The year 2020 began as any other for our industry, and like every downturn prior, our world is unexpectedly turned upside down. For those of us with the few fortunate airlines, government support has bought our airlines time to evaluate and redeploy assets. This assistance has undoubtedly allowed up to avoid furloughs, downgrades and displacements industry wide. But what about those who are starting out? How do they make sense of all of this? What does it mean for their careers?
I have two brothers who are just starting out in this career – one is a CFI, the other a PPL. Both thought that this downturn had reduced their prospects for the next five years. I’ve met various individuals over the past new months who thought this downturn meant they should become air traffic control specialists, mechanics or altogether leave the industry.
This industry and our professions as aviators still have a lot of potential for aspiring pilots. Some major airlines have released many pilots through early retirement programs, but the industry still expects a significant number of regular retirements in the coming decade. New upstart airlines like Breeze and Avelo look to offer potential steppingstones or first-mover advantages to those hired. Many current airlines are announcing hiring plans going forward. We look well positioned to see our industry return to its pre-pandemic employment landscape in the coming years. If you are just learning to fly now, with a career that could reach 30+ years, your outlook is positive.
This is why I mentor. I believe it is important for those of us in the industry to help those on the outside navigate our world. How do we go from student pilot to regional pilot? How do we motivate others to keep the energy and maintain the faith? How do we help build the next generation of aviators? Afterall, those learning to fly are our future first officers.
As we return to normal from the age of COVID, we all play a role in helping communicate opportunities to our friends working their way up. Did you hear about a regional airline announcing hiring? Pass it along. Did your friend land a corporate gig while on furlough with a regional or from instructing? Help them evaluate the merits of both positions relative to their long-term goals. Is there some press or news about your company? Explain it to those who want to be in your shoes.
We are ambassadors on the line, and off-duty we can help others navigate the complex process of building a career as an airline pilot. Many organizations offer structured mentorship programs – from nonprofits to new-hire pilot programs at most airlines. However, I spend my time volunteering with Professional Pilots of Tomorrow (PPOT). PPOT is a New York based 501(c)(3) organization that specializes in free, unbiased, peer-to-peer mentorship. Rather than having access to mentors at one airline, PPOT allows mentees and mentors to “cross-pollinate” with individuals from practically every airline in the U.S. and many from those abroad. In addition, members can access a variety of unique and free services. If you are looking to be a mentor, or if you need a mentor, I heartily suggest you check out the PPOT website at https://www.theppot.org/home/.
Mentoring provides benefits to both the mentor and the mentee. As a mentor, you find yourself paying attention to industry changes in ways that you wouldn’t normally as simply a line-pilot. Changing competitive dynamics, hiring updates, and new bases mean a lot to those who are helping up-and-comers. This insight can help you update your own expectations and manage your own career development. Along the way, you are apt to meet some interesting people. Some of my dearest friends began as my own mentors or mentees.