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Watch: What it takes to become a commercial pilot

Updated : November 21, 2019 11:59 AM IST

Being a commercial pilot is still seen as one of the world’s most glamorous jobs, but as parts of the industry face pilot shortages and planes become more automated, we find out what it takes for today’s future pilots to get their wings.

Pilot academies are becoming more important, as concerns spread over a pilot shortage in the commercial aviation industry. One reason for the decrease, according to industry experts, was the 1978 Deregulation Act.

It removed federal government control over the US airline industry and began the era of the low-cost carrier. As a result, airlines such as Pan-Am went out of business. This led to widespread redundancies across the industry, and the pilots that kept their

In 1980, there were about 8,27,000 pilots in America. That means there are more than 2,00,000 fewer pilots flying in the US today, despite increasing demand for air travel.

The number of global air passengers is expected to double to 8.2 billion by 2037. The September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 also saw many major airlines declare bankruptcy and caused further job losses. US passenger airlines

employed about 5,20,000 people in 2000.

By 2003, this fell nearly 15 percent to about 4,45,000. Employment in the US aviation sector continued to fall for the next seven years.

American aircraft manufacturer Boeing say that by 2038 the global industry will need more than 8,00,000 new pilots to keep up with demand, with the Asia Pacific region leading the growth, requiring 266,000 pilots.

The airline industry is particularly lacking female pilots.

There were more than 9,000 female commercial pilots globally in 2019. That means that just over 5 percent of commercial pilots are women.

Located thirty miles north of FTA training agency in the  UK is a company called Jet Masterclass.

This is where pilots from FTA come to do their multi crew training, the last stage of an expensive, two year long commercial pilot’s qualification.

The training for a commercial pilot’s license costs around $1,46,000.

To pass the FTA integrated course you need: 188 flight hours, 50 of which are without an instructor. Six months studying in the Airline Transport Pilot License ground school that ends with 14 written exams. And finally cadets need 45 hours of multi crew training which involves 25 hours theory in the classroom and 20 hours in a simulator.

The simulator is the first time cadets will experience the feeling of flying in a commercial airliner.

But how much time will future pilots be spending with their hands on the controls? Autopilots have evolved into flight-management systems that can run almost every part of a journey.

Automation’s been around for many years. Advanced navigation equipment nowadays that allows you to fly very efficiently whereas in the older days it was much more sort of conventional navigation from point to point.

If you buy a car, you don’t go straight to learning the cruise control, you learn to drive it first and our multi-crew courses are fully manually flown to ensure that the underlying competency is there.

When the automation is not doing what it should be doing or what you ask it to do, then you need to be able to revert back to manual flight. To really get an idea of how automated planes can be.

Despite the reported demand for pilots, will they be needed in the future?

Both Airbus and Boeing are preparing for a single-pilot commercial aviation world, re-designing cockpits and now testing in simulators single pilot operated aircraft.

Airlines are particularly keen on the financial benefits.

A report published in 2017 by the bank UBS, suggests that moving a two-pilot set up to a single-pilot operation could save the civil aviation industry $15 billion a year.

Going fully pilotless would increase that figure to $35 billion.

We could be looking at a future of commercial air travel with single pilot planes or no pilot planes, do you think that’s a good thing?

Automation is a highly valuable thing; it decreases your workload absolutely.

What I would say is when things go wrong and you’ve got to make a decision it’s always best to be able to put that decision through a second person and come to a consensus, rather than one individual making that decision.

The degree of sophistication in automation of airplanes has improved enormously and so one of the biggest hazards, threats, call it what you wish is complacency.

However, in a recent survey of 22,000 people in the US, 70 percent of respondents said they would fly without a pilot in their lifetime and 58 percent

said they would consider it in the next 10 years. There are some that believe single pilot planes are just the next step in aviation.

Ali Baghchehsara is CEO of Lisa Group, a company that develops aviation automation systems. Right now you are exactly right on the edge for the next generation. Pilots have been always getting new training and they still make mistakes. Single pilot operation is requiring a lot of mindset change as well because we are going to rely on something that we haven't been relying on much.

The commercial airline industry has become a symptom of the increasingly automated world we live in.

Autopilot can now fly the majority of commercial flights and single pilot planes are being considered.

But it’s clear that the ability to fly the plane and not just manage them is still as important for tomorrow’s pilot as it is for today’s.
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