hangar-hopping - is the grass greener in aviation?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

And it applies to some recent conversations I’ve had with both pilots and maintenance professionals who are thinking of leaving for the lure of money and/or a better schedule.

But is the grass really that much greener?

I’m questioning whether these aspiring individuals are taking ample time to actually think about their personal and professional goals.

Are they really ready to leave? Will the pros outweigh the cons? What are the long-term implications getting some immediate gratification? And what will happen when the market tightens up?

My good friend, Keith Shelburn, and I liken this job-hopping activity to “hangar-hopping.” 


Job-hopping is on the Rise

On the whole, job-hopping (moving around every few years) is on the rise. In business aviation, it’s due in large part to an improved economy and the current, well-documented aviation talent shortage.

It’s always wise to remember that, in general, the economy and jobs are cyclical. History usually repeats itself and – even in aviation – the tables will turn in due time.

From a jobs perspective, what might look attractive this year could be just the opposite in two or three.

A particular case in point is what occurred in 2009, just following the recession. The jobs landscape had altered dramatically in this industry and hundreds of others. And, as it happened, many of the “last feet in the door” were the first out—involuntarily.

If you keep jumping from hangar to hangar in hopes of a bigger paycheck, you just might, in the long run, end up on the outside, looking in.

From a recruiting perspective, you don’t want to be overpriced for the market, or with a resume that says “it’s all about me!” Job-hopping will definitely show a self-focus and lack of loyalty. And loyalty is a virtue that will never be “old school” in the eyes of a hiring manager.


Reasons for Hangar-hopping

As a former Fortune 100 aviation director, Keith has experience in employee attraction and retention.

As he explained to me, “While we might be on an industry hiring tear right now, things change. Market conditions, regulatory changes on pilot age, world events or even technological advances can quickly bring that to an end. We saw this happen in 2009. I’m not sure people are taking job stability into consideration for their ‘greener pastures’ search.”

He added: “We’re seeing some defensive moves being made by employers to fend off poaching. If you’re happy with your quality of life and your employer has a history of stability, you may want to consider that most large companies will eventually pay ‘market rate’ to keep their talent. Turnover is expensive. It just takes time for the salary surveys and internal compensation adjustments to catch up.”

He went on to explain that “jumping ship” could be a good move, but only if you’ve really thought it through.

One reason why we’re seeing more job changing these days is because we don’t have pensions and other factors to root us in one place like we did years ago. So it’s easier to pick up our flight bag or toolbox, and move it to the hangar next door. But, attractive as it might seem, I’d be very careful to fully investigate the company and the culture I’m planning to move to before I do so.

Another reason is that members of the millennial generation have a lot of different motivations for either remaining in one job or moving to another. Today, a 20-30 something puts a tremendous amount of value on his or her free time. Their assessed quality of life is a big factor in making the move or staying. And, again, sometimes that promise of more free time might look great from the outside, but in reality might not be all that it was cracked up to be.


Watch for Red Flags

One friend of Keith’s took a job with a lot of promise for free time at home. Mainly those regarding how few days he would be away from home. But, as he quickly discovered, the amount of time he was going to be gone was severely understated.

Keith went on to explain, “Due to ever changing travel requirements and staffing levels employers can’t always provide a clear picture of the position demands that affect your quality of life. This can make hangar hopping truly a leap of faith.”

Another consideration is job skills. If you’re looking to move up in terms of a bigger title and paycheck, make sure that you have the requisite skillsets. It’s also imperative that you have the right boss at your new job who set you up for success with a proper onboarding process.


Greener Pastures at the Airlines?

Several former corporate pilots we’ve stayed in touch with who left for greener pastures have told us they are absolutely miserable. A particular case in point is the pilot I mentioned above, who left a solid corporate flight department to fly for the airlines.

He and I spoke recently and he told me:

“I am going to be doing the same thing, day in and day out, for the next 20 years.”

“I’m just seen as a number.”

“I don’t know anyone. There’s no team camaraderie.”

“There’s no creativity, control or problem solving.”

“I just show up and drive a bus.”


Why and When to Look at Other Pastures

So, what should you consider before you stick your toe in the water and make a move?

To answer that, you might try to tally up what you’re leaving behind. But, remember: you’re not going to find utter clarity in every category you consider.

So ask yourself:

  • How solid is the ground underneath me at my current job? If it is solid, that should have significant value.
  • Do I know my “must-haves” and can I see clearly that all are accounted for?
  • Will I be making more money? And if I believe so, am I sure? Have I read all the small print?
  • Have I read through the total compensation package, which will include salary, 401K, long-term incentives and maybe a signing bonus?

Regarding compensation, management and career experts at thebalancecareers.com share an interesting stat. That is, employee benefits, including health insurance, retirement plans, vacation and sick leave, and life and disability insurance can represent up to 30 percent of your compensation package.

It’s important to take the time to review what you’re offered. Make sure it’s what you and your family need at this stage of your working life.

Following are a few pointers, if you’re buying into the lure of greener pastures:

  • What is the cost of living if you relocate? How would a move impact your lifestyle (e.g., if you move from, say, Texas to Northern California, you cannot replicate your sprawling 4-5 bedroom home lifestyle).
  • How much time do you have before your start date?
  • What’s your schedule and vacation outlook?
  • Is there room for growth?
  • If this job supports a single individual or family, will the job “outlast” me? Or will I likely be looking for a new job later in my career when the market landscape is significantly different?
  • What’s the cultural fit? Based on what you know, do you seem to like the people you’ll work with? What are their expectations of you?
  • Why do people leave the organization you might be planning to join?
  • What is the travel schedule/flight plan, and would that change as a result of a merger or consolidation?
  • What are the perks?


Look Before You Leap!

So our main message here is to really think about what you’re getting into. And what you’re leaving behind. It’s good to remember that, no, the grass isn’t always greener.

And do pay particular attention to what your resume says about you to prospective employers. Will it say, “I’m a great employee that is here to get a job done and be rewarded for my hard work?” Or will it say, “I ‘m out for myself, trying to find the biggest reward.” That may sound old school, but it’s still sound advice. It doesn’t mean stay at your job for life, but it does mean to try and architect a strategic career, and not an opportunistic one.

There are some significant differences in working for a corporation vs. a high-net-worth individual vs. a management company.

And while a corporate aviation role might not be as lucrative, it’s often much more stable with less turnover.

One thing’s for certain, I’m seeing a lot more retirements coming from corporate flight departments than from management companies.


Your Turn

What are your thoughts on the concept of hangar hopping? Have you had success moving from one department to another—and did you reap major benefits or regret the decision? Simply use the form below to share your thoughts with our readers.


  • We’ve had three employees who left. Later they determined that the grass was not greener. The salary dangled as bait sells them on the move. What is a little more ambiguous is the quality of life expected. It seems that it is oversold easily but they are believers. People need to make a choice. Some see their career as a sprint. Grab as much as you can as soon as you can. Others see it as a marathon. A steady ride with a few bumps along the way (the typical economic cycle). If you’ve ever been a runner you’ve seen the runner take off at the start only to be passed 2 miles in by those who paced the clock. Wisdom. I wish it was easier to obtain but then it wouldn’t have the value.

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