furloughed airline pilots

On October 1, we expect to see more furloughed airline pilots flocking to business aviation. That’s when the CARES Act funding expires for the commercial aviation sector.

That also means that our API Registered Professionals will have to contend with additional pilots in the job market.

As we’ve seen, the transition from commercial to business aviation can be a successful one. After all, very few pilots get their start in business aviation. Many earn their flight time at a regional carrier, major airline or in the military.

But there is a learning curve for “crossover” pilots.


Differing Roles

As many of you know, airline and bizav piloting roles do not make for an apples-to-apples comparison.

“Flying is the easy part of the day, usually after you’ve finished your duties as ground crew, flight planner, dispatcher, load master, security officer and baggage handler,” Andre Fodor said in his article for AvBuyer.

It takes a special kind of pilot to fly in business aviation—successfully anyway.

As Fodor points out, many pilots—at least those on smaller teams—don’t simply show up to fly. They’re often expected to run the entire show. The necessary skill set requires a much broader perspective. It includes impeccable customer service, a strong team approach and a solid work ethic.


The Right Stuff!

With the foregoing in mind, following is a list of traits and skills associated with business aviation pilots:

–Can-do attitude

As we’ve shared over the years, a bizav pilot needs to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. Fodor says one needs a “do whatever it takes attitude.” This is well beyond a “show up and fly” role. For example, operators flying without cabin safety attendants are responsible for those duties. A pilot may need to manage the Wi-Fi, set out catering, make coffee, order newspapers and prepare the cabin before the flight. And, of course, clean up post-flight.


Corporate pilots typically know their co-pilot and crew on every trip. And they get to spend their downtime together when they’re at FBOs or traveling around the world. Most of API’s clientele try to create a culture that focuses on creating a “work family.” So, there’s a strong sense of comradery and loyalty, and lifelong friendships are made.


Bizav pilots have defined duty periods, but they can be long days. They’re expected show up well before the flight and not leave until the mission (and the plane) is fully put to bed. And now, with COVID, a crew might expect to do fewer overnights to reduce exposure on the road. Again, it makes for longer work days.


Depending upon the operation, schedules can be up in the air. If it’s a high-net-worth owner or charter operator, expect to fly on long weekends and holidays. One could very well miss out on family events and milestones. And many pilots, may be on-call in case a trip pops up.


Unlike the airlines, bizav pilots deal with problems head-on and face-to-face. If the cabin entertainment system goes down, the pilot becomes the IT support. It’s a role that requires the ability to maintain composure and to think on one’s feet. In this industry, there’s no such thing as showing up to sit behind a locked cockpit door.


Sure, we recruit for technically competent individuals. But we also seek out those with a wider focus on the entire customer service experience. And that means being mindful of a wide range of customer wants and needs from a service perspective. How can we best cater to their likes and dislikes and anticipate their wishes? Do they need anything out of the ordinary? Developing this mindset requires a certain empathic gene. It helps pilots put themselves in the shoes of their clientele.

–Close proximity

Most bizav pilots live within driving distance of the hangar. There’s an expectation that the crew is a part of a team. That means they’ll be at the office to attend meetings, plan logistics and manage projects.

–Other duties as assigned

Many operators have smaller teams. Thus, pilots often do more of the logistical planning, accounting and budgeting. As we’ve pointed out, there’s definitely an “office” aspect to the role vs. showing up and flying.


“You are not only paying for fuel, but also creating budgets, negotiating contracts, managing people and expectations, arranging logistics, etc.,” explained Matthew Olafsen, an international captain. “There is more time spent in the office than flying the plane. The question isn’t: can the airline pilot fly the plane and pay for fuel at the FBO, the question is: can they handle the multitude of other jobs outside the cockpit that can occur any time of the day or night.”


If Furloughed Airline Pilots Come, Will They Stay?

It may seem attractive to recruit furloughed airline pilots. But both commercial pilots and bizav hiring managers should proceed with caution. Crossover pilots, in particular, need to understand the full complement of their would-be roles and responsibilities.

Meanwhile, hiring companies should go beyond listing the minimum technical requirements in their pilot job ads. They should also include some of the ancillary aspects of bizav flying. This might help “weed out” some applicants.

That said, there are likely airline pilots who genuinely want to return to business aviation. If someone has a relevant type-rating and are committed to the long haul, the investment might be worthwhile. That’s because former bizav pilots already know the territory. And they understand the lifestyle and customer-experience expectations.


The Timing May be Suspect

Timing is always an issue in any industry, and, right now, aviation is no exception. Let’s consider the circumstances for anyone seeking a piloting job in bizav.

For example, we’ve had commercial pilots come to us in the past with an earnest desire to make the switch. They realized the airline world wasn’t for them, and we’ve honored those honest conversations. After all, they came to us with pure intent, independent of an airline furlough or other circumstantial events. Given the current situation, if commercial pilots reach out to us now, we’ll need to determine their motivations.


A Word About Military Pilots

Military pilots have a lot of relevant experience that may mirror a private pilot (e.g., flying dignitaries, flight planning, fuel purchases, etc.). So be sure not to lump military pilots into the same category as commercial pilots. Many of our outstanding bizav pilots and leaders hail from the military.

But no matter the piloting experience, the old adage, “you have to work for it if you want it,” applies in spades here.

Case in point: one military pilot we know is doing some proactive networking to find a bizav pilot role. In the year before his expected military retirement, he signed up for NBAA’s mentorship program. He also drives hours to meet with his mentor in person, and to attend meetings with his new regional bizav group. Plus, he offered to establish a more local chapter of the regional group. The point is, this pilot is clearly going above and beyond to establish himself in our industry.


Change is NOW!

As we’ve acknowledged, aviation has taken a major hit. Profound changes are occurring in every segment of our industry. And that drastic change is ongoing. In response, API is here to help. We’re helping hiring managers to identify the changing needs of their flight departments.

Yes, furloughed airline pilots will come looking for bizav jobs. But they should not be able to jump the queue. After all, our industry already has loyal, dedicated, highly competent pilots. And you can be sure that our API recruiting team will honor their lifelong career commitment.


Remember: if you’re looking for up-to-the-minute compensation consulting, recruitment assistance or a combination thereof, we’re here to assist!


  • Great read! I’m hearing similar things on the FA side in “transitioning” from commercial to business aviation. Many don’t realize that shopping, catering, preparing, and cleaning are part of the role and that most open job postings are asking for training specific to private jets (and some even go further in requiring training with either FACTS or FlightSafety). Applauding Delta (at least as of a couple of weeks ago) for its commitment not to furlough FAs and hoping a deal can be worked out with the federal government to enable AA and UA to avoid furloughs as well.

  • Timely article which addresses a topic those of us in hiring mode are intimately aware of: there are many airline pilots throwing resumes onto the pile for a Part 91 position at present. The piece did a good job of addressing the topic from many angles. I chose to repost on LinkedIn as a matter of fact. That being said, there were two areas I would have written differently.

    First, the title was provocative when it didn’t need to be. Drawing attention is good when you’re trying to get your message out to as many people as possible but to me it came across as defensive. Our professional colleagues need not worry about competition. Business aviators thrive on healthy competition. It makes the individual, department, employer, and industry better. The most successful Part 91 professionals I know chose business aviation because they wanted to add value and to continue to add value requires constant growth and self improvement.

    Second, the sentence “But they should not be able to jump the queue.“ comes across as defensive. As though the hard work and professionalism demonstrated over a business aviator’s career is suddenly forgotten because a Boeing 787 pilot is furloughed. Queues suggest a system which only values time served. Whereas, in actuality, business aviation employers consider time served as just one of several metrics which make up an accurate assessment for performance, retention, and promotion. Queuing elicits visions of lineal numbers…something many of us eschewed in favor of meritocracy which is a hallmark of the successful business aviation department model.

  • Thank you for your comment, Louann. I’m glad to hear this article resonates with you on the FA side as well. We’ve been asked this question so frequently lately, we wanted to address it from our perspective. I agree with you regarding Delta.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful commentary, Greg. I appreciate the points you’ve made as well as your passion and insight. The title of the article was derived from the very question we’ve been asked repeatedly by candidates and clients; particularly, the former. Your interpretation ‘linear’ is heard as well. I was simply referring to commercial pilots not “getting ahead of” bizav pilots , but your point is a fair one. Again, your comments are respected and appreciated.

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