5,000 reasons to boost pilot recruitment
The big number is 5,000.
That’s the annual shortfall in the number of US airline pilots, which totals about 85,000, according to consultancy Flight Path Economics. About half, or 60,000 pilots working in large network and cargo carriers are expected to retire by 2030. Nearly a third (30%) are expected to retire in the next eight years. That will sharpen competition for pilots, in a battle for talent that often sees business aviation losing out to the higher salaries and sometimes better terms offered by airlines.
Jamie Walker, CEO of Jet Linx, told Corporate Jet Investor (CJI) the company began preparing for the pilot shortage in 2017 – anticipating that a large majority of pilots would go to Part 121 carriers. “Since we have no intention of becoming a Part 121, we took the approach ‘if we can’t beat em, join em’, so we struck a partnership with Southwest Airlines and launched Destination 225 to cultivate the first and only pathway from Part 135 to Part 121.”
Walker believes the pilot shortage will reshape business aviation. “If you combine the pilot shortage with a recession, companies that are not well capitalised or well-run could be in real trouble.”
Rolland Vincent, creator/director at JETNET iQ, advocates creative solutions to mitigate the drying recruitment pool of ex-military pilots. “We need to create additional pathways for talent – diverse talent – to join our industry and for people to develop their careers. We also need to help them justify and even afford/defray the costs of becoming aviation professionals.”
Pilot shortages will get worse before they get better, predicts René Banglesdorf, CEO of consultancy The Aviation Collective. “Everyone cut deep during the pandemic to stay afloat – and according to the airline execs I know, they didn’t expect the quick rebound,” Banglesdorf tells CJI. “All the majors here in the US are hiring,1000-2,000 pilots this year.”
Banglesdorf says there needs to be a big push to make flying more attractive to existing pilots, attracting student flyers, creating a better workplace culture and becoming more creative with work/life balance challenges. Finally, the industry should recruit young pilots and persuade insurance companies to allow younger, lower-time pilots to fly second-in-command with experienced captains. “We are one of the most nimble industry subsegments in the world. That trait needs to be employed here – and pretty quickly – before we are in a price war with the airlines for talent. If we create a pathway for success, people will follow it.”
Some believe talk of pilot shortages isn’t so unique. Brian Foley, founder of Brian Foley Associates tells CJI: “I can’t find a guy to tile my kitchen floor. There’s a shortage of all workers, so specifically singling out pilots seems superfluous.”
Passengers can still fly commercially at a moment’s notice from New York to Los Angeles tomorrow. But he does concede pilot shortages are causing some difficulties. “I feel the pain of charter and fractional operators in our industry who have fleets to operate and fully staff,” he says. “Interestingly though, a cursory check of the NetJets career site shows more openings in maintenance positions than for pilots.”
Autonomous aviation developers continue to attract hangar-loads of investment. And while blasphemous to some, Foley notes manufacturers are exploring future cockpit layouts that require fewer pilots – at least for the military and cargo markets at first. “Let’s face it,” says Foley. “Even today a non-pilot passenger can push a big red button to automatically land a Cirrus Vision Jet, TBM 940/960 or Piper M600 from the back seat.”
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