Competition for qualified pilots is as fierce as ever, with one regional airline petitioning Congress this year to cut in half the currently mandated 1,500-hour hiring requirement for commercial airline pilots in order to expand the pool of available candidates. The ongoing hiring crunch has also led some business aircraft operators to similarly hire candidates with less flying time than traditional minimums.
Lower-time pilots can offer much more to the operation than simply filling a seat on the flight deck. “They can bring new energy and enthusiasm to your organization,” said Jeffrey Poeppelman, chief pilot at NABC and member of NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Council (BAMC). “It can also benefit your existing staff because you’re getting into a teaching environment. There’s nothing better to sharpen your own skills than when you’re teaching someone.”
Fellow BAMC member William Riter, aviation manager for Rich Products, noted that his flight department hired lower-time pilots prior to the current crisis. “We wanted to not only hire future captains, but to also give someone an opportunity to grow in the industry,” he said. “We saw an opportunity to bring on pilots who also displayed skills you look for when building a future leader.”
As with any pilot hire, the candidate should display a safety mindset, a professional attitude, attention to detail and a willingness to learn. It’s also important for both sides to be open and honest about their intentions up front during the interview process.
“We wanted to not only hire future captains, but to also give someone an opportunity to grow in the industry.”
WILLIAM RITER Aviation Manager, Rich Products
“Particularly with lower-time pilots, you really need to figure out their goals and career aspirations,” Poeppelman said. “In business aviation, you may not be flying 1,000 hours a year, which may be an issue for someone looking to build time as quickly as possible.”
“It’s not only a question of fitness, but also fit,” said Gray Stone Advisors Founder and Principal Jim Lara. “A lower-time pilot needs to understand your vision as a company, and your vision for their path in the company. Your organization must have the capability and capacity to help them develop.”
Finding the Right Candidate
For Poeppelman, the first step when considering a lower-time pilot is to examine where they underwent primary training and how they’ve advanced while building time and earning new ratings.
“What does their experience look like?” he said. “Have they earned an SIC type rating or instructed at a simulator-based training center? That’s valuable experience; building time doing pattern work as a flight instructor isn’t as relevant anymore.”
Consideration for lower-time pilots may also bring new opportunities for younger candidates still filling their logbook pages, but who otherwise possess all the skills and talent necessary to be successful.
“It’s not only a question of fitness, but also fit. A lower-time pilot needs to understand your vision as a company, and your vision for their path in the company.”
JIM LARA founder and principal, Gray Stone Advisors
“Lowering the required total flight time allowed us to expand our scope to include more candidates from diverse backgrounds who might not have had the opportunity to build much flight time,” said BAMC member Brad Self, CAM, and chief pilot with VF Corp. “It has definitely worked to our benefit.”
Self initiated the conversation to hire a lower-time pilot for his flight operation earlier this year. “We were either going to hire a new captain, or someone with 1,500 hours to start off as a second-in-command,” he said. “We agreed as a group to hire a lower-time pilot who could then learn from our more experienced pilots.”
Of the approximately 30 candidates who applied for the pilot position at VF Corp., one set themself apart.
“She had a little over 2,300 flight hours, with helicopter and commercial glider ratings and time in [turbine aircraft] and had graduated with a four-year degree in two and a half years,” said Self. “She also interviewed really well, including dealing with challenging hypothetical emergencies, and she displayed a lot of confidence, but no arrogance.”
A Collaborative Process
Integrating a lower-time hire into a flight operation requires “complete engagement by the rest of your team,” Riter said. “Make sure you have a plan for their ongoing training and development, not just for putting them in the right seat. You can be flexible with it, as long as they meet those established benchmarks.”
Above all, “you must make sure it’s the right fit for both sides: for the company and for the individual,” he added.
“The onboarding and indoc process for all new hires must be thorough and customized to the individual, because everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences,” Poeppelman said. “You should map that out with lower-time pilots, in particular, and provide clarity on your expectations, not only to the newly hired pilot, but also to your existing staff.”
“The onboarding and indoc process for all new hires must be thorough and customized to the individual, because everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences.”
JEFFERY POEPPELMAN Chief Pilot, NABC
Self also emphasized the need for collaboration in that process. “I wasn’t going to lower our total-time requirement without the buy-in from my entire flight department,” he said. “Managers must ultimately make the decision as the leader, but the staff needs to be in agreement, and everybody must be comfortable with bringing on somebody with lower flight time.”
Lara urged operators to pay “very close attention” to onboarding a lower-time pilot.
“Assign a mentor if at all possible for the first 12-18 months, and when they go to simulator-based training, train as a crew. Provide them with all ground school study materials well in advance if this will be their first type rating, so they can be highly knowledgeable before going to class and the sim.”
Consider Potential Risks as Well
While hiring lower-time pilots can offer many benefits, Riter noted it may also carry unforeseen ramifications across several aspects of a flight department’s operations.
“Bringing on a less-experienced pilot requires additional training, and we currently face limited availability of training resources,” he said, “which leads to taking on more of those requirements internally, which in turn could affect your insurance. You may have just taken on increased liability.”
Attrition is also a concern for business aircraft operators, particularly when weighed against incentives offered by other segments of aviation.
“Flight operations want longevity,” Riter continued. “When you’re hiring someone at the beginning stages of their career, you’re helping them build skills that they may then take to another employer. You need to encourage them to stick with your flight operation, even after they have more experience.”
“I wasn’t going to lower our total-time requirement without the buy-in from my entire flight department… everybody must be comfortable with bringing on somebody with lower flight time.”
BRAD SELF CAM, Chief Pilot, VF Corp.
It’s difficult for business aviation to match the high salaries and benefits being offered by the airlines right now, but business aviation does offer many advantages, Self noted. “So, as leaders, we must create an environment where the new hire knows they are valued and an essential part of the team.”
Lara also emphasized dialogue and understanding as keys to ensuring that lower-time pilots will want to stay with the operation when other opportunities call.
“This is a partnership,” explained Lara. “‘We will provide you the opportunity if you provide the initiative.” The employer must define the direction for the individual, and both sides must buy into the culture if you want to build commitment.
“And it can’t be BS or corporate-speak. It must be real,” Lara added. “If we truly want a thriving business aviation sector, we must develop the next two or three generations. Aviation isn’t an individual sport; at the end of the day, we are assessed by who we have influenced in a positive and upbuilding way.”
“It all comes back around to finding the right people,” Poeppelman concluded. “If you can identify talent early in their career, someone who has the right demeanor and ability to grow and develop as a professional, I think they’re definitely worth the investment.”
Review NBAA’s personnel management resources at nbaa.org/personnel.