By: Brad Morrison
We are in a pretty incredible time in aviation right now. After years of slow hiring practices and low starting salaries, the airlines are faced with a choice — either find a way to hire more pilots, or be faced with having to park airplanes. Obviously, parking airplanes is not good for the company, or its patrons, so the airlines have opted to find a way to hire more pilots.
One such way is through increased compensation for newly hired First Officers. I can remember when I started in the industry (almost 18 years ago), airlines didn’t have to pay a considerably high amount for starting salaries because there was an abundance of qualified pilots available for hire. Now at the time of this article, airlines offer sign-on bonuses that are equal to, or even greater than, the starting salaries from as recent as 7-10 years ago. Couple that sign-on bonus with a significant increase in the rest of the compensation package, and now you’re looking at a first-year salary that’s nearly triple of what it used to be a decade ago. This has made it very attractive for people wanting to begin a career in the airlines.
But companies are doing more than just bumping up salaries. Would-be airline pilots have their choice as to which carrier they want to work for, so airlines need to be more competitive in other areas, such as quality of life enhancements for the pilot and faster captain promotion timetables. I recently heard a retired captain commenting on how exciting the industry is today, saying “Back when I was flying, it took me 15 years to upgrade to Captain, and now pilots are making the jump to the left seat in 2 years.” It’s incredible to think what a difference 5-10 years has made.
One way smaller regional airlines are thinking outside of the box is by getting more students into the hiring pipeline during their primary training, offering incentives like travel benefits and medical coverage while they build up enough flight hours to qualify for the airlines. Often referred to as a “Pipeline Program”, these regional airlines provide a seamless transition from Flight Instructor to Co-Pilot at the completion of building 1500 flight hours.
Larger airlines are also not immune to this pilot shortage and are developing additional ways to solve the demand for pilots. American Airlines, for example, has joined with a few select flight schools (American Flyers being one of them) in rolling out what they call the American Airlines Cadet Academy, where they provide a clear pathway from zero flight hours all the way up to flying as Captain for American once the pilot’s seniority accrues. The program is highly selective and is aimed at providing a steady flow of quality pilots for the airline for many years to come.
If your desire is to become an airline pilot, there are a few things you need to consider as you move along the pathway. The school that you choose plays a big part in helping you reach that goal. You need to make sure that you set a firm foundation, and that is more difficult now than ever. I can remember when I started my flight training pursuit nearly 20 years ago. The airlines were hiring at a much slower pace, which meant I had very experienced flight instructors conducting my training, so even though I was new to the industry, I was surrounded by instructors with an average of 4-5 years of teaching experience that knew how to handle every training situation. Based on their experience they knew exactly how to get me over the hurdles and plateaus that inevitably come with learning how to fly. However, now it’s a different environment. Flight schools are lucky if they’re able to keep instructors longer than twelve months, which is why American Flyers puts so much emphasis on initial and ongoing training with our CFI’s so that everyone teaches our students to the same high standard.
And that leads to the second thing you need to consider. Once you complete all your training as a student, one of the best ways to build flight hours toward the airline requirements is by becoming a flight instructor. There’s nothing more valuable as you prepare for the airlines, but where you instruct does make a difference. The knowledge and experience you gain as a flight instructor can be the greatest catalyst for helping you get that airline job, and American Flyers instructors are consistently recognized as top of their new-hire classes.
Whether you are early in your aviation journey or are now a CFI looking to build the hours and experience necessary for the airlines, we invite you to come to talk to us. Like the many students and instructors before you, we can help you along the path of becoming the airline pilot you’ve always dreamt of becoming.