The career path of a commercial airline pilot
During our childhoods, many of us aspired to be a pilot when we were older, but what does the qualification process actually include?
It’s the start of a new decade, so in honour of over 100 years of commercial aviation, we want to see just how much the mode of air travel has changed.
Passenger flights were first available to the general public after breakthroughs in aviation when Charles A. Lindbergh flew solo to Paris from USA. Aviation stocks tripled between 1927 and 1929 which helped to boost the commercial side of the industry.
However, despite developments, planes were not the most efficient mode of transport, with trains being the more convenient (and faster) option! Not to mention, the comfort of airline travel was not up to scratch as unpressurised cabins meant extremely loud and cold conditions. Despite this, air travel continued to gain popularity.
The planes carried up to 20 passengers, reached a cruising altitude of 3,000 feet and a top speed of 100mph!
It was in the 1930s that airlines began to make financial gains. Additional efforts to increase the comfort of flights were made, including soundproofed planes, heating and padded seats. The functions of the plane improved, reaching an altitude of 20,000 feet making the speed of the plane double that of the 1920s. Air travel became a lot more comfortable as turbulence was reduced, and safety was increased as the potentially life threatening risk that non-pressurised cabins posed was removed.
During the Second World War air travel changed significantly, and the development of commercial airlines were put to a halt. This created the need for longer runways and large air bases to be built, which were later reused for commercial flights once the war was over. The late 40s saw the development of the UK’s major airport London Heathrow.
Known as the golden age of travel, flying in the 50s was the epitome of glamour. Serving meals on fine china, a ticket to fly was not cheap. A one-way ticket to Europe from the USA would equate to more than £2290 today. You certainly paid for the luxury, with spacious lounges and the main cabins only holding 15 people. For the passengers on board, taking a flight was seen as an occasion to dress up and wear fashionable outfits. The cheaper alternative to flying commercially was the Douglas DC-6 aircrafts, which are relatively similar in terms of layout to the airlines of today.
As air travel became more popular the need to dress up diminished slightly. However, efforts were still made to look the part. ID was not necessary to board the plane and so even friends and family wishing their loved one’s farewell could walk right up to the gate. Alcohol was a large part of in-flight entertainment, as was smoking due to the lack of entertainment (other than writing postcards describing your flight!)
The 70s is when more affordable flights were introduced to passengers via the Jumbo Jet. Airlines were able to fit more passengers onto flights, retaining the spacious leg room and luxury of being serviced by flight attendants.
From 1970 to 1974, American Airlines featured a piano lounge in the rear of their 747s…perhaps not the biggest loss of aviation development….
The 70s saw the rise of the British Airways we’re familiar with today by the merger of BOAC and BEA. The introduction of the Concorde for passengers opened a new avenue for commercial opportunities.
A new wave of ‘fun’ was introduced to flying in the 80s. You could smoke, drink and even visit the cockpit. Continental Airlines (United Airlines today) even trialled a pub configuration. Passengers were able to get the pub experience whilst being 30,000 ft in the air.
The 80s saw the birth of Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair, allowing a competition for the cheapest rates. Flight routes weren’t as diverse in the 80s and it was still rare to exceed more than one trip abroad a year.
The promotion of Ryanair’s cheap flights meant pressure was felt among the competitors, with air travel being increasingly accessible. On long haul flights basic meals were provided as part of the cost, as were the beginning stages of in-flight entertainment such as movies, making the experience a little more enjoyable and less boozy.
By the late 90s, the Boeing 777 was the most advanced plane in the sky because of its advanced computers and control systems meaning that essentially, it was able to fly itself.
Before the devastation of 9/11 there were no limits to the evolution of the aviation industry. More safety measures were put in place meaning an end to touring the cockpit during flights. The Concorde came to an end in 2003 after 27 years of service due to safety measures and economic decline.
The customer experience of booking flights changed as a whole, with passengers having accessibility to websites such as Expedia which compared the cheapest available flights.
For the passenger, flying is all about having the same convenience as on the ground. Wi-Fi accessibility, USB chargers and touchscreen TVs are now available on long haul flights. The interior is a lot more cramped than the luxurious cabins of the 20th century, however flights could be purchased for as little as a cost of a meal!
The Flying-V, an aircraft designed by TU Berlin student Justus Benad designed to save 20% of fuel in comparison to the Airbus A350.
With innovative technology and AI being a massive trend in the social world, we’ve seen a lot of advancements in aviation, not only with the functions of the plane and operations room, but also the passenger in-flight experience. Certain airlines are already using chatbots to communicate with passengers and VR headsets being used as in-flight entertainment. With environmental issues a large focal point of today, could we see new designs being introduced to match the safety aspects but improve the fuel consumption?