Navigating pilots to higher education

Navigating pilots to higher education

The dedication and commitment in time and money required to qualify as a pilot or air traffic controller often militates against obtaining a rounded education. Now someone is trying to do something about it.

Navigating pilots to higher education.

"Parents of young people do want their kids to have a university education. That might be one of the reasons why we have a significant problem finding enough pilots, engineers & air traffic controllers" CAPTAIN TILMANN GABRIEL

As they move through their careers, pilots & air traffic controllers often wish to go into management. However, they often lack the skills and background required to exploit their potential to the full.

This is detrimental to the long-term development of the aviation industry as it advances in an ever-more complex future.

Captain Tilmann Gabriel, the city, University of London’s senior lecturer at the school of mathematics, computer science and engineering, and director of its MSc aviation management programmes, is determined to do something about the problem.

“We do not have an academic education arm for aviation jobs” he explained. “ All licensed jobs are driven by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 1. That means two things. When you are a pilot, air traffic controller or an engineer, or in senior management, such as crew management, you have no university education. You just have a license.”

City, University of London is one of a number of international academic institutions trying to rectify the problem. It offers MSc courses in air transport management, air safety management, and aircraft maintenance management. In August 2019, it launched the airport management programme, a new discipline for senior airport staff, who have at least two years’ vocational training.

“This is a part-time MSc programme next to the job and takes three years. It cost you a relatively mild 15,900 GBP ($20,000) and gives you the option of four different degrees – for more and more airlines now the requirement to get into management.”

With more than 400 part-time students from the aviation industry now enrolled in its MSc programmes, and over 1,500 alumni at its campuses in London, Dubai and Frankfurt, City has a key executive education responsibility for future global aviation leaders.

“Four years ago I joined City University, which is now part of the University of London, by taking over a programme that was started by [the late] Professor [Roger] Wootton in 1998. After 40 years as an airline captain and in many aviation leadership positions, this was a great opportunity to support the industry with leadership education.” Gabriel said.

Industry veteran Gabriel’s CV reads like a textbook management career, including posts as training captain and executive, at Lufthansa (1976-96), and leadership roles at Abu Dhabi’s Royal Jet (2003-05) and Qatar Executive (2011 – 13), as well as at Afghanistan’s Safi Airways (2007-09).

He obtained his air transport pilot license (ATPL) at Lufthansa in 1979 and has been a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society since 1985. He was appointed the executive chairman of the International Pilot Training Association (IPTA) council and president of the IPTA executive board in August 2016. He is also researching a related PhD.

Why Pilot Retraining must be streamlined

Times have changed from 40 years ago when a pilot at a European flag-carrier has a ‘job for life’ the only question being exactly when, between the ages of 55 & 65, to retire. Today, a typical career pattern can involve, among others, stints at a European low-cost carrier, then a move to Middle East Long-haul, and on to another low-cost or flag-carrier.

“Today, on average, a pilot changes employers seven times. That’s seven times, on average, a pilot has to redo his three-to-six month operational conversion course (OCC),” said Gabriel. We have 500,000 pilots today in the world, which means that 40,000 pilots at any given time are in an OCC. The goal is to reduce the OCC to a couple of days,” Gabriel said.

“A Surgeon, for example, joins another hospital and, based on his or her competencies, starts operating the next day. An Airbus or Boeing customer-support pilot can fly in any country or in any airline the next day. He or she gets validation from the local authority… and then flies without any further ado.”

“That’s where I would like to have a standardized training organization so that a pilot is a pilot is a pilot. Of course, there are many issues around quality, assessment, and capacity, and not everyone can fly in an airline (due to cultural or political differences). That is the way: to get to a profession that gives you the right to fly [anywhere in the world].”

Gabriel said the aviation industry was growing at a rate of 100% every 15 years. “The crisis is already here- the pilot shortage-but it is increasing day-by-day because we are already short, and since we are not doing much [about it], it’s getting more and more problematic. “Now Airbus, for example, has started their own flight school… in Mexico. Airbus’ plan is to start two new flight schools a year. Boeing is thinking about it and is engaging third parties in the US.”

Training costs $60,000 - $100,000 per pilot. “You need about 10 pilots for every short-haul aircraft. So you need to invest 10 times $60,000 – that’s $600,000 – to get a $52 million A320 aircraft [into operation]. “To get $52 million in revenue for the A320, Airbus would need to invest $600,000 in pilot training. That makes sense. It is even more important for an A380 or B767, where you need 15-20 pilots for a $300 million aircraft,” he said.

There are thousands of people who would love to become a pilot, but they don’t have $100,000. Is it possible to get a standardized pilot and kick off a career that makes him or her happy? That is, for me, the big question.”

New generation

His latest posting only underlines the need to smooth the career paths of the new generation, given the times he, himself, has had to forego his management career to obtain additional qualifications.

“my longstanding – since I started at Lufthansa-intent has been to see how can we bring aviation into a regulated vocational and university-trained programme. We have several ideas. Already in Germany, we have the University of Worms working together with the Airlines Transport Pilot (ATP) [certificate]. You have it in the US, with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and several other institutions there.

“The US has a dilemma in that you have a four-year college education, which is, in itself, very expensive-around $100,000 – and then the ATP combined with it is another $100,000, so it is a very expensive choice,” he said.

Gabriel argues that a way should be found to marry the bachelor degree with a standard ATPL or other vocational licenses so that individuals can tackle the MSc with the earlier degree in hand.

“One idea, other than these postgraduate or masters’ programmes, for people who are in the business, who are pilots and middle managers and so on, is that we do the pilot and air traffic control (ATC) education licensing first, because they are heavily needed, but then add a BSc on to of it while they are working as pilots. That BSc is then a part-time programme that gives them the undergraduate degree.”

To support the Middle East and Africa, Gabriel developed further the city facility in Dubai. Programme modules, of which there are 28, are also taught at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Academy in Dubai.  “We have students from all around the world and they can choose whether they go to London to our University campus, or here, to the DIFC in Dubai, or to Frankfurt. We are looking into other country locations,” he said.

“That means that Qatari students, who cannot go to Dubai at the moment, can come to Frankfurt or London. We have a very flexible programme for our student customers, who can very easily fly to other locations.

The principal module structure is that you have an initial reading phase, where you have to read several books and articles, then you have three days onsite, either in Dubai, London or Frankfurt, at the moment, and then you have six weeks to write a coursework. You choose eight modules for the 120 credits post-graduate diploma, and then you write a complex academic dissertation for your MSc.


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