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Pilot Training / August 31, 2013

Why You Should Go and How to Select One: Aviation professionals are not born, they are educated.

By Scott Spangler

If you are considering a professional aviation career, think seriously about the adjective that modifies aviation. "Professional, " as defined by the dictionary, means "of, engaged in, or worthy of the high standards of, a profession; designating or of a school, especially a graduate school, offering instruction in a profession."

Further consider "professional" as a noun — "a person practicing a profession; a person who engages in some art, sport, etc. for money, especially for his livelihood, rather than as a hobby; a person who does something with great skill."

These definitions could have been written with aviation in mind because it definitely has high standards, and the people who meet these standards certainly must exhibit great skill. Aviation professionals are not born, they are educated. With professional aviation's increasingly complex and high-technology environment, being an aviation professional, today and in the future, requires more than just knowing how to fly.

Few of the major airlines require a college degree for employment, but in the past several years, more than 95 percent of the pilots hired have at least a four-year college degree. If you want an airline job, you stand a better chance if you are among the 95 percent with a degree than the 5 percent without one.

Aviation is an exciting career field, and because you can earn an above-average income, competition for jobs is keen. Traditionally, military pilots often place first in the employment contest. Civilian pilots consider this unfair, but look at it from the airlines' pragmatic point of view. Military pilots are college educated, which means they've proven themselves in an academic environment. Employers know they will do well in the challenging training environment that is an ongoing part of any professional's career.

Employers also know that military pilots have been trained to an exacting, accepted proficiency-based standard. And because of the military's structure, and the fact that many military aircraft have more than one crewmember, employers know that military pilots are "team players, " that they understand and use cockpit resource management, which is essential in all phases of aviation.

Despite all the applications, interviews, and examinations, hiring a new pilot is a risk, say airline human resource personnel. There's always the chance that a pilot might not do as well as the selection process indicates. This wastes a lot time and money, which any airline must use effectively if it hopes to survive and prosper. For this reason, airlines hire pilots with proven skills and abilities because they are the most likely to return the airline's training investment.

The military isn't training as many pilots as it used to, but the competition hasn't eased. It's just shifted to civilian pilots. Nor has the airlines' hiring philosophy or needs changed. They hire the civilian trained pilots who offer the best chance for returning the carriers' investment. This is why more than 95 percent of the pilots hired have four-year degrees.

The airlines' preference for college-educated pilots is only natural because colleges and universities have tailored their academic and flight programs to meet the industry's specific needs. They understand that while good stick-and-rudder skills are important, it takes more then knowing how to fly to be an aviation professional.

What College Teaches

Professional pilots today are "flight managers" who must intimately understand the workings of their computerized and fly-by-wire stick and rudder, and who must work with and depend on a crew of professionals that goes far beyond those in the cockpit.

These are the essential skills students learn and practice in today's collegiate aviation programs, but the value of a college education goes beyond these aviation-specific skills. Typically, your first two years of college will be devoted to "general education" classes. While they seemingly have no direct correlation with aviation, they do, and additionally, they'll make you a well-rounded individual.

Math, physics, and computer-science classes help you understand your career's technical aspects. English makes you a better oral and written communicator. Sociology and psychology give you a better understanding of human nature. History and the humanities give you insight and appreciation for man's development, achievements, and blunders. Economics makes clear the forces that will act upon your career.

When people think of aviation, they naturally think of pilots. But pilots are just one cog in the vast human machine that makes aviation work. If it were not for aeronautical and electrical engineers, airframe and powerplant (A&P) and avionics technicians, meteorologists, air traffic controllers, aviation managers at all levels, and a host of others, we wouldn't need pilots (and the others wouldn't be needed if there were no pilots). These are all viable, rewarding aviation careers, careers for which you can become educated at many colleges and universities.

Those aiming for the cockpit should never forget that a failed medical (or a failed airline) can terminate a flying career without notice. This is another reason pilots should know more than just how to fly. If you don't have a degree, your career options are limited. But if you've been educated as a manager, engineer, or technician, you have career alternatives that will enable you to survive professionally and, perhaps, maintain your aviation "connection."

College Connections

College is one of the best places to make your aviation connection because it provides the education and contacts you'll need to succeed. Guidance counselors will help tailor your educational program to meet your career goals. They will explain what's needed when, and why, and they'll even help you refine your objectives and offer alternatives if, for some reason, you cannot attain the original goal.

Source: www.aopa.org