We are flying in some of the best times seen in our industry. Airlines are reporting billions in profits (Southwest FY2018 $2.4 billion; United FY2018 $2.1 billion; American FY2018 $1.4 billion), and new aircraft orders are fueling growth at many levels of the airline industry. Some examples include Frontier ordering 134 Airbus aircraft with the intent to triple in size over ten years; American awarding Envoy with E175s and Delta’s purchase of 100 A321neos with the option for 100 more.
While the airlines aim to grow, they must contend with the rapid retirement of the most senior crew members. The “Big Three”– American, Delta, and United – will replace roughly half their pilot staff over the next decade or so. They have devised many different strategies to ensure a steady stream of pilots reach their flight decks. American has the well-known “flow” program with Envoy, PSA and Piedmont. For its part, Delta introduced the Propel program which offers competitive financing for training and the opportunity to reach a Delta cockpit within 42 months. Other airlines are offering flows, training agreements or significant hiring bonuses including JetBlue, Frontier, almost all regional airlines, and even UPS.
This translates into job openings for aspiring pilots at all levels, from flight instructors to first officers. Some airlines are even hiring pilots straight into captains’ seats as “direct-entry captains.” This progression has helped create a diverse group of pilots in today’s flight decks, including career-changers, those who have returned after a hiatus and many young first officers recently graduated from an aeronautical university. These are exciting times to be an airline pilot.
Amid this good news, do not forget that it could all end and inevitably, it will. Oil prices could shock our industry as they have before. Airlines grow and they also downsize. Ours is a volatile industry, and that mustn’t be forgotten. While you may be experiencing good times at your airline, things may not be ideal at other carriers. Some regionals face uncertain contracts with their major partners. Some airlines are struggling through mergers while others have been mired in stagnation for decades. Many aspiring pilots struggle with the cost of training.
I don’t mean to be dour, however what I am saying is, enjoy the ride. Don’t fret too much over poor contract negotiations or your struggle to get hired by your dream airline. You didn’t become an airline pilot to talk about contract negotiations (I hope!). You became an airline pilot to travel the world, fly fast machines, have amazing views and work with amazing people providing safe, comfortable travel to passengers. Do your job the best you can every day. Each day get up and be the best you can be in your role. Improve yourself each day. More than anything else, appreciate the times we are living in, because we may not experience them again for years. One day we will all hang up our wings and look back upon these golden ages.