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Seeing The Silver Lining in the Airline Industry

Posted on Thursday, June 18, 2020

tsu plane wing

Due to COVID-19, some airlines have halted their recruitment, in addition to pilot training for existing pilots. It’s anticipated that many major airlines will have pilot layoffs. While Dr. Terence Fontaine, Director of Aviation for the Aviation Science and Technology program at Texas Southern University, predicts significant changes for the airline industry, he also sees some bright skies ahead for those interested in pursuing a career in aviation science.

As the virus spread throughout the first part of 2020, many airlines began to reduce their staff. Fontaine believes layoffs will be in existence over the next two years. In other words, due to a seniority list, the most recently hired pilots could be without a job for at least two years. Industry experts believe it will take that much time for the airlines to return to profitability and for travelers around the world to begin flying in masses.

However, Fontaine said that regional carriers may experience more significant challenges.

“Before COVID-19, the airline industry was booming with profits,” he said. “Hiring was beginning to take off, and a pilot career with the airlines never looked better. But, with the blink of an eye, Delta Airlines announced the layoff of 7,000 pilots and the retirement of B777 aircraft.”

However, Fontaine does see some good news. Short- and long-term adjustments are being made, but he believes the airlines will rebound. Some carriers may merge or be acquired by others. United Airlines is the best example. More than a decade ago, it merged with Continental, which was made up of Eastern, Frontier, New York Air, People Express, and Texas International.

For aviation students, this may seem like an inopportune time to spend money on a quality education in aviation. Quite the contrary, says Fontaine. “After 40 years in this industry, I feel compelled to say that it is a cyclical industry with ups and downs throughout one’s career. My advice is to use this time to pursue as much flight time as you can,” said Fontaine.

When the industry returns, Fontaine believes airlines will be looking to rehire their furloughed pilots and hire new pilots to replace those pilots retiring, based upon the FAA mandated retirement age and, naturally, to gain further market share. However, that doesn’t relieve the necessity to continue to gain market share and replace the growing number of pilots who are retiring due to the age 65 FAA mandate.

In the meantime, if someone is interested in becoming a pilot or pursuing other aspects of the aviation industry, Texas Southern University is uniquely positioned to prepare its students. In fact, TSU is the ONLY school in Texas that offers a combined Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Science Management and, beginning just six years ago, a Bachelor of Science degree as a Professional Pilot.

“Typically, you achieve a Private License, then an Instrument Rating before you acquire a Commercial License. Most airlines will not hire any pilot unless he or she has an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license,” said Fontaine. “Without a waiver, that means you need to fly a minimum of 1500 hours.”

To help properly train prospective pilots and others interested in an aviation career, Fontaine said TSU’s program has three distinct training labs: In the Air Traffic Control (ATC) Lab, students learn the rules and regulations as they pertain to air traffic control. The ATC Lab is well equipped to provide real time radio familiarization.

The Flight Simulator Lab is equipped with eight Flight Desktop Simulators, two Full Motion Flight Training Devices and a Fidelity Full Motion Simulator. The primary purpose of the flight lab is to give students hands-on experience of what goes on in the cockpit of an aircraft, and to understand the fundamentals of flight.

Finally, in the Airport Management lab, which also serves as a classroom, students learn basic principles of airport operations, airfield signage markings and lighting, and operating on the airport operations area.

"Unfortunately, African-American pilots represent only 2.7 percent of all pilots in the country,” said Fontaine. “Hispanic and Asian-American pilots are also underrepresented. That makes TSU’s program a critical resource for the next generation of minority pilots and aviation professionals.”

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Last updated: 06/30/2020