Can PR Save the Airlines’ Coming Pilot Shortage?

The cockpit of a modern airliner.

What would your company do if your entire industry had to replace nearly two-thirds of its key employees by 2025? How would you go about finding those workers, especially if there simply were not enough people now trained to fill those jobs, or even enough potential employees currently in training programs that take years to complete?

The US airline industry now faces this situation.

Currently the airlines (including regional, cargo, and charter carriers) employ just under 100,000 pilots, many of whom are reaching the government-mandated retirement age of 65, an age increased in 2007 from 60 to forestall the coming pilot shortage. By 2025, the airlines will need another 60,000 or so pilots.

But the number of pilots completing their private pilot training  (the first milestone on the long path to becoming an airline pilot) and those finishing their commercial pilot training (the second marker) continue to decline, and over the past decade have dropped 41 percent and 30 percent, respectively, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Although the total number of pilots in the United States has rebounded after the recent recession to 618,000 (as of 2011, according to AOPA [the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association]), it is far below its peak of 827,000 in 1980. Perhaps even more ominous for the airline industry is that last year only 124,000 of these pilots (compared to 183,000 in 1980) held a commercial license, and many of them are beyond the airline hiring age.

At the same time, the FAA has put into place a new requirement for pilots hired by the airlines. Beginning next year, young pilots will need 1,500 hours of flight time before they can be hired by the airlines. This requirement is six times higher than the 250 hours now required by newly hired pilots.

This greater number of hours in the air will certainly give pilots more experience and, one would assume, make them better pilots—even if much of their flight time will be in small two- and four-passenger Cessnas, Pipers, and similar planes before they move up to more complicated propeller-driven aircraft and then into small jets as pilots for charter services and corporations.

But how many young people can afford to pay up to $200,000 for the necessary pilot training (in addition to paying for college)? Not many I would guess. Fortunately, by becoming flight instructors, some pilots can increase their flight time while getting paid, and some pilots will find other flying jobs to earn flight hours. But those not so lucky would end up facing a huge flight-training debt.

To make the hiring situation even worse, the airlines are relying less on their traditional source of trained pilots: the military. Since World War II, more than 80 percent of those hired by the airlines have previously flown in the Army, Marines, Navy, or Air Force. Now, however, the military overall has fewer pilots than in past years. It requires longer service commitments from those wanting to fly (so fewer are leaving the service to join the airlines). And it offers a career many pilots prefer over flying for the airlines. As a result, less than half of the U.S. airline pilots now come from the military, and this number continues to decline.

The cockpit of a Douglas DC-3, an aircraft, first build in the 1930s, that made air travel popular and comfortable.

The airlines cannot easily solve their hiring problem. So what’s the answer to the coming pilot shortage?

Some believe that reducing the cost of flying would attract more pilots. But the cost is not likely to go down when fuel prices have doubled in the past few years and aircraft prices continue to rise.

Others (and I am one of them) would say the answer is greater PR and promotion of this career choice.

“The only real way to increase interest in flying is to appeal to people who have a strong sense of independent individualism,” says Richard Collins, a highly respected aviation industry observer, who has written about flying for 50 years and has more than 20,000 hours of flight time. “For lack of a better word,” he adds in his recent Air Facts blog post, “we need to appeal to the sense of adventure that some people still have. Put the ‘right stuff,’ or the romance, back into flying.”

The EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) and AOPA—two of the largest pilot organizations in the country—do a terrific job of reaching those who are already part of the aviation community. Both are great organizations with concentrated programs for getting young people interested in flying and keeping them in the cockpit over the years.

But the industry needs greater PR targeted toward those who are not already flying enthusiasts. These potential pilots should have additional opportunities to stumble across articles and videos as well as social and other media that promote the thrill, and joy, and exhilaration of flying.

Without such PR, the number of pilots will continue to decline, and the airlines will go into their greatest pilot-hiring era in history with no one to hire.

Are These the World’s 8 Worst Fonts?

Garfield says this is the worst font in the world.

I’ve just run across a long, funny, and informative blog post called “The 8 worst Fonts in the World.” It was published on Fast Company’s Co.Design blog several months ago by Simon Garfield, author of a book about typefaces called Just My Type.

Garfield’s selection of the worst fonts is not based on scientific study but on how he happens to feel about these fonts. It is subjective, and he makes no claim that it is otherwise. These are simply the fonts he dislikes the most.

But from having written his 2010 book on typefaces, Garfield knows something about fonts, their design, and their histories. He knows what makes one typeface look good on the page or screen and how it achieves the designer’s goal. And he knows why other typefaces fail.

In making his selection, he did put some limitations on the fonts he considered for this ranking. For instance, he did not include Comic Sans because most people who know anything about type (and many who don’t) dismiss this typeface as having no merit at all and because “it’s harmless and even benign,” he says.

Likewise, he has left out “the virtually illegible outer-limits fonts,” such as Grassy (that he calls “a type with hair”) and Scrawlz (that he says looks “like writing by a 3- or 103-year-old.”) Including typefaces such as these, he says, would be “just too easy.”

Below is Garfield’s list of the world’s worst fonts. You can see samples of these fonts on his blog post at http://ow.ly/fahy6.

8. Ecofont

Garfield begins the list with his selection of the eighth worst font in the world, Ecofont, which is filled with holes and looks as if it were hit with buckshot. He calls it “the string vest and Swiss Cheese of fonts.”

7. Souvenir

About Souvenir, Garfield quotes one designer asking what the font is a souvenir of and answering his own question with, “A souvenir of every ghastly mistake ever made in type design gathered together . . . .”

6. Gill Sans Light Shadowed

Garfield says that Gill Sans Light Shadowed was “designed to suggest the effect the sun would cast over thin raised letters,” but this effect wears thin in a hurry.

5. Brush Script

Garfield’s fifth worst font has been around since the 1940s, he says, and has been overused on documents like college magazines and menus printed by restaurants “featuring Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad on a bed of Brush Script.”

4. Papyrus

Designers wanting to give their documents an Egyptian feeling often turn to Papyrus. But most recently, it was called on to help create the other-worldliness of the movie Avatar. Garfield says this highly expensive movie used “the cheapest and least original font it could find.”

3. Neuland Inline

Joining Papyrus as the other “theme park” font on Garfield’s list is Neuland Inline. In the same way Papyrus says “Egypt,” this typeface shouts “Africa.” It can be found, he suggests, on many posters promoting amateur productions of The Lion King.

2. Random Note

This font is supposed to represent letters cut from magazines. But since it doesn’t look very realistic, Random Note is best used for comic effect, Garfield says.

1. The 2012 Olympic Font

The worst font in the world, according to Garfield, is the one designed for the 2012 Olympics in London and known as 2012 Headline. He says that it is “surely the worst new public typeface of the last 100 years.”

I don’t know if these really are the worst fonts in the world, but I can say that I don’t find any of them interesting, and I see no reason to choose them for my projects. Certainly, I don’t use any of them on this blog or in my emails or other documents.

Knowing Your Company’s Product

Verizon Wireless workers with a Cell on Light Truck that is used to provide additional wireless call capacity.

In announcing its third-quarter earnings results recently, Verizon—as usual—attributed much of its success to its wireless unit. Fran Shammo, Verizon’s chief financial officer, noted that the reason Verizon Wireless leads the industry in the number of wireless customers is that it has always focused on its network.

“Scale is important,” he is quoted by The New York Times as saying. “But the network is the product here. This has been a long-term strategic investment for us.”

Knowing what its real product is and focusing on making it the best in the industry are two reasons Verizon Wireless excels. They also provide lessons for other companies wanting to lead their industries.

Even at the company’s founding in April 2000 (from a merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, along with a few smaller operations) Verizon Wireless stressed the quality of its network. At that time, the company—or more correctly, perhaps, Denny Strigl, its strong CEO then and for the next several years—knew that no matter what brand or style of wireless phones customers used, they would not be happy if their calls did not go through. And, although many of us—especially those who live in or near large metropolitan areas—may have forgotten this fact, wireless coverage was for many years often very bad for much of the country’s cell phone users.

So, over the years, Verizon Wireless has focused on making sure its network—whether analog, 2G (the first generation digital wireless service, 3G (an updated digital service), or now 4G (the latest digital service known as LTE or Long Term Evolution)—has been as good as its technicians and billions of dollars could make it.

This focus is part of the reason why 79 percent of the phones purchased from the company during the third quarter were smartphones—a huge increase over its 25 percent goal only a few years ago. These phones suck data like candy, and they need a great network if they are to function flawlessly.

The lesson here, I think, is that a company must know what its real product is, and it must work to make it the best. In Verizon Wireless’ case, the product is its network. Other wireless carriers—those who trail their competitors and are looking for merger opportunities and funding injections to stay alive—may not see it that way. They might think their product is cheap service or phones, perhaps; or maybe they’re still not sure what it is, even after years of operation.

Verizon Wireless never stops improving its customer service and retail operations, or offering the best cell phones and wireless devices available. But it knows that while these aspects strengthen its business, it is its network that drives the company’s success.

Photo: Verizon Wireless

A Quote from Thomas De Quincey

Every man, as he walks through the streets, may contrive to jot down an independent thought, a shorthand memorandum of a great truth. Standing on one leg you may accomplish this. The labour of composition begins when you have to put your separate threads of thought into a loom; to weave them into a continuous whole, to introduce them; to blow them out or expand them; to carry them to a close.

Thomas De Quincey, who lived between 1785 and 1859, was a writer, author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, among other works.

His quote is found in William H. Gass’s latest book of essays, Life Sentences. Gass considers De Quincey to be among the few writers who address “the question of the form of the paragraph as well as the shape of the phrase” and who take seriously “the lost art of eloquence.”

Gass could have mentioned himself in this group. As a philosophy professor, novelist, and especially an essayist, Gass has long been concerned with the theoretical matters of literature, especially the sentence.