Robert Luthy, Interim GM, L3Harris Airline Academy
Interviewed by Chuck Weirauch.
In his new position, Luthy is responsible for the L3Harris Academies in the UK, Portugal and New Zealand. He previously was in charge of the company’s US Airline Academy in Sanford, Florida.
CAT: There has been a recent resurgence in the number of pilot candidate applicants at flight schools seeking a career path to an airline. Are you witnessing this trend? If so, to what extent?
Luthy: In the US alone, we have seen an increase of about 60% over last year. Right now, we are still seeing the demand for new pilots by the number of aircraft expected by 2024. So, we are anticipating a pretty continuous demand. We are seeing an increased number of applicant requests in the UK, but not as high as we are seeing in the US right now. And we are dealing with the global look, with a large percentage of our students at the US Academy coming from the overseas market from Southeast Asia, Portugal and New Zealand.
CAT: Student funding has been a near-crippling problem for pilot supply in the past. Has this situation been improved, and what initiatives as an industry, by flight schools in particular, have been or need to be taken to help alleviate this situation?
Luthy: I would say that funding issues, or better access to funding, is the number one reason why candidates don’t end up coming to our schools. In the US, we do a very good job on the government side, so we can use Title 4 funding. We also have the whole gamut of college funding, and a number of banking sources in this country. In the overseas market, it becomes a little bit harder, because they do not have that same kind of funding available to them.
The one thing that we are trying to get across to the banking community is that we get a very high return on investment in pilot candidates, and show them that the number of candidates making it into an airline job is very high, and therefore a very good place to invest. We are trying to push more scholarships to make training more affordable.
Another funding initiative that we are trying to work on is with the regionals. The regionals are very good at incentives when the cadets become instructors. What we are trying to do is to get them to take a little bit of a risk and move that same bonus to earlier in the program to help students pay for training.
CAT: With the increasing demand for new pilots from the airlines, some flight schools have reported that they are having difficulty in retaining their Certified Flight Instructors. What efforts have you seen to better retain these CFIs?
Luthy: The pilot shortage problem is a global problem, not just here in the US. The pilot shortages might be even worse at our overseas academies. We can increase the amount we offer CFIs, but we are not seeing a noticeable response in the increased number of instructors. But we have seen an increase in our instructors staying in their position, and that puts us in a very unique position. We have had to make this a top priority in our recruitment program.
CAT: L3Harris has a large order for Piper training aircraft now under delivery, but some smaller flight schools are having problems obtaining new training aircraft due to their increasing cost and limited production and availability. Any suggestions?
Luthy: We made the decision as a corporation to make a long-term agreement with Piper to fly their aircraft. It’s an advantage that we have as a larger flight school. Our goal is to have an all-glass fleet at the end of this contract. And that long-term solution is what all flight schools need to do. For smaller flight schools, it is going to be a struggle. The used market is very tight.
CAT: What can be done at the ab initio flight school level to instill better situational awareness in the cockpit right from the start?
Luthy: We really need to match up the training aircraft with the kind of equipment that commercials are flying, to get more high-technology aircraft with all-glass displays. Evidence-based training from the onset allows us to get a better quality of situational awareness in the cockpit. We have acquired a company called Flight Data Systems in the UK, which provides flight monitoring and analysis, and we are going to be putting that kind of capability into our simulators, and potentially into our aircraft.
We have eye-tracking software, and systems that will allow us to see what the cadet is looking at, data from all approaches and departures. And based on that, we can now more accurately grade our students to show us where the student is doing well and not well, so that we can focus our training respective to those areas that they need more work.