As we close out the summer and head straight into fall, I continue to be astounded by the events of the past two years. We’ve seen the aviation industry go from giddyup to whoa and back again, as an old friend from Texas used to say.
The industry was barreling forward at this point of 2019. Commercial flights were packed. Business aviation had never been better. Shortages of personnel, especially pilots, engineers and technically savvy maintenance workers was a huge concern. The effects of the retirement of the roster of pilots in the next 8-10 years was so worrying that airlines were beginning to implement all sorts of programs to spark interest and encourage kids to get into aviation as a career choice.
Then the pandemic hit and it all came to a screeching halt. We saw airlines park jets and offer early retirement buyouts for employees including pilots, which many accepted and furloughs, voluntary time off and other incentives to help alleviate the massive burden of payroll for large enterprises like airlines.
Now, pending vaccination rates and the delta and possible other variants of COVID-19, we are back to the boom times. Reports of packed airplanes, busier-than-ever airports and pent-up travel demand are everywhere. The last two years almost seems like a time warp and my head is spinning – what just happened?
It is one of the ongoing sagas of aviation that the business is cyclical with ups and downs…but we have never seen anything quite like this. Will it last or will the delta variant wreak havoc again. Will the unvaccinated get over their hesitancy and take the jab? Who will survive?
I have been thinking about the shortage of personnel which we are beginning to see again as things ramp up. I posted a piece on LinkedIn (you can connect and follow me there at www.linkedin.com/in/joyfinnegan1/) a couple of weeks ago giving my advice for those in the early stages or thinking about beginning flight training.
This is what it said: Unsolicited advice for anyone in the early stages of your journey as a pilot. Go the extra mile in your studies and flight training. Don’t look for the cheap option in flight training – get the best – even if you have to pay more.
Don’t be satisfied with a passing grade, strive for 100 on the written tests you take. Study aerodynamics in depth. Delve deeply into the systems of each aircraft you fly. Know and understand those systems, what can go wrong with them and how to deal with it. Consult with an A&P if you can, to help you understand them thoroughly.
Practice stalls and slow flight until you know every nuance and can recover with confidence every time. If your instructor doesn’t make you do stall recognition, entries and recoveries on nearly every training flight, find a new instructor – there is nothing more important. Take the spin training, even though it is not required. Practice spin entry and recovery until you turn green; then go back for more. Look for and take Upset Prevention & Recovery Training Courses.
Practice emergency landings ad infinitum and remind yourself with regularity during a flight what you will do if you have any emergency. Become the best fuel manager of your aircraft – know your fuel intimately, to the ounce – GA accidents due to fuel starvation and fuel exhaustion are common.
If you don’t understand something, please ask until you do, even if it is annoying to your instructor. If you are especially nervous about how you will do a specific maneuver on a flight check, request more time practicing that with your instructor even though it will cost more and even though it is your least favorite thing to do. Practice it until you know, with certainty, you will do it well during a stressful check ride. Understand weight & balance and how shifts in location can change the performance of your aircraft. Understand the performance implications of density altitude on each aircraft you fly. Do not fly an aircraft that is poorly maintained – even if it is cheaper. Instead, find a facility that takes maintenance seriously and fly there.
If you know in your heart you passed a check ride but don’t understand something that you were supposed to know, follow up and seek understanding now.
Know that even if you are smart, hard-working, safe and diligent, there is risk in the air. Take that risk seriously. Study harder, go the extra mile, train more – not less, understand as much as you possibly can, never stop learning more and know that in an instant, a flight on a beautiful day can go wrong.
I found it funny that when I posted that some folks wondered, “Why is she posting about that?! She’s a magazine editor.” So I followed it up with another post that explained. Here it is: I started out as a pilot, went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and did my flight training there. I taught flying there. I pursued flying professionally for years. In addition to being a CFII, I have an ATP, flew for regional airlines and a start-up airline. I have thousands of flight hours-around a thousand hours as a flight instructor.
I loved flying and teaching. I also had a couple of kids along the way-usually being the first pregnant pilot most folks had ever seen or heard of, including the airlines I flew for. When people ask why I stopped flying, I say, “It’s complicated.”
One huge reason was there was zero support for me, as a new mom and a professional pilot. I got six-weeks unpaid maternity leave. Then I had to find daycare, a nanny and multiple back-up babysitters to ensure I would have the coverage I needed for childcare (my husband traveled a lot with his work, too, but was a supportive and hands-on partner). I did not live near my extended family. I paid more in childcare than I made as a pilot as I built time and experience to hopefully make it to the major airlines where the financial payoff would be worth it.
The truth is we have made very little progress in 25 years towards making aviation a welcoming place for women, and frankly, minorities. We must do better – we need these minds now and in the future.