The numbers are different for each country but the airlines and the rest of the industry are back in hiring mode. And with some urgency, too.
Some say that at the best of times, being a pilot is the best part-time job in the world. This is, in part, because of the often… dynamic schedules that the job has. But it’s also because of how volatile a job it can be, at times of crisis. Obviously, the last 20 (or so) months have been a striking example of this.
The times are changing, and the airlines that were hiring before the pandemic, stopped. We’ve discussed the switch from a pilot shortage to a pilot surplus in previous articles. But the point is that the causes of that pre-pandemic pilot shortage, are still with us. And if anything, the early retirements of many pilots, promise to make the problem even worse.
A bit over a year ago, we ran an article about whether or not it is wise to train as a pilot during the pandemic (here). At the time, with vaccine rollouts still somewhere on the horizon, the term “pilot shortage” seemed… untimely. The airlines were still not hiring, but the maths were (and still are) simple. It takes a year and a half (type rating not included) for someone off the street to become a pilot. And a lot can change in that time – and so it did.
Not A Shrinking Industry
So, where are we now? Some airlines have retired older aircraft types in the pandemic. But for the most part, the industry avoided large-scale aircraft order cancellations. Airlines deferred many orders (especially for long-haul types), but the planes are still coming. And they need pilots. Meanwhile, those baby boomers, that were about to retire before the pandemic, largely retired early – or are about to.
In the United States, airlines are cutting back on flight schedules and hiring. Pilots, cabin crew, ramp agents, customer service agents, airport staff and others are in short supply. Southwest got a lot of attention for the wrong reasons last month. But they had another similar mass-cancellation event earlier in the summer. Following that, they announced reduced schedules for Autumn. And evidently, it wasn’t enough.
Now, United is also cutting routes in the US Midwest, specifically because of pilot shortages. Like other airlines, United is hiring, but its numbers are still below what the market calls for. US mainline carriers are reporting demand that’s close to pre-pandemic numbers. But their headcount (as of last October) is 14.3% below those pre-2020 times. For reference, other businesses in the country have staffing levels averaging 6.4% below those of 2019.
Who Are The Airlines Hiring?
Again, it is worth stressing that the airlines are not just hiring pilots. United Airlines is offering a $5,000 signing bonus for ramp agents (in Boston). Spirit Airlines offers multiple bonuses to attract new cabin crew. And their ramp agent wages are up 30%! Many point out that pilot and cabin crew jobs got payroll support from the US government. But the same wasn’t true for other key airline positions, and a multitude of other jobs at airports.
But of course, the airlines are also hiring pilots – and trying their level best to “steal” them from other airlines. American Airlines and JetBlue are offering an assortment of bonuses – in pay and other perks/incentives. Piedmont Airlines (a subsidiary of American) is enticing pilots with $180,000 bonuses!
But perhaps there is still room for improvement. There is still a significant wage gap between mainline and regional carriers. This is true of all jobs between these categories – not just pilots or cabin crew. But as the hiring needs of airlines increase, there are indications that this is changing. Sponsored pilot training schemes are back to being a hot discussion topic – unlike a year ago.
There is still much to see and a lot that could shape the industry in the next months and years. Some worry that the aviation industry is losing some of its shine, with record incidents of unruly passengers. But even if it’s changing, the industry doesn’t appear to be shrinking. And this means that it needs pilots, flight attendants and all others that make it tick.
Spyros Georgilidakis has degrees in Business Enterprise and Management. He has 14 years of experience in the hospitality and travel industries, along with a passion for all-things-aviation and travel logistics. He is also an experienced writer and editor for on-line publications, and a licensed professional drone pilot.