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Major General Garrett Harencak, commander of Air Force Recruiting Service says that the US Air Force has had to change the way it recruits the newest generation of airmen, to be able to reach its goal of having about 322,500 active-duty airmen by the end of the year. According to the fiscal 2018 budget request, they also hope to add around 2,600 airmen next year, bringing the active force up to 325,100. 

Although Air Force retention rates in general have much improved - helped in part by the USAF reducing training and extra duties for airmen and so bettering their quality of life, as well as offering raised retention bonuses - the Air Force still has undermanned areas that it needs to fill. These areas are forecast to account for about 70% of the growth in 2017 and include maintenance, nuclear, cyber, intelligence and surveillance. 

However, this recruitment drive has also highlighted the fact that across the military, Air Force recruiters work the hardest. According to an Air Force Manpower Agency study conducted last year, the average Air Force recruiter works about 38 hours more per month to be able to bring in 2.5 new recruits per month. This is compared to 0.8 brought in by Army recruiters, 0.9 by Navy and 1 by Coast Guard recruiters. “We’re asking too much of them. They’re working too hard” Harencak stated, adding that the Air Force needs to “change the focus”.

Firstly, Harencak says Air Force recruiting needs to grow by another 200 to 300 recruiters in the next few years, including the 120 recruiters expected to be added this year. This would get the average per-recruiter monthly production down to a better average than it is now, but still remain higher than any other service. The Air Force also is starting to re-open recruiting offices in major cities that it closed in recent years because they weren’t seen as cost-efficient. 

In regard to recruitment policies, the Air Force is changing some of their rules that they now feel barred people who could have become good airmen. “We have a system where all we do is build barriers and obstacles for great young Americans to join our Air Force,” Harencak said.

For instance, rules barring recruits from having more than 25% of their chest, back, arms or legs tattooed have already been changed, as have those on the past use of marijuana. Policies on medical issues such as eczema, asthma and ADHD are also being reconsidered. 

Additionally, they are looking at dropping out-moded methods such as the reams of paperwork required to be filled in, by using technology to speed up the administration process.

Lastly, Harencak also said the Air Force’s marketing budget has been too low. This meant it was unable to promote itself to potential recruits but is now being upped and recruiting should be getting the additional funds necessary to get its message out.

Further reading: The USAF Look into Pilot Sharing with the Major Airlines

As a way of easing the shortage of pilots that is being faced by Chinese airlines, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is planning, in the next few years, to raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots, which currently stands at 60 years old.

It is forecast that China will need about 2,800 to 3,000 pilots annually over the next three years, a number that the flying schools across the country cannot produce. Because of this, local airlines frequently send their cadets to the U.S.A., Europe or Australia, however the process requires that cadets must undertake a minimum 80-hour English course before they start training. Add this to the cost of undertaking  type rating and this becomes an expensive proposition.

Since 2007 when the Chinese Government simplified their laborious approval process, Chinese carriers have tried to overcome the shortage by enticing foreign pilots with good salary packages and large bonuses. However, hiring foreign pilots has become more difficult over the past few years as airlines around the world face a similar shortage situation.

For example, just recently experts from the US aviation industry predicted that major US airlines will need to hire around 18,000 pilots in the next three years to infill for retirements. Indeed the 2016 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook forecasts that “between now and 2035, the aviation industry will need to supply more than two million new aviation personnel—617,000 commercial airline pilots....”. It goes on to state that “Over the next 20 years, the Asia Pacific region will lead the worldwide growth in demand for pilots, with a requirement for 248,000 new pilots.”

If the CAAC do raise the mandatory retirement age, they will be following in line with other countries that have adopted this approach –the retirement age in the UK is 65, the Ministry of Transport of Japan raised its mandatory retirement age from 64 to 67 in February 2015 and the USA raised its age from 60 to 65 in 2007.

While operators in China and around the world have so far been able to hire sufficient pilot numbers, experts hope that these proactive measures will help ease the upcoming problem.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security met with European Commission officials recently to discuss extending the U.S. ban on laptops and tablets in the cabins of airliners, to include passengers departing from European airports.

Since March, the U.S. have restricted laptops, tablets and phones which are larger than a typical smartphone, (measuring 16cm by 9.3cm by 1.5cm) from the cabins of flights originating in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Doha and Istanbul.

The UK meanwhile, has a ban on these devices from direct inbound flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

The current U.S. ban affects around 350 flights per week but the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that extending this to the whole of Europe would affect more than 2,500 flights and cause lost revenue of over $1bn.

For example, IATA believes costs would increase due to extra handling of cargo hold baggage, departure delays due to increased screening measures and additionally businesses would potentially cancel trips rather than risk losing confidential information in checked laptops. This is borne out by the fact that passengers already appear to be avoiding routes where the ban is in place.

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac penned a letter to Violeta Bulc, EC Commissioner for Transport and John Kelly, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, offering the idea of short-term measures rather than extending the ban. These would include using explosive trace detection at primary and secondary checkpoints, as well as enhancing training and using sniffer dogs. This should then lessen the danger of having more lithium battery-powered devices in cargo holds.

De Juniac stated “The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate.” He added “We call on governments to work with the industry to find a way to keep flying secure without separating passengers from their personal electronics.”

The FAA have issued an airworthiness directive (AD) effective June 28th 2017, that will require many regional airlines to replace their smaller, slimline seats.

Whilst some passengers agree these smaller seats are uncomfortable and offer minimum legroom, the issue, according to the FAA, is with safety not comfort.

The seats in question, made by Zodiac Seats California LLC, were found in collision tests to pose a risk of neck or head injury during a survivable crash – videos showed the passenger may slide down the seat with their chin on the seat in front of them and hit the tray table, injuring their neck.

Paul Bernado, acting manager of FAA’s transport airline directorate said in a 29 page order “The intent of this (airworthiness directive) is to provide a safe outcome for passengers during a survivable crash by preventing serious injuries”.

The seats are installed in Boeing 717-200s, MD-90-30s, Bombardier CRJ700s, CRJ900s and Q400s and Embraer E170s and E190s aircraft and appear to affect an estimated 10,482 seats used by American, Delta, United, Republic and SkyWest airlines.

Although the airlines are being given 5 years to remove these seats, Zodiac along with some of the affected airlines have requested to be allowed to modify the seats, rather than replace them. The FAA however, have refused but have agreed to review any remedies put to them at the time.

The main issue for the airlines is cost. The FAA estimated it would cost $85 to remove each unsafe seat, for a total of around $900,000. However they didn’t include purchasing and installing new seats in their valuation, which has been estimated as bringing the total into the millions.

Additionally, the airlines have complained that it would be uneconomical to fly with fewer seats on their planes.

A copy of the docket can be found here on the FAA website:

The US Air Force (USAF) has removed a ban on pilots weighing less than 136lb from flying all variants of the F-35 stealth fighter. The restriction was imposed in 2015 when the manufacturer, Martin Baker, raised concerns after ongoing testing that head and neck injuries could result from an ejection for pilots under this weight.

After nearly two years, three modifications have been developed by the contractors in conjunction with the USAF, to make sure the ejection seat works safely in all scenarios. These modifications mean the Mk16 ejection seats now meet the original USAF specification to accommodate all pilots weighing between 103 and 245lbs.

The ejection seats, which have been modified with a new switch installation, are already being retrofitted into the existing fleet by the Martin Baker Field Teams and the first modified aircraft flew on May 4th. This new switch will slightly delay parachute deployment at high speeds and decrease parachute opening forces for lightweight pilots.

In addition, a head support panel has been mounted on the rear risers of the parachute to prevent the pilot’s head from moving backwards during an ejection.

Thirdly, new lightweight Gen III helmets which decrease injury risk during parachute openings have been developed and are already available in pre-production now, with full production starting later this year.

According to Martin Baker, the modifications mean that all the specified physiological head and neck load requirements are now being met.

Brig. Gen. Scott L. Pleus, the F-35 Integration Office Director stated “I have personally briefed every single F-35 pilot in the United States Air Force about these changes to their ejection seat, and I’m confident our pilots are no longer concerned with the safety of the F-35 ejection system. I've flown in this seat myself and believe, with these modifications, this is the safest ejection seat I've ever flown.” 

Martin-Baker’s website states that their ejection seats have saved 7,541 lives since 1949, of which over 3,500 are American aircrew.

In a statement submitted on March 8th, in conjunction with the subcommittee hearing on air transportation in the United States in the 21st Century, Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) members stated that they considered the biggest challenge confronting the industry to be talent shortage. Indeed, in a survey, fifty six percent of their respondents, when asked, choose “difficulty finding/retaining technical talent”, as one of the most pressing risks.

With this in mind, ARSA have released statistics showing that the shortage of skilled aviation maintenance technicians could cost the industry nearly $200 million in revenue this year - members reported having over 1,000 unfilled positions, with each position averaging annual revenue per employee of around $170,000.

Indeed, if this figure is indicative of the entire population of FAA-certified repair stations in the U.S., the number of vacant positions is likely to be closer to 11,000, which if left unfilled equals nearly $2 billion in lost revenue in 2017.

ARSA executive vice president Christian Klein stated “These numbers are just a snapshot of how just one industry is being affected by the technical-worker shortage plaguing the U.S. economy.” He went to add “We hope lawmakers working career technical education policy on Capitol Hill, including the recently introduced Perkins reauthorization bill, will keep the aviation industry in mind when crafting solutions.” 

United Airlines recently announced that they have reached an amicable resolution with Dr David Dao, the passenger who was forcibly removed from a flight by Chicago aviation police.

On April 9th, Dao, who was seated on a United Express flight operated by Republic Airlines, was dragged off the aircraft after refusing to surrender his seat to must ride aircrew. A video of the incident went viral and caused an outcry around the country.

Dao’s lawyers announced that he will receive a settlement from the company, although the exact amount will remain undisclosed, as per one of the agreement provisions. Whilst United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz has admitted he ‘messed up’ with his first response to the incident, the lawyers did however call the resolution 'amicable' and stated that 'In addition, United has taken full responsibility for what happened on Flight 3411, without attempting to blame others, including the city of Chicago. For this acceptance of corporate accountability, United is to be applauded.' 

When asked whether the incident had impacted ticket sales, Munoz would only say that due to the company's high volume it was too hard to tell. However, it has been reported that his contract has been amended so that he will no longer become the carrier’s Chairman in 2018.

In the wake of the incident, United initially announced certain changes to policy, which included no longer asking law enforcement officers onto airplanes unless there are security or safety reasons. Following on from this, they have initiated at least ten other changes including reducing the number of overbooked flights and substantially increasing the incentives for passengers who give up their seats.  

Other US carriers have also been quick to react in reviewing their policies surrounding the surrendering of seats. For example, all Airlines for America (A4A) member airlines are now committed to not removing a boarded passenger from an aircraft in a bumping situation and also to ensuring that crew being transported are booked in advance.

It has been acknowledged that these changes are, in part, due to the threat from Congress to impose new regulations and to use an upcoming FAA spending bill to force airlines to make improvements. “Seize this opportunity” airline reps were told “If you don’t, we are going to come....and you aren’t going to like it”.

On May 1, 2017, relief from holding a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) medical certificate came into force for certain pilots.

This relief is called BasicMed and means that General Aviation (GA) pilots who take advantage of this new rule can now fly without holding an FAA medical certificate, as long as they meet certain requirements.

Up until now, the FAA has required private, recreational and student pilots to hold a current third class medical certificate. This meant completing an online application and having a physical examination with an FAA-designated Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). The medical certificate was then valid for five years for pilots under 40 and for two years for pilots aged 40 and over.

The BasicMed rule has not changed the FAA’s certificate program, as applications can still be made for a first, second or third class medical, as before. Instead, it offers GA pilots an alternative to the FAA’s medical qualification process for the third class medical certificate.

Under the new BasicMed rules, pilots have to:

  1. Comply with the general BasicMed requirements (possess a U.S. driver's license, have held a medical after July 14, 2006).
  2. Get a physical exam with a state-licensed physician, using the Comprehensive Medical Examination Checklist
  3. Complete a BasicMed medical education course;

Then they must comply with certain aircraft and operating requirements.

It should be noted, however, that new and/or student pilots who have never held a medical certificate before, or pilots that have not held a valid medical certificate after July 2006, will need to obtain a third class medical before being eligible to apply for BasicMed.

Details about BasicMed can be found on the FAA website at: https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/airmen_certification/basic_med/

Spirit Airlines, a low cost carrier based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida were brought to the public’s attention recently due to a fight between angry passengers who threatened their employees. The fracas began as a result of flight cancellations because of a lack of pilots, which the airline believe is due to organized action by some of their pilots, to not pick up voluntary overtime assignments.

Since February 2015, Spirit and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) who represent its pilots have been engaged in collective bargaining talks regarding the complaint that their pay is way below market levels.  However, by this April there had been a breakdown in negotiations which led, according to Spirit, to the “illegal work slowdown”. This caused around 15% of its scheduled flights to be cancelled in the first week of May, at a cost of around $8.5 million.

As U.S. labor laws do not permit employees in critical service public functions to go on strike or take part in work slowdowns, the U.S. District Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on May 9th to ensure ALPA and their members restored operations.

However, while the Court also ordered a motion for a hearing on a preliminary injunction, Spirit Airlines have now stated that this is no longer necessary as an agreement has been reached with ALPA to indefinitely extend the TRO.

Although they declined to comment, Spirit said ALPA had agreed that the temporary restraining order “will remain in effect until a collective bargaining agreement is signed and ratified or, if applicable, the parties are released from mediation by the [US] National Mediation Board.”

Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) and its fellow Lufthansa Group airlines announced that effective from 1st May 2017, they will abolish their rule requiring two people to be in a cockpit at all times.

The Lufthansa group introduced the rule as a precautionary measure following thedeliberate crashing of a Germanwings Airbus A320, in March 2015. Investigations into the crash revealed that the co-pilot, who was alone on the flight deck, intentionally switched the plane’s altitude and increased speed, which flew the aircraft into an Alpine mountain and killed all 150 people on board.

Subsequent to this, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a temporary recommendation, (but not a requirement) that two crew members including at least one qualified pilot, should always occupy the cockpit during flight. Therefore if one of the two pilots left the cockpit, their place had to be taken during this time by another crew member.

In 2016, EASA revised its recommendation and offered instead the option of abolishing the two-persons-in-the-cockpit rule, provided airlines met relevant further criteria.

According to SWISS, they have conducted an extensive safety and security review in coordination with similar risk assessments by its fellow Lufthansa Group airlines. This concluded that the rule does not enhance flight safety and indeed can actually introduce additional risks to daily operations, such as more and longer openings of the cockpit door.

The carriers, comprising SWISS, Austrian and Lufthansa will therefore revert to previous cockpit access provisions, plus a number of additional safety and security measures in order to meet all of the requirements demanded by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), of any airline seeking to abolish the rule:

  • ensuring suitable selection criteria and procedures to assess the psychological and safety-relevant demands made on pilots;
  • ensuring stable employment terms and conditions for cockpit personnel;
  • giving pilots (easy) access to any psychological or other support programmes they may need;

demonstrating an ability as a company to minimize the psychological and social risks to which pilots are exposed, such as loss of licence.

SWISS have also stated that its decision to abolish the two-persons-in-the-cockpit rule is supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation.

 

The French helicopter operator lobbying association, Union Française de l’Hélicoptère (UFH) have called upon the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to hold a two-year “regulatory pause” on issuing new rules.

UFH believe the publication of so many new rules is endangering the future of small operators, who struggle with the workload of reviewing and complying with so many new regulations in a short period of time.

The issuance of new regulations has been felt especially hard in France. Many operators have had to switch to twin engine flights after a rule banning single-engine commercial passenger flights was implemented, having a huge impact on both pricing and performance.

UFH stated that since 2011, around 10 - 15% of operators have gone due to “the economic context, the lack of a stable regulatory prospect and insufficient political support”.

The President of the European Helicopter Association (EHA) Jaime Arque agreed but added that the new rules issued recently was the result of a backlog of rulemaking.

In response, EASA say they have agreed to a cool down period and have already begun to lessen the rulemaking activity on new regulations. Eric Bennett, EASA’s Air Operations Regulations Officer stated “EASA now has to ensure the maintenance of existing rules.”