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Pilot hiring increasing exponentially for corporate, commercial positions

Signing, retention bonuses offered

Pilot hiring numbers are surpassing pre-coronavirus pandemic levels during a robust job-seeking market in the fourth quarter of 2021, said a trio of aviation career specialists, who noted that available positions far outpaced qualified personnel.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Future and Active Pilot Advisors (FAPA) founder Louis Smith said activity at the National Business Aviation Association Business Aviation Convention and Exposition in October indicated that corporate aviation careers, which account for 37 percent of professional pilot positions, are strong. “The activity at this industry event was indicative that the world is ready and able—not to mention eagerly chomping at the bit—to return to a state of normalcy and get back to the business of growing the aviation industry.”

Pilot hiring at major air carriers also increased rapidly during the first three quarters of 2021, jumping from fewer than 100 pilots hired in January to more than 600 each month during August and September. The sharp rise in flying positions for the major airlines was the “second highest monthly hiring total in history,” Smith said. Corporate aviation and flying for fractional and charter airlines remain “strong alternatives” to airline flight deck positions because they have many of the same benefits as an airline career—but pilots must also consider a few unique challenges.

Many private companies offer home basing to pilots, which can be an attractive option when planting roots and starting a family. An ever-changing schedule could complicate family life or it could lead to new horizons for the adventurous.

Business aviation pilots also must become familiar with the hospitality process because they are more visible to the passengers, and they should expect the unique challenges that come with flying into smaller airfields. “The world of charter and private aviation is not for every pilot, but it certainly is an option that deserves more attention than it gets,” Smith said. Executive Director Abbey Hutter said the online aviation career services website has seen pre-COVID-19 hiring activity levels return “these past two months for both job seekers and for aviation companies. The employee market is continuing to be solid going into the fourth quarter of 2021” with pilots, mechanics, avionics, and technical positions remaining the hardest to fill.

Hutter added that the company’s clients spend “anywhere from $164 for a job advertisement on our website to our $3,000 outreach programs for hard-to-fill positions. Companies are also becoming more proactive versus reactive in their approach to recruiting. More importantly, companies are experiencing additional turnover as candidates find new opportunities in locations they want, at greater pay. Companies are having a hard time adjusting and gauging whether pay increases will be temporary or not.”

She anticipated that a market favoring job seekers would prevail into 2022 as travel grows with the demand for new employees while the world continues to rebound from nearly two years of health lockdowns and cross-border restrictions. However, she also warned that as things stabilize, job candidates may “find themselves in possibly an overpaid/underqualified situation. It’s an easy choice to take a higher paying job, but those can ultimately be temporary when the economy stabilizes” and companies begin to examine expenses. Hutter also predicted the aviation business world will “have to put more resources and efforts toward actively recruiting as well. We have a saying that ‘companies that are not constantly recruiting are slowly going out of business’ in this environment.” They are also facing additional challenges to retain experienced workers versus hiring new employees.

Frequent commercial flyers have recently noted that airliners are packed with people while the number of flights per day to desired destinations has constricted since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Luring new pilots into the business with signing bonuses of $15,000 or more is now common for the regional air carriers, while major player American Airlines upped the ante with a whopping $150,000 in retention bonuses promised to pilots in its pathway programs.

Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) Board of Directors Chair and FedEx Boeing 767 first officer Joel Webley anticipated that the airlines would be “the demand signal” for overall hiring trends as the aviation industry continues a rebound that began before the third quarter of 2021. He also pointed out that diversity is an ongoing challenge for the aviation and aerospace industries. “The ultimate challenge for OBAP is building awareness and consistently engaging with diverse talent on a multi-year timeline. Students need to be captured into a development stream early enough to take advantage of various programs and initiatives” in a cost-effective manner.

David Tulis
David Tulis
Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: Career

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