Why You Should Not Ignore Pilot Retention

Here are some of latest headlines –

“US pilot shortage claims a casualty. Will more airlines shut down?”

“Pilot shortage forces worlds biggest long-haul airline to cut flights.”

“We have made the pilot occupation so unattractive, so tenuous and poorly paid that people have stopped wanting to do it.”

The future continues to look challenging when it comes to finding qualified pilots to fill seats.  Many industry experts suggest that this shortage will affect smaller 135 and 91 companies to a greater degree.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.  In many ways, I think the flexibility that small and mid-sized flight departments have creates an advantage.

 A strategic battle

You are in a battle for crewmembers.  Not just crewmembers, but ones that are actually qualified to do the job. Good luck in this environment. It has come down to simple supply and demand.  There are not enough pilots to go around. Especially ones that you want flying your airplanes.

The great news is that you already have them.  They are currently flying for you…but everyone else wants them.  Assuming they are performing well and you want to keep them, you have to develop a retention strategy.

The cost of losing and replacing a pilot

The numbers are quite staggering –

I viewed a recent article that dealt with this issue.  Many things stood out. Pilot turnover costs are never easy to see or quantify and research shows that turnover “costs can be between 90-200 percent of the employee’s annual salary.”  Basically, your current pilot leaves at $85,000 per year and your new hire might cost up to $170,000 to bring on board.

Maybe that raise your pilot has requested is worth it.

The article also has a great section that breaks down turnover-related expenses.  Lots of things we don’t typically think of.

Here is a link to the article:

The High Cost of Pilot Turnover

Retention strategies

Pay is not always everything but you better be competitive. 

Do your homework and see where the market is. Current pay and future step increases are an important part of the decision making process. Pilots need to visualize the financial future of their current (or future) position.

Invest in engagement and information (data gathering).

It’s like safety.  If you don’t ask, you don’t know. Quality of life might be the single biggest factor in pilots choosing a job.

You have major control over this. Some of our clients regularly use our custom form module to create reports for measuring job satisfaction and generate ideas on how to get better.  It’s a small investment with a high rate of return.

Find ways to “free” employees time.

Time is very important to pilots.

How many occupations spend so much time away from home?  Get creative.

One example – a tremendous benefit of e-learning is that you can assign pilots a month (or more) to complete the majority of their recurrent training.  This allows them more control their time and often shortens the footprint of being out of town for training.

Have a safety program.

It’s expected that aviation companies have a non-punitive reporting system when human error is made (think NASA ASRS or FAA ASAP programs) Pilots are getting wiser and realizing the benefits of organizations that have a strong safety culture.  This may be in the form of a Safety Management System (SMS) or a structured commitment to Just Culture.  If you have these programs, advertise them!

Put yourself in their shoes.

Your pilots have tremendous opportunities literally at their fingertips.

How do you differentiate your company?  Different duty days?  More time off?  Extra pay when an employee goes above and beyond their normal duties?  You need to figure this one out or be prepared to pay like our previous paragraph mentions.

You have to be open to new options.

Think Blockbuster Video and Redbox.  One company won.  The other did not conform to what it’s users wanted until it was too late.  Don’t be late.

It’s easier for you to create quick change than larger airlines. Don’t let your good employees walk out the door.


Jason Keith is the founder and managing director of Aviation Linq.

At Aviation Linq, we are committed to assisting small and mid-sized Part 135 & 91 operators that recognize the importance of modernizing their processes and management.