Pilot Recruitment and Robots

7-second speed read:

  • Robots already exist in HR
  • Robots can write your CV for you
  • Only humans can convince other humans that a pilot job is cool
  • HR will focus on high-touch tasks

I recently acquired an iRobot vacuum cleaner to substitute me in house-cleaning. It buys me time to write articles here.

While I may be a late adopter in practice, automata creeps more and more into my prattle on airline operations. That seems to spur from human ingenuity finding applications for robotic process automation away from obvious OCC work, the most recent example being human resources.

Robots are already searching for candidates and interviewing applicants with a recorded video for the human to review. 93% of employees would take direct managerial commands from a non-human manager. So, there’s no obvious reason cost reduction will not further their introduction in human resource management, and more importantly, why the humans shouldn’t already figure out what to skills to specialise in once the androids are a daily part of it.


What’s the robot going to be doing in people supervision in the next 5-6 years? What it’s good at: collecting, sorting, and storing data. It will seek the attributes a human decision maker needs (flight hours, valid ratings, medical validity and so on), reducing the candidate to a variable. Considering existing applications in maintenance, it would then not be far-fetched to suggest that by 2025 these same collectors will not only describe who’s applying but also suggest what to do with them (prescriptive analytics) or contact them again based on a forecast of fulfilling requirements at a future date (predictive analysis).

[Perhaps, you will be able to hire one to build your CV? If recruiter robots seek a set of parameters, there’s no reason why a counterpart automated service can’t generate data in a format acceptable to them. A simple chat bot can ask you questions to create a document that you can submit, so you don’t have to (if anyone monetizes this, please acknowledge that you heard it here first!)]

Furthermore, if an HR specialist spends 65% of their time on automatable rule-based processing, they will have to earn their worth otherwise. The AI will still need supervision, so let’s assume only half of the human’s time will be freed up, likely in the application of “soft skills“.
replace you


Source: Readers Digest

Android lack of these is the butt of many sci-fi jokes (see StarTrek’s Data for more) but witticisms haven’t generated corporate profit yet. HR processes have and humans will need to continue creating employee journey maps. In the pre-employment phase, no robot can reach out to schools and convince pupils that the pilot job is cool. Interviews (“Know me, like me, trust me“) will likely still involve hominid interaction and a “high touch” to assist the high tech.

Later on, during the course of one’s career, management will likely be a mixed bag of algorithm and meat intellect but conflict resolution and motivation talks should remain a spur of a mortal’s emotional intelligence. New roles for employees may be suggested by digital assistant analysis but involving a pilot in tasks not fitting their primary occupation will still need creativity that machines have not demonstrated.

Perhaps some of us will be involved in automating ourselves out of a job and into retirement. At least until now, this path has not been a zero-sum game, leaving undiscovered opportunities to claim.

Flight Operations Challenge…


How To Be Your Own Pilot Career CEO

One of the most apt comparisons I’ve encountered about recreational airplane pilots is to alcoholics – you may be broke but once you sit behind a control column the aviation hook will rewire your brain to continuously find money to buy flying time. However, wandering about the sky for fun does not constitute being an airline pilot and neither does wearing a nice uniform (there’s nothing wrong with either of these but costume parties aren’t an operational topic). If you really do want to operate the controls of a craft through the air and earn a living doing it for 40+ years, here’s my 5-point recovery programme to plan your career.

Step 0: Admit personal bias.
Controlling a machine in thin air brings all the adrenaline rush of attempting to drive off a cliff and stopping at the correct time. In the sky, you are truly in charge of your fate. That does not mean you need to do it to pay your bills (I do, but we are all individuals).

One industry veteran framed it so: there are two types of employees in the world – specialists (the ones doing) and managers (the ones deciding who should do what when). It’s perfectly ok to manage others and use the earned cash to sightsee from the air in a 4-seater.

Choosing the latter means you place higher value on the utility of getting paid to fly airplanes than the associated high initial investment, job uncertainty, shift-work health implications, and other indelible hazards (yes, it should be a calculated risk). That’s fine: many a wise man (and most posts on Medium) insist you figure out how to spend your life by knowing the man (yourself), not the goal.

Now consider the advice of the father of modern management, Peter Drucker that you are on your own in your professional career and you must be its conscious guide throughout.

Step 1: Research.
The next step in knowing what you’re getting into (or already flying through) is acknowledging the airline pilot employee requirements in order of importance:

  1. Salary (cash-in-hand)
  2. Per diems/allowances (bonus-in-hand)
  3. Roster pattern (time-in-hand)
  4. Pension Scheme (retirement-in-hand)
  5. Career progression possibilities (switching hands to control ambidextrously)
  6. Employee discount ticket travel (leisure-in-hand)

Try ordering these for yourself on a piece of paper once a year, every year. Maybe a fixed roster pattern, so you can be at home regularly? Maybe a large pile of cash to build that home? Knowing the order will help deciding whose operational model to join or move to (short vs. long- haul vs. anything as long as it pays).

Most turboprop pilots I know also obsess over the equipment they don’t operate but note this isn’t in the list above. Statistically speaking, you will eventually end up at least on a narrow-body no matter where you live:

Source: Oliver Wyman

Having chosen the operating model that suits your lifestyle (and possibly, reviewed the particular company’s financial situation and fleet orders in 2+ years), I’d suggest to investigate the no.1 point in the list above, salary levels. Pilots are very good at finding issues (some may call it “complaining”) and gossiping – that’s why sites such as the Professional Pilot Rumour Network and the Pilot Career Centre exist as a source of information on working conditions.

Step 2: Face the permanent bad news.
You’re a cost item [1] in an perennially unprofitable environment [2] and no one gives you a medal when you do your job correctly [3].

[2] First a few facts about your employer: they don’t (and have not made much profit over time):
Cumulative airline industry profits 1975_2016Source:  Deloitte

The details in this graph are not important, the key is the nice dark green line showing how much profit those you want to work for have earned since 1975: as much one year as they might lose the next (aka a highly volatile income environment).

On the fun side, working in aviation in general is not necessarily difficult:

Source: IATA

The details of this chart are also not vital, only the realisation that the height difference between the pink bar (cost) and blue bar (profit) is, on average, least in the advantage of your potential employer. On the other hand, working for the companies providing e.g. ticket booking engines and other technology depicted in the leftmost bar is very lucrative.

[1] Next, the basic airline profit stay-in-business equation is:

revenue passenger kilometres x yield – available seat kilometres x unit cost

Again, RPK and ASK details are not important, the key is pilots are educated employees that form a part of the cost of flying (the right side of the equation) but are indispensable to the money-making activity that keeps the enterprise in operation (left side). This is because only they can operate the required machines; [3] one word sums up the only reason you exist in this scheme: “safety”. Please repeat:

Only. One. Reason. Safety.

Step 3: Have a backup plan.
[3] An industry old-timer once told me there are three types of pilots. The first (about 50% of the total) likes flying (and that’s great). The second (about 30%) enjoys flying but mostly uses it to afford side businesses. The third wants to manage the other two.

[Note that no one’s in this for the money: don’t go into aviation to get rich (see also [2]).]

Knowing which group you belong to unlocks potential development paths: keeping your skills, earning a management degree, starting a croquet club?

What would you do if something better than you appeared to ensure safety, e.g. a robot? “Far-fetched!”

Ok, and if you no longer had a medical health certificate which would preclude you from using your pilot’s license?

As in professional airline operations, document mitigation/exit strategies or build them over time. This way, should you not find it rewarding, you can also, in conformance with Drucker’s advice change development paths after age 40 (again the Internet has plenty of suggestions how to do that).

Step 4: Steve Jobs.
“Stay hungry, stay foolish” defines being a professional pilot: keep sharpening old skills and growing new ones, remembering [3] you’re just a clown in a uniform unless you’re your professional best (capital S “safety”).

And, again, just flying a Cessna on weekends is awesome, too.

Flight Operations Challenge…accepted.