Everyone is hiring
Every airline is hiring, it’s a good time to have some solid skills and some flight time to back it up. If this is your goal, there are plenty of fast tracks out there. But think about this question
“Do I want to get there as fast as possible or do I want to put myself in the best position for the long haul?
And in case you are reading this with the goal of having a question answered, you may be disappointed. However if you are reading it to get a feel of the current landscape, then read on.
Is the shortage real or fabricated
During the pandemic crisis, airlines did what most companies do when faced with a crisis. They shed employees as fast as they could to keep their second biggest cost down (employees). Many offered fat incentives to leave to anyone who wanted. The longer you were employed there, the better the deal looked. And it worked, most were able to stay airborne and navigate the crisis. But with any crisis (even war) nothing lasts forever.
Did someone drop the ball?
And since airlines are notorious for shedding employees in the time of need they are equally notorious at a lack of planning to keep the supply chain flowing. This is where some unions say they dropped the ball and raising the retirement age is not a viable solution.
If your Vice President or director of training does not have their office in the training center, they are going to fail to understand what is really happening with hiring crews. Most executives will argue with that, but this has been the nagging problem from the beginning, you have to be where the action is. Now we’re scrambling to hire pilots and when your scrambling it’s hard to make thorough well thought out decisions that work for the long run.
Growth because of demand or competition
This is an interesting concept since a lot of airlines and the media do not know the difference. When fuel prices are sky high and crew shortages are high, airlines are forced to reduce the number of flights (capacity). And if you reduce the number of flights and demand is still high guess what happens? Prices go up.
That’s the main focus of the media, They don't investigate why, they mostly sensationalize the fact that demand is high and this must be some sort or crisis. Because a crisis is good news, but this is a knee-jerk reaction to the real problem.
Competition doesn’t help either, competition does not take a break. Instead of airlines competing for routes, customers and loyalty, they’re competition is based on staying alive and getting aircraft, routes, gates and crews. This is a new dynamic. The latest urge is for airlines to have to merge or acquire one another in order to compete with the Legacy airlines. While this may be true it does tend to take some focus off the real problem.
Some dirty pool to keep pilots
This next section is highly controversial I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flack from it but these are the discussions that are going around the community of pilots. One aspect analyzed from HR departments to get an interview is whether a pilot has failed any check ride in his past career.
This could be a serious offense or this could be a insignificant factor early on in their pilot career. The pilots that fall into that category may not have the opportunity to interview.
I have heard it said that some airlines even go as far as failing a pilot upgrade, check ride or oral exam on some minor in order to keep the pilot at their current airline Is this true? The problem is NO ONE will ever verify that offense or tactic to keep pilots from leaving. .
Sometimes it just happens
I once personally knew of a pilot who was marshaled right into a cone on the ramp. That small event ended up as an incident since it caused aircraft damage. Was it the pilot's fault? Who knows. So do we cast this pilot aside too as something undesirable? To be able to investigate these types of events whether it’s a taxi issue or a failed v1 cut takes time. Most interview committees don’t have the luxury of time. There are hundreds of stories like this that never make it online.
The issue of pay
The newest twist is a monster increase in pay at regional airlines. This is a very shrewd move towards more senior pilots designed to tweak the wallet strings. When we say pay increase, we mean sometimes doubling or even tripling the hourly pay that pilots can earn.
Pilots that know how to manage their schedules can easily now make a living that is on par with working for a major airline. Whether this is a long term policy or not, it still creates a very interesting scenario in the pilot recruitment race. I do know one thing, when you introduce something like this, pilots will become accustomed to it very quickly. This then moves to becoming something they expect. If the the pay rates are reversed, then pilots vote with their feet, and that does not help when it comes time to bargain for a new contract.
Does money solve everything?
Short term solutions verses collective bargaining.
So currently what is happening is that airlines have trips that come open (available) for various reasons. This is normal. First they will post the trip in an open time bank to see if a pilot picks it up for straight time, which their normal pay rate.
If there are no takers, then the company may incentivize the trip by offering a premium pay incentive such as time and a half or 150%. And if it gets really bad, it goes to double or even triple pay for a simple trip.
This can be extremely lucrative for pilots if you learn the game. Keep in mind this won’t be forever and it will go away as the airline eventually hires enough people.
But what it does do is cloud over the real issue, they are short handed and money solves the problem. However that does not show up on a software generated report showing the number of flights completed. Pilots can make out like bandits right now.
“why would I work for straight pay?”
While pilots love to cash in, union officials say that it does not help create a long term solution. If we fix the system first for the long term then a healthy bottom line (and a better contract) will follow. Who wants a better long term outlook more, pilots or management?
So what is the long term solution?
The need is not just for a warm butt in the seat, it’s for experienced aviators to become available to hire. Experience takes time. Are there experience pilots out there or is the pool exhausted?
Put this in perspective, most major airlines pull their applicants from regional airlines. Pilots go to them, spend a certain amount of time there and move up. However regional airlines are short handed too and they also have realized that money talks.
So there are plenty of super senior regional pilots that have spent a considerable time with their respective companies making a pretty decent salary AND have accumulated seniority. The big dilemma now becomes do I bail out of a good seniority number and go to the bottom seniority of a new airline system?
This is a tough question indeed and many end up staying long term because of this very concept. This is more common than you may be aware of. Fixing this problem requires some collaboration and a well thought out plan. Again that is probably not going to happen overnight, so here we are.
Have a thought? Feel free to comment below.