Business Aviation Insider

February 1, 2018

Scrabble tiles: work, career, balance, family, life, pay.

Business aviation faces a critical staffing shortage, not only when it comes to attracting new talent, but in holding onto existing workers.

The airlines – which need to replace a generation of retiring pilots and recruit additional crewmembers to fly the hundreds of new airplanes they have purchased to accommodate anticipated strong demand for air travel – know that business aircraft pilots and other flight department team members are prime candidates to fill those positions.

Consequently, many people are moving from business aviation to commercial aviation, largely because the air carriers are offering what is perceived by many to be irresistibly generous compensation and benefits packages.

Ask What Your Employees Want

How can business aviation stem the outflow of talent?

It may seem simplistic, but some experts suggest that business aviation managers directly ask their team members what their aspirations and concerns are, then find constructive ways to deal with any misgivings about continuing a career in business aviation.

ramp crew

If money is the sole reason someone is considering jumping to the airlines, then many business aircraft operators may not be able to counter an air carrier’s lucrative offer. But if there are other reasons, managers might be able to address an employee’s concerns.

“The truth is that people don’t typically leave a comfortable situation,” said Jodie Brown, founder of business aviation executive search provider Summit Solutions. “Something must have occurred to uproot them from their comfort zone.”

According to Brown, feelings of career restlessness stem from two primary factors: conflicts with their boss or a superior, or simple boredom in their current job.

“We have a lot of smart people in this business,” said Brown. “When they reach the point of continual conflict, or lack of mental stimulation, it often leads to turmoil, and that, in turn, brings strife within the entire department. Birds eventually grow too big for the nest.”

More money is not a universal solution for most people. It’s about finding the right balance between quality-of-life concerns and the work we’ve chosen.

Margaret Vernet, Founder and President, Corporate Aviators Inc

Engagement with employees is key, contends Brown. Find out what employees are seeking most from their career in business aviation, she counsels.

“People don’t leave just for pay, unless it’s exorbitant,” she continued. “It behooves companies in our industry to look at why people may be leaving, and ask themselves what can be done to make their company environments so good – where employees feel appreciated and productive – that they want to stay.”

Five Tips to Retain Valued Employees

“More money is not a universal solution for most people,” says Margaret Vernet, founder and president of fleet staffing company Corporate Aviators, Inc. “It’s about finding the right balance between quality-of-life concerns and the work we’ve chosen within the industry we love. Find that sweet spot, and a company simply will not face continual staffing issues.”

Vernet offered the following five suggestions for companies to consider in providing a more attractive and engaging job environment for their employees:

  1. Establish Companywide Flight and Duty Guidelines: “No one likes being exhausted or overworked,” Vernet said. “Even companies that already have policies on flight time and duty time may only apply them to pilots.” Cabin crewmembers, maintenance technicians and schedulers/ dispatchers are also in safety-sensitive positions and deserve the same consideration as flight deck crews to be physically capable of responding appropriately.
  2. Maintain Scheduling/Dispatch Flexibility: While seniority is an important consideration and should yield some benefits for tenured workers, Vernet recommends that flight departments strive to more evenly assign long trips and short trips throughout the crew ranks. “Have a short-trip list and an extended-time list,” Vernet explained. “Rotate personnel between the two so that everyone shares the load, and no one feels shorted or slighted.”
  3. Use Supplemental Staffing: Few companies can afford to maintain a deep bench of pilots and other crewmembers to draw from to cover for employee illness, vacation and scheduled initial or recurrent training. The shortage of personnel “can also be as simple as having more flights on the schedule than anticipated,” Vernet said. “Rather than denying vacation or imposing a consistently overly burdensome workload, companies can establish a small roster of qualified fill-in pilots and crewmembers who are available to be called upon as needed.” These contract crewmembers can come from aviation staffing agencies or be hired directly by the company.
  4. Offer Tangible and Well-Defined Rewards for Longevity: “Without question, long-term employees should be made to feel appreciated,” Vernet said. “Companies should establish from the beginning that certain benefits will be available at key employment milestones.” That can be in the form of a pay increase or additional vacation, or by offering to assist in the employee’s professional development by covering the cost of transition training, getting type-rated in a new aircraft, achieving CAM certification, or taking advantage of other career-enhancing educational opportunities, such as attending NBAA Professional Development Program classes.
  5. Provide Loss-of-License Coverage: Pilots are often concerned with what may happen to their families if a medical event should result in loss of their FAA medical certification, making them unable to perform their job duties. “Offering short- or long-term insurance coverage as part of a full-time employment package shows pilots how much they are valued, and that the company has their back in the event of unforeseen circumstances,” Vernet said.

The truth is that airlines often seem to present the best of both worlds, conceded Vernet. “They pay well, and they offer a predictable schedule, which can be a big issue in our industry because the flexibility afforded by business aviation means its very nature is unpredictable. Even a business aircraft pilot with a schedule understands it’s always subject to change, which means the day you thought you had off might be when you have to fly a last-minute trip instead.”

two pilots

Pay Matters, but Quality of Life Matters More

Last year, NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee (BAMC) interviewed former industry personnel who left for the airlines to determine why they made that move. In addition, NBAA surveyed more than 1,600 pilots among its members to drill down on the various factors influencing their consideration of job opportunities outside the industry.

While it may seem obvious that increased pay would be at the top of the list of why someone would pursue other interests, it was not the only factor. The study revealed that a more predictable schedule was important, too.

Another concern expressed by survey respondents was a perceived lack of advancement opportunities.

“When your boss is just a few years older than you, it’s easy to figure out that your upward mobility may be limited,” said Jay Evans, CAM and NBAA director of professional development.

2 million new personnel + 600K Commercial pilots + 112K North America

No Silver Bullet

Given that it will be difficult for most business aviation employers to match airlines’ financial offers, business aircraft operators will need to create a working environment that makes team members feel appreciated and ensures an appropriate worklife balance. If business aviation employers can do this, then perhaps fewer business aviators will find an airline career as attractive.

This article originally appeared in the January/Feburary 2018 issue of Business Aviation Insider.