In the last 18 months, airline hiring has begun to pick up. The majors are hiring steadily, and United alone has announced a need for 1,300 pilots in fewer than two years. American and Delta are also actively hiring. None of this is news.
But, changes are afoot.
Historically, the majors have tried to hire as many pilots as possible who have a lot of FAR Part 121 pilot-in-command (PIC) time. With the advent of the regional jet, the premium moved to turbojet/turbine PIC (TPIC). Further, the airlines made it clear that they wanted a few other items on your resume: a four-year degree was “preferred,” even though it was silently required, and service as a check airman, simulator instructor, chief pilot, or some other work beyond flying the line was a big help. Those qualifications still move you to the front of the line, so to speak.
But the majors are beginning to place a bit less emphasis now on PIC or TPIC time. It still helps to have it, but it isn’t the deal-breaker it used to be. The majors have realized that the recession, the downturn in the airlines, and the change in the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65 has created a large pool of regional airline first officers who, through no fault of their own, did not have the opportunity to upgrade and gain experience as a captain. Further, they recognize that many of these FOs are good pilots and good people who will make excellent employees.
For years, jetBlue has been aggressive in hiring FOs, but the legacy carriers have been much less flexible. That isn’t to say that they didn’t do it, because they did. They just didn’t do it much. That may be starting to change. Longtime FOs are beginning to get interviewed and hired, which is great news. The requirement for the four-year degree has not been relaxed and isn’t likely to be soon, and it also helps to have a record of volunteerism or social activity on your resume. In fact, for an FO to stand out, it’s even more important to do what you can to boost your resume.
What this also means is that RJ captains can’t count on being the only ones to get calls for an interview. The competition for good jobs is heating up, and it’s quite possible that both pilots on an RJ flight deck on a Friday will be interviewing for the same job on a Monday. It’s been a long time since that’s happened. For pilots who are just entering the industry, it means that they don’t necessarily need to bank on a long period of stagnation like pilots did in the 2007-2012 time frame. There is, indeed, hope.
Pilots who have been captains are still at an obvious advantage, and a regional FO should still take an upgrade ASAP if one opens. But the tide is turning, and classes need to be filled. The long-awaited retirement boon at the majors is here, it’s happening, and it’s real. Also real are the opportunities for regional FOs to go to their airline of choice. Attending job fairs is still important, and so is networking. In fact, maybe more so than ever, a network of contacts can make a big difference in getting the job of choice. But for that network to help, you need to get those applications filled out and keep them up to date.—Chip Wright