Pilot Poaching Domino Threatens Recovery


As travel numbers continue to climb in the U.S., airlines are poaching pilots from countries where the recovery is lagging in a domino scenario that could seriously threaten the aviation recovery in some places. Australian officials say they’re worried a recruiting drive by U.S. airlines in their country will hamstring the industry when its pandemic recovery finally begins. Australia still has strict travel restrictions in effect and flight schedules are at about 25 percent of pre-COVID-19 level while the U.S. rate is about 80 percent. 

At least two U.S. regional carriers, GoJet and Skywest, are conducting interviews and 9News is reporting that about 70 pilots have inquired. U.S. regionals are scrambling for pilots because the majors have poached from them to cover shortages resulting from the pandemic downturn. Foreign pilots can qualify to work in the U.S. under an E-3 visa that allows pilots with an offer of employment to work for a minimum of two years with a chance to extend that period. Further complicating Australia’s situation is the fact that about 25 percent of the pilots who are left are no longer current.

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  1. What recovery? After my last airline flight I had, I have serious doubts. When I connected through ATL to catch an Airbus to my final destination the terminal I departed from was almost empty compared to what I used to see before COVID. Sure the flights are full but very few if any of the planes put in storage have been returned to service. Some of the route clearances I am getting tell me there is still nowhere near 80% of what it was before COVID. When I get a clearance to climb to FL400 as soon as I switch to center when departing south Florida airports in the middle of the afternoon, that tells me the traffic is still nowhere near precovid levels. Airline traffic from my home airport on a Sunday mid morning was almost nonexistent. The tower controller was working both ground and tower frequencies simultaneously. In the past I would only hear that in the middle of the night. I keep hearing about airlines going on a hiring binge for over a year now but have yet to see much more traffic yet. I find it hard to believe the airline training departments are that far behind. If they are it will take years before traffic returns to anything close to precovid levels.

    • The article says domestic travel is at 80% of what it used to be. International travel is still down, which may account for some of what you experience. Foreign carriers probably aren’t operating their routes to and from the States like they used to.
      I had to wait in line over 40 minutes to depart KMIA a couple months ago. Air traffic is busy again at some places and times. It just might not be the same as we’re used to.
      The problem is that so many pilots were forced to retire early or left to other careers in 2020 that the airlines are struggling to fly an 80% schedule.

    • Luck of the time and place, Matt. I get the babysitting 2,000 foot at a time climbs across umpteen sectors following the bunches of airplanes going the same way at the same time as I did before the crockdown.

      There are no airplanes in storage at my airline.

      ATC still is, and forever shall be by my 47 years experience, on its butt. They closed the gulf the other day but I refiled west out of Orlando and pushed the issue by taking deviations for WX to get my intended and desired route which was best and most efficient as well as clear of weather to Galveston and beyond… the gulf closure was not explained just what flow did that morning and left it all fricking day and never changed it once they left for home. 2 1/2 years to go to retirement and looking forward to it…

  2. My daughter is a Captain at Horizon. She is also a company sim instructor at Flight Safety. Horizon is hiring as quickly as they can find qualified pilots. The company is now offering large signing bonuses again to compete for pilots in response to other airlines doing the same. The recovery and demand for pilots is very real.

    • Horizon’s upward mobility path is it parent company Alaska Airlines, I presume. (Though at one time much of Horizon’s flying was by a large contracted operator.)

      Can it bring back retired pilots? Some might prefer shorter routes with fewer away from home nights, compared to their previous flying.

    • FTR, Russ Niles is not pleased with my blunt remark.

      Common does not mean appropriate.

      The term is anti-business, anti-people.
      It works against retention of pilots by obscuring pay and working conditions as key motivators – losing employers can blame someone else.

      BTW, isn’t upward mobility in aircraft size thus pay the norm in aviation?

      Training of new pilots is of course key, many attempts over the years, some much more capable than others so perhaps some should not have been hired – I saw a big difference riding along on check rides after flight tests in the Herc. A frequent career path was to the third seat in the Herc then was flying school instructor, I wondered about one I observed

    • Poaching may be a strong word but that doesn’t make AvWeb irresponsible or clueless.
      Many regionals have upgrade path agreements with the majors, so in a sense those major airlines do ‘own’ those pilots. If the major hires a lot of pilots from the regional years earlier than expected, that’s going to create a hardship for the regional to deal with…

  3. Two years out of A&P school I asked the Air-Taxi operator for a raise. “You want a raise kid? Go get it”. The best advice I ever got.
    Use any catch word you want, the only way the industry pay is going to get better is if the licensed personnel make it happen. GO GET IT! You jump-ship enough times and the air carriers will pay you. When people don’t talk with their feet the bosses laugh and cut your pay/benefits. Because they can.

    • Yeah, I keep reading that a starting A&P is better-paid working at auto dealers. The exception might be if you specialize in avionics, which could be lucrative.

      The real looming shortage is for A&P’s, not pilots, so I guess if you hang in there long enough, it will rain money.