Sept. 16, 2021

The confluence of increased demand for business aviation services and a low supply of aircraft is placing new challenges on the industry, but with novel approaches to human resources, maintenance and operations, businesses will adapt to this new level of operations, concluded an expert panel during a recent edition of the NBAA News Hour: High Demand During Low Tide – Business Aviation’s Capacity Issues.

“The pandemic brought a significant number of people to business aviation who had the financial wherewithal to fly privately, but who chose up until 2020 just not to spend their money that way. This increase, depending on what statistics you like to use, has produced 25%, 35% or 40% more volume than we’ve seen in previous years,” said Flexjet CEO Michael Silvestro. “While we won’t see such frantic growth rates continue, we’re in for a new normal and we’re all in the business of getting our supply up to this new level of demand.”

Business aviation was already facing a shortage of qualified and trained workers before the COVID-19 pandemic, and this new pressure on capacity has exacerbated that challenge, said Jay Mesinger, president of Mesinger Jet Sales and sponsor of the webinar.

And, according to Sheryl Barden, CAM, president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, changing dynamics within the commercial airline sector will add to business aviation’s staffing issues.

“Many of business aviation’s talented pilots came out of regional carriers because they couldn’t get into the mainline carriers. But now, the pandemic has produced a lot of retirements at the airlines and as they come back, they are clamoring for talent. We just have not made enough pilots in the last 10 years, flight schools are at capacity and we all know we can’t make a 3,000-hour pilot overnight,” explained Barden, adding that this issue will only grow when corporate operators return to pre-pandemic operations.

The business aviation industry can adapt to this challenge by widening the talent pool to include younger, less experienced technicians and second-in-command pilots, said Barden. Higher compensation packages and retention bonuses may work for a time, too, but that will be unsustainable, so business aviation operators need to sell the quality of life and regular scheduling benefits of the sector to prospective employees, she added.

Maintenance facilities must also adapt to an environment where a larger fleet of business aircraft operating more flight hours will shorten inspection intervals, noted Standard Aero President Tony Brancato.

“There are important challenges we are all facing. At our 55 global sites, we are working with local schools around our facilities to educate students about the benefits of our industry and we are also going to military bases to recruit men and women either retiring from or leaving the military,” Brancato said. “We also have internal training programs that we’re very proud of that allows those coming out of the military or out of some other parts of the industry to get sufficient training hours to be able to go to the regulatory authorities wherever they might be located and take the tests that are required to get certifications.”

Increased operations also require a closer relationship between the maintenance facilities and their customers, added Brancato. Also, capacity constraints will only worsen when corporate flight departments return to full service.

This new level of activity across all sectors of the industry will require some introspection, said Silvestro.

“To balance growth with the necessary costs all while delivering great service will require some adjusting of expectations. In the fractional world, for instance, we guarantee a relatively new aircraft that’s maintained properly with a happy, qualified crew anywhere in the United States sometimes within as little as four to six hours,” he explained.

“That’s an incredibly high bar and I think the increased demand on business aviation and the importance of maintaining a safe environment require that some of our expectations might need to be more realistic.”