Airline Redundancies: An Answer to BizAv Pilot Shortage?

With Business Aviation flying expected to resume faster than airline flying, the potential for airline pilot redundancies is significant. Will the pool of available pilots be an answer to Business Aviation’s shortages? Andre Fodor reflects with an eye on hiring the right fit…

Andre Fodor  |  18th June 2020
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    Andre Fodor
    Andre Fodor

    With a focused approach on global excellence and creativity, Andre Fodor has managed flight operations...

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    Airline crew seeking new job opportunities in Business Aviation

    A mentor once taught me that to survive a career in aviation I would need a strong stomach to digest crew meals, deal with the stress of long schedules away from home, and to endure the ups and downs of being a professional aviator.

    Sure enough, I discovered we have to grow thick skins to past industry hiccups, downsizings, downgrades, furloughs and cost cutting – we need to endure these to survive. There have been times that the “Will fly for food” sentiment was a painful reality, not just a joke printed on a tee-shirt.

    Now, with the strain of the last recession still fresh in our minds, corporate flying has been slashed to a trickle in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The effects will reverberate for years to come.

    The airlines are ailing and bleeding cash. Their mega infrastructures cannot be sustained without massive utilization, and that’s unlikely to recover anytime soon.

    Furloughs, layoffs and unemployment are likely to increase and the market is going to be flooded with pilots looking for new employment. Some say that pilot-age retirements will dampen the lay-off numbers, but I disagree. There are not enough retiring pilots to nullify such a scale of reduction. In a nutshell, times may be tough for a while…

    Our industry could be luckier than the airlines, however… With projections that Business Aviation will recover faster than the airlines, and a pool of out-of-work airline pilots becoming available, could an answer be found to the pilot shortage problem that has foxed our industry for the last several years? If so, does that mean diving in and recruiting the moment the pool of available pilots starts to form?

    A Thought on Pilot Recruitment

    When I was part of the flight operations management team for a fractional ownership company, I participated in the selection process of new-hire flight crew. As our numbers increased, we noticed that the personality of the pilots we hired was distinct. We had been choosing congenial people who were highly personable and sociable.

    This wasn’t a conscious choice, but it seemed we had all been looking for people with whom we could happily spend many days working with away from home, completing busy flying schedules. Over time, we had acquired a cadre of pilots who were known for their demeanor, great customer service and solid team spirit.

    The point is that not everyone is cut out for Business Aviation. It requires a distinct personality to embrace the lifestyle and accept the additional workload that comes with flying corporate jets.

    In Business Aviation there’s more to the pilot’s job than climbing into the cockpit and flying the airplane. (How many of us haven’t found ourselves with a lavatory pot in our hands looking for the dump station at the FBO?)

    Flying is the easy part of the day, usually after you’ve finish your duties as ground crew, flight planner, dispatcher, load master, security officer and baggage loader.

    Without fully embracing the myriad of tasks required of a corporate pilot, the choreography of flying privately will not yield an amazing customer flight experience. And anything less than that is unacceptable in Business Aviation.

    When hiring for the flight department, consideration must also be given to the economic sense. As demand returns, many furloughed airline pilots will likely make the choice to return to airline cockpits, meaning that the costs of training the new hire and the efforts invested in integrating them into the flight department may be lost within a relatively short time.

    The transition to Business Aviation requires new skills to be learned, which will only be honed with time and repetition. Consideration needs to be given as to whether there will be a return on investment.

    With that said, there will be opportunity to recruit individuals who are able to make the transition successfully. My current co-captain transferred from the airlines, as did our previous pilot. But it was a natural transition; he is outgoing and sociable and desired more interaction and an ever-changing working environment that are the tenets of corporate flying.

    The previous pilot struggled with the flexible schedules and chose to return to the more predictable lifestyle with the airlines. It’s all about finding the right match.

    An Answer to the Pilot Shortage?

    The above discussion begs further questions. If a readily-available pool of airline pilots became available to recruit in Business Aviation, would there really no longer be a pilot shortage? One could begin to answer with a further question: Where are we going to get the next group of corporate aviation leaders and career tracked flight crew?

    For now, the recent volatility of pilots moving from Business Aviation to the airlines (and job changes in general) has ended. Everyone is likely to stay put. Nevertheless, demand will eventually return and our focus needs to be on retaining our people, keeping them current, healthy, focused and sharp (as it always does).

    In fact, when the demand returns we will have to be razor-sharp in building back our proficiencies to deliver the safety and unequaled service that our industry is well known for.

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