Fuelled by the pandemic


A worker shortage driven by pandemic-related layoffs is impacting US aviation fuel logistics. The negative ripple effect is beginning to be felt across aviation. The question is how does the industry get out of it?

“We not only have a pilot and mechanic shortage, but also an aviation industry workforce shortage across the board,” Tim Obitts, president and CEO, National Air Transportation Association (NATA) told CJI. “If we take a look at the supply chain, we can’t get the fuel refined fast enough and once it is refined, we can’t get it delivered.

“We are in an inflationary cycle that is driven by logistics,” said Obitts. “We can’t hire people and when we do, we now have to account for higher wages. On top of that, we are not able to move goods or get the raw material required to manufacturers. So, all of this is having a massive ripple effect that took a while to hit but is now very much being felt.”

Whilst Obitts hopes the industry will snap out of this pattern, his hope is not dependent on “wishful thinking”. He points to past economic patterns: “It has always been painful, but we just have to weather the storm. The cost is going to increase. The days of oil being [costing], essentially, nothing – which wasn’t that long ago – are gone. Now we are in a different scenario.”

Largely flying private, Obitts has not experienced a dip in service levels by any FBO as yet. “In fact the CSRs [customer service representatives] are happy to be there. There might be fewer people on staff, but the quality of service has not diminished.”

Looking at the major FBO service chains and fuel suppliers, Obitts said they are hiring. “We are talking hundreds of jobs at good paying salaries,” said Obitts. A search on LinkedIn identified 654 FBO job openings in the US. Indeed, there were 867 FBO openings worldwide.

“We have to figure out how to address this issue so the high levels of service, safety and security we expect from business aviation is not diminished,” said Obitts. “The reality is I think the business aviation traveller needs to be patient and expect changes in cost”

Operational costs, including the price of attracting new talent are going up. “The cost of maintenance, parts, labour, insurance premiums and salary expectations of pilots and flight attendants have all gone up. So, for the corporates to fill these positions, expenses have gone up just from a labour point of view. Then you have to pile on the cost of fuel. Likewise, FBO costs have increased and that is passed on too.”

Part shortages have also forced aircraft to be on the ground for longer than expected, which increases maintenance costs. “You really have to plan ahead and be proactive in performing maintenance on an aircraft to stay ahead of the curve. We just don’t have parts as readily available as we did in years past,” said Obitts.