The Industry-wide Pilot Shortage & Ameriflight
Since 2014, small commercial aircraft operators and flight schools have been feeling the pinch of an industry-wide pilot staffing shortage. As I write this piece, my own airline is feeling the weight of this shortage at a level never seen in its nearly 50-year existence. In conversations with some larger airlines in the last few months they too are starting to see the early signs of the shortage that will eventually affect them. Based on all the information we have, the shortage of qualified commercial pilots will continue for many years to come and worsen each year.
What are small airlines like Ameriflight doing to combat this shortage? That is the question I ask myself every day. This question is a tough one to answer and one that does not have one single answer. We must deal with this challenge on a multitude of fronts as not every pilot has the same goals. How has Ameriflight taken on this challenge? We have several approaches to create a place pilots want to work and can meet their career goals.
The first thing we know about every employee is that they come to work expecting to be paid a wage that reflects the value of their contribution. In 2015, Ameriflight adjusted its pay scales to wages that put us at the top of the small feeder cargo pilot pay matrix. Our wages reflect the contributions our pilots make to our business. Our first-year pilots average $60,000 a year in salary. With this good starting wage and adding that most of our first-year pilots come in as Captain and fly turboprop equipment, it’s a pretty good deal!
We understand pay is not the only thing an employee seeks from their employer. They also look at company communication, culture, benefits and working conditions. At Ameriflight we are working very hard to build a new Ameriflight. In the past 2 years, we have developed a new mission statement and a set of core values that guide our organization in everything we do. A large part of our mission and core values is empowering our employees to be leaders and be a part of our success. In 2016, we opened up our lines of communication with new newsletters, monthly All Employee Calls, monthly recorded updates from senior leadership, and employee events. We have also been working with our customers to eliminate the need for pilots to load and unload airplanes, something that was unheard of in the small feeder cargo world a few years ago. Just this month we have rolled out new health care benefits. One of our plan options is 100% company paid. This is a good start but we intend to do more by working with our customers this year to improve schedules and ultimately increase time off for our pilots.
Not every pilot that comes to work for Ameriflight stays with us for their entire career. Providing good pay and quality of life certainly makes it more likely that some will come and stay a long time with us. However, some pilots come to work at Ameriflight as a means to an end. Their goal is to fly large aircraft for a major carrier. Some employers wouldn’t care to help their employees who intend to leave eventually. Not Ameriflight; we understand that we are a stepping stone for some in a career path to a major airline. Our goal is to help our employees that want to take this path. To that end we have created and signed agreements with three airlines. These agreements know as Flow-Through Agreements allow a defined path for a pilot to take. This path could get a pilot into the right seat of an A320, 737 or 767/777 just 2 ½ years from the day they start at Ameriflight. The agreements we have today are with Frontier, Allegiant and Omni airlines and we intend to expand upon these agreements in 2017.
Small feeder cargo operators typically fly older airplanes that have been retired from passenger operations. These airplanes are not equipped with the same technology as new airplanes. That does not mean they are not safe and reliable. Ameriflight takes pride in the fact that we maintain our fleet to a 99% dispatch reliability. We have the best mechanics and know the aircraft we operate better than anyone else. Our aircraft are safe and reliable, and we invest millions of dollars each year into our fleet. Starting in 2017, we are launching a cockpit upgrade for our larger aircraft. This upgrade will standardize our cockpits, add new GPS units that are equipped with blue tooth and ADSB in and out capabilities, and improve reliability. While our airplanes may be older they meet the needs of our customers and are fun to fly!
Staffing an airline is a challenge in today’s world. The key for Ameriflight is to continue to innovate and come up with new options for our current pilots and pilots who are looking for their next job.
President & CEO of Ameriflight