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Southport, Manitoba, Canada
Steve Pomroy is a professional flight instructor and aviation writer. He has been teaching since 1995 and holds an Airline Transport Pilot License, Class 1 Instructor and Aerobatic Instructor Ratings, military QFI, and an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He's written and published three flight training books through his company, SkyWriters Publishing, and has several other books under development. Steve currently teaches RCAF pilot candidates on their Primary Flight Training course.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Piloting as a Profession: Part 2, Are We Professional?

... Continuing from the last post (Part 1, The CPPC) and considering the question, "Is flying a profession?":

Quoting from other sources, Wikipedia makes the following comments regarding professions:
"A profession is a vocation founded upon specialised educational training, the purpose of which is to supply disinterested counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain."
"A profession arises when any trade or occupation transforms itself through ‘the development of formal qualifications based upon education, apprenticeship, and examinations, the emergence of regulatory bodies with powers to admit and discipline members, and some degree of monopoly rights.’"
The first of these comments applies to pilots. The second is under way in Canada with the College of Pilots. So piloting at least approximates a profession in the formal sense of the word.

There is no legislation in existence that allows pilots to self-regulate. This is one of the key criteria to be a true "profession". So, strictly speaking, we are not a profession. The real question here is: "SHOULD we be a profession?", or perhaps "Are we CAPABLE of being a profession?". So, do we (or can we) meet the criteria of being a profession, and would society benefit from our professional status?

Self-regulation is not the only criterion for a profession, so let’s look at some other important points. Borrowing from some other sources, I’ve come up with the following partial list.
  1. Participation is for Gain or Livelihood.
  2. Activity is Beneficial to Society.
  3. Profession has Legislation to Support Self-Regulation.
  4. Entry into the Profession Requires Significant Educational Achievement.
It’s worth noting that there isn’t a fully clear-cut and accepted definition of a “profession”. So even if I tried to provide a comprehensive listing here, it would inevitably be incomplete and open to debate. This list hits the key points that are, for the most part, universally accepted.

The first criterion, "Participation is for Gain or Livelihood," is easy. Professional pilots operate aircraft for hire. This does, however, call into question the professionalism of those who work for free in order to "get hours". Oh dear. Did I say that out loud? Them’s fightin’ words! Perhaps there’ll be more on that in a future post...

The second criterion,"Activity is Beneficial to Society," isn’t much tougher. Transportation of people and goods is necessary for modern society to exist, and indeed this activity makes up a large portion of the aviation industry. But aircraft are used for far more, and even without the need for transportation, the aviation industry would still be needed by society (albeit on a smaller scale). The list of aircraft activities is extensive. Some activities that come to mind immediately include:
National Defense (which itself includes a whole host of different flight activities), Search and Rescue, Medivac, Law Enforcement, Fire Monitoring and Fighting, Pipeline and Wireline Patrol, Geo Surveying, Research and Development, Weather Observation and Research, Agriculture Support, and so on.
All of these activities benefit society. They, by their very nature, must be conducted by experts who are proficient in the relevant operations, and are knowledgeable about the applicable variables and contingencies. Further, the ability of the operator (i.e. – the pilot) to plan and conduct these activities safely impacts society’s exposure to risk. Such statements could just as easily be made regarding other professions (e.g. – medicine, engineering).

Criterion #3, "Profession has Legislation to Support Self-Regulation," is clearly not met at this time. However, it is worth discussion with regard to the ability of the industry to govern itself (see next post!).

The fourth and final listed criterion, "Entry into the Profession Requires Significant Educational Achievement," is debatable. Transport Canada’s standard for the issuance of a license it really not that high—based more on hours flown than on any real demonstration of high-level skill or knowledge. Certainly, some schools set and enforce a high standard. Some others do not. Some students at these other schools set their own high standard. Some others do not. This inconsistency is something that I hope the College can address—and it is in fact one of the primary purposes of the self-regulation of a profession.

So, back to the original, modified, questions: "SHOULD we be a profession?" or "Are we CAPABLE of being a profession?". The answer is clearly yes. There is work to be done. But everything that needs to be accomplished can be in the near term. The only issue that remains up in the air is that of legislation. Passing new law through parliament is an inherently political process, and is far beyond my expertise. However, I think it’s fair to say that this may be a very time-consuming process. This doesn’t make it any less of a worthy goal, just something we have to be realistic about.


Happy Flying!

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