Jan. 25, 2019

One key challenge facing the business aviation industry – how to attract pilots and retain them – was again front and center at a recent day-long meeting attended by a diverse group of experts and a number of NBAA committee leaders and staff. The pilot issue is part of NBAA’s overall focus on workforce development concerns specific to business aviation.

“NBAA is committed to exploring creative strategies and new approaches to addressing industry problems,” said Jo Damato, CAM, NBAA vice president, educational strategy and workforce development. “At this latest meeting, experts from the tax, legal and insurance worlds were invited to share their insights with us – from their perspective outside our industry – to the concern, unique to business aviation, of attracting and retaining pilots.”

The many flight departments that understand the importance of quality-of-life concerns and have a supportive company culture – and thereby have attracted a certain kind of pilot to their ranks – still need to pay close attention to compensation, warned NBAA Board member Sheryl Barden, president of Aviation Personnel International. “With the unprecedented demand for pilots, companies will have to pay their pilots well to keep them. You can’t move the needle in your own operations if you are not willing to address the compensation issue.”

Nick Davis, a Massachusetts-based financial advisor with Edward Jones who spent eight years in business aviation for a Fortune 10 company, discussed the importance of ample compensation, but cautioned that retaining pilots is not just a compensation issue: “Does everybody at your flight departments feel like they are part of a team? Building a company culture is so important. Surrounding yourself with the right people is also crucial,” he said.

Attorney Gina Wilson reminded attendees that although fair compensation is important, offering a reasonable work/life balance also is essential. “Quality of life is a key component, and people need to know they have stability when times get rough,” said Wilson.

NBAA committee leaders at the meeting were in agreement that business aviation is in a “watershed moment” regarding attracting and retaining pilots to the industry, and that immediate action is needed. The meeting was a crucial first step in developing a strategy to finding creative solutions to the pilot compensation issue, attendees noted. “We’ve got to wrap our heads around compensation,” Barden said.

“This problem is still being defined,” added Jad Donaldson, chairman of NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee. “But I don’t know that we’ve yet been able to move the pendulum, and part of that is because there are so many differences between the ways flight departments operate. We need different solutions because no one size fits all.”