The aviation and yachting sectors have many similar qualities. Both offer the opportunity to travel, visit exotic locations and other perks. However, in relation to training, hours of rest, salaries, rules and regulations, and career prospects, what can we learn from comparing the two industries?
Caroline Evans*, a stewardess for a Middle Eastern airline, says that the initial seven weeks of basic training for cabin crew covers Safety and Emergency Procedures (SEP), General Medical Training (GMT), service, image and uniform, compared to the (contrastingly minimal) five days to undertake the superyacht industry's introductory STCW training. After airline crewmembers pass their seven-week introductory training, they must have SEP and GMT refresher training every year, whereas the superyacht industry's equivalent is now required at five-year intervals.
For pilots, the training is, understandably, even more complex and expensive. Airline pilot Captain Stephen Bryant says there is a significant monetary investment. "The cost for flight training is around $45,000 to $65,000 [€42,000 to €61,000]. This will get you your commercial certificate, instrument rating and about 200 hours' total flight time," he explains. Moreover, he says, most of the major airlines require a college degree that can cost around $35,000 or more in the USA, or around £30,000 in the UK.
Brian Luke, president of Bluewater Yachting, is a qualified airline pilot as well as a maritime captain. "Training within both industries is predicated by time; where you have to have so much sea time - in addition to the ratings and licences within the maritime industry - aviation is based on flight hours, but the time is gained much more quickly." Under the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), for example, to be certified as a 3,000gt Master of Yachts, the candidate must complete a minimum of 24 months' on-board service as a deck officer.
A fundamental difference between the two industries is the standardisation of salaries which, in the aviation world, are set by the company rather than an individual owner. Similarly, it is incredibly rare for airline staff to receive tips, whereas in the yachting industry this is the norm for those on a charter yacht, and can increase a crewmember's annual take-home pay by more than 13 per cent (source: The Crew Report's Superyacht Golden Ticket Survey).
It is incredibly rare for airline staff to receive tips, whereas in the yachting industry this is the norm for those on a charter yacht, and can increase a crewmember's annual take-home pay by more than 13 per cent
The same survey also revealed the average salary for a yacht stewardess was just over €3,000 per month - a larger pay cheque than for a service job in the skies, which is dependent on flying hours and experience. A basic salary for an air stewardess, Evans explains, is around €1,000 per month, plus €15 per flying hour (usually between 70 and 80 hours a month), making an approximate total wage of €2,200 per month. For those in the front seat, the figures are very similar, with top-level pilots and superyacht captains each taking home around €10,000 per month.
Once qualified, airline crew can expect a strict working environment. The superyacht industry is well known as a work-hard/play-hard environment and, despite a tangible industry-wide effort to raise professionalism, it's not uncommon to hear stories of crew working with little or no sleep after a night of drinking. In aviation, however, there are rigorous regulations that begin with on-the-spot drug-testing during the initial medical training. "There's a zero-tolerance [policy] on drugs, and no alcohol 12 hours before a flight. Random drug- and alcohol-testing takes place before flights which, if someone is found guilty, would lead to on-the-spot dismissal," explains Evans.
There is a huge emphasis on safety within the aviation sector and, while one might like to think the same attitude was applicable in yachting, it is, perhaps, understandable to see why the emphasis is as it is. "In aviation, if something happens, people die very rapidly, as opposed to the maritime community where there's much more time and opportunity to rectify a problem if something happens," says Luke. "The whole purpose in aviation is to understand how the airplane responds and reacts in an emergency, and what we do in the event of an emergency: how to shut the fuel off, how to shut the electrical systems off, the hydraulic systems and how to manage it when there's a problem." That is why adhering to the regulations in aviation is key - something that the yachting industry can't always say. Airline cabin crew must have a minimum of 16 hours' rest time between flights, and even longer for flights considered 'ultra long-haul' (upwards of 12 hours of continuous flying time). In the yachting world, particularly aboard charter vessels, it's not uncommon for crew to work back to back for weeks, not adhering to the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) minimum requirements of 10 hours' rest in a 24-hour period and 77 hours' rest in a seven-day period.
"In aviation, if something happens, people die very rapidly, as opposed to the maritime community where there's much more time and opportunity to rectify a problem if something happens."
A significant contributory factor towards aviation safety culture is the consistent testing of knowledge and ensuring that staff are fully competent in their procedures and drills. "A safety talk is conducted at the briefing before each flight, where each crewmember is asked one question from a bank of safety and aircraft-specific information," explains Evans. "Failure to answer correctly could lead to further training and disciplinary action." Unless adopted by the captain, it is difficult to find a formal equivalent comparison in yachting. Airline crew are often subject to unannounced inspections, the equivalent of a Port State Control inspection. "On occasion, people from the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) come on board and observe, a bit like a mystery shopper," she continues. Following these visits, the GCAA representative will conduct interviews and test the airline staff's knowledge. "At the end of the flight, they will ask the crew questions related to safety, emergency procedures and equipment to ensure that their knowledge is up to date."
It is clear why the two industries are so often talked about in the same sentence. In some ways, they are very similar - in their requirements for sea/flight time, the requirement to refresh courses, the salaries and the random inspections. But there is one key area in which they differ, and that's safety. The more established aviation sector, operating on a much larger scale, offers a considerably stricter and more regulated environment for captains and crew.
*Name has been changed
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