Employer retention - graphic visual of business man with briefcase being pulled by magnet so he doesn't go through the exit door

In anticipation of writing this column, I often find myself pondering the challenges that face our industry. Last month, I shared with you my concerns about the dwindling pilot pipeline—a topic that truly keeps me awake at night. But as I sat with my thoughts, I couldn’t help but wonder: when it comes to people-related issues, what is it that keeps flight department leaders up at night?

Curiosity led me to reach out to some of my esteemed colleagues (many of whom are clients) with a short survey, and the responses were eye-opening. Overwhelmingly, the workforce issue that plagues their minds is employee retention.

Employee retention is the number-one issue for flight department managers

A staggering 92% of respondents to my questionnaire admitted to experiencing restlessness over the challenge of keeping their teams intact and motivated during the talent shortage. But what exactly is behind their sleepless nights? Let’s look at several key themes from our survey.

Work-life balance

Creating balance in an industry notorious for being “on call” is a significant concern. More than 60% of aviation leaders cited it as an issue.

One leader shared this anonymously: “When I joined, our company had two aircraft with seven pilots. Now they’re down to two aircraft and four pilots, with pressure on our staff to complete trips. Retention has become an issue, along with long-term talent retiring soon. And for what we are paying, we will never get any experienced pilots.”

Flexible schedules

Similarly, the need for a flexible schedule was a recurring theme in the survey responses. Balancing the demands of the job while accommodating the diverse needs of team members is a delicate act—one that often leaves more than 60% of respondents burning the midnight oil in search of solutions.

And while flexibility is essential, there’s also the challenge of ensuring that reliance on contractors doesn’t become the norm—a concern echoed by more than half of the respondents. Some respondents noted that they have an unlimited budget for contractors. One participant admitted to using contractors, often heavily. The reasoning? “Running pilots too hard means they will move on,” they explained.

Another director wrote in: “Time-off policies and/or guidelines must result in predictable time off. Every company and flight department is different in their corporate policies and expectations for the flight department. Protecting time off is critical to retaining top talent. Leaders should be highly motivated to solve this issue in their organization.”


Of course, competitive compensation also plays a crucial role in retention efforts. Business aviation professionals are in high demand, and offering competitive salaries and benefits is essential to attracting and retaining top talent. When it comes to compensation, 62% said they find themselves missing out on sleep. Meanwhile, 23% aren’t getting any sleep at all.

One aviation leader shared this: “Our pay—though the company says we are right in line—is far, far below what the industry is paying. Company uses ‘surveys,’ though will not openly discuss anything other than setting ranges and saying that is what it is. We are absolutely well below acceptable pay, and retention is an issue.”

Flight departments losing talent to higher-paying ones is tough to hear. However, retention isn’t solely about the paycheck. Many aviation professionals will stay loyal and work for less if they feel valued. Passion for the job, alignment with personal interests, and shared values with the organization and team play crucial roles in retaining employees.

Employee conflicts

Conflicts within teams and the challenge of fostering a sense of teamwork were additional sources of sleepless nights. In fact, for 60% of respondents, managing conflicting personalities within the crew has robbed them of their sleep.

Leading people is no easy task. It’s both an art and skill that requires careful navigation and diplomacy. Effective leaders understand the importance of addressing issues promptly and directly, rather than avoiding or ignoring them. When we as leaders have the “managerial courage” to have tough conversations, it helps—not hinders—retention. In fact, utilizing transparency and communication clarifies expectations, resolves conflicts, provides feedback for improvement, and ultimately drives positive change within our teams and organizations.

Communication and transparency are key

But amid the challenges, there is hope. As leaders, we have the power to effect change within our organizations. We have the power and leadership skills to rebuild trust, foster teamwork, and create a positive work environment—one in which every team member feels valued and supported. As always, communication and transparency are key in this endeavor, as is a commitment to promoting the benefits of business aviation throughout the organization.

In the face of uncertainty, one thing remains clear: the future of business aviation depends on our ability to address the challenges of retention head-on. By prioritizing work-life balance, offering a flexible schedule, providing competitive compensation, and fostering a culture of teamwork and trust, we can ensure that our teams remain strong and resilient in the face of adversity. And with each new day, we can rest a little easier knowing that we’re making a difference in the lives of those who share our passion for aviation.

This guest column by Sheryl Barden originally appeared in Aviation International News. View article. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by AIN Media Group.

Image credit: © AdobeStock

  • Sheryl, Love your columns! Although I closed Professional Aviation, LLC, several years ago when I retired, I still read your columns. Your insights are right on and useful. You and your Mom have provided corporate aviation with a valuable service. Best regards, John Sheehan

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