Business Aviation Insider

The employment landscape is changing, so business aviation must adapt to ensure an ample supply of qualified talent.

Is a Staffing Shortage Looming?

Sept. 5, 2016

Projected global airline industry growth, combined with competition from other industries, means that business aviation faces increasing pressure to attract and retain the number of quality employees that it needs to meet demand.

The good news is, there’s still time to implement strategies that will help flight departments compete with other employers. Even better news: NBAA and others in business aviation are hard at work on those strategies.

“We are definitely starting to see what I’ve been calling for the last four to five years, ‘The Perfect Storm,’” says Sheryl Barden, president of San Francisco, CA-based Aviation Personnel International, which provides recruiting and staffing support for business aircraft operators. Barden is a member of NBAA’s Associate Member Advisory Council.

We’re seeing a lot of articles about a pilot shortage, but these issues affect more than the flight deck.

GEORGE KYTHREOTIS Vice President and General Manager, Jet Professionals

Among the converging factors is a sustained increase in airline traffic, which is driving expansion for many commercial carriers. This, combined with lower overall unemployment in key markets, notably the U.S., is making it challenging to fill many business aviation positions, from vacancies in the cockpit to open seats in the flight department office.

“We’re seeing a lot of articles about a pilot shortage, but these issues affect more than the flight deck,” says George Kythreotis, vice president and general manager of Jet Professionals, the Teterboro, NJ, firm that provides business aviation staffing services. “Have we hit critical mass for business aviation? No, not yet. You see what is happening with the airlines, but today, there are still business pilots available out there. The supply and demand may not be equal, but they are close.”

Worries over looming business aircraft pilot shortages are not new. In the past, macroeconomic shifts – normally an economic downturn that led airlines to reduce flying and thin their pilot ranks – have helped alleviate the threat. But some believe that a few recent fundamental shifts in the airline world will make any future business aviation personnel shortage more challenging to offset.

A major factor affecting the overall aviator pool is the number of airline pilots reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. An InterVistas analysis concluded that some 14,200 pilots at the big four U.S. carriers – American, Delta, Southwest and United – will be forced to leave the cockpit between 2015 and 2022. That figure represents about 20 percent of the total number of airline pilots employed in the U.S. at the start of 2014, according to a 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the U.S. aviation workforce.

In addition, new FAA rules have raised minimum experience requirements for first officers at airlines. This, combined with what many see as low wages for entry-level pilots, could dampen general interest in flying as a career, as would-be aviators balk at putting in the extra time they need to land a job with an airline. This puts pressure on the existing pilot pool, including business aircraft pilots, as airlines work to meet demand.

The Regional Airline Association says its members sought to hire 5,000 pilots in 2015 to replace those moving up to mainline operators or leaving the airline industry. But a shortage of quality candidates – in part because of the aforementioned, more stringent regulatory requirements for commercial pilots – meant that only 3,000 positions were filled. Among the ramifications: regional operators parking aircraft and reducing flying.

Before, you’d post a job and you’d be flooded with quality resumes in no time. Today, the resumes are still coming in, but there is less potential in those candidates.

SHERYL BARDEN, President, Aviation Personnel International

The regional airlines’ experience underscores the GAO study’s findings. “Evidence suggests that the supply pipeline is changing as fewer students enter and complete collegiate pilot-training programs and fewer military pilots are available than in the past,” the study noted. While the GAO report focused primarily on the U.S. airline industry, NBAA was among the industry groups that weighed in – a testament to how the market for airline pilots affects the pool of business aviators.

Meanwhile, airlines are growing at a steady clip. International Air Transport Association data show that 2015’s global demand upturn, measured in revenue passenger kilometers, was 6.5 percent above 2014 – the biggest annual increase in five years. While it may not continue at that pace, forecasters do not see a major downturn coming, and neither do Airbus and Boeing, both of which are producing record numbers of aircraft annually, and have plans to ramp up production even more.

“If growth patterns continue, and the amount of deliveries forecasted is realized, we’re going to have concerns in the next 24 to 48 months,” Kythreotis said. “But not at the moment.”


While open positions in business aviation are still being filled, other changes are taking place in the market.

Barden says that while her firm continues to maintain a deep pool of candidates, companies looking to fill positions are seeing fewer quality applicants. “Before, you’d post a job and you’d be flooded with quality resumes in no time,” she says. “Today, the resumes are still coming in, but there is less potential in those candidates.”

An even more notable change is the types of jobs being offered. Kythreotis says that more companies are moving to supplemental or contract crew – part-time workers – to meet their staffing requirements.

‘There has been a real shift over the last three years or so from fixed human capital assets to variable assets,” says Kythreotis. The trend is most evident in the Part 91 world, but he’s seen it in the Part 135 segment, too.

Couple this with the current stability in the airline world, and it’s easy to see why skilled business aviation talent would seek jobs among the commercial carriers. U.S. airlines added nearly 26,000 jobs from January 2010 through the first quarter of 2016, according to the Airlines for America trade group.

“A few years ago, the airlines weren’t hiring,” Barden says. “The airline business has always been cyclical, but right now, it looks pretty darn positive.”

Part of the attraction is the union-influenced culture, which provides “a very defined path and a very defined compensation plan,” particularly for pilots, she adds.


Business aviation leaders recognize that they must step up their game to ensure they are attracting – and retaining – the best possible candidates. NBAA has several current or planned initiatives that focus on workforce development (see below).

In addition, Barden believes that flight departments have an opportunity to raise their profiles, both internally and externally, to underscore both their importance and business aviation’s appeal as a career choice.

“Changes in this area have to come from within, and in different ways,” says Barden. “Part 91 organizations need to sell up – to company leadership and internal customers – the value that the entire aviation department brings. Shine a light on that, and educate people, and help our host organizations really understand what they might need in order to keep them competitive.”

Barden says the first step is to evaluate where a company’s CEO and other key executives stand on the aviation’s department’s worth. The second question: is the department doing all it can to influence these views by establishing its worth?

Among the ways to quantify value is to establish benchmarks and track both internal and external metrics. Such efforts pay off. Barden says one major company was losing employees to airlines at an alarming clip. The aviation department chief made changes to create both a more attractive workplace, and to give the department more visibility within the company. Employee retention improved.

“Initiating changes like these is the responsibility of the head of the aviation department,” said Barden. “If we don’t start thinking about things differently, the challenge of keeping our talent within our industry is only going to become more difficult.”

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Attracting and retaining enough maintenance technicians is a broad industry concern. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at the issue in a 2014 study. While a shortage was not found, the threat of one was detected.

Employers the GAO interviewed “remain concerned about future needs,” said the study, which also found that “most of these employers had some challenges hiring personnel with the skills employers were seeking at the wage they offered.”

Maintenance workers with airframe and powerplant certifi cates are not just desirable in aviation; the skills they have can be useful in many other industries.

One emerging trend, said George Kythreotis, vice president and general manager of Jet Professionals, is aviation maintenance technicians taking jobs at high-end amusement parks. Keeping revenue-generating rides going does not necessarily pay more than keeping aircraft fl ying, but the stability, quality of life and predictable schedule are appealing.

“Big amusement parks don’t often go out of business,” Kythreotis noted, “and you never have to leave your home base to repair an out-of-commission roller coaster.”


Competition for quality employees from elsewhere in aerospace and among other industries present challenges for business aviation, but there are opportunities as well.

Flight departments becoming more visible within their own organizations is one example. Demonstratin the value that an aviation operation brings to an organization is one way to attract needed resources including support for employee-development programs.

Recognizing this, NBAA is ramping up its efforts to support members in developing internship, mentorshi and related programs. The goal: help business aviation elevate its visibility at the grassroots level where future employees are starting to ponder their career options.

“Business aviation is often somewhat low-profile,” says Peter Korns, NBAA manager of operations. Korn contrasts this with the airlines, which have a clear presence, not only in the skies and on airpor tarmacs, but also on high school and college campuses. “Students and young professionals know th airlines. They’re being actively recruited by them at career fairs and industry events. Busines aviation needs to match those efforts.”

NBAA is bolstering its work to support business aviation careers. Long-time efforts in this area includ scholarship programs that help students further their aviation education.


Another major outreach effort is NBAA’s Careers in Business Aviation Day. Held each year on the Thursday of NBAA’s annual Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (BACE), the event focuses on exposing students to business aviation and connecting them with leaders and professionals to gain an awareness of the numerous career opportunities available in the industry.

“We open our [convention] doors wide to middle school, high school and college students,” Korns says. “They can attend free of charge, and we have speakers and programs tailored specifically to help inspire them to consider business aviation as a career. ”

This year’s BACE Career Day is Nov. 3 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. The 2015 event in Las Vegas drew some 900 students.


NBAA is working on additional programs and resources tailored to helping organizations boost mentorship, recruitment and career-development efforts. As one example, the association recently released its Internship and Career Guide.

Available free on NBAA’s website, the guide provides instruction on how companies, collegiate aviation degree programs, regional business aviation associations and government entities can work together to build a business aviation career program to support the next generation of industry leaders. The guide outlines a four-step process to starting a program, and offers templates to help set qualifications for desirable candidates, and what interns can do once selected.

“NBAA stands in a position to be a leader in helping our members and companies further invest in their future, and the future of our industry’s workforce,” Korns says. “Business aviation’s success is built in part on professional relationships, and we will continue to make our industry strong by educating and sharing our experiences with the next generation.”

Future efforts that NBAA will work on include mentorship program guidance and assistance. The aim here is to link business aviation professionals with aspiring students, with an eye toward attracting the bright, young talent that the industry needs to grow.

“Whenever I’m out talking to students, their first questions are always, ‘How can I learn more? How can I get involved? How can I connect with somebody?’” Korns says. “Collectively, it’s in our best interest to help answer those questions.”


While some see greener pastures outside of business aviation, many workers faced with shifting job prospects are embracing new opportunities.

“The business aviator is thinking differently about how employment is defined,” says George Kythreotis, vice president and general manager of Jet Professionals. “Can crewmembers support their families by solely engaging in contract work? Several years ago, the answer may have been no. Today, the answer is yes.”

And, Kythreotis adds, integrating full-time wages with part-time work isn’t necessarily viewed as “settling.” “It has benefits over working at a business flight department that might fold in 36 months,” Kythreotis says. “A pilot surveys the situation and thinks, ‘I’ll have work from eight or 10 different companies, and I can choose whether or not to accept assignments.’”