Pilot shortage, consolidation, aircraft threaten 200+ communities with loss of service

By Kathryn B. Creedy

A lot of focus has been placed on the so-called 1,500-hour rule requiring regional airline pilots have a minimum of 1,500 hours before taking the right seat of a commercial aircraft. Obviously, it has created the pilot shortage we have now and threatens to ground 1500 aircraft in the regional airline fleet, according to industry.

Little coverage, however, has been devoted to what that means to the towns that have lost or are about to lose service because airlines don’t have enough pilots. In 2016, then American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) Chair Jeff Muldar said 30 communities lost air service since the 2013 implementation of the 1500-hour rule. He said another 86 lost 10% or more of their service including such major markets as Cleveland, Memphis, Louisville and numerous state capitols.

Fast forward a single year and InterVistas Consulting President Deborah Meehan reported the number has risen to nearly 50 communities. Perhaps a more daunting number is a comparison to how many communities have been lost since the 1990s. Regionals once served more than 800 communities, some of which were the bread and butter of the regional airline industry. Today that number is less than 400.  More telling still, she said 168 US airports rely on aircraft less than 19 seats, 69 of which are in lower 48. Another measure of losses is the fact regionals used to provide over 50% of all passenger lift but today that number is down to 44%.

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Source: Regional Air Service Alliance (RASA)

The risk of increasing losses was put into high relief by Meehan who briefed Regional Air Cargo Carrier Conference attendees in April about her organization Regional Air Service Alliance .

“In 2015, the economic impact of small community air service was conservatively estimated at $121 billion,” she said, discussing the importance of air service to the economy of these communities. “That supports 1.1 million jobs and $36.1 billion in direct economic activity. Small communities are losing service at five times the rate of large hub airports.”

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Source: RASA
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Source: RASA There are more than 350 small communities, of which 64 are small hubs, 105 EAS points and 186 non hubs. Together they field 4,000 daily flights and more than 300,000 seats. Tellingly, the average distance to a medium or large hub is between 125 to 200 miles. That is a lot of windshield time. Equally telling is the average seats per departures which shows that frequencies are far lower than they once were.

Industry trends conspire against community air service

Interestingly, she pointed to three reasons for the loss of community air service adding airline consolidation and the lack of a suitable aircraft for community air service.

“Failing to resolve these issues will undermine the economic development efforts in 200 small and rural communities,” she told RACCA attendees. “That means that regulatory change is necessary and we need to focus on increasing the pilot supply and the development of small turboprop that can economically serve small communities for them to remain economically relevant. We are in real jeopardy of being regulated out of business.”

The problem, however, is a matter of time. Even if the rule were overturned tomorrow, it would take three to five years before the industry sees these new pilots. This, at a time when fully 42% of pilots from the big five airlines will be retired by 2026, less than a decade away, according to Cowen Research analysts.

Meehan noted the number of the losses between 2014 and 2016 were mitigated because lost frequencies were replaced by larger aircraft minimizing seat loss. However, we have reached a tipping point today because new larger RJ orders are few and the mainline scope clause restrictions prohibit increasing RJ size to allow full replacement of lost service.

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Source: RASA

“This year – 2017 – marks the year when frequency cuts will likely not be met with seat increase,” Meehan reported. “The fear is that 150 to 200 markets likely have insufficient traffic or population to support larger jet service.”

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Source: RASA
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Source: RASA

One of the major issues Meehan cited was the prohibition against airport use of their own revenue to enhance service. However, that does not preclude cities and counties from fielding such funds as the city of St. George, UT, and Washington County did to field service between St. George-Phoenix and St. George-LAX providing start-up subsidies to SkyWest Airlines.

Airport service losses resulted in the creation of the Regional Air Service Alliance (RASA) which she introduced to RACCA members during her speech. This important organization, a research-based advocacy group, joins RACCA and others in working to bring sense to a nonsensical regulation imposing an arbitrary metric to pilot skill which both the FAA and NTSB opposed.

RASA membership includes 80 airports and one airline, Meehan told Payload Connector, many of which are very familiar to RACCA members who struggle with the same issues as their passenger airline and airport counterparts.

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The greatest risk, said Meehan, is at non-hub airports where reduction of seats is greatest.

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“Airports that cannot support 76-seat aircraft have to decide whether to fix the problem or continue to let air service and economic development at our nation’s small communities suffer a death by a thousand frequency cuts,” she warned.”

Aircraft solutions are being ignored

“Aircraft with less than 50 seats or less represent 32% of departures at small hubs and 71% of departures at non hubs, making them vulnerable as airlines trade up to larger aircraft to partially offset the pilot shortage,” she said.

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Source: RASA

What is so interesting about Meehan’s remarks is they echo regional airline presidents who are in search of a new aircraft to fill in the losses wrought by consolidation and other changes in airline service. One airline chair said he’d chuck his entire code sharing business to serve intra-regional and intra-state markets abandoned by the majors. The only thing stopping him, he said, is the lack of a new small turboprop that would make these markets successful. Otherwise he sees  these abandoned markets as have high profit potential.

While the rise of subscription airlines such as Surf Air provides a promise of regional airline service replacement in these markets, it remains to be seen whether this model would ultimately morph into the type of service once provided by regional airlines in their heyday.

Today, only one aircraft designed for community air service is under development and now in the testing phase – Tecnam’s P2012 Traveller – the push for which was led by RACCA’s own Cape Air. But many airlines around the world need something bigger in the 19- to 30-seat range and there is no activity on this front. Still others around the world, rely on Cessna’s robust Caravan and provide safe and affordable Single-Engine Turboprop (SET) operations even over extended water flight owing to the reliability of modern engines.

A look at the map of 272 airports served by 50-seat-or-less aircraft shows the opportunity and the increased convenience of an airline concept that removes the hub from the equation. Hubs are great for airlines but not for passengers who lose valuable productivity in being routed through them. Still, such a concept would still face the pilot shortage problem.

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Source: RASA
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Source: RASA

Most of the arguments surrounding the pilot shortage issue are very emotional, based on a single accident that had little bearing in the reality or safety of the industry, especially since both Colgan pilots had far more than the minimum now required. Despite that, none of the proposals offered by industry to help ameliorate the pilot shortage advanced to date have advocated for a reduction in the 1500-hour time although they should.

“The problem is we are all tilting at the same windmill,” said RACCA President Stan Bernstein. “The airports have RASA, then there is RACCA and RAA. What needs to happen is we need to join together and speak with one voice about the true impact of the 1500-hour rule.”

The other problem is trying to cut through the emotional, non-science based arguments that powerful Washington interest groups push. Perhaps if we do join together with science and facts, something can be accomplished. But as Meehan points out, all issues pivot on the pilot shortage. You cannot create new solutions with innovative aircraft or route connections without first having enough pilots to fly them.

 

The care and feeding of the NeXters you want to hire

By Kathryn B. Creedy

During the annual meeting of the Regional Cargo Carriers Association in Scottsdale, Dr. Mark Taylor regaled attendees about the characteristics and issues of GenXers/Millenials, how they differ from previous generations and what recruiters can do about it.

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Source: Dr. Mark Taylor

As I read over his comments, I couldn’t help but remember an old friend from the bookshelf – If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The story is about a mouse who takes more and more – If you give a mouse a cookie…He’s gonna want a glass of milk….

It struck me that this might just be a way to recruit and engage potential and current employees. If there were a bottom line to Dr. Taylor’s comments is that NeXters – those born between 1987 and 2005 – it is the fact they want a mission. Give them a mission and they will focus on how they can contribute to that mission.

Understanding what makes them tick

So, what is a recruiter to do? First understand where they are coming from and the fact that we created them by insulating them from the dangers and realities we perceived in the world. We also overindulged them by giving them trophies for participation rather than achievement. This resulted in an inflated vision of their importance and their value but also created fragile egos that must now be stroked.

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NeXters have fragile egos but overinflated sense of their skills and abilities.

They are a fragile and anxious preferring technology to socialization. That means employers have to socialize them and teach them the realities and expectations of the workplace without discouraging them. They are tech oriented, used to high stimulation and multitasking but that doesn’t necessarily translate into effective contributions to the company.

The mission for regional cargo operators is to help them understand your role in the economy and how they can not only maintain that link between Amazon and a consumer’s order but deliver important medical supplies that can save lives. But that has to be laced with a healthy dose of the NeXter’s perspective which means they want to know one thing — WIIFM – what’s in it for me.

It must be understood that their number one goal is economic because their situation is compounded by high college debt. While high salaries are hard to do, companies can focus on the mission and their role.

What’s in it for them? The value of cargo carriers is they give pilots the type of experience that airlines demand. They gain schedule, PIC and leadership/decision-making experience that airlines want in their new hires. They gain the discipline and airline culture that they can’t find as a flight instructor, traffic reporter or by flying banners. Working for you makes them more marketable.

There are a few things that are important to know about the talent that is out there. The personal leadership, interpersonal skills and institutional knowledge which characterized Baby Boomers is retiring and taking everything with them. Indeed, according to Taylor, they had no one to whom they could pass it on to because GenXers didn’t want the added responsibility or commitment that came with it. That means these boomers can play an important role in mentoring the NeXters, who want to be involved in the mission.

What characterized GenXers was their work-to-live mentality compared to Baby Boomers who were all about the big picture and contributing to the success of the organization. Boomers were live-to-work but the GenXers swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. They were loath to take on responsibility much less the big picture. They also rejected President John F. Kennedy’s message – ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.

Treading carefully

Today, the NeXters, as Dr. Taylor calls them, are the Xers 2.0 and they exhibit what recruiters already know – quality of life is all important to them.

“NeXters and Millennials are same age cohort,” he said. “X came before but are not better or worse. X came up in a tough time to be a kid and tend to be adaptable pragmatic scrappers. Very direct and task oriented. My only concern is that their task orientation may not inspire NeXters at the mission level, and that they may be a little too blunt with NeXters. NeXters can do great things if properly inspired and have a great future because they are so skilled and in demand.”

NeXters are adaptable, however. They must be engaged with both important tasks and with people. They are willing to accept additional responsibility and have a healthy mix of motivations which combines what is in it for them with the willingness to contribute to the cause.

They, said Taylor, want to change the world and, because they don’t know how, it is up to employers to help them do it. He advised talking about the mission at the company level, the department level and their task level and how it all contributes to the mission.

Taylor said the most important thing is to get them involved quickly with people and meaningful tasks. Employers should also let peers establish the work expectations.

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Source: Dr. Mark Taylor

“Employers only have to train one employee,” he said. “Then that employee, who is also a peer, can train the others. It is much more effective since they might respect what the hear from someone that is like them.”

He also cautioned against rushing them ahead of their abilities but, instead, gradually increasing responsibilities. NeXters also want a positive atmosphere which is why Silicon Valley has been so successful – it creates a positive atmosphere and sees to the needs of employees that helps them be more productive.

Taylor also cautioned that criticism should be replaced with effective correction given the inflated self esteem but fragile egos these employees have. He also said employees hold the balance of power – they can quit – because they are in greater demand than ever before so these techniques are becoming increasingly important.

Employers, he advised should defer rewards like starting bonuses but that is easier said than done in today’s hiring environment. Such rewards are here to stay and must be offered to remain competitive.

He advised hiring fast because there are a lot of opportunities out there for the most qualified and in-demand applicants. Of course, operators already know that from viewing the empty seats in training classes for new hires that decided not to show up because of a better opportunity. But constant communication from the interview on could help bridge the gap between interview and reporting for duty. Each communication should emphasize the mission and their role in completing that mission. These constant touch points help to build a relationship and by extension a nascent loyalty. It helps them feel needed.

Taylor makes three main points about hiring and working with NeXters:

  • Recognize that they are less experienced with workplace structures, expectations and “authority” issues than earlier cohorts
  • They need to connect with positive people (peers and mentors) who are free with praise and encouragement, especially early
  • They need to understand and buy into the mission/purpose of the company.  How does this company make the world a better place?

He advised companies might consider something between an internship and full-time employment to help them ease into the workplace and to help the company evaluate and socialize them. Maybe half time at lower pay with a three-to six-month bonus when they go full time.

“The whole deficit of pilots and pilot students is somewhat mystifying,” he said. “I would love to fly and am getting my mind around that too few young people seem interested. What we did with STEM for a similar problem was reach back to high school or even earlier so that is something companies should consider. Develop a model to start Flying Clubs in high schools, connected with local pilots and instructors to engage and mentor prospects early.

In fact, this “reach-back” strategy is perhaps one of the most important things any aviation company can do – promote themselves in their local communities, become embedded in local schools since superintendents nationwide are now scrambling to create STEM programs that offer meaningful life experience. It is in fostering the aviation interest in the next generation that will reap the largest rewards because that close relationship will create the loyalty that otherwise may not be there.

Air Cargo Airlines urges industry to come together to address skills shortage

A Pair of Shorts
A Pair of Shorts: Two of Air Cargo Carriers’ Shorts 360s, a venerable bird, sit on the ramp.

 

By Kathryn B. Creedy

As if attracting pilots to the aviation industry is not tough enough, airlines are also facing shortages in other areas and such shortages are already stifling the ability to grow and expand, according to Steve Altnau, president of Air Cargo Carriers (ACC).

The 30-year-old airline, as with other members of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA), is struggling with Aviation Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) which Altnau sees as important an issue as it is for pilots.

“We could put three more aircraft into service if we had more flight crews and AMTs,” Altnau told Payload Connector, explaining the company also has a large Part 145 Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operation. “The global airline industry, needs a more than 500,000 pilots but it also needs the same number or more AMTs. The problem is, collectively, we have done a poor job of selling the industry. We need to rekindle the romance of the industry to compete with other industries.”

Then he said something few realize. “Everyone sees the forecast need,” he said. “But adding a half a million pilots and AMTs only gets us back to where we are today. There will be no room for growth or expansion.

The issue is not new. At a recent conference, airline and computer reservation company representatives said it is extremely difficult to attract IT talent at a time when airlines are finally addressing their IT infrastructure. “We can’t compete with the innovation promised by working for the Googles or Amazons,” they said. “That’s where these kids want to be because we are viewed as old and industrial with limited opportunities for advancement.”

Altnau agreed. “We need to sell the glamour and passion of the job for both passenger and cargo carriers,” he said. “These are great places to work and the prospects for advancement to a UPS or DHL are huge and come with the benefit they fly around the world or get airline benefits. Being an airline employee is a great way to see the world.”

While that is a great recruitment strategy, it also lies at the heart of the industry’s problem – rapid advancement to mainline passenger and cargo carriers. “Retention is all but impossible after about a year or two,” he said. “We may be able to attract what we need to serve our current business but not to expand and we are always in recruitment mode. We have to rekindle the desire for a career in aviation!”

That also puts huge pressure on the training department as well as the bottom line. The last time the industry faced something like this was back in the post-deregulation chaos of the 1980s when rapid advancement to the majors found regionals spending tens of thousands of dollars for training only to watch their pilots walk out the door in a year or two. At the time, they found enforcing retention contracts was of little use.

Today, airlines are facing the same conundrum. Republic Airlines, for instance, spends $30,000 on training a pilot. Regional carriers are also upping labor expenditures including generous new-hire salaries of up to $60,000 plus hiring and retention bonuses and tuition reimbursements. And, they are still struggling to find pilots and AMTs.

“Everyone knows it is far safer and more cost effective to retain employees than it is to recruit and train new ones,” said Altnau. “The rest of the industry is soaking up all the pilots and AMTs from us and other RACCA carriers. Our people get multiple offers and that puts a horrible strain on our training departments. We feel more like a flight school than we did when we actually worked at a flight school.

“Attracting pilots isn’t the main issue for us. It is retaining them,” he continued. “When you have that much opportunity this early in your career, even if we offered them the sun, moon and the stars, they’d go elsewhere.”

ACC is rotating schedules to provide better quality of life but they still leave for corporate aviation like FlexJet where they are operating eight days on and six off, he explained.

“It’s difficult to compete with that,” he said. “And let’s face it, our bases and our schedules are not exactly in the garden spots o the world.”

Altnau noted another problem. “Many look down their noses at Part 135 operations, especially in the freight world despite the fact it is one of the best ways to build, hard-core experience in airline operations,” he added. “That attitude toward Part 135 is not going to change overnight. What the industry is lacking now is the raw skill of flying the airplane. The benefit of flying air cargo feeder operations is you maintain the discipline learned in training, you operate to a fixed schedule. You understand the standard operating procedures. All that makes it much easier to transition to the next airline and next aircraft because you understand how an airline is run and have stick and rudder skills.”

Altnau finally pointed to one of the biggest problems in the industry – the denial by mainline carriers that there is a pilot/AMT shortage. “We have to get our partners on board the bandwagon,” he said. “We have to rekindle interest in aviation. We have to figure out a way to help pilots pay for their education. It may take the government to get involved to develop a program as they do for teachers where they work to maintain rural and small-community connectivity to the national air transportation grid to gain student loan forgiveness. That would help with both attraction and retention.”

He also said the entire industry has to talk about the value of the cargo industry. Atnau and Chief Pilot Luke McGrath saw a marked change in recent years when industry pilot employment specialists and universities began to push passenger carrier careers to the exclusion of all other avenues to build time.

“The pipeline dried up because everyone was saying you have to get a seniority number at the regional passenger airlines,” he said. “That has to change. In 2014 we began to see pilots walking away from an opportunity to become a captain and gain Pilot-in-Command experience. The fact they were making a lateral move to become a first officer elsewhere floored us because PIC time is so important to career advancement. The only reason we could see was they were going to a different aircraft and they were getting their seniority number.”

Air Cargo Carriers is doing the best it can in attracting talent but it will take the entire industry to attract enough talent to enable growth.

“We don’t want to get to 2035 and still be where we are today fighting to recruit more talent,” Altnau concluded. “We have to increase the attraction of the industry.”

Pilot shortage issue gains new advocates, renewed attention

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How do we compete with this? The company was recruiting at Women in Aviation International ’17 Orlando for a Chinese airline.

 

By Kathryn B. Creedy

US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein joined the rising call for changes to the so-called 1,500-hour rule, in one of many stories about the pilot shortage circulating in the last week. An article in Flightglobal along with coverage of last week’s testimony by SkyWest President Chip Childs provided more fodder for the fight to amend the rules so that the industry can improve safety while helping the economy.

The movement is definitely gaining traction and RACCA has leveraged these stories with pro-active outreach to reporters who are doing follow-up stories on RACCA’s issues. RACCA’s blog, the Payload Connector, for instance, prompted Air Cargo World to take a second look for the April issue.

Prompted by RACCA’s efforts last year, the association was covered by The Street, Air Cargo World and supply chain publication The Loadstar. Last week saw Jon Hemmerdinger’s report in FlightGlobal Analysis: Controversy over pilot shortage heats up, important for how it broadened the issue to the military but also for recounting regional airline problems as well. Hemmerdinger did a follow-up story published this week including interviews with Stan Bernstein and Tim Komberec.

Hemmerdinger’s original story quoted General Goldfein, in agreeing with both FAA and NTSB, when he said 1,500 hours may not be required to make a good pilot and could be amended to alleviate the pilot shortage. Goldfein echoed years-long complaints about the military shortage. However, he added a nugget of which few are aware. The rule is a major factor in losing military pilots, which, of course, affects readiness. Once military pilots achieve 1500 hours, they leave.

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Empire was one of many RACCA members recruiting at Women in Aviation International ’17 Orlando.

More important, however, is his efforts with the airline industry. The Air Force is in talks with major airlines on how to mitigate the pilot shortage. For RACCA, that means gaining a seat at that table when discussions continue in May because the industry needs a holistic approach to finding solutions and that means including everyone.

Community air service losses are also providing more traction. ATW’s Aaron Karp, who also plans a follow-up story thanks to RACCA’s pro-active outreach, covered last week’s hearings before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee in SkyWest CEO warns pilot shortage could lead to big service cuts. Since 2013, 50 communities have lost air service, according to the Regional Airline Association. Last year, when I published my series in Forbes, it was 30.

Karp was savvy enough to included this:

Asked by a House member about expanding service to rural areas in the US, Childs said, “The reality is if there are not enough pilots … [and] you’re trying to get new service—that is not going to happen unless we resolve this.”

ALPA immediately came out with its usual misinformation in an AvWeb story saying the loss of these communities was an economic decision not because of the shortage. That stands in stark contrast to what airlines are telling airports which is, economically, they wanted to serve these points but can’t because of the pilot shortage.

Pilot Shortage may ground two thirds of the regional fleet

More ominous was Childs’ warning about decimated regional pilot rosters and the grounding of two thirds of the fleet. Normally, I don’t buy such sky-is-falling rhetoric but as Komberec told FlightGlobal, there are no easy solutions because the pipeline is broken.

Here’s what Karp wrote:

US major airlines…are expected to hire 18,000 pilots in the next three years, nearly the size of the entire regional pilot workforce. He warned that the shortfall in pilots could ultimately lead to the parking of as much as two-thirds of the US regional airline fleet.

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CapeAir has a great slogan — Your Wings To A New Career

One of the biggest problems is RACCA’s message is diluted by major-carrier partners who deny the pilot shortage. Case in point. Last year, The Street’s Ted Reed interviewed Empire Airlines President Tim Komberec for his article: Idaho Cargo Airline, a FedEx contractor, Can’t Find Enough Pilots to Grow major partners demurred on the issue.

The good news is major carriers are acknowledging the pilot shortage. Recently, the NBC station in Dallas profiled both Southwest and American on the issue, concluded the pilot shortage is real and regional pilot pay has risen. At one of the largest aviation pilot recruiting events of the year, the Women in Aviation International conference, UPS, FedEx, American, Delta and United joined a host of regional passenger and cargo carriers including Air Cargo Carriers, CapeAir, Ameriflight and Empire Airlines in trying to attract pilots. Bemidji Aviation Services’ Tracie Walter was also there. Lines for UPS and Fed Ex alone were very long as I tweeted during the conference.

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The Problem!

Equally important is the fact that at the World Aviation Training Conference and Trade Show last year the pilot shortage was a much-discussed problem among regionals, low-cost and legacy carriers alike. I’m expecting the same at this year’s conference in May.

All this is very good news for RACCA members. These stories add to the mounting evidence the pilot shortage is real and critical. Without the easing of the rule, the future is very uncertain for RACCA members and small communities alike.

But RACCA still faces an uphill battle against powerful special interests even if it does have a valid safety argument to make changes. It is up to everyone to take individual action, clipping the articles and sending them to local representatives and senators as well as any state officeholders and customers. Every article provides an opportunity to tell your story about what the pilot shortage is doing to your business and the difficulties you face in hiring pilots.

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Hope for the Future: Arlynn Harris checks out Women in Aviation International ’17 Orlando. Mom, Kelly, says Arlynn thinks the conference was better than the Disney theme parks!

Ameriflight sees airline workforce crisis

Pilot shortage puts break on economic growth

By Kathryn B. Creedy

What would you say about a company that had to pass on a 12% growth opportunity, which would yield 60 new, high-quality jobs? Crazy, right?

Well, this is the case for Ameriflight, which is suffering the worst pilot shortage in its history. Without enough pilots, it is unable to grow its business for its major customers, which include FedEx, UPS and DHL.

Dallas-based airline Ameriflight is an illustration of what ails a critical part of our economic infrastructure, the cargo industry — specifically the small-package cargo delivery systems that connect consumers with their online orders and the medical community with life-saving medicines that cannot be shipped by ground. In fact, it is likely that that package you ordered online may not get there as fast as it does now.ameriflight-logo-fathead-high-res-transparent“I see air cargo continuing to grow which will significantly increase demand for additional lift,” said President and CEO Brian Randow. “We are constantly asked to do more, and are watching very closely as Amazon adds a fleet of 40 new 767 cargoliners to the industry. As online shopping continues to grow, more and more overnight demand will be needed. Additionally, the U.S. economy is starting to see positive growth driving demand for air cargo up. The problem is there aren’t enough pilots to meet the demand.”

Why it matters

So what if small package and regional airlines can’t find captains and first officers to pilot their planes? That means that, without pilots for such airlines as Ameriflight and the rest of its brethren in the regional air cargo industry, air cargo cannot expand even as online ordering is exploding. It means that some communities will be out of reach of the long arm of package delivery services.

An acute pilot shortage has already meant more than 30 communities have lost their connection to the global air service with the resulting negative impact on their economies. And, it means that both regional passenger and cargo carriers have to turn away business because they simply cannot find pilots.

It won’t stop there, however, because experts expect U.S. low cost and major airlines will have to stymie their growth plans for the same reason, putting a considerable break on the overall economic growth. Delta’s recent pronouncement that it may hire 25,000 pilots is laughable since there are only about 18,000 pilots in the entire regional airline industry from which they get many of their pilots.

“We had the opportunity to bid on 15 new routes in the last year,” said Randow. “But we had to turn down the bidding. Those new routes would have meant a 12% increase in business and hiring 20 pilots, 30 aviation maintenance technicians and 10 line service and administrative personnel.”

“We’ve been short pilots for the past year,” he continued. “We’ve been forced to turn away new business, and get very creative in finding ways to cover our existing business. Our studies suggest that a pilot looking for a new flying job gets four offers before accepting one. We hold new-hire classes each month. For those classes, 25% of the pilots that accept a position do not show up. When we ask them why, they tell us they got another offer that they liked more.”

Pay no longer an issue

Ameriflight is one of the largest members of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA), employing 450 full time and 90 part-time and temporary staff while its 163 aircraft fly nearly 80,000 flights annually.

Some say the problem is pay but that’s baloney. New-hire salaries average above $60,000 annually in the regional industry. This is a new phenomenon as federal regulations have severed the pipeline between fledgling pilots and professional flying jobs. In fact, regional airlines are rivaling their major-carrier counterparts in the double-digit percentage increases in pilot pay during the latest pilot contract cycle.

Surprisingly for such a high-tech, high-skill profession, pilots are paid by the hour. Today, new-hire regional pilots are averaging between $40 and $80 per hour, according to Airline Pilot Central. That rate would be the envy of many middle class workers.

ameriflight-metroliner

Ameriflight, like many airlines, is boosting pay by 30%, expanding signing bonuses and offering $20,000 retention bonuses. Its starting salary for new hires may be $44,000 but, with bonuses and credits, salaries average $55,000 to start a career that has the potential to pay over $200,000 annually. And, pilots only have 80 hours of flying duty per month with major carriers.

Ameriflight created a world-class recruiting department, expanding from a single recruiter to a seven-person department focusing on providing opportunities for students at its 10 partner schools.

It created the Ameriflight Pulling for the Future Scholarship Program in 2016 and awarded $21,500, providing much needed funding for students.

It has established new flow-through agreements with Omni Air, Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines through which pilots can not only be hired by Ameriflight but be streamlined to airline partners when they are ready. Ameriflight is now working closely with current customers to develop new flow-through programs that have already seen pilots move to the major cargo carriers.

Pilots demand better quality of life 

But pay is not the only consideration for would-be pilots. In a significant departure from previous generations, pilots worry as much about quality of life as they do about pay, which has resulted in a seismic shift in employment policies at airlines.

“Quality of life basically means days off and the ability to live in the place of their choosing,” said Randow. “Our goal is to get to a pilot schedule that is four days on and three days off each week. We are working with our partners to create schedules that are four-day work weeks based on flight schedules that operate Monday afternoon to Friday morning giving the pilot Friday afternoon to Monday morning off.”

Randow, however, is not standing still. Last year, in an effort to centralize operations in the middle of the country, Ameriflight completed its move from Burbank, CA, to Dallas.

“Our focus in 2016 was to increase safety performance, improve employee satisfaction, define and improve how we do business and upgrade the tools we use,” Randow said, adding the company could not have accomplished what it did without strong support from its major customers. “We invested over $1 million in a new pilot training program, redefined our pilot work rules, and either promoted from within or brought on new leadership in many key positions. This is a new Ameriflight positioned to succeed in these very challenging times.”

The millions who shop online do not think about the cargo industry, despite the fact it moves $5.7 trillion worth of goods worldwide ever year. That is 35% of the world trade by value, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Consumers take for granted that the order they placed last night will arrive in a couple of days. But the growing shortage of pilots puts all that in jeopardy.