Lincoln said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would use six hours sharpening my ax.” Another famous saying about hours is, “It’s not the hours you put in but what you put in the hours that counts.” On the humorous side from Faulkner, “It’s a shame the only thing man can do for eight hours is work. He can’t eat for eight hours; he can’t drink for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work.” Finally to paraphrase … an hour by any other name would still be 60 minutes.
As I read about the current efforts by our and Europe’s governmental institutions, including our DOT and FAA, to rewrite the qualification requirements for commercial pilots, I am reminded about our penchant for defining “qualified” by a specific number of hours. I can’t help but think that this is not the way to go.
The best-qualified pilots in the world are military pilots. Take a Navy pilot. He is flying formation flights, gunnery runs, and hitting the deck of a moving carrier all in less than 250 hours total time. As the quote said, “It’s not the hours but what you put into them that counts.” There is a need to redesign the entire training curriculum for pilots so that the training received is steeped in quality versus boring holes in the sky to gain what is perceived to be necessary experience. It’s costly and ineffective. Changing the basis of qualification will have significant economic and cultural effects but, in the long run, this is the only way to ensure we do not have another Colgan event.
I believe we must also re-examine the requirements of A&P training, and I will make a bet that most of you agree with me on this. The basic training an A&P receives is centered on an approximate 1,900-hour curriculum. There is also the other path of work-related experience to gain the certificate but that is not the common road.
Schools are working under curriculum requirements developed decades past. Most agree that, to be current with today’s aircraft systems technology, a major overhaul of the basic curriculum needs to be done. But this is not being accomplished and does not appear to be in the high beams of the foreseeable future, despite ARAC meetings and some lip service, etc.
Why not? In my view there are a myriad of reasons. 1. Nobody wants to really stir the socio-economic pot of the aviation maintenance workplace. 2. There is a lack of priority with this issue. 3. The subject needs leadership to get it done and that is sorely lacking. 4. The ATEC schools, which comprise the majority of FAA approved 147 schools that are required to follow this outdated curriculum, are not united on correcting the issue. Regarding the latter, some recognize the necessity to adjust their curriculum and have done so where they can, but others indicate that there will be no ROI with changes they may make and cannot afford or do not wish to invest in updating their material.
A business and a career
It goes without saying; young people who wish to follow aviation maintenance as careers are dwindling in number. As Jack Pelton of Cessna mentioned in a recent speech, the romance associated with piloting has diminished; it’s a business and a career. So too is the aviation maintenance profession, and, make no mistake, it is a profession. So to ask young people to invest upward of $20,000 plus to earn an A&P certificate and not provide them with the current educational opportunities and tools they need to begin regaining their investment, a secure way of life, and professional satisfaction, is wrong.
Let’s start getting away from this hourly thing, and begin to establish a performance-based system of sorts. It has been approximately 933,840 hours since the Wright brothers first flew with Charlie Taylor protecting their butts. Don’t you think that is long enough for the maintenance training system we have today. Let’s begin to change it. Over the years I have heard many good ways to do this but that is the subject of another article. I do think that if we don’t do it ourselves, working with regulators, management, and associations, I’m sure we will continue this waste of hours for years to come.