The Time Is Now

Exciting times to be a pilot (again)

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Very recently, I wrote a piece titled Uncertainty and the Airlines. That article discussed how cyclical this industry can be. It wasn’t meant to dissuade anyone from pursuing their dream, but rather to face a reality, particularly because we were in the midst of a downturn. I mentioned stories of individuals distraught about the state of the industry and looking for career pathways in aviation other than piloting. It was disheartening to see many aspiring pilots turn away from what I still believe is an extremely positive long-term career outlook.

That was in January 2021. Six months have elapsed since that article was published in Aero Crew News and the industry has done an about-face. Almost all major airlines – legacies, regionals and low-cost carriers – have announced hiring. New routes are appearing. States are opening back up, and most critically, international flights are resuming. The vaccine rollout has helped countries begin the process to returning to normal. All of this has been great news for those early in their careers. As the “big” airlines begin to hire, opportunity trickles down, through to the regional, corporate, charter and flight school ranks. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats!

This may be a strange thing to say, but for some, COVID may have improved their career prospects, something few could have imagined last year. Faced with an oversupply of crews and virtually no demand, many airlines offered early retirements to senior crews, crews that normally occupy high-paying widebody fleets. That decision has now only exacerbated the pilot shortage airlines faced just two years ago. While all this continued, David Neelemen went about launching his new airline Breeze. Almost unnoticed, Avelo and Airbahn have sprung onto the scene. In the course of a year, airlines went from overstaffed to facing potential crew shortages, and for the first time in over a decade, multiple new airlines have emerged. 

As discussed in Let’s Talk Expectations, the U.S. airline market is considered “mature” yet that doesn’t make it “stable.” This industry is constantly changing, and if you understand your life goals, you may find this to be a remarkable time to get your seniority number to work towards your dream life.

A common theme mentioned in this column is the need for individuals to take the long view and to have a mentor. I will, with confidence, forecast another unexpected downturn in around ten years. This is the nature of our highly leveraged, highly regulated industry. Yet, planning for the bad times and sticking to that plan can provide a clear glidepath to the other side. COVID-19 caused a crisis for our industry, but for those who continued their flight training, continued networking online, increased their volunteer load, etc., they are extremely well positioned for the upswing we are seeing today. They will grasp the opportunity and advance faster than they could have imagined just one year ago. 

This is why it is important to participate and leverage the resources provided by many nonprofits, such as Professional Pilots of Tomorrow. When you receive a mentor, you are connected to someone who will keep you honest, force you to think outside of the box and provide an extra set of eyes on your long-term plan. You’ll have someone who can connect you with pilots at airlines around the nation and help you make tough decisions such as choosing between the various regional airlines. As new airlines arrive on the scene, questions will arise as to what it is like working at these airlines, what kind of career progression can one expect, and what risks are there in working at upstart airlines. Mentorship can help you make sense of uncertainty. 

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