LIMITS OF THE SKY: Industry in free-fall, pilots change path
ASPIRING pilots finding it "impossible” to jump into traditional pilot careers are changing paths at lightning pace, sending the aviation industry into crisis control.
Warwick student Joseph Faa was a year into his aviation degree at USQ when he decided to give up his life-long dream of becoming an international pilot.
The 20-year-old School of Total Education graduate invested thousands of dollars and hours of training to gain a recreational pilot license in Warwick before going to university to pursue his career.
But coming up against countless brick walls, the young student became disillusioned.
"It probably would have taken at least 15 years to get to where I wanted to be and that was disheartening,” he said.
Warwick flying instructor and Civil Aviation Safety Authority delegate Kelvin Hutchinson said major airlines would not consider employing anyone with fewer than 500 hours of flying experience.
But accruing the hours is virtually impossible.
"They look out there and go where do I start, where do I get the money from, how do I do it? There is no pathway there for them,” Mr Hutchinson said.
He said opportunities for gaining experience were limited.
"The cost involved when you don't have a job and have to go out and hire and aircraft... the barriers to entry are real,” he said.
The growing shortage of pilots has industry leaders concerned about the viability of aviation in Australia.
A report by Australian Aviation Associations Forum chair Greg Russell warns Australia "does not have an aviation training system capable of meeting the requirements of the industry now, or in the years ahead”.
Drones the answer
Mr Hutchinson foresaw the problems nine years ago when he decided to transition into an area that is now booming beyond expectation.
"I saw the difficulties these young pilots were having and I knew the future of aviation was going to be in drones.”
Swooping into the industry at its embryonic stages, Mr Hutchinson wrote the first drone training manual for CASA.
Rising to the upper echelons of the industry, he now conducts drone training and licensing for hundreds of clients at a time with a small team in Warwick.
"This is what people in the aviation industry are turning to because the cost of training and is equipment is small but the financial opportunities are big,” he said.
Mr Hutchinson said it wouldn't be long before drones were carrying people.
"There are thousands of people licensed to fly drones in Australia already and most expect to be leaders and entrepreneurs in this exciting new method of human transport,” he said.
Regulations on the rise
One of those rising stars is Warwick resident Todd Fajdiga, who started to pursue a career in drones in 2010 because he couldn't afford a pilot license.
He has built and designed his own drones and worked for the company that sponsors the drone racing world champion in Brisbane.
But with CASA imposing tighter regulations on the soaring industry, Mr Fajdiga finds it harder to fly these days.
"There wasn't any rules in the beginning when I started but now they are becoming more set in stone and it is a bit risky,” he said.
Warwick Aero Modellers president Dennis Mooney said many people still didn't realise the laws surrounding drones.
"If they are not in a club and are not flying in a designated area, they can be charged with unlawfully operating an aircraft.”
Mr Mooney is looking to establish a drone club and gain approval to fly drones at the Warwick Aero Modellers Club at Morgan Park.