Acknowledging the migration of business aviation pilots to the airlines, aircraft management provider and jet card provider Jet Linx has taken an "if you can't beat them, join them" approach. The company recently announced a formal pilot pipeline agreement with Southwest Airlines, flight-training provider CAE, and other stakeholders, such as fellow Part 135 operator XOJet. Other partners include Bell Murray Aviation, U.S. Aviation, iAero Group's Swift Air, Arizona State University, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, University of Nebraska, and the University of Oklahoma.
Called Destination 225° (for the southwest heading on a compass rose), the program will take trainee pilots through their FAA certification and then funnel them into Jet Linx's and XOJet's programs, where they will gain a minimum three years of cockpit experience. After that, they will receive preferential positioning in Southwest’s hiring queue if they desire. During the journey, they will receive mentorship from the airline.
"The program represents a career lifecycle solution for pilots, facilitating entry into the aviation industry and providing opportunities for pilots to elevate and extend their careers," said Jet Linx president and CEO Jamie Walker, adding it is open to collegiate aviation institutions, the military, and other smaller aviation companies. "Participating Destination 225° organizations will be able to offer their most talented pilots the opportunity to move from one organization to the next without having to leave the program."
Path to the Airlines
Like most in business aviation, Jet Linx has experienced churn among its pilot ranks, with a 30 percent attrition rate. “The large majority of that attrition is going toward the airlines,” Walker told AIN. “So rather than leave it to the pilots to figure that career path out, we want to help them with that. If they do have a desire past [Part] 135 and they want to go towards [Part] 121, we actually want to partner with an organization like Southwest, which can make a clearly identified path for them.”
Jet Linx expects to receive the first pilots from the program by next year, but in the meantime, the aircraft management provider has made it immediately available to its current staff. "They could obviously leave today for any of the major airlines should they get recruited," Walker said. "Now we're just offering them a clear path to Southwest to take that step and help them with that transition."
Walker noted that, unlike other smaller operators, his company has not yet encountered any significant problems in filling its flight-deck seats, and he believes participation in this program could help attract pilot talent. "This is definitely a preventive step to ensure that our clients and our company don't experience the difficulty of the pilot shortage in the future," he said. "We're taking steps like this to ensure that we don't feel that shortage by differentiating ourselves from the other Part 135 operators in the industry."
"We're proud to partner with Jet Linx in this comprehensive pilot development mission designed to make a pathway to becoming a Southwest pilot an attainable goal for passionate, qualified individuals," said Alan Kasher, the airline's v-p of flight operations. "Pilots in the Destination 225° pathways will receive training customized to Southwest from our partners and will be held to the competitive hiring requirements for future first officer positions."
According to Walker, the organizations will work to establish a degree of commonality in their training where possible. An additional part of the program will be an ab-initio training program that CAE will administer in cooperation with Argus International. CAE will screen, assess and train candidates selected by the airline. As an alternative to the Part 135 pathway, which allows pilots to earn their experience in the cockpits of modern business jets, newly-minted aviators can also earn their ATP rating by accumulating 1,500 hours as a flight instructor at CAE's Phoenix facility. Over the next decade, CAE expects to train more than 700 new professional pilots as part of the program.
There will be no forced movement through the pipeline, and Walker expects some Destination 225° participants who pass through private aviation might decide that airlines aren't to their liking and return. Likewise, pilots who age out of the airlines will be welcomed at the Part 135 carriers through the program.