Modern pilots deliver more than 'stick and rudder' skills

26 April 2023

A pilot’s job is not as simple as flying from A to B - they also play a crucial role in connecting people and places around the world.

This World Pilots' Day (26 April), CQUniversity Head of Aviation Professor Doug Drury, is highlighting the contributions aviation professionals play in safely flying millions of passengers every year.

“Pilots are vital for air travel which allows people to reach destinations quickly and efficiently, enabling them to attend business meetings, visit friends and family, and explore new cultures,” Prof Doug Drury explained.

“Pilots also contribute to the global economy by facilitating trade and commerce and promoting international tourism.”

He said modern pilots must be very good at understanding the aircraft systems, alongside the operational aspects of flying.

“Pilots are often the first point of contact between passengers and airlines and have a significant impact on the overall travel experience. They need to be prepared to make good decisions and ensure the safety of all passengers and crew,” Dr Drury said.

“They ensure that flights are safe, comfortable, and efficient, and they are responsible for navigating complex air traffic control systems for flights to depart and arrive at destinations on time - sometimes this means going over and above to provide the best service possible.”

Drawing from his 40 years of experience in the aviation industry, Dr Drury said he faced his fair share of challenges as a pilot, but they have only fueled his passion for the rewarding profession.

“I once had a flight in the middle of a massive blizzard. This was supposed to be the last leg of the day as the storm was getting worse and the airport was staying open only so that we could arrive,” he explained.

“However, we ended up making an important detour. A bridal party was separated from the wedding gown which was supposed to be with the bride the next day.

“We made an unscheduled stop at the airport where the bride was and delivered the wedding dress before we went on to our final destination.”

He said that as the global environment continues to evolve and presents more geopolitical and climate change challenges, the role of a pilot will continue to change – requiring a responsive, resilient and innovative pipeline of professionals.

“The role of a pilot has transitioned from a pure 'stick and rudder' pilot, meaning they need more than the physical and fundamental skills to fly.

“A pilot's skillset has expanded to a systems manager who is required to manage advanced systems on the flight deck as well as on the ground.

“As aircraft design and airport systems become more technical with a high reliance on computers, ‘human and machine’ interface becomes more complicated, critical thinking and problem solving have become just as important as the physical controls.”

Dr Drury said these new challenges are providing new opportunities for future pilots in the exciting and evolving aviation industry.

“It is a great time to be entering the industry! The new skills and expertise required will only bolster the next generation passionate of pilots.”