The aviation industry is experiencing a mass exodus of furloughed airline pilots trying to find work in private aviation.
With only so many vacancies to fill, the pilot shortage is gone and replaced by a highly competitive job market.
Business Insider spoke to three private aviation executives who revealed what they’re looking for when they hire pilots.
Furloughed pilots are hoping to find new homes in the private aviation sector as they get notices from their struggling commercial airline employers.
The private aviation industry is currently experiencing a massive expansion with some firms rushing to purchase more planes and hire additional pilots to fly them. XOJET Aviation, for example, is looking to increase its fleet by 50% and hire between 40 and 45 pilots for every 10 planes it adds.
Transitioning out of the commercial airliners and into private aircraft is a great opportunity for a pilot to keep their wings and outfly the downturn. However, even the most eager applicant will need to contend with thousands of like-minded colleagues all with comparable levels of experience vying for the few available vacancies.
“I think the last I looked, we had something like 4,000 pilot resumes applying for XOJET Aviation,” Kevin Thomas, XOJET Aviation’s president and chief operating officer, told Business Insider in an interview.
Business Insider spoke with three private aviation executives from XOJET, Jet Linx, and Flexjet and learned what they’re looking for above all when hiring new pilots to fly their aircraft.
Repositioning from the airlines to the private jet
Whether it be flying passengers for an on-demand charter firm, powerful executives for a large corporation’s flight department, or a wealthy family on their private jet, each job in private aviation has its challenges that most pilots never experience at the airlines. That’s because being an airline pilot is an impersonal role where the flight crew is separated from passengers by a locked, bulletproof door and all the prep work for a flight is done by a support team.
To land a job in private aviation, however, pilots will need to prove to their prospective employers that they can be active and engaging both in the cockpit and outside of it. Unlike in the airlines, private aircraft pilots are the main point of interaction for passengers since their flights largely operate without gate agents, customer service agents, or flight attendants to act as a buffer between the passenger and pilot.
“Our pilots are extremely customer-oriented, being frontline representatives of our company from the minute we greet them outside the airplane until we say goodbye,” Thomas told Business Insider.
And that’s more than just standing in front of the cockpit door after landing and thanking passengers for their business, especially when private aviation firms have a lot of repeat flyers with long memories. Every operation is different – with on-demand charter guests less repetitive than aircraft owners, for example – but the onus is on the pilots to leave a good impression as the sole in-field representatives of the company.
Interviewers are also looking at personality to determine whether the pilot would be a good fit in the company since private aircraft firms are small and familial operations compared to the airlines. One bad apple, as the saying goes, could spoil the bunch.
“Once you get into the interview process, there’s a lot of things that you then start to measure that you can’t see in total times,” Jet Linx CEO Jamie Walker told Business Insider. “And that’s the fit with our culture and our company and our core values and things like that.”
Flexjet, for example, has a membership program where owners are assigned a dedicated flight crew that flies them on nearly every flight. Pilots not only have to fly the plane but foster and maintain positive relationships with the owners to which they’re assigned.
“We really do look for individuals who we feel would simultaneously have a servant heart to be great ambassadors for the organization because they’re the people that our customers interact with very intimately,” Flexjet CEO Michael Silvestro told Business Insider.
Experience doesn’t guarantee a job
The coronavirus pandemic has single-handedly ended the pilot shortage that saw firms struggle to find capable talent and the burden is now on pilots to impress firms, not the other way around.
Boasting thousands of pilot hours and a long list of aircraft type ratings won’t likely be enough to get hired at a private aviation firm, especially when the competition is likely equally or more qualified and also coming from an airline job.
Complacency and falling behind on skills can also hurt when it comes time for the interview process. Most airline pilots will fly one aircraft for years but it’s common in private aviation for pilots to jump between two types of aircraft.
“Just because you have 10,000 hours, doesn’t mean you’re as proficient as a 3,000-hour pilot,” Walker said.
Firms are looking to see whether the skills of the pilots they’re hiring match their experience. It’s a huge investment for them as nearly all new pilots will need to be trained on new aircraft, which can cost thousands, before they see their first passenger.
Executives are entrusting their pilots with clients on a level that isn’t experienced with airlines and proving that they’ll be able to successfully navigate that transition will be crucial in the competitive hiring climate that the private aviation industry is now facing.
“Being a pilot with a lot of flight time is not enough – we want good people,” Thomas said.
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