Tips to Keep Staff Pilots and Improve Safety

What are the ways Flight Department Managers can keep staff longer and retain the highest safety standards in the process? Mario Pierobon explores

Mario Pierobon  |  07th June 2017
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    Mario Pierobon
    Mario Pierobon

    Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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    Flight Department Pilot Safety

    How Does Employee Retention Help a Flight Department’s Safety Effort?

    Being a Corporate Pilot isn’t easy, notes Mario Pierobon. That’s reflected in the relatively short tenure of pilots within a Flight Department. So how can Flight Department Managers keep staff longer and retain the highest safety standards in the process?

    One of the realities of Business Aviation is that pilots come and go. They tend to not stick with one employer very long as they seek better opportunities or come to terms with the commercial reality that they have relatively short-term engagements with those who hire them.

    Yet a healthy level of employee retention is good for business, and especially useful from a safety management standpoint within the Flight Department.

    Those Flight Departments that can boast a healthy level of employee retention demonstrate that they can foster a sense of belonging within their workforce. And with belonging comes greater care and personal accountability.

    Employees are more willing to ‘go the extra mile’ to make things work, and they foster ‘continuous improvement’ as a true corporate value, not just lip service.

    With a sense of belonging, a genuine confidence can exist that pilots will report safety issues impacting both themselves and their colleagues (as part of the team). Higher employee retention also ensures that the effects of training are maximized. Furthermore, maintaining proficiency through recurrency courses is not just treated as a ‘necessary evil’ providing addenda to the CVs of employees.

    So, how does a Flight Department achieve an increased employee retention rate?


    The first thing for Flight Department Managers to do is be honest with themselves; they need to be convinced that having employees stick around is a good thing.

    Corporate Pilots are not looking for a part-time job – they’re looking for a career. In order to deliver consistently in the workplace they need to have profound career aspirations met and fulfilled. There can be no effective management of employee performance if this fundamental need is not embraced.

    Indeed the very same career aspirations that new recruits have are likely the very same ones that motivated Flight Department Managers when they started out as professional pilots.


    Second, new recruits must be offered a suitable salary – yet this is the hardest task to accomplish because the flight operations manager may have relatively little say over budgets. So they often must do the best they can with whatever is made available to them.

    If new recruits are not given a fair salary it is almost certain that they will leave, and with that departure the need arises to find someone else who will become familiarized with the workings of the organization.

    Familiarization costs time and money, and that indirect personnel cost may not be duly accounted for by senior management.

    Thus, the Flight Department Manager should make a compelling case to senior managers and demonstrate how paying better salaries improves the organization’s bottom-line. Paying low salaries is ultimately a short-sighted approach. Advocating this position may require courage and creativity on the part of the Flight Department Manager.


    The third effort that flight department managers should achieve is helping personnel fulfil their aspirations.  Improving personnel retention (and managing their performance) requires more than good remuneration. Corporate pilots expect to advance in their careers with increasing responsibilities, not just increasing flight hours.

    A problem with some Corporate Flight Departments is size. The opportunities for employees to grow as people managers can be limited as there are few levels of management as well as managerial posts available within smaller organizations.

    However, the proactive Flight Department Manager will realise the regulatory requirements for air operators entail several functional managerial roles (safety, quality, training, etc.). Opportunities thus exist for employees to grow as functional managers while continuing to fly, and these requirements should be utilized in order to support the fulfilment of career aspirations.

    Further, with continuously upgrading aircraft technology there are many shorter-term projects to implement company wide.

    Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) and Performance Based Navigation (PBN) transition are examples of technological change within the industry, and the transition from one system to another can be assigned to members of staff to help increase their sense of ownership within the department. Such assignments emphasize that the organization values employee input.

    Management’s efforts to enhance job fulfilment for pilots contribute to employee retention. In short, retaining employees might imply higher remuneration costs, but building a loyal and knowledgeable staff results in improved performance and safety standards, which can be inhibited by high levels of personnel turnover.


    This article features in AvBuyer's 2018 Yearbook. Read the full edition here.


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