pilot aviation talent shortage

As any keen observer of the aviation industry would likely agree, change is our primary constant. Even in an industry like ours that’s forever in flux, 2016 has a very different vibe than in the past—even when compared to last year.

One of the greatest issues is the evaporating talent pool for aviation professionals. Our clients—the leaders of aviation departments—are describing an atmosphere of real concern regarding the hunt for talent.

In fact, their usual “go-to” network of aviation friends and family is rapidly drying up.

And its been widely published that the commercial aviation industry—where business aviation pilots and mechanics often build their flight hours and experience—is facing even more talent shortage issues.

Just two months ago, Time magazine reported on the crisis of dwindling pilots, citing the fact that “at present, the problem of pilot supply is endemic throughout the regional airline industry.”

Although we do not recruit for commercial aviation, I recently received a call from a regional airline recruiter. She was requesting advice regarding their pilot compensation strategy. In particular, she wanted to know if her salary offering was sufficiently competitive to potentially recruit from the business aviation industry.

When she shared her hourly pay schedule, I told her “absolutely not.” She then shared with me that some of their competitors are paying nearly double the salary this particular regional is offering.

This kind of imbalance creates a lot of disruption with aviation talent gravitating—understandably—to the regional airlines. After all, the regionals offer stability via contracts, set schedules and well-defined, long-term career opportunities with major carriers.

And it’s not just pilots. The shortage of aircraft maintenance professionals is even more acute.

Last year, Aviation International News featured an article in which the director of operations for Obadal, Filler, MacLeod and Klein (the firm that manages both ATEC and ARSA), noted that there’s evidence of a looming crisis in the maintenance workforce every day.

So, in such a tumultuous environment, an obvious question that arises is how aviation companies can prepare for a smooth succession when an upcoming opening—say a retirement, for example—will leave a gap in the staff.


Consider Your Timing—Start Now

The solution, we advise our aviation hiring managers, is straightforward: “Plan ahead.”

First off, they should be in regular communication with HR to keep them apprised of the timeline for the opening. And, as leaders, they should have an evolving plan for what their team should look like for the next 12 months.

As exaggerated as this may sound, our team here at API has heard from flight departments (both clients and non-clients) that it’s taking up to nine months to replace key talent.

That means aviation hiring managers should be prepared to engage the process earlier than usual.

And that process should look something like this:

  • Talk to your HR partner about timing
  • Write the job requisition and get it approved
  • Create the job description and make sure it’s ready to distribute
  •  Share the job description with your HR partner at the earliest possible time


Remember, there’s nothing wrong with initiating a candidate search while the employee who currently holds the position is still on the job. And this is doubly true if the employee’s eventual departure has already been announced.

After all, you don’t have a lot of time to waste.

Keep in mind that, when you lose an employee (for any number of reasons), it could be a minimum of three months until you hire someone new for the job. And then there’s the learning curve to account for—getting the new hire oriented and acclimated. Although it’s not always the case, it can take up to a year to return to a smoothly running department in the wake of a newly hired team member.

So, to re-emphasize, managing your bandwidth is critical to running a smooth team, department or operation.


A Special Note on Succession Planning and Relocation

I do want to focus on something I just mentioned above. And that’s the time you’ll need to devote to replace a key professional on your aviation team.

Let’s say, for example, that it’s May, and you’re planning a July retirement for a chief pilot, director of maintenance or aviation director. Then, let’s say that your tentative plan is to have their replacement on board by September.

Whether you plan to work with an outside recruiter or use insider resources, you’ll want to start now. And know that the process might not be as simple as in year’s past.

Yes, our market is extremely tight, but the other reason is that business aviation is very “relocation-reliant.”

Although it’s not unheard of, you simply can’t depend upon being able to hire a high-caliber professional from your local area. With API, nearly 70 percent of our placements involve relocating families—and most of them have school-age children.

It means that, from the potential new hire’s side of things, the timing needs to be ideal if he or she has to relocate their family.

A better plan, in the example above, would be to bring someone on board in the fourth quarter. This gives you an ample head start to acclimate your new employee to take over the reins when the current team member leaves. You’re also giving the new hire plenty of room to make all the necessary accommodations for finding housing, schools and all the other responsibilities that a move entails. They can also complete their pilot and/or maintenance training as needed, which often adds two to three weeks to your onboarding timeline.

Of course it’s a fact that the aviation talent shortage is affecting our industry in many different ways, but I hope you agree with me that the impact on timing is a critical one. Here at API, we’re working to help our clients minimize that impact every time it arises.


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