As airlines become more aggressive in hiring experienced pilots, the available pool of qualified pilots has tightened considerably for business aviation operators, industry leaders agreed. “Looking out into the marketplace, it is really, really challenging for us,” Don Haloburdo, vice president and general manager for Jet Aviation, told attendees at Aeropodium’s U.S. Corporate Aviation Summit on November 17 in Washington, D.C.
Haloburdo described the challenges management firms face in hiring a crew for clients and how, in the current climate, “sticker shock” has set in. Many prospective owners, when gathering information on costs of ownership, are receiving information that is 24 months to 36 months behind current trends, he said.
These owners, who are spending millions on high-end equipment, come to firms such as Jet Aviation wanting the best-qualified pilots. But, Haloburdo noted, those pilots all have jobs. This puts the management firm in the position of recruiting pilots who are already employed. A pilot might earn a salary of between $245,000 and $265,000 to fly a Gulfstream G650 or Bombardier Global 6000. To get them on board with a new client, the salary may need to go up to $300,000.
For a large aircraft, an owner might need as many as four pilots to provide the quality of life that the new generation of pilots expects. Add in a flight attendant and maintenance technician, and an owner may be $1.8 million into costs of ownership before even putting any fuel in the aircraft, he said.
Complicating matters is airline recruitment. For the first time in his career, Haloburdo said he is seeing pilots leave corporate aviation to return to the airlines. He cited one instance where a pilot flying a Global 6000, making $250,000 a year and flying about 10 to 15 hours a month, returned to American Airlines “as if he never left” with full-time credit. “That’s really tough to compete with,” Haloburdo said. “There’s not a shortage of pilots that have a license—there’s a shortage of people that have requisite qualifications.”
At the other end of the market, Ben Hamilton, CEO of charter operator ImagineAir, called the shortage of available pilots “one of our biggest constraints.” ImagineAir, which flies short-range trips using a fleet of Cirrus SR22 piston singles, is looking at adding operations on the East Coast in part to tap into additional pilot pools.
“There are pilots out there, but they don’t use their certificates,” Hamilton said during the summit. “This is one of the biggest challenges to our model.”
ImagineAir, which seeks pilots with a minimum of 1,200 hours, has looked a variety of means to attract qualified pilots. One involves hiring career-path pilots, who have 1,200 hours but need the 300 additional to make the jump to the airlines. Those pilots might gain time for about a year and then make the leap. The second means is to recruit non-career pilots who have other jobs. A third option has become airline retirees who still want to fly, with Hamilton noting that retiring baby boomers might present an opportunity.