executive underwriter for Global Aerospace (previously Associated Aviation Underwriters), said, “Many universities and aviation programs are dedicated to producing professional pilots with airline transport pilot proficiency skills. While there is no substitute for the seasoning acquired through flight experience, there are some key elements for an underwriter to evaluate when presented with a risk involving a corporate flight department engaged in recruiting pilots from established aviation academic programs.”

Fanjoy suggested that quality programs would combine rigorous academic requirements with extensive flight training in aircraft as well as simulators. “Flight training is generally conducted in a concentrated dose, taking the student from primary through advanced crew operations,” she explained. “Crew resource management is an essential element of professional flight education. Most professional pilot programs incorporate exposure to modern avionics and an option for turbine transition. It is absolutely essential that if the corporate flight department participates in partnerships, or bridge programs, it is structured in such a way to support these arrangements.”

Other thoughts on how to make a recent graduate acceptable to an insurance provider took into consideration the fleet composition itself. “It would be desirable if the flight department’s fleet allowed for appropriate transitions from lesser to more complex equipment,” Fanjoy suggested. “Then, too, there’s the stability and tenure of the flight department staff and management. Attention must be given to pairing less experienced pilots with experienced staff.”

Insurance providers contacted for this article all shared the opinion that support from the underwriting community for such a program will emerge only if the underwriters have confidence in the program. The best way to gain that approval is to include the underwriters in the process, allowing for their input in both the initial training phase and in the mentoring process while assigned to the flight department. “Properly managed, the program can be successful and, most important, can be safe,” Fanjoy stressed.

Fuzzy Path to Management

But if a new pathway to the right seat is becoming clearer, the pathway to management still remains fuzzy. In conversations with numerous chief pilots around the country, it became apparent that the most common way for a small company to start a flight department is to hire its trusted charter pilot. The process begins when a CEO decides to buy an aircraft and hires his favorite charter pilot to fly it. As time goes on, more pilots and aircraft are added and eventually the flight department is a significant entity being run by someone with no business or management experience. Worse, the CEO feels loyalty to the pilot, who invariably doesn’t want to retire or move aside yet can’t do the job effectively. Such a scenario almost always ends bitterly. Barden said that’s exactly why her company, Aviation Personnel International, exists.

“[We say to a potential client,] let us help you put together a synergistic team when you start a flight department,” she said. “You’re far better off not hiring your buddy to start up a new flight department but rather putting together the right mix of people who will help you grow.” Barden emphasized that being a good pilot has nothing to do with being a good flight department manager. “We need formal undergraduate and graduate programs addressing that issue,” she said. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the flight department manager who feels he’s slowly getting in over his head. “NBAA has a terrific program for the certification of flight department managers,” noted Jack Olcott, president of the National Business Aviation Association. Olcott told AIN that NBAA has always been a very education-oriented organization. “Our programs go all the way into the elementary grades,” he said, referring to the AvKids program.

“It’s clear that many professions have the same challenge we in aviation have: bridging the practitioner into management. It’s a classic cliché but there is a difference between being a practitioner and being a manager,” Olcott explained. “For one, salary structure encourages people to strive for management positions but a fulfilling job depends on much more than title and salary. To be fulfilling, a job has to be aligned with a person’s motivations, sense of accomplishment and so on. One should examine what one really wants in life. It comes down to knowing what, one wants then preparing to do it properly.”

Olcott said being the head of a flight department requires its own unique set of skills and knowledge. “You have to prepare properly. There is administration; there is management; and there is leadership. Each has its own knowledge and skill set. The leader has the vision and sets goals. The administrator is essentially a plotter, and a manager makes it all work together. These people aren’t born that way. They require training,” he emphasized.

NBAA’s Professional Development Program is specifically designed to help a full-time employee obtain the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in aviation management. PDP currently has 11 providers that present more than 50 different courses related to corporate aviation management. In 1998, the NBAA Corporate Aviation Management Committee started PDP and charged universities with teaching NBAA members to become better managers. Embry-Riddle offers courses covering each of the 27 objectives identified. It has taught some 1,500 courses in a distance-learning format since the program began in 1998. To date, more than 50 students have completed the entire program. Ten universities currently offer PDP courses (see www.nbaa.org).

Starting next October at its convention, NBAA will be administering its first certified aviation manager’s exam. NBAA’s Evans said, “We’re not only trying to certify future flight department managers, but we’re trying to tell the corporations why it is important to use them. We want to prepare future business aviation professionals for management roles within a business aviation career.”

There are some prerequisites to taking the exam, including some level of experience, some educational background or completion of continuing education courses such as the PDP. “Regardless of how they meet the requirements, the point is to help good pilots become good managers,” Evans said.