How to Hire and Keep Pilots Without Breaking the Bank

Is pilot retention in a time of impending shortage based only on pay? What makes a great package and what can a Flight Department Manager be doing to create a workplace that attracts and retains the best of a shrinking pool? Aviation Director Andre Fodor discusses...

Andre Fodor  |  11th September 2018
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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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    How to retain your flying staff

    Is pilot retention in a time of impending shortage based only on pay? What makes a great package and what can a Flight Department Manager be doing to create a workplace that attracts and retains the best of a shrinking pool? Aviation Director Andre Fodor discusses...
    The current hot topic within Flight Department circles has been the impending shortage of flight crews within corporate aviation. Meanwhile the Scheduled Airlines are expanding, and a growing number of senior pilots are edging towards retirement age. This is not the easiest of times for hiring and retaining Flight Department personnel.
    A glance through my social media feeds confirm not only that pilots are transitioning to airline jobs but that there is a ‘merry-go-round’ of experienced corporate pilots seeking the best opportunities within Business Aviation.
    While it is true there are benefits to attract pilots to the Airlines (predictable schedules, strong benefits package, position longevity and hopefully long-term stability), on the flip side for those who love corporate flying, would be the loss of direct interaction with passengers, the novelty of flying to new airports and destinations, and undertaking challenging trips.
    Until recently I had no doubt that becoming a professional pilot was more a matter of vocation than a practical career choice. 
    The return on investment has been unbalanced when compared to other careers that offer lower training costs and more immediate financial rewards – and this has forced many potential pilots to choose a different professional path.
    So how does a corporate Flight Department attract and retain the best of a shrinking pool of qualified staff?
    What Constitutes ‘Good Compensation’?

    Recently, having spoken with a pilot who felt our compensation trailed the industry standard I reassessed the salary structure of the Flight Department. The pilot asserted that there were better-paid jobs available for pilots qualified in the cabin class he flies.
    Though I felt our compensation was fair and in line with industry standards, it was important to keep an open mind, research the matter and provide an informed answer.
    A Flight Department Manager will require a deep understanding of compensation trends before approaching the company leadership. Human resources will consider the base pay of pilots, but within the context of the total compensation package: the summation of salary, company contributions towards retirement and investment plans and even the cost of benefits such as medical and life insurance.
    So where can you begin your research? Several salary surveys are available for pilots and most are published annually. By charting those year-by-year you will get an outline of the direction compensation is moving.
    Canvassing other pilots and management can also add detail to the bigger picture of where compensation stands, but in return be prepared to share data with them.
    Armed with some basic data, you will need to qualify that data. For example, the value of money changes according to geography. 
    The cost of living in California is 52% higher than in Florida, so this difference in basic salary cannot render an apples-to-apples comparison.
    A little research revealed that those “high paying” jobs I’d been told about where all based in high cost-of-living areas. Even with an aggressive salary offer, it can be just as difficult for those Flight Departments to attract pilots willing to relocate.
    As another example, experience shows that consideration of the aircraft size flown has also been used as a reference point for pilots seeking higher compensation. But a pilot that flies a smaller aircraft in the same Flight Department, making more stops en route and flying the bulk of the shorter legs with fewer on-board comforts could make a case for equal payment, too.
    Getting Beyond the Salary

    Human Resources professionals will tell you that the practice of simply matching the top salaries advertised elsewhere is bad business. There will always be someone, somewhere trying to entice your top talent with more money.
    Invariably (and for the reasons discussed) salary alone is not a true representation of a good overall work package. A savvy HR’s goal will be to generally compensate at the same level that 75% of the industry is paying for equivalent positions.
    The successful company pays well, but also provides tangible and intangible benefits that add value to the work experience.
    As an example, does your Flight Department team know that they will be home for major holidays and that there will be no micromanagement if they are meeting their goal assignments? Do you, as Flight Department Manager, try to respect personal time off, innovate and provide an exciting and dynamic workplace?
    Together with company benefits, these can become a total package that builds loyalty and staying-power among pilots and staff at a time a shortage is looming. A good package is essential for team retention.
    For the record, I found that a salary adjustment was indeed necessary, and armed with good arguments and powerful data experienced no push-back from HR.
    The current market is a positive one for pilots, and a Flight Department with a competitive overall compensation offering has an opportunity to grow and attract new talent who might be better matched for corporate flying than the airlines.
    Note of Caution

    We must beware at this time of impending shortage, that salaries alone are not indicators of a great job or workplace satisfaction. The right balance provides good compensation and a great workplace experience that is tied with selecting the right candidate for your corporate operation.
    It should also prevent your Flight Department and flight crew from joining the merry-go-round of experienced pilots chasing better opportunities, as evidenced on social media…


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