The Pilot Base

Dr. Suzanne Kearns - A Pilot, Professor, Author and Speaker

February 19, 2021 Pilotbase.com feat. Ben Hall & Dave Rogers Season 1 Episode 6
The Pilot Base
Dr. Suzanne Kearns - A Pilot, Professor, Author and Speaker
Show Notes Transcript

We meet Dr. Suzanne Kearns, a qualified fixed wing and helicopter pilot, who's now a professor with tenure, using her expertise to engage the next generation of aviation professionals. We discuss everything from education, to the environmental impact of aviation, to social mobility to what the future holds for the aviation industry. We even get a few surprise guests but like all great podcasts, dogs are welcome.

Ben Hall:

Hello, and welcome to the pilot based podcast. I'm Ben and I've been a pilot for over a decade.

Dave Rogers:

And I'm Dave categorically not a pilot.

Ben Hall:

Every Monday we'll be chatting to both pilots and non pilots with amazing aviation stories from all around the world. You can find all episodes of the pilot based podcast for free wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you're hearing, subscribe to our channel and leave us a review.

Dave Rogers:

In Episode Six. We meet Dr. Susanne cook, a qualified fixed wing and helicopter pilot, who's now a professor with tenure, using her expertise to engage the next generation of aviation professionals. We discuss everything from education, to the environmental impact of aviation, to social mobility to what the future holds for the aviation industry. We even get a few surprise guests but like all great podcasts, dogs are welcome. So here it is Episode Six, with Dr. Suzanne Kearns. Dr. Kearns. Welcome to pilot base. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm really excited about having a conversation having a chat and getting to know you. Uh, first things first, where in the world are you?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Right now? I'm in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Yeah, it's quite snowy here,

Dave Rogers:

isn't it? I love the snow pilots don't like the snow. In fact, that seems like a great point to bring you back in Ben, where you see snow on the ground. But does that make you think professionally?

Ben Hall:

stress? That just don't want?

Dave Rogers:

Goodness me If only everybody dealt with snow as well as the Canadians do? Honestly. So we're both in the UK, Dr. Kearns. And as soon as there is a suggestion of snow, the entire country go I nearly said goes into meltdown. If it went into meltdown, we'd be fine. But everything stopped trains, planes, automobiles, people just lock themselves in their houses. It is complete Carnage, I think you'll find it hilarious because it's

Ben Hall:

already set up for it. Are we? I mean, we don't have my wife's American and her dad has a snowplow attachment to the front of his truck. Really? Yeah, he'll just go and plow the local streets. Yeah, doesn't quite happen in the UK. Well,

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

I will say there is the flip side, which is amazing. So if you are a child, and there's a potential, there's a big snowstorm coming at night, then you go to sleep, hoping that school will be canceled for a snow day, the next day because there's something magical about snow days in school is like, you know, all of a sudden, it's canceled and you get to go instead to bargaining and building snowman and drinking cocoa. It's like, it's amazing. So that's that's the flip side is there's always this sort of small chance that maybe something amazing is going to happen and we can have the day off tomorrow.

Dave Rogers:

How bad does the snow have to be before school gets canceled, though?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

pretty bad. Usually it's icing. So everything's all iced over. Or a really substantial amount of snow that's impairing visibility.

Dave Rogers:

Cuz what happens here is

Ben Hall:

two inches then snows a shot.

Dave Rogers:

Yeah, but what happens then is we're like, yeah, snow day, and there is not there's not enough snow to build a snowman because like you say, there's two inches on the floor. And then the temperature gets slightly warmer. So by lunchtime, it's just brown slush all over the edge just yet. Yeah, pretty. Anyway, we digress. Life's treating you well, at the moment, I hope,

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

oh, well, as well as can be considered during during a global pandemic. I haven't been in my office since March. So the campus is pretty much closed. So we're teaching fully online at the moment. And it presents a variety of challenges because I also have family and children. And so for the first three or four months of the pandemic here in Canada, we were all locked down together. So it presents all sorts of challenges in different ways.

Dave Rogers:

Yes, and of course, the dogs as well, they need walking. Have you had a few had any family members, either of the two legged or four legged variety? Just crash into your lectures or your lessons or anything like that?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yeah, yeah, probably probably everything I am, what my husband and I collaborate in different ways. He's a teacher, but we build elearning together. So we've we've built courses together for Ico and other agencies. So we have our offices in opposite side of the same room, which is wonderful for collaboration under normal circumstances, but when he's doing a zoom meeting on one side of the room I'm doing on the other side of the room, it's not not so great. So that's been a challenge. And for the first month or so we only had one webcam, so we would have to keep passing it back and forth because they're all so that you can get a different one. So like I got a meeting from 10 to 11 times yours. It's a bit of a mess, but work setup. Now I think.

Dave Rogers:

I love that. So tell us about the academic institution that you're currently working at.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Sure. So I'm a professor with tenure at the University of Waterloo. The University of Waterloo is in Ontario, Canada, and it's considered one of the leading universities in Canada. We have significant strengths. I think from a reputation perspective, we're most known for areas around engineering and computer science. But in 2007, Waterloo started its first aviation program. Do you want me to put him in the back? Or do we to pause?

Dave Rogers:

I'm good, but if you're if you're uncomfortable with it, normal for me, I like having a dog. guests.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Okay, so the University of Waterloo started its aviation program in 2007. And partnered with a local flight school called the Waterloo Wellington Flight Center. The Waterloo Wellington Flight Center has its origins back, like sort of world war two era when flight schools that were not for profit, sort of like associations that people who love aviation get together and started to build their schools. So it's one of the biggest flight schools in Canada, but only interesting. It's not for profit school as well. So, so they're a partner and they as students do the flight training there, and on campus, I teach the academic courses on campus. So I teach international aviation Human Factors safety, and sustainability. And they graduate with their a commercial multi IFR, or a frozen airline transport pilot license when it's done.

Ben Hall:

Do you obviously teach certain aspects? Do they teach the whole CPL course? on campus?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

We have sort of certified flight monitors. I'm gonna put him in the back because he skipped it. Can we pause for a second? Is that okay? Are you there? They're ridiculous.

Ben Hall:

It's fine.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yeah. So um, interestingly, in Canada, as opposed to the United States, so maybe it makes sense for me to back up a little bit. So I, I started flying as a young teenager. So at that time, you had to be 16 to solo in aircraft, and 17 to hold a license. So I sold on my 16th birthday. And I had my private airplane and helicopter, my 17th birthday. And then after high school, I did a one year helicopter pilot program up in Northern Ontario, which had all sorts of like really uniquely Canadian types of flying experiences, like part of the one year program as you get your chainsaw operator's certificate. So you can go in the bush and like chop trees down and build your own log pads for helicopters to make approaches to. Yeah, and we did like interior survival training where you have to live in the bush for a week with no amenities, like just your snowshoes. And they teach you how to like make snares for rabbits, and all sorts of interesting kinds of things. But when I finished that, I started looking for jobs. And it was really clear to me early on that that was going to be a challenge because entry level helicopter pilot jobs in Canada are mostly in northern bush camps. And those types of facilities don't have like separate restrooms, or sleeping quarters for men and women. So it's really challenging for a woman to get that first job, you know, to start building experience. And so I was looking around with being like, what am I going to do with my life? Like, I knew I loved aviation that that was a given. But how do you take a step forward? And I already had a college diploma. And I was thinking, you know, what's next. And at that time in Canada, there were no university level aviation programs in the country that aviation has always been in Canada, more of an applied college level discipline, we have aerospace engineering, because we have a lot of engineering building structures and aircraft in universities, but the aviation element, so flying and airports and air traffic control and everything operational didn't really exist.

Ben Hall:

That's okay, now, is it?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yeah,

Ben Hall:

we have a couple of universities now that quite new in the last sort of five years. Yeah. Yeah. It's still sort of really in the embryonic stage.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

That's exactly what the how Canada was. So that was, I think, 98. And I was sort of thinking, you know, what do I do? And I was looking at at the United States. And what's interesting about the history of aviation in the states is that because you had to have a university degree to be an officer in the military, and because so many pilots come through the military, it created this huge ecosystem where there are hundreds of universities that have aviation degree programs. So they have quite a large group of that in that category. So I went to Embry riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. And I got a lot more family visiting me in Daytona Beach, Florida than I did in North Bay in Northern Ontario. Like random cousins like I'm kind of is it Okay. But that was a wonderful experience. Like, it's, it's an amazing university because, you know, you go to math class and then you literally it's because it's connected to the airport, you literally walk to an aircraft and go flying and then you land and then you like walk to your residence and hang out with your friends like, so it's such a cohesive, like, really cool learning environment. But when I was there, there was only about one woman for every 30 men across the entire campus. Yeah, so because it's very much an aviation school. So it was a wonderful, super fun university experience. But at the end of it, I, I took an internship with an airline was Continental Airlines at a Houston and, and I was on the internship. And then I also, back on campus, there was really tragically, someone who was killed in a training accident. A really close friend of mine was one of the other instructors that was at that airport when it happened. And he had gone to the aircraft to try to save the student who was in the crash. And he had ended up like kicking the aircraft to try to to get access and scuffing his boots all up. And for him, he would tell me after for a long period of time that he whenever he would just be in his home later and see the boots and see the scuff marks on the boots that I've just sort of have to relive that over and over. And I was sort of living the life of an airline pilot at Continental Airlines, and so jump seating everywhere and traveling all the time. And, and it really struck me that it didn't fulfill all the excitement that I built up my whole life. Like, you know, like, this is the the pinnacle of what I wanted to do. And so it led me to sort of really question, you know, what else is possible? You know, besides being an airline pilot,

Ben Hall:

I found that with airline training, it's really weird, because when doing your training, there's so much sort of hands on flying and the learning curve is steep. You just think that's going to continue. But then when you get into the airline world, it's completely different. Just a different experience altogether, isn't it? It's it's not hands on flying and speaking to people and doing loads of stuff. It's far more sort of calm management of the aircraft.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

And a lot of it is is quiet time. Yeah, like and I found I was really surprised that so much time is just sitting, you know, like, like, you know, sitting in Yeah, so it was a it was different. Yeah, it is, like you said even if helicopters as well, helicopters, you're always on like your you know, it's much more like hands and feet heavy. Like you're continually, you know, working the controls, and there's no, at least the helicopters I flew, there was no situation where you'd kind of like sit back for an hour and let it fly. And it doesn't work like that. So it's it was really different. And, and so I I ended up going back to Embry riddle for my master's degree, which is in human factors and systems engineering. So it's basically safety science, sort of like why why do accidents happen? And how do people contribute to that, and then I came back to Canada afterwards. And at that time, because there were no degree programs in aviation, there was like, nobody knew what to do with me with a master's degree in my pilot credentials. And so I spent like six months floundering around, like kind of hopeless, like, I'm gonna be gonna be living in my parents basement playing video games forever. And, and I wish I did do that for a few months, but that's separate. Then I sent a cold resume into Western, which while I was in the states that started the very first university level aviation program in Canada, and just happenstance they, they brought me in and they ended up hiring me as a professor that was 24, which is my master's. And then I did my PhD, while I was working there, subsequently full time.

Ben Hall:

Oh, amazing, incredible stuff.

Dave Rogers:

Good. So what was the what was the topic of the PhD that you did?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

education? So another kind of thing is just funky for an academic is my PhD, I actually did it online. Because Western University where I was teaching had a policy where you couldn't work full time and study full time, you could only work for as a maximum of 10 hours a week if you wanted to be a PhD student. So I did my PhD through distance education. It's credited accounts. But at the time, it was very strange, and not not something you can kind of hang your hat on, like, you know, look at my fancy education to kind of work for it.

Ben Hall:

And we've got something similar in the UK called Open University that is really really well respected because it needs so much more sort of drive and motivation to, you know, log on and do it in front of a computer rather than During the class and being surrounded by sort of like minded people?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Well, interestingly, the pandemic showed us that elearning has tremendous potential, but it's a very different medium for learning and that when I was studying my PhD, I'm like, Oh, please, can I go sit in a classroom for three hours? And kind of dozed off a little bit? You know, like, could I please have that experience because it's very much on your on your own, like, you have to, like you said, you have to be motivated, you have to put the time in, and, and put the work in. So, so that's, you know, that in my personal life around that time, well, I got my first job at Western I also got engaged and got married. And my husband and I have an interesting story. He, he proposed to me nine days after we met. And we were married a year after that, and had my daughter nine months after that. So it was like thinking, rapid fire. But we've been together for 16 years. So it's,

Ben Hall:

and you said, Your husband's in aviation as well.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

He's a teacher. So he's an educator. So he and I are very similar minded on that, that side of the house, but he he's not an lover of aviation, but he will watch me the episodes with me.

Ben Hall:

That counts

Dave Rogers:

both of the conversations like with, obviously, your husband and your family members, when you've gone through all this, this effort to become fixed wing pilot, and then a helicopter pilot, and you will actually I'm not entirely sure, this is what I want to do. Because for somebody like me, who isn't qualified, I would think, Well, you know, this is a this is a dream job. This is something that so few people are actually capable of doing and achieving. It was incredibly brave and honest, have you with yourself to realize that, you know, maybe it wasn't what I wanted? Was everyone around you fully accepting of that?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

I think when they spoke to me, they were I have I have a lot of really wonderful family members surrounding me. So I'm very lucky in that sense. But I'm sure there were conversations that I wasn't in the room for, like what in the world, he wanted to do one thing your whole life. And now, now not so much, but so it was it was challenging, it was challenging for me as well. And I relate so much to my students, particularly those who just graduated in the middle of COVID-19. Because when I graduate, not only did I want to change gears, but it was right when 911 happened as well. So so there's just this state of chaos, not just in my life, but in all of the friends that I had, who had also just graduated, and we're looking for work. So you sometimes people call it as sort of a quarter life crisis like that, you know, that 25 year, it's a tough transition to go from, you know, what have I been preparing myself for? And and then ultimately, the maturity to look at that and say, a job is not just a job, a job will impact all of your life outside of the job as well, you know, you're scheduling and, and family and everything along with it. And I was sort of blind to those other factors when I was young, because I just, and I still do, like, I love aviation. But I didn't know that there were a world of other opportunities. in aviation, still where i think i think that I needed that experience to do what I do now, in order to be accepted as credible.

Ben Hall:

I think there's a lot of people that probably currently in a very similar situation, but kind of forced into it. So they've been a pilot for quite a long time, but now they're out of work. Yeah. And maybe there's some people realizing, actually, I quite like being home every night and having to pick my days off and you know, do normal, normal things, because it is a it is a life, isn't it? It's not it's not just a job.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yes. And I think if we honestly look at aviation, you have to accept that we have a long history of really exploitative labor practices, and for our aviators, we expect the young people to invest $100,000 in their education, and then work as a flight instructor for $20,000 a year in poverty. We expect them to do that, because we say they love it, and what a privilege that you get to have this experience. But we stop asking those really hard questions around. Is this fulfilling that, like, is this causing mental health issues? Because they're living in poverty? And you know, like, is this causing strife in their relationships? And so I think that I've been working to develop a new category of research around n gap or that the next generation of aviation professionals, which is trying to bring together strands of research that look at attracting, educating and retaining people in aviation careers. And it's interesting how so many questions that fall under that umbrella are so impactful on the people and and if you talk to people, I think anybody who's lived through that, you know, This, this pandemic this year can appreciate that you question your choices, you question your value to an organization? And do you question I think your life with your family as well that that is, is this really the best choice for me? I think we're going to be in pretty dire straits and the next year, and not everybody agrees. But if you look at the beginning of 2020, we're facing severe shortages of aviation professionals around the world. And that was coupled with this growing flight shaming movement. So environmental focus on aviation and saying like, Hey, this is a big polluter of an industry. And that affects young people, because they look at it be like, Yeah, I don't know. And that doesn't align with my values. And, and then the pandemic hit. And of course, hundreds of 1000s of professionals around the world were furloughed or laid off. And you know, without pay and, you know, struggle to figure out what a new normal is. But I think that it's causing so many of them who are mid or senior professionals to leave aviation, like there's, they're exploring what other options are anybody who could take an early retirement will, and I'm seeing young people continually discouraged from being in the aviation industry. And in our university, it's affecting the pipeline. So because of training demands, or training capacity being reduced because of COVID and distancing, that we have to have our intakes for the next two years. So we normally take 120 students, then the next two years, we're only able to take in 60. So like, I keep thinking, like, how, how aware, are we of all of those things coming together? We were in a shortage beforehand, yes, we're paused now, like now is a horrible time for everybody. But if we look at an eventual recovery effort, we're going to be in a recovery effort with the disrupted pipeline at the beginning of training with a whole bunch of mid career professionals having left and so many of our senior pilots taken an early retirement like, like, this is a big issue that isn't, I think, getting a lot of attention,

Ben Hall:

but you think it's gonna be a bit of a black hole of pilots, but there's gonna be obviously a slight lag in that pipeline, isn't there?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

I think, I think that I think we need to think really strategically around that issue of, you know, how do we attract, educate and retain people in aviation careers and, and attracting them, that's all, you know, the outreach to young people and bringing them in education is is huge, like the efficiency of education, we still use educational practices in aviation that are based on like a 1930s understanding of repeated over and over and over again, so you can do it. When if you look at artificial intelligence and machine learning, and you look at the Learning Technologies, like augmented and virtual reality and, and the more intelligent use of simulation and early pilot training. And then you look on the on the other end of retention, and you look at issues of things like, like mental health and professional development, like how do we make these careers really fulfilling wonderful careers for people where they feel valued, and that they're growing and contributing? There's a lot of work in that. I think, I think we

Ben Hall:

like it.

Dave Rogers:

Do you feel like you're in a in a good place with regards to that work? And your knowledge of that? Or is it just something you've got to constantly keep on top of, because it is an ever changing landscape? And we certainly the situation, we're in at the moment, the future so difficult to predict, what kind of challenges does that pose for you?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yeah, well, so the life of a professor, his students don't always understand this, because they see teaching, but teachings only 40% of my job. 40% is research and 20% of service services, perhaps things like this, but also, you know, serving on committees and, you know, working with international agencies and organizations. But the research part is something students don't always see. So my research, and like I wrote, written six books, but the first was a textbook, which is out of print now. The next is elearning, and aviation, which is sort of like an academic understanding of how to effectively use e learning in aviation. And the next was a competency based education in aviation. And that's about the philosophy that we've always used. Ours is a metric for experience and licensing of pilots. So you need a certain number of hours to get your license and a certain number of hours to stay current. But we stopped to ask, or we often serve maybe failed to ask, Is there anything really powerful about those hours? Or is it really what happens during those hours that matters? Not the hours themselves? Because if you use ours as a metric for licensing and for a person gaining in their education, you can never expedite it, and you can never improve it because there's no incentive. So if, if I went to a flight support,

Ben Hall:

biggest frustrations in aviation, yes. You can just sit in a seat and you can be rubbish. And you can be a particularly good pilot, you can be a horrible person. But just because you sit in that seat for some period of time, you know, you're a higher rank than me or, you know, further on in your career, whereas

Dave Rogers:

What are your thoughts on the the hours is a metric then to sort of fill that black hole. So as you said, You've got a lot of mid level and senior level pilots who may be looking for additional careers, if all of a sudden the industry does pick back up in 2021 2223. And we have got this black hole of pilots. But we do have that that group of very talented individuals who have been safe pilots, they've been reliable pilots, but haven't done it for a little while, but now aren't qualified to go straight back into the seats because they haven't stayed relevant. Do you think we might be in a situation where the industry has to change and we have to stop looking at hours as a metric because we've got 10s, hundreds 1000s of people who can do jobs, but it's an archaic sort of red tape, that's, that's stopping the industry from getting back on its feet.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Exactly. So, so the industry had made some pretty good progress around competency based education before the pandemic hit. And I think that it will be gaining in sort of acceptance and recognition, once we move through the other side. But ultimately, the way I explain it to people is everybody's been in a classroom, right? And, and everybody can sort of understand that some of the hours, you're sitting in that classroom, you're completely somewhere else, like you're daydreaming, and you're paying attention, or you're on your phone, you know, not me or you but like other than me. But there are some times where, in a very short amount of time, somebody can say something or explain something and, and that, like 15 minutes can change everything about the way you think about an issue. So, so time isn't what's important, right? It's what happens during that time that matters. And so competency based training is all about defining the knowledge, the skill in the attitude at certain levels. And using those as a reference for when training is complete. So it doesn't matter. If you have the 10 hours, if you're able to demonstrate competency on this particular task or maneuver, then you can move to the next step. And it really allows a sort of customization and individualized approach to training, which on a fringe side makes it go a lot faster. In general, there's a lot of opportunity for it to be expedited, but also to take advantage of what's known about how adults learn and how to teach them in the most effective way and, and use technologies when it makes sense when it's effective and, and saves money and time.

Ben Hall:

We're really interested to hear your thoughts about how that translates into improvement, because obviously, pilot base is mainly a recruitment platform. And we have a lot of our users who have that exact issue that flying hours is basically one of the main initial filters. So say a company requires 3000 hours to apply for that job. What saying there's somebody who's got 2500 hours, but amazing, relevant experience is not going to be as good as candidate as somebody who, you know, maybe is a second officer sits on the jump seat doesn't touch the controls under 20,000 feet.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yeah. Well, I think that's, as you said, it's one of the big criticisms of the industry that everybody knows that two pilots with the exact same number of hours don't have the exact same number of skills, right, it's going to be far more dependent and what they did during that time. And if you look to particularly the the Asia Pacific region, where they had significantly faster growth in aviation than we had in North America, and because of that, we're really incentivized to innovate how they train. So they developed a series of cadet programs, where they would hire people off the street, and then the airline would train them for 18 months. And then at the end of the 18 months, they would be generally a second officer First Officer flying actively on the line. And they owe basically a term of service back to the airline, sort of payback training costs. So so there's already been a proof of concepts in the idea that you can take really low time pilots. And instead of what we've done historically, which is we teach them during training, how to fly small planes, and we expect them somewhere down the road to learn how to fly the bigger aircraft or to work at an airline. But if we train them from the beginning to be an airline pilot in the standard operating procedures, and the two crew environment and the more advanced equipment and heavy integration of simulation, and scenario based instruction, so you really, you know, engaging every training session in a problem like why would we be doing this trying to teach you to think like a pilot instead of just memorize book content, that it's already shown that it works. It's just a matter of those systems have kind of been separated. So we have the cadet programs using the multi crew pilot license over here. And then we have the traditional training over here. And I think both sides kind of look at the other and say, hey, there's advantages and disadvantages in that other group that I wish I could, I wish I could have the advantages and and not the disadvantages of the category that I'm in. Because those traditional pilots, they still, you know, they would still need, like you said several 1000 hours to get an interview. And when they're looking across at those who are in the cadet program, I think understandably, would be frustrated to say, why would that young person with 250 hours be flying and safe and completely acceptable and integrated into operations, but myself with 2000 hours? can't even get an interview? Like, it doesn't seem fair?

Ben Hall:

Yeah, absolutely. So we've got a multi crew pilot license over here as well. I've had a lot of colleagues who have recently made redundant. And now that leaves them in a very sticky situation, because it, it works if you're sponsored by an airline, as you just asked, and you kind of run through the whole system. But if that kind of gets chopped, at some point, that license is pretty useless.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yes, it's linked to the airline specifically, like you said, so. So if you are with airline a, and if that airline goes out of business, or they let you go for whatever reason, you can't take like you could have traditional like, that's one of the disadvantages of the multiple credit license isn't. It's not like the normal licensing structure where then you can take your licenses and go to another company and say, here's my experience, can I work for you, the multi crew pilot license is like, it's like you're married to that one company. So yeah, you're starting, you're gonna do a lot of backtracking.

Ben Hall:

I think probably, in the training company's wildest dreams, this pendant would not have happened. And therefore they probably didn't even consider it as an option. But those people now in that situation I've been charged. I know, there's certain training schools that are charging sort of 10s of 1000s of pounds, converted back to a, you know, CPL or equivalent.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yeah, I think it's, it's an interesting time to be in the training world to sort of meet that demands. Like I know, even some of those large companies that put up projections to say sort of what I've said already, that we're looking at a pretty massive shortage by this time next year. But that's so hard for people to understand, because it's so hard to look past the pain you're experiencing today to see what what might be down the road, or to see past your own experiences to see like from a global picture, that perhaps one person's path might be different, but on average, that's sort of where we're headed. Yeah, I

Ben Hall:

suspect there might be a bit of cheekiness from the airlines in the short term. Drivers absolutely 1000s of pilots out of jobs, we can lower our terms and conditions, you know, and sweep up the people who are really in need. But yeah, then that gap comes a little bit later, isn't it? So maybe if people can bide their time and not, you know, crumple up, the first officer might be in decent situation?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yeah, I'm not an expert in sort of the negotiation process, or, you know, the, that's probably far more aligned with what you both do. But But I would say that you hear time and time again, this idea of, you know, exploitation of pilots and and the reality is that pilots are human. Like, it's interesting, some of the research into mental health of pilots, because we're, the average person would say, like, on a scale of, do I sometimes feel stressed? Or do I sometimes feel anxious, the average person will be in the middle, like, everybody, yeah, we're human, we sometimes have feelings. But if you give that survey to the pilot population, they all score it as zero, like, I have no feelings, I have no anxiety, I have no issues. And of course, that's not true. But there's something that's sort of built into how we make pilots where we teach them to suppress or deny the fact that they have feelings, and and then it comes out and really, you know, horrible ways because perhaps they're not getting treatment or support or not feeling like they can discuss some of those things with their peers. But I think that this pandemic has been really, really hard on aviation, but specifically on all those aviators and and, and I do hope that people who maybe historically wouldn't be open to talking about their feelings that they might consider acknowledging that this has been a really tragic experience for a lot of people that affects, you know, not just their work, but their families and everything that goes along with that.

Dave Rogers:

Is that something that you work on with your students then the fact that if they are having issues, it is okay to talk about them?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yeah, well, I teach safety class each year and one of the things I do in the classes I give student groups of problem. So sometimes, you know, there's wide ranging problems, but in the class that got disrupted by the pandemic in the spring, one of the student groups that ended up actually winning the design challenge. Their idea was to make an app that would allow within a company, it would allow for peer mentorship between pilots to support each other where they could feel comfortable sort of sharing how they're feeling from, from an emotional perspective and supporting each other. They they're actually I think, going to be pitching that in a design competition, I just got an email from. So it's, it's tricky, because the solutions kind of have to be organic. Like, I feel like the way we are in aviation, if somebody from the outside comes in, and they say, like, Hey, you guys have these problems? You should you should adopt my solutions. I think we're very quick to be like, No, you don't know aviation, like, like, that's not how we do things here. But sometimes I think it's sort of natural and, and the sort of things sort of bubble up on their own, perhaps with the

Ben Hall:

taboo subjects as well, just because of the your medical category. So you have to, obviously can have your past medical every year and make sure you're fit and healthy. So there is a bit of a fine line isn't there? And it's because it's it's a bit of a gray area, right? It's a bit subjective. I think a lot of people suppress because of that as well. They don't want to outwardly get towards the wrong side of that line and potentially lose their medical themselves in more problems.

Dave Rogers:

What about social mobility and the aviation industry then because now you mentioned earlier in this conversation, expecting people to pay $100,000 to them in 20, as an instructor, and I've had loads of chats to you, Ben about people who've either taken on extra jobs to pay for flight school and those extra jobs. It's not like working in a pub or a restaurant, it's a job where a salary could you know, be funding a mortgage, or parents who don't have a lot of money re mortgaging their homes so their children can can learn to fly. And even though those are very selfless actions of family members to help out, that still does mean that only a small percentage of the world's population and even the sort of first world population are going to be in a situation where they can become a pilot. Now, me being the little social justice warrior that I am. And we always tell people, you know, when you grow up, you can be what you want to be. And in a lot of instances, that is true. And there are some incredible success stories across loads of industries. But aviation seems like one of those where there's not really an open door for somebody of humble beginnings or a working class background. And how can we make that better?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

Yeah, well, that that's something I am aligned with you on significantly, I think part of it is because I teach aviation students all the time. So I see them and they're such amazing, passionate young people. They're bright, and they're dedicated. But I also see this the suffering and the difficulties where they have to keep several other jobs and sort of their earning just to pay for the next flight. And it's this rotation where sometimes even sleeping in their cars late, I had one student who was working in Toronto, it was about an hour and a half drive. And he was doing sort of a night shift. And then he was commuting back because it was a better paying position and then trying to function in a classroom, horrible situations that nobody would be able to do. And if you look at our industry, we're only about 6% women. And we're, I think far less visible minorities. So there's a huge amount of work that needs to be done to to, you know, progress, diversity and inclusion in aviation. And, and so I can tell you a little bit of what I've what I've been doing and with some amazing colleagues from around the world, but if we back it up, so I Keio, which is the International Civil Aviation Organization. So they're a branch of the United Nations that create standards for for the aviation industry. So they started back in 2009, the end gap program, which is the next generation of aviation professionals, and so there, I've been a part of that group for many years, and basically a volunteer group where they get together every now and then and maybe once a year and discuss, like how do we how do we make this better? And so, maybe a little over a year ago, I thought, well, I really see this because I'm an academic as an academic problem, right? Like, how can we, how can we answer these problems? Because we're not the first industry to ask how do we do this better? Like if you look at the medical field, there was a time where it was very similar like it was it was very white male, and it was about it, and very, very expensive. But then we saw a lot of support financially as well. So so we're not the first to tackle the issue. So how can we learn lessons that exist and and start applying them to aviation so I put out I made a website I had solicited input from people from around the world around this issue, like how do you attract, educate and retain people in aviation, and I ended up getting about 50 contributors, so professionals, academics, who contributed case studies or stories, but also academic chapters, around these themes. And and that I compiled into a book, which is called engaging the next generation of aviation professionals, or II and gap and gap. And that came out on March 15, I think of 2020, which was like the most ironic timing for nobody was thinking that was an issue. So I, honestly for about a week after it came out, I was sort of like, Am I gonna keep my head down on that? Or like, I don't want to be promoting that.

Ben Hall:

Lady publicising.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

But I had, what was really cool about it is it kind of created this, this small community of the people who had contributed to the book, who one gentleman in particular, an assignment with from the UK, he had reached out to me and he said, No, this isn't, this is still a real big issue. Like just because the world has stopped spinning. It doesn't mean that's the time where we we stop asking these important questions. And he was the one who really kind of gave me a nudge to say, if anything, a pandemic is a pause, where we have an excess and capacity we have time, like this is the time we should start challenging the status quo and really thinking about how to, to move this initiative forward. So in partnership with him, we've created an gaps or Ian gap, but basically, where he has an gap in the UK, and I'm in Canada, and another gentleman in the States has an gap in the USA. And basically, we're looking at a variety of things in Canada, it's mostly from a research perspective, because that's my strength. In the UK, they're building some really amazing partnerships and and really looking at like, how do you create sort of like a ladder approach, like a sector ladder? So if I'm a young person, and I want to be a pilot, so I'm starting here, and I want to be here? What are the educational pathways I can take? What sort of financial support can I make? And can we really sync up the airlines and the training institutions so that it's very cooperative, which both allows the schools to produce pilots who are more ready for work, and also to ensure that there are placement so that they can actually get a job when they're done. But there's a lot of things bubbling around like really, things that almost make you emotional, where they're, like, fully funded positions for people in different categories. And if you look to Asia, where they have the cadet programs that are very popular and very common, and the airline is funding training, in return for a term of service, there are models out there. And that's, of course, how the military has always functioned. here as well. So so it's possible, right, but but I think, before the pandemic in the history of aviation, airlines have benefited, I think, historically, from not having to invest in the training of people who are lower down the chain, right, like they there was, it's kind of an amazing job, like, it's cool and exciting. And people really want to be involved in it. So. So I think there's a benefit where they could kind of sit back a little bit. And, you know, just sort through all the resumes of all these fully qualified people who have paid for their education, and found their path on their own. But I think if we're going to seek a more sustainable future, that's more considerate of supporting these young people and people who come from different backgrounds, then I think we really need to rethink how to integrate more so that the airlines are integrated into the education and that's integrated into recruitment and sort of intake as well. Because I think it's silly in a lot of ways to ask a 16 or 17 year old to navigate this entire system. When many of us who have been in this system our whole careers would have a lot of difficulty explaining exactly how to do that.

Dave Rogers:

Yeah, and I suppose particularly when you're relying on on people to self fund these things, are people going to become more reluctant to do that now but you know, we're getting to the phase where that's that's just not gonna work in generations to come. So I'll use my generation for example, I'm halfway through my 30s I do reasonably well in my career, but by the time my parents were my age, they done an awful lot better now. In a few generations time. I don't think even the wealthy people are going to be able to find for six figures required to put their their son or daughter through flight school so it almost feels as though forget the forget the social justice side of things. The industry is going to need to find a way to get ahead of the game.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

What what I've been building at the university It is a research cluster. So I've mentioned like having a variety of different disciplines come together so that we can get new ideas to the existing problems in aviation. And what would I hope for so my dream of where I hope we would be a year from now is to create a center. So like a research institute that focuses on sustainable aviation. Because if you look at sustainability, sustainability has the three equal pillars of importance. So it's environmental, economic, but also social. I think economic importance is kind of driven aviation for forever. But if you look, yeah, understandably, like the business, they have to make money to function. Right. So that's important, but but I think the environmental aspect has really been gaining a lot of focus recently. And I noticed this for the first time a few years ago, when I was teaching my first year students, and they would come to my office hours, and they'd say, hey, the other students, like in other programs, they give me a hard time because they're saying, like, why would you be part of an industry? That's such a polluter? Like, doesn't that make you a bad person. And that is, like, I, in my entire educational experience, I never had one person say that when I was a young person going to school. But it really, I think, demonstrates the shifting perspective of youth. And, and so if you go back to your point about the cost of training, electric aircraft and training are potentially, like significantly cheaper than traditionally powered aircraft, so so instead of $100 an hour, they might only be $20 an hour, if they can be demonstrated as safe and, and approved by the regulator. And you know, it's like all of those dominoes fall. But there's tremendous potential. So if you talk about from a sustainability perspective, where you can both improve the economics, as well as having environmental impact, but that's a sweet spot, potentially. And then if you look at the social pillar, I think that that that's where the end gaps that I've talked about. So this, like, really understanding how do we support the people, I feel like that has received even less attention than the economic or the environmental pillars, I feel like we just kind of take it for granted, that there's going to be enough people in our industry, they're going to be passionate, they're going to sacrifice themselves, because they're so lucky and privileged to have this opportunity that we expect them to pay for it. And you know, with their own emotion and hardship in different ways. And, and so I think, under that pillar, it's not just about, you know, the mental health and diversity we've talked about. But it's also about, like, a key aspect of that is education. And, and so that's where some of my research comes in with elearning, and competency based education, that if we could use modern learning science approaches to innovate how we teach people, the results also improve sustainability across the board. If we're replacing hours in the air with hours in a simulator, and we're showing that it's effective, it's super customized to that individual's particular needs, as well as whatever operation they need to do. And we're training them, you know, very scenario based from the beginning, it's taking hours of emissions flying out of the air, putting it in a simulator, and it also allows you to fly in any weather condition. So so it affects it's better for the people, it's less expensive, and it reduces the environmental impacts as well. So there's so much potential in so many different ways. But it has to be a focus of what we pay attention to.

Dave Rogers:

This, the sustainability thing is massive, you know, it's not something that we've really spoken about on this podcast yet, Ben, and I'm sure as as the podcast evolves, it's something that we'll talk about more and more, and I really hope we get to dedicate a lot of time to it. But I would be really interested in seeing the the numbers that the pollution based metrics for 2020 compared with 1918 1716, is that suddenly you've been able to see, Suzanna, are they not really available yet?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

I can't give you the specifics for comparisons, but I can tell you that. So there there is a lot of really wonderful work going into environmental sustainability and aviation. So the reason why I smiled, and you said that is because one of the really cool and amazing goals that I co has set for the industry has made it I think, in 2016, so several years back was carbon neutral growth from 20 onwards. So basically, what they said was that the level of emissions produced by international aviation in 2020 would be the baseline and any growth beyond that could never exceed the amount of emissions in 2020. And that would be accomplished through you know, more direct flight plans. So more air traffic management through better aircraft equipment and engines, through electric aviation through sustainable fuels and etc, etc. as well as carbon offsets which is a really big part of that

Dave Rogers:

as well. Next question.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

But the the point was, the reason why I smiled is because, of course, add IQ, I'm sure they were looking at the carbon production in 2020. And going, Oh, that's not a good baseline for us because we didn't fly in 2020. So about halfway through the year, they said that they're going to use the 2019 levels. So carbon neutral growth from cng was 2019, though, which is not doesn't quite roll off the tongue as well. But it's so that that plus quercia cracy is a carbon offsetting recovery scheme for international aviation. So it's how the whole world is going to basically create like a market for carbon trading to to offset some of the growth. So just

Dave Rogers:

give me a bit of an insight into how important that offset is, because there was a big thing in the news over here about Lewis Hamilton, the the Formula One driver, and how people were really giving him a hard time because obviously, the car that he drives, very polluting the the fact that him and a team travel across the world, but he is supposedly carbon neutral because of the amount of time and effort and money he puts into offsetting his carbon footprint. So essentially, does that cleanse all of your sins? Or is it still? Is it still an issue? Should we still be looking at reducing emissions in the first place, as opposed to just offsetting them with all of that good work,

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

like, I can tell you what I can suggest, which is that it's everything. So it's not just offsets. It's also improving the efficiency of operations across the scale through through some of those other aspects I mentioned. So I can't call it a basket of measures so that we can't accomplish it with just offsets. But that's part of what, what we'll need because realistically, technology might not advance quick enough to support and aircraft have really long life cycles as well. So and they're quite expensive for airlines to purchase. So offsets allow them to still function while they have some of that older equipment, so they can replace it. But, but I think it's really important to highlight that aviation does a lot of really good things in the world to like, and this is one thing I try to reinforce to students, I said that you can't, you can't and shouldn't feel embarrassed that you love aviation, right? Like, because because aviation promotes millions of jobs if it transports more than a third of the world's cargo by value. So most high value cargo goes by air, it provides, like essential services to remote regions and sustainable tourism to parts of the world that otherwise wouldn't, wouldn't have, you know, the resources to to be sustained. And, you know, before the pandemic, I often would say to them, if there's sort of like downs, like I love aviation, but people give me a hard time that it's a polluter, and I said, imagine what would happen. If aviation was grounded for a week, like imagine, just stop and think about, you know, produce wouldn't get like there, the grocery stores would start to become empty, like, people wouldn't be able to see friends and family and the social impacts that would have. And then so ironically, of course, COVID-19 has forced us to live and experience some of what that actually means. With the exception, though, that cargo is still going really strong through all the COVID. So, so we didn't feel the pain of our cargo line being disrupted the same way as passengers, but, but I do feel like, it's easier for people to understand how important aviation is and what a mechanism for good it can be. Aviation contributes about 2% of global emissions, about 1.3% of global emissions associated with international travel and about point seven for domestic operations. And I think over 80% of aviation, are flights that are longer than 1500 kilometers for which there really isn't a viable alternative mode of transportation, a timely transportation. So there's a lot of a lot to be said about. Does it make sense to have 45 minute flights, when we could do that by train or another more sustainable form of transportation? Like, yeah, like, okay, but that's, that's a very viable, you know, statement. And maybe that's where we'll go in the future as well is start to really think about. Of course, airlines probably wouldn't like that as much. But really segregating aviation to those longer trips where it really poses tremendous advantages and allows for growth and fulfilling jobs and everything that goes along with that.

Dave Rogers:

It's no secret that aviation is in a little bit of a trough at the moment, but it certainly isn't the only industry. That is, I mean, if you'd have asked me years ago, I'd have looked at a job as a pilot or you know, anywhere from from cabin crew to engineer anything in aviation, and I'd have said it was as viable a job as as a hairdresser or a plumber, you know, we're always going to Need plumbers are always going to need hairdressers, we're always going to need people in aviation. That isn't the case. At the moment, do you think that we will be in either the not too distant future or a little bit further down the line in the situation where those jobs in aviation are once again, as viable as they have been?

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

I think that aviation jobs are going to be in demand in the future in a big way. But I think that that will happen in conjunction with this continual evolution of technology. And if you look to older aircraft, there were five pilots, there's a captain and the first officer, the engineer and the navigator, and the radio operator. And now we have to write so we have a track record where technology improves and allows for fewer people to do the job that that used to take to. So I think understanding that's our history, may perhaps it is a possibility that we would move to single pilot operations. But that would loop me back to the beginning of our conversation, which is that if you talk to pilots, and then you could probably relate to this as well. And if you ask them if you're on a long flight by yourself, right, like if you didn't have a co pilot with you, and because technology is playing that role, how would that impact your feelings about that job?

Ben Hall:

Yeah, so so what you're talking about mental health earlier, would really hit home there, I think, because, you know, you get a really good bonding. I think, if I was sitting over Central Africa at four o'clock in the morning, staring pitch darkness by myself, yeah, that would be a real struggle, and really not a very fun day at work.

Dr. Suzanne Kearns:

And I think that's the whole point is, I think, I just hope that as if anything, this pandemic allows us an opportunity to pause and reflect on things that we took for granted as the status quo beforehand. And and the reality is, we have to think more about the people like Like you said, like if if, you know, if a pilot is going to feel like so much of their quality of life in a profession that has been degraded, maybe through a loan, that needs to be an important conversation, that that's mixed into whether or not technology is integrated to replace some of that role. Like I really do hope as we move forward, we tend to think more about sustainability that includes those three pillars and not just the economic to the environmental, as well as the people as well. And, and I think that only by innovating those three things collectively, can we achieve a more sustainable future?

Dave Rogers:

Okay, Suzanne Kearns, thank you very much for joining us on pirate base. This has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you.

Ben Hall:

Thanks for listening to the pilot based podcast. We'll be back next week with another great guest from the aviation industry. Don't forget to check out our new career platform at pilot base COMM And all the socials at pilot base HQ. If you enjoyed this podcast Don't forget to subscribe and rice review