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Pilot jobs highlight WAI conferencePilot jobs highlight WAI conference

Regional, major airlines hiringRegional, major airlines hiring

While aviation industry hiring was not the primary focus of the Twenty-ninth annual International Women in Aviation Conference March 22 through 24 in Reno, Nevada, it was an objective for many people attending the conference—and for more than 40 of the 162 companies and organizations with booths in the exhibit hall.

Katrina Mittelstadt, center, a United Airlines Boeing 737 first officer, talks with two potential United pilot applicants during the 2018 International Women in Aviation Conference in Reno, Nevada. Mittelstadt works from the airline's Houston base. Photo by Mike Collins.

A total of 3,200 women and men attended the three-day conference, where 142 scholarships—valued at $695,500—were awarded to 141 Women in Aviation, International (WAI) members. The thirtieth annual International Women in Aviation Conference will be March 14 through 16, 2019, in Long Beach, California.

The hiring process at the conference has evolved, said Kelly Murphy, WAI director of communications. A program called Fast Pass was started four years ago. “It was answering a need of the industry at that time to find more pilots,” and encouraged airlines to conduct one-on-one interviews on site, she explained. “Literally, people were sleeping outside of the exhibit hall to be first in line. It became overwhelming.”

A lottery system brought some structure, and industry practices have shifted, with some airlines preferring to hold career fairs at their training centers or other locations. “This year we initiated company hiring briefings in a group setting,” Murphy said. While many airlines were focused on pilots, some also were actively seeking mechanics and technicians—while companies such as Pratt & Whitney and Aurora Flight Sciences were looking for engineers and other technical skills. “We’re all about hiring and cultivating work relationships.”

Two Air Wisconsin employees, including a captain (left), interview a pilot applicant behind the company's exhibit booth during the 2018 International Women in Aviation Conference in Reno, Nevada. Photo by Mike Collins.

Some airlines did extend job offers during the conference. Air Wisconsin conducted interviews and made several job offers in Reno, said Tim Genc, director of pilot recruiting. The airline also is hiring mechanics and technicians, he said. “We’re building every aspect of our team.” Air Wisconsin has about 1,500 employees, including 560 pilots, and wants to hire at least 350 pilots per year. “I don’t see that changing in the down direction any time soon,” Genc said.

The hiring market requires the airline to go where the pilots are, Genc added. “We are constantly traveling. We’re going to a lot of universities. We have a number of partner programs and we visit there regularly.” Air Wisconsin also looks at such aviation events as Sun 'n Fun and EAA AirVenture.

“It’s the best time to be a pilot. All the regionals are hiring,” commented Cristine Zambrana, a Bombardier Q400 first officer for Horizon Air, at a hiring briefing for the airline owned by Alaska Air Group. “We want pilots here who are passionate about flying, and who have a heart for flying.”

Horizon’s flying differs from other regionals, she said. “The type of flying we do is very technical.” The airline operates in mountains, from narrow and sloped runways, and in a lot of inclement weather; its Q400 turboprops use head-up displays, and it’s the only regional airline to fly RNP 0.10 space-based instrument approaches to ILS-like minimums, Zambrana explained. Some Horizon first officers are seeing upgrades to captain in less than a year, she added.

A pathways program with Alaska Airlines ensures that a minimum of 30 percent of Alaska’s pilots are hired from Horizon’s ranks; some years, that ratio can reach 40 or even 50 percent. In addition, Horizon will hire first officers without ATP certificates who have achieved the minimum hour requirements; Horizon will provide the ATP training, and the ATP checkride will be combined with the checkride for the aircraft type rating.

United Airlines was not interviewing at the show but was accepting resumes. “I want individuals to get to know United,” said Susan White, senior manager of pilot recruitment, during one of the airline’s information sessions. She wants potential employees to know if the company and its culture will be a good fit for them. “We look at hiring employees first, and then hiring pilots.”

The company had not been growing for several years, White said, but its new leadership is expanding service domestically and restoring service to some airports previously served. “We’re taking larger aircraft into some of those smaller airports,” she added. United is expanding internationally as well.

White showed potential applicants a chart showing United’s projected retirement as pilots reach the mandatory retirement age of 65. “Our retirements haven’t really kicked in,” she said, explaining that they really hit the carrier in 2028. “But it’s climbing until then. Also, this doesn’t include [system] growth.”

Because of that growth, it’s a good time for a pilot to join United or any other major carrier, she said—so that they can establish that all-important seniority number. In 2017, United hired 409 pilots, including 288 “off the street.” The airline plans to host a career fair at its Denver training facility in the September time frame, White said.

At its hiring briefing, Southwest Airlines stressed its plans for continued growth, and the fact that the carrier has never furloughed an employee—including after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and during the 2008 recession. A new-hire class scheduled for Sept. 13, 2001, went on as scheduled, an airline employee said; a current chief pilot and check airmen were in that class. Southwest hired 903 pilots in 2017 and expects to hire a similar number in 2018; only about 100 company pilots will retire this year. Southwest pilot retirements are forecast to plateau at about 400 per year in 2025 and 2026.

For more information on the International Women in Aviation Conference, visit the WAI website.

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Women in Aviation International

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