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From the Desk of the Editor - Are Helo Pilots Flying to Greener Pastures?

Posted 4 years 316 days ago ago by Admin

Earlier this year, you may recall that I wrote about factors that may impact the pilot supply in 2017-2018. Those factors were: (1) policies of the incoming U.S. President, (2) oil prices, (3) retirements, and (4) the airlines. I went on to ask if the pilot shortage that we have been talking about for the last decade was finally here? So far it seems that the four factors mentioned have had shifting dynamics, which are having an impact on the industry. Whether that’s good or bad is yet to be determined.

One example on the political front revolves around the immigration battle and border protection  efforts on the U.S. - Mexico border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has exponentially ramped up its hiring effort and is plucking pilots from the civilian and departing military ranks. In the energy sector, oil prices have risen and regulation regarding exploration are being lifted in hopes of having a more energy independent U.S. For the first time in a while, I see that oil and gas support companies like PHI are advertising in search of helicopter pilots.

There’s also increasing competition for helicopter pilots coming from non-traditional places. As you may have seen, American Airlines’ subsidiary, Envoy Air, advertises in Rotorcraft Pro seeking to hire and transition helicopter pilots into the airlines. They first focused on only hiring helicopter pilots transitioning out of the military. I understood why, but personally felt they were making a mistake by not fishing in the pool of equally qualified and capable civilian pilots. At this past Heli-Expo 2017 in March, I shared my perspective with several  AA recruiters. I think they may have heard the same sentiment from many other sources as it seems they may be expanding their hiring focus.

The most recent evidence I witnessed was when a pilot recruiter from one of the large HAA (helicopter air ambulance) operators reached out to me with a question. She asked if I had heard from other helicopter operators as to whether or not the airlines’ hiring efforts were impacting recruiting and/or retention. I told her that I was unsure and asked if it was impacting her organization. She replied that it definitely was; her organization had lost several pilots to the airlines.

I have also seen many of my colleagues who are well established, career helicopter pilots working hard to transition into the fixed-wing world. Today, one of my Facebook friends posted that she had just completed jet training and was leaving a major HAA  to take a corporate jet gig as a SIC (second-in-command). My presumption is that she probably has her sights on flying the heavy iron.

We’ve had a logjam in the pilot ranks for the last six to eight years. It seems market forces are busting it up and creating new opportunities for pilots in many sectors. The question becomes: Who’s it good for? What may be good for pilots may not be good for helicopter operators’ businesses. Only time and Mr. Market will tell.

QUESTION: Is your organization experiencing a shortage of qualified helicopter pilots? If so, please email me confidentially at [email protected] and share your experience.