It’s easy to forget, as we move along through our busy lives day to day, that things used to be different. We didn’t always carry computers in our pockets, we didn’t always have seat belts in our cars, and flight planning once involved paper charts and rulers and E6-Bs. It makes me feel pretty old to remember these things, but then age itself has changed—60 is the new 40, they say.
For folks just starting out in aviation, these are the good old days. We’ve reported plenty on the pilot shortage, and now more and more industry players are stepping up to recruit and encourage the next generation—EAA and FedEx are offering millions in scholarship money, and colleges are revamping their programs to provide an on-ramp directly into cockpits. Here in Rhode Island, my local newspaper had a story this week about a new aviation program at the city’s technical school, where students practice on a flight simulator and spend time at the state airport, learning about all the career tracks there. “They are going to find a good ticket to the future,” teacher William McCaffrey told the Warwick Beacon. I presume local papers across the country are likely covering similar developments, which would have been unheard-of not long ago.
More scholarships, more opportunities, more jobs for more people are all good things. It’s tempting to take today’s trends and project them into the future, and see blue skies ahead. But how good are we, really, at predicting the future? How likely is it that today’s projections, over the next four to five decades of a young person’s career, will run afoul of unexpected events, disruptive technologies and unknown unknowns? It’s not realistic to recruit young adults into aviation careers with a promise of assured success. They should also expect struggle, uncertainty, unforeseeable upsets, failures, dead ends and tragedy.
That’s not just aviation, of course—that’s life on Earth. And those of us who have been here a while, I’m guessing, have found it more than worthwhile to take the hard road. Our next generation will go to places we haven’t even imagined yet. Their future may be bright and full of promise—but it won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be predictable. Thankfully.