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Get to know Steve

Steve Thatcher
Foundation Professor of Aviation, Development Lead – Aviation and Head of Aviation Courses

My name is Steve Thatcher and I’m the Foundation Professor of Aviation, Development Lead – Aviation and Head of Aviation Courses at CQUniversity’s School of Engineering and Technology. I have a PhD in Computer Systems Engineering and Aviation Safety which investigated the use of AI to improve aviation safety. I am also a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (FRAeS) which is based in London, UK.

I was one of a group of people who started off aviation in the tertiary sector back in the early to mid-1980s at the University of South Australia. University of Newcastle and Massey University in New Zealand then came on-stream, followed by other universities around Australia.

I worked at the University of South Australia developing aviation programs and helping set up the University’s flying school, writing flying curriculum and aviation theory curriculum. I was then invited to work at Abu Dhabi University with Etihad Airways as the Inaugural Chair of their Aviation Department, as well as their Inaugural Professor of Aviation. Abu Dhabi University and Etihad used to train about 500 cadet pilots; they did the degree with Abu Dhabi University and then the flight training at Etihad’s flight school in Al Ain.

Then CQUniversity decided that they wanted to revamp and expand their aviation courses, so they asked me to come back to Australia to help develop them. As of 2018, CQUniversity will offer an Associate Degree of Aviation (Flight Operations), a Bachelor of Aviation (Flight Operations) and a Graduate Diploma of Aviation (Flight Operations) at their Cairns and Bundaberg campuses, as well as via distance or online education with some residential schools.

It’s a very exciting time for pilot training at the moment because there’s going to be such a huge pilot shortage across the world. Boeing predicts that over 600 thousand pilots will be needed over the next 20 years and most of this will be in the Asia-Pacific area. So, there’s big demand for pilots into the future. These new courses being offered by CQUniversity are very exciting. They will give you everything you need to become an airline transport pilot – except all of the 1500 flight hours – and will help make your move to first officer in a cockpit as seamless as possible.

Our Bachelor of Aviation (Flight Operations) will lead students through Air Transport Pilot Licence theory and Command Instrument Rating theory. The Associate Degree provides the academic and aeronautical knowledge that is required to become a commercial pilot. The Graduate Diploma, which the students will do concurrently with the Bachelor’s course, is the flight training side. At the end of the three years they will pop out the other end with a Bachelor’s degree, a graduate diploma, all the theory for the Air Transport Pilot Licence, a Commercial Pilot Licence and a Multi-Engine Command Instrument Rating, so basically everything you need to become an airline pilot except the 1500 hours of flight experience.

The Graduate Diploma course has a lot of add-ons which enable a student to expand the educational offering that they get. They are able to understand the processes that go into learning to fly, rather than just the monkey-see, monkey-do type of approach. This enables them to become better instructors and better flight crew because they understand the process more than if they were just training to become a private pilot and then a commercial pilot.

Because it involves a flight training component, I’m working my way around the country approving flight schools or flight training providers, so students will be able to go to a flight training provider that is approved by CQUniversity in their local area. They’re able to do that through the excellent interactive learning experience that CQUniversity offers through its ISL program, where a student can be remote from where the lecture is being delivered and they still have an interactive experience. I think CQUniversity does distance, or online learning, very well. That’s one of the reasons that attracted me to come back to CQUniversity, because I think it does this better than any other university in Australia.

I’m trying to set up an Asia-Pacific aviation education and training hub in the Cairns area. The suite of aviation courses that has just been developed is going to be expanded into the engineering and airworthiness side, plus airline and airport operations as well. The courses I’ve designed are very specific to the target that we want to achieve. This first offering is for pilot education and training, whereas the other offerings will be for other avenues of aviation education.

I’ve spent a long time – 30-something years – designing aviation courses. I think that these courses are about as good as you could possibly develop for training somebody, from a student pilot up to commercial pilot, and then to air transport pilot. It’s probably the best suite of pilot courses on offer in Australia at the moment. Other universities’ courses are more general in their approach, whereas CQUni’s aviation courses are specifically targeted to pilot education and training.

Passion and commitment are required if you really want to do this job and be successful at it, plus, of course, the ability. Also, having a good educational background in physics, maths and English will be an asset. You have to be able to think calmly through problems and demonstrate high precision skills. When you’re a pilot, you can’t rest on your laurels. You’re always learning. You’re always getting checked. And there’s always something new. It’s a high-tech industry these days, so you need to be very good at the IT side of things, which is why we have added programming fundamentals into this new course.

It’s a very rewarding career, and once you get into the airlines you do tend to make a fair bit of money as well. Your flying time is limited to 1000 hours a year by law. I wouldn’t say it was a strenuous occupation, but you have to be mentally alert all the time because it’s a very unforgiving industry. You can’t pull over to the side of the road and see what’s going on. You have to solve it in real time while the aircraft is travelling at Mach 0.84 or about 900 km per hour.

Of all the pilots I’ve trained in the past, I can honestly say, hand-on-heart, that all the good ones make it. I had a student of mine fly me up on a Jetstar flight from Adelaide to Cairns a couple of months ago. He was one of the good students and has made it as a captain. It’s a very rewarding career.

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