Plane & Pilot
Saturday, May 1, 2004

Cockpit Career Update Part 1: Is Now The Time To Prepare For An Airline Job?

We invited leading industry representatives to our offices in Los Angeles for a conversation about the future of cockpit careers. Here’s what they had to say.

After September 11, pilot careers in 2001 looked bleak. Newspaper articles confirmed the airlines were hemorrhaging red ink, thousands of pilots had been furloughed and new hires appeared to be a thing of the past. While the media continues to talk about the tough times in the commercial air-travel industry, many insiders think the tide has turned." />

Pan Am International Flight Academy also is starting to see the turn in hiring trends. “It’s been a challenging couple of years,” says pilot placement manager Stephanie Heron-Weeber. “Prior to the summer of 2001, we couldn’t hold on to our flight instructors—they were getting hired by regional carriers with about 600 hours. It wasn’t an easy time for us as a flight school, but over the last couple of years, we’ve faced a different challenge. Graduates have been getting hired, but they’ve been competing with candidates who have been in the industry for many years, including furloughed pilots with thousands of hours. In the last couple of months, however, we appear to have turned a corner and the outlook is so much brighter. In fact, just last week, four more Academy instructors were hired into airline jobs and many more are interviewing.”

The major airlines have been a little slower to recover, but the trend is changing for them as well. “We’re accepting people right now for [airline-pilot training] classes,” says Tracy Takara, manager of recruitment, selection and staffing for America West Airlines. “The range of our successful applicants go from pilots with 2,500 hours with the ink literally still wet on their temporary ATP certificates, to pilots with 15,000 hours who have been at the nationals for years, to pilots who have been furloughed. And the age range goes from the mid-20s to the mid-50s.” These numbers are very encouraging for people who think they’re too old to change careers.

Currently, America West and Southwest are the only two major passenger airlines that are hiring pilots. Alaska is accepting résumés, but Delta, American, Continental, Northwest and United still have thousands of pilots on furlough. A number of companies have been forced to cut pilot pay, some by as many as 30%. But it isn’t as bad as it sounds.

“Existing airline pilots are crying poor, but it’s only because they went from making $200,000 a year to $150,000 a year, and there are so many other benefits to the job. There’s no other place that offers such benefits as plenty of time off, flexibility, income and retirement,” explains Darby.

Major cargo carriers also are declaring an end to the embargo. ASTAR Air Cargo is already hiring, and FedEx, ABX, UPS and Air (formerly Airborne Express) have all reported positive hiring possibilities for 2004, and some of them are already accepting résumés.


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