24 May 2018
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The Pilot Shortage

A Secular Miracle

Over the past sevenish years I have gone from an airline-hating rarely-flyer with an evil airline scum softkey on my computer to a semi-frequent flyer. The softkey is now rarely used, despite at least one very recent opportunity. I'm still no fan of the airlines, but I have an admission to make: Modern jet travel, despite the discomfort and tedium, is a miracle. I use the term miracle in its secular sense; I don't feel the need for divine intercession as we approach the runway nor do I feel that I'm only a prayer and a bit of structural aluminum away* from an uncontained engine failure. The secular miracle is this: I can get up in the morning on the West Coast and go to sleep the same calendar day on the East Coast. (And, of course, vice versa.)

You probably know about this. Most likely you've accomplished the same yourself with the help of the airlines. And according to the recent statistics, you didn't die in a fiery crash or other mishap during the trip. Wouldn't it be a shame if we could no longer travel from coast to coast, affordably and on demand?

Of Course It Would

As stupid as that rhetorical question is, Voices of Alarm are frequently being raised that there won't be enough pilots to shepherd the requisite number of aircraft from airport to airport. It seems that fewer and fewer "young people" are interested in the aviation trades. The way you get to be an airplane pilot is, generally, to take your flying lessons in something other than a Boeing 737. Rather, you, young person that you hypothetically are, go to your local airport (if it hasn't been sold to a developer) watch the little planes take off and land (almost inevitably in that order) and think to yourself "That looks like fun! Maybe I could be a pilot someday." At least you would if your game console or computer weren't emitting eyeball gluons or other attention grabbing rays or particles.

So many impediments militate against training to be an airline pilot, e.g., high cost, low wages and terrible hours, that one needs a large "pipeline" of candidates to overcome the dropout rate. While I have no serious suggestions to reduce the impediments, I do have a notion on garnering interest. What's more, it's almost cost-free, and has ancillary benefits besides, as you'll see shortly.

Let's Let Young People Fly Passenger Aircraft

True, we passenger people, or "pax" as we are styled in aviation publications, might be reluctant to have kids land the same plane that we are dreaming of exiting ("deplaning" in the jargon) in a state of continuing existence. But if the kids could fly us with no risk, enjoy the experience, and learn about aviation, why not? How can this be accomplished? With just two little quotation marks around "fly" and software engineering.

Flight simulators were among the first popular computer programs for the masses. But they suffer from a serious limitation today. Newer and presumably more interesting programs which require vanquishing monsters with superpowers (yours or theirs) are now a thing. Flight simulators require time and patience to complete a flight, and who has that? Another rhetorical Q with a real A: People who are stuck on airplanes! Sure, we have our iPads and our laptops, and presumably can read or "consume media" to our spleen's content. I discovered, however, that when I'm on a flight, I always try to take advantage of the rudimentary moving map and flight information broadcast on the WiFi of the aircraft itself. I really enjoy checking our flight path, trying to figure out what that splotch of lights below us is named, and confirming that the pilot is at an approved altitude. And, of course, watching our maneuvering as we approach our "final destination**." Sometimes I get so preoccupied watching the map that I even forget to raise and lower the armrest/seat divider when it's time to take off and to land.

I suppose it's conceivable that only aviation-nerd people such as myself care about this, but I think there's an opportunity here for the airlines. I believe that enhancing the flying experience with more graphical information and interaction will propel some percentage of people on the threshold of a career choice to become interested in aviation. If you're not already way ahead of me, or even if you are, I'll try to make some specific suggestions on "tomorrow's" blog.

* Zeugma alert! Been a while.

** Airline speak mystery: Why do they use so many gratuitous auxiliary verbs?

Richard Factor

"No Quarter"
Led Zeppelin

And, speaking of music: My favorite Byrd, Gene Clark, died this day in 1991.

NP: Should be "No Other" instead of "No Quarter" but I'm compelled for whatever reason to honesty.



One of many Grateful Dead tie dye T-shirts I've had from time immemorial.

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