How to Attract & Keep New Pilots in Your Operation

Flight Department Managers face the age-old problems of attracting and keeping pilots, but with the added challenge of new values being held by the emerging generation of talent. Andre Fodor discusses how to work with these…

Andre Fodor  |  16th December 2022
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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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    Young pilot in helicopter cockpit

    In the mid-1990s, Fractional flying was just beginning and specific rules and regulations had yet to be written. With the Part 91K rules not even on the drawing board, we flew Part 91 which ultimately provided unrestricted flexibility to the Fractional Ownership operator to do as they pleased.

    The lack of governance paved the way for the early success of the Fractional Ownership operators, but also placed pilots in a difficult position…

    Pilots with the Fractional Ownership operators were being scheduled and dispatched as they would for a Part 135 charter company but, unlike Part 135 operators, they were not bound by rules pertaining to oxygen requirements, runway analysis, and especially duty and rest times. The result was a very tough professional experience for many.

    Pilots are naturally oriented to deliver service, and we wanted our early Fractional Ownership employers to succeed. But without rules, our quality of life hit the doldrums. I can remember many times when, as my head hit the hotel pillow after a long duty day, my phone would ring with a call for an upcoming trip. People were not happy.

    Not long after this the airlines started a recruitment drive and the industry saw a mass exodus of experienced crew members. In a three-month cycle, the Fractional operator I flew for lost 68 pilots to the same airline.

    It wasn’t long before the damage – the drain in expertise, safety standards, and mentorship – was felt. It was a hard time to survive and equally hard to recover.

    History Repeats

    Fast-forward to the present day, and the story is repeating – but this time with more depth. The same company, now an established Fractional Ownership provider with over 1,000 pilots operating under stricter Part 135 regulations is seeing a similar pilot exodus.

    The operator pays well, has defined benefits and time off, and has well defined work rules. Nevertheless, after hiring over 100 pilots in 2022 it ended up with a relatively marginal increase of two dozen pilots. That’s a lot of effort, training, and hiring cost just to maintain the status quo – especially during a huge boom in private flying as we’ve seen in the past year.

    So, what’s going on? Regularly speaking with dozens of Pilots and Flight Department Managers, the following are two reasons I hear repeated over, and over again.

    Number One: Schedule and quality of life. I have yet to come across a Flight Department where there are no issues with schedules and guaranteed time off. ‘Scheduled’ means that you can look forward to time away from work. ‘Guaranteed’ is the assurance that no one will backtrack on your scheduled leave. (There’s nothing worse than making family plans and looking forward to annual leave, then being told that your plans have been changed.)

    A work-life balance is crucial for work satisfaction, staff retention, and maximum efficiency of your team.

    Number Two: Pay. There’s no denying this is also a core reason for the ‘brain drain’ in corporate crewing. Unfortunately, pilots often confuse pay with schedule and end up unhappy.

    Being compensated properly is part of a successful equation, but it’s not the solution for all. Often, companies and pilots believe that a raise will resolve all other quality-of-life issues. In reality, the new pay level is quickly absorbed into the lifestyle, and before long the same complaints resurface.

    There is a great communication divide when discussing compensation topics with pilots and management:

    • Pilots generally see pay as the salary they get. They look at benefits as complementary.
    • Management sees it as one compensation package. They see a total compensation that is inclusive of all benefits.

    Considering that most airplane-owning companies are not aviation companies, however, they often misunderstand the uniqueness of the pilots’ lifestyle, skillset, and the challenges associated with providing such a service to the company.

    New Mentality to Attract New Crew

    Having considered two common problems, we’re ready to think about how to attract, and most importantly retain a new cadre of professionals as some of us approach our ‘golden years’ as seasoned veteran pilots.

    One thing is clear. This new generation has different loyalties and personal mandates. Whereas my generation was wired towards a long-term, and deeply rooted relationship with our employers, this upcoming generation thinks of employment as a means to achieve something else.

    They’re less inclined to invest deeply into the work relationship. Their priorities are more individualistic. It’s a new model of how we relate professionally.

    Even with this new set of expectations, we still need to attract people with a desire to provide great service. Transforming our work environment to consider lifestyle and personal growth through on-job empowerment and development is today just as important as a good health and retirement package.

    Personally, I believe a successful employer should integrate a personal growth and development plan within the role that each person plays in the company’s operation. And as managers, we are challenged to inform and guide our principals into this new generational change.

    Today’s aircraft owner may need to adapt and understand that pilots’ lifestyles could determine the schedule of an airplane. Additional staffing/cost may need to become another component of the annual budget. Times have changed, and we need to adapt to it to keep our flight departments fully staffed and crewed.

    As one of my early aviation mentors often reminded me, aviation is an ever-changing roller coaster. As today’s Flight Department staffing challenges prove, these are true words to the core. The wise Flight Department Manager will be prepared to adapt to the ride…

    Read more Flight Department Management articles

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