There is a way forward for the Regional Airlines. Despite the unique problems they face because of the business model, there may be hope.
The push towards lower compensation at the regional airlines seems to have abated. Regional airlines are now offering some additional incentive besides rock bottom starting wages to attract pilots. Even Pinnacle/Endeavor the airline that started the free fall in compensation is offering large bonuses after these cuts in pay have dramatically affected their ability to attract pilots. Even though the bonuses are likely short term solutions to a long term problem it is a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, because of the reduction in wages at some of the regional airlines they have stifled their supply for pilots just when they should have been nourishing it the most. Also, because the difficulty in attracting pilots has been most keenly felt at the regional airline level, the Legacy carriers who control the regional carriers schedules have not been well motivated to plan more efficient schedules which would have allowed the existing pilots to be more efficiently used.
Even though many of the airlines are behind this curve it is still not too late for airlines who are willing to plan ahead.
How to fix the regional airlines
Make them a career
For safety and financial reasons regional airlines should be motivated to create an airline where a good portion of their pilots can make it a career. The career may not be as good as it is at the legacy carriers but good enough to justify the investment made in a pilot’s education.
A couple of reasons why
- It is expected that the next 20 years will be a period of continuous pilot movement and retaining a sizeable group of pilots to mentor new airline pilots will be important. Regardless of what anyone may say keeping a talent and experience base to nurture a culture of safety, maturity and stability is critical to the safety and reliable operation of an airline. Quality airlines are a by product of a culture developed and refined over many, many years. That culture is developed, protected and transmitted by flight ops teams, training departments and pilot groups that have in many cases spent decades learning from mistakes. The evolution that an airline goes through over time is difficult and expensive to rush.
- By keeping a significant number of pilots as career pilots, the number of training events required due to hiring is reduced. Airlines spend a considerable amount of money training new pilots. This is required because of the nature of flight operations, and aircraft differences inherent between aircraft. If very senior pilots leave, the domino effect in the number of training events required to back fill that pilot is greater than if a brand new pilot were to leave. While some movement is good and needed to refresh a pilot group each training event requires instructor, simulator, and additional line resources. Each of these resources are expensive.
To achieve a career it will take something different than just signing bonuses, which only bring pilots onto the property and do very little to retain pilots. It will take the same things seen at any other company that tries to keep career professionals. Some of these things include retirement, profit sharing, and benefits in conjunction with competitive compensation.
Develop a pipeline 2 years in advance
Regional airlines need to be looking to at least 2 years down the road to ensure they are cultivating their future staffing needs. If things are so unpredictable that they can’t predict 2 years down the road then that regional has other fundamental problems that further threaten their stability.
Airlines would be wise to take candidates that meet their stringent requirements, and invest heavily in their education, or provide those flight students that already meet their criteria a way to gain the necessary experience to qualify for Part 121 flight operations. Enough is known about attributes that make good pilots that airlines could do this with a limited exposure to pilots who may wash out.
The key will be to have enough foresight to invest in their aviator pipeline before they experience the financial pain from not preparing.
It is true that many airlines still have not felt the financial pressure from pilot inefficiency necessary to relook at their route networks and schedules and then to tailor them with pilot utilization in mind. To often pilot utilization has been looked at as an after thought. Even though this may be one of the last things airlines may consider, it will be available as a way to better use the pilot resources they currently have nonetheless.