What’s the No. 1 reason Part 91 flight departments are losing their qualified talent?

It’s pilot compensation.

That’s according to 41 aviation directors who participated in a 2017 survey conducted by Aviation Personnel International.

As a wrap-up to our series on attraction and retention, this post will dig into our survey results to discover the following:

  • Are pilots leaving and, if so, why?
  • Where are they going?
  • How are aviation leaders retaining talent?
  • Is the talent shortage affecting everyone?

Why Pilots are Leaving and Where They’re Going

 Of the 41 flight department leaders we surveyed in April 2017, 26 organizations lost a total of 52 employees within the past year.

The 52 pilots who left their department cited the following reasons:

  • 16 left for another Part 91 pilot role
  • 14 took a pilot position at an airline
  • 8 retired
  • 13 cited other reasons
  • 1 left due to health reasons

Of the 16 pilots who left for another Part 91 role, their decisions were affected by compensation, schedule, career advancement, career stability and location.

“We’re finding it hard to get qualified pilots to come into corporate aviation,” said one respondent. “They are jumping to the airlines for the salaries, schedule and retirement packages.”

Changes to Pilot Compensation

API asked directors if they’ve adjusted compensation to meet the changing needs of the marketplace.

Fifty-six percent have raised compensation across all pilot roles—with new compensation levels increasing anywhere from one to 40 percent.

Twenty-two percent of directors have not yet changed their compensation plan, but about half intend to do so.

Seven percent only changed their compensation when particular pilots showed signs that they were leaving. Another seven percent plan to increase pay in 2017.

One director increased salary for two of his pilots.

“We thought they were below industry average, and had the most to gain by leaving,” he explained. “They were not hinting at leaving; we were just being as proactive as possible.”

Of the 22 percent of respondents that have yet to increase pilot compensation, about 50 percent plan to make changes, while 10 percent have no plans to make any changes.

One director mentioned this:

“While we have not been affected by the pilot shortage, our compensation levels have been adjusted to be competitive in the market place in terms of retention.”

Not Just Pilot Comp Affected

Within the past year, 28 department leaders have increased pay for other roles within the aviation organization.

Those functional areas include:

  • Maintenance function (21 departments)
  • Flight department leadership (12 departments)
  • Scheduler & Dispatcher function (11 departments)
  • Flight attendant (4 departments)
  • Other roles (3 departments)

 No matter what the role, 35 out of 41 respondents increased compensation in the past year—up to a whopping 40 percent!

Twenty-three departments increased pay over six percent. That is double the nation’s average of a three percent raise in 2016.

 Here’s the breakout for 2016-17 pay increases for all aviation functions (not just pilots):

  • 1 department – 31 to 40 percent
  • 2 departments – 21 to 30 percent
  • 6 departments – 11 to 20 percent
  • 14 departments – 6 to 10 percent
  • 12 departments – 1 to 5 percent

The Ability to Attract Qualified Candidates

Not all aviation organizations are on board to change compensation. A few of them have not seen problems getting resumes, nor have they had anyone leave.

“We’ve not been affected yet [by the talent shortage], but we keep an active dialogue with many professionals in the industry to enhance our posture for when we may need to recruit,” said one director.

We also received this comment: “On our recent hire, we had several hundred applicants so we have not seen a shortage. That said, I know several flight departments looking for pilots due to loss to airlines.”

In some cases, the interested applicants do not fit the desired qualifications.

“Unfortunately, at least 30 percent of the applications are from retired or retirement-eligible persons who are leaving the airlines,” explained a respondent. “Another 30 percent are fishing for a position. Of the resumes we received, only about 25 percent fit the criteria that were defined.”

Extending Attractive Offers

In addition to asking why pilots leave, we also wondered if pilots were rejecting new hire offers.

Within the past year, seven leaders extended offers to pilot candidates, and were declined. Four of those seven rejections were due to compensation.

“Hiring is more challenging and compensation packages need to be reviewed,” explained one director. “I’m concerned that we’re competing with the airlines, and I’m not sure it’s a winnable position from an industry standpoint.”

Department Changes Beyond Compensation

We also asked leaders if they’ve adjusted their staffing levels, thus allowing flight departments to offer better schedules or better work/life balance.

Here’s what we learned from the 41 directors surveyed:

  • 21 departments have not changed staffing levels
  • 12 departments have added headcount
  • 8 departments changed the way they schedule
  • 1 department is evaluating a more predictable crew schedule (e.g., hard days off)
  • 1 department added more contractors

Speaking of contractors, we found it creative that at least two flight departments are relying on elastic workforce to fill newfound gaps.

“We decided to use more contract flight crew to enhance the ‘quality of life’ issues of our full-time staff. We have found it challenging to find well-qualified and proficient temporary help. The few that we have found are very busy and hard to schedule on a short-notice basis.”

“We satisfied our need with retired corporate pilots, using them on retainer or on an ad- hoc basis. We pay for their training.”

Does an Increase in Pay Retain Talent?

Compensation ranks as the top reason pilots leave jobs. Yet there is no direct correlation between the departments that have increased pay and pilots who have left.

The leaders that have increased pay since 2016 have done so because they lost one or more pilots. Or they are being proactive so that they do not lose valuable, trained pilots.

Thus, raising compensation enables aviation directors to compete with other aviation organizations—and the airlines. The moral of the story is that “pay” is a key driver for attracting qualified pilots.

One corporate director shared with me that he lost a pilot to a private flight department. The high-net-worth owner wooed him with a 25-percent increase in pay.

When deciding whether to stay or leave, many pilots are asking the question: “What’s in it for me?”

So, are you ready and able to answer that question?


If you’d like assistance, industry advice, and data, please check out the following posts on how to attract and retain talent:

How to Create a “Sticky” Work Culture in a “WIIFM” Environment

Bizav Experts Sound Off on Retaining Aviation Personnel

Why Your Bizav Organization May be Failing to Retain Key Players


Your turn

Where is your Part 91 department on the pilot compensation spectrum? Are you finding it hard to attract qualified talent that fits within your culture? In either case, we’d like to hear from you.



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