The answers may range from mentorships and internships to adjusting traditional minimum requirements and making sure your personnel know they are valued.
If we wait to talk to high school students, it’s too late. Duncan Aviation begins going into schools at the grade-school level.
Business aviation is finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain talent, in part because the airlines are offering what is perceived to be a better deal, and in part because of an overall decline in the number of people choosing aviation careers.
Why do some business aircraft pilots believe that the airlines are a better career choice? Why do maintenance technicians leave business aviation for positions in other industries? What strategies can business aviation utilize to counteract these trends?
Panelists at a Business Aviation Insider-sponsored education session titled “All Hands on Deck: Confronting the Personnel Shortage,” which was held during the 2017 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE), sought to answer these questions.
Why Are People Leaving Business Aviation?
NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee recently conducted a pilot workforce retention study, which involved interviewing former business aircraft pilots who have departed the industry for the airlines. The goal of the study was to better understand why these aviators are leaving business aviation.
“Airlines are targeting business aviation pilots because they’re of known quality,” said Chris Broyhill, vice president of consulting, Mente Group, LLC, who has analyzed the study data. “According to the study results, predictability of schedule is the number one reason why people transition from business aviation to the airlines.” Additionally, the study found pilots leave business aviation for the airlines for higher compensation, better retirement benefits and perceived job stability.
Bill Prochazka, chief operating officer of Duncan Aviation’s Provo, UT, base, is responsible for staffing the maintenance repair organization’s newest major facility. He noted that technicians sometimes leave business aviation for opportunities outside of aviation, including jobs in the amusement park industry. That industry needs people skilled in hydraulics, electromechanical control systems and structures – basically an A&P skill set. The pay and benefits may not be as good, but some enjoy the predictable schedule.
Challenging the Perceptions
Are these perceived advantages of the airlines and other industries – higher compensation, better quality of life and job stability – valid? And will these perceived benefits last? While U.S. airlines are hiring now, history shows that in economic downturns, carriers often furlough thousands of pilots.
According to Jay Orwin, director of aviation for Masco, business aviation offers advantages over the airlines that are not often highlighted.
“We aren’t educating folks in our industry enough about business aviation,” declared Orwin. “As an industry, we need to articulate our own value proposition. We offer a great quality of life. Can we do better? Yes. Are there areas we need to address? Absolutely.”
For example, Orwin doesn’t believe that airline jobs offer a superior quality of life, as air carrier pilots are typically on the road more days per year than the average business aviation pilot, if you count assigned duty days and commuting to and from their bases.
Business aviation pilots also typically fly state-of-the-art aircraft with advanced avionics, compared to the older equipment that newly minted regional airline pilots fly.
These conditions add up to a perceived better value proposition than the airlines, says Orwin, but it seems the positive aspects of a business aviation career are not always promoted.
NBAA’s Personnel Resources
NBAA encourages its members to be part of the solution to business aviation’s hiring issues. The association provides a number of resources for members to conduct outreach to young people and develop internship and mentorship programs in order to meet current and future hiring needs. They include:
Countering the Trends
How can business aviation compete with the airlines and other industries?
Orwin recommends “reverse networking” – that is, promoting business aviation careers among students in colleges, high schools, trade schools and even elementary schools. “Letting young people know what our industry can provide is critical,” he said.
Business aircraft operators can establish a mentorship or internship program by partnering with area aviation colleges, technical schools and universities. They also can host outreach days, inviting elementary, middle school and high school students and community groups to visit the hangar and observe daily operations.
Prochazka warned, however, “If we wait to talk to high school students, it’s too late. Duncan begins going into schools at the grade-school level.”
Business aviation managers also need to educate their company executives and human resources personnel on the nature of today’s aviation personnel market, so that they understand the need to be aggressive in retention efforts, says Daniel A. Wolfe, associate vice president and general manager of aviation for Nationwide Aviation Business Center.
Wolfe has been a champion of mentorship and internship programs in flight departments. Nationwide’s internship program targets students interested in becoming pilots, maintenance technicians or other business aviation professionals. His flight department also hosts “walkabouts” for prospective maintenance technicians, which are essentially half-day job-shadowing programs.
Individuals unfamiliar with the strong demand for qualified aviation personnel might not understand the time and investment needed to recruit and train new people, especially in the current market, or the difficulty of finding people that meet company standards. In many cases, it costs less to retain qualified people that it does to find new people to replace them.
Aviation managers should talk to key management and human resources decision-makers about trying to meet job candidates’ salary expectations and addressing their quality-of-life concerns. Flight department leaders are also encouraged to establish work schedules that include pre-determined days off. In addition, aviation managers should consider the possibility of cross-training pilots to enhance scheduling flexibility.
Why Pilots Are Leaving for the Airlines
According to a recent NBAA workforce retention study, the top reasons why some aviators are leaving business aviation for the airlines are:
- Predictability of Schedule
- Retirement Benefits
- Job Stability
Lower Minimums and Emphasizing Employee Value
Another strategy to increasing the ranks of business aviation pilots is to consider lowering minimum hourly requirements for high-quality new hires, but providing these recruits with enhanced training within the company’s safety culture.
“We need to re-think hiring standards, and we might need to consider pilots with less experience, then mentor them until they have more experience,” said Orwin.
Orwin shared an example of a 700-hour pilot who was hired at Masco and has been paired with a 30-year veteran of their organization with tens of thousands of flight hours. This process has been successful partly because Orwin’s organization has strong standard operating procedures, which set clear expectations and provide detailed guidance for pilots, and because his flight department structures the mentorship process to enable increasing levels of responsibility for the new hire. Nationwide’s Wolfe has used a similar strategy to hire new pilots.
Business aviation personnel, like all workers, need to know they are valued. Contrast a business aviation pilot’s direct contribution to their company, versus the airlines’ method of counting personnel – literally by number – seniority number. Aviation managers would do well to recognize the unique talents of each individual on their team and reinforce their value to the organization.
“We have to motivate people to stay in business aviation, and to do that, we have to convince people that their job matters,” says Broyhill. “Business aviation pilots are making a direct impact on the success of their businesses, and pilots who believe they matter to the company are more likely to stay in business aviation.”
Wolfe encourages other business aviation leaders to make sure their personnel understand and appreciate their role in the company.
“It’s a leadership issue – you have to value your people and support them,” said Wolfe, who chairs the Business Aviation Management Committee’s Professional Development Subcommittee. “Let people work to their strengths.”
Experts also emphasize the need to lay out a career path to keep business aviation personnel motivated, noting that the airlines have a clear path for advancement that is easily understood and is often cited as a reason for joining the commercial carriers.
Personnel Recruitment and Retention Strategies
- Develop a value proposition that promotes business aviation careers.
- “Reverse network” with local schools and clubs—starting as young as elementary school age.
- Educate key company decisionmakers on aviation salary and quality-of-life issues.
- Lower your company minimums safely by establishing mentorship and initial operating experience programs.
- Show pilots and technicians that you value them, and provide a clear career path for advancement.
Feasibility of the Strategies
Developing internship and mentoring programs, educating key decision-makers and making sure your personnel know they are valued are internal processes that require effort and commitment from business aviation managers and their parent organizations.
Other strategies require more than just internal support. For example, lowering your minimum flight hours for pilots might require additional buy-in from third parties. Will insurance companies permit operators to hire low-time pilots and pair them with more experienced pilots?
Jon Riemenschneider, vice president and underwriting manager at Global Aerospace, says his company has minimum requirements in place, but he is “not in the business of telling flight departments how to run their business. If you have a good plan in place to bring up less experienced pilots, we can usually work with that.”
Flight hour minimums are not typically in insurance contracts, added Riemenschneider. Insurance providers may have suggested minimums – typically for jet, mixed fleet or commercial operators – but they are not set in stone.
If an operator has a safety management system, is International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) registered, or has a well-structured mentoring and operational experience program for new hires, these factors will help insurance underwriters accept pilots with less than the traditional minimum number of flight hours.
Some audit standards, particularly for Part 135 commercial operators, set minimum flight hours for pilots in order to qualify for the audit accreditation. These standards may need to be revisited, too.
“In the past, experience has been numerically focused,” said Riemenschneider. “We need to consider the quality of the training and experience. The numbers don’t tell the whole story.”
Regardless of which strategies business aircraft operators employ to attract and retain qualified personnel, it’s clear that the industry, as a whole, needs to make a concerted effort to ensure that there will be enough talent, both today and tomorrow.
“All business aviation professionals need to be part of the solution,” said Wolfe. “We can’t wait for someone else to do it.”
This article originally appeared in the January/Feburary 2018 issue of Business Aviation Insider.