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SkyWest Adds $70,000 Training Bond For Foreign-Based Pilots
Regional carrier SkyWest Airlines has unveiled a new $70,100 training bond for foreign-based pilots hired at the company, Aero Crew News reports. The bond, which applies only to foreign pilots hired through a yet-unnamed firm, will require each new hire to commit to employment at SkyWest until they have completed 2,000 Pilot-In-Command (PIC) hours at the airline, equivalent to roughly 3-6 years at the airline.
The bond is similar to a contract unveiled by fellow regional carrier Republic Airways last month. Republic’s contract requires pilots to upgrade to captain as quickly as possible then spend two years as a captain at the company, or else pay back $100,000 in training costs, lose up to $60,000 in bonuses, and refrain from working for a competing airline for a year.
Republic’s pilot union is currently challenging the company’s contract in court, arguing it does not comply with the airline’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. SkyWest, however, does not have a pilot union to challenge this decision.
Public response to SkyWest’s announcement is generally poor, though it is not as stark as the response to Republic’s announcement. Some say that practices similar to this will likely become standard at regional airlines, while older crewmembers say that these sorts of contracts are historically common, even among major airlines.
While not all airlines have contracts such as these for new First Officers, some regional airlines have cadet programs that offer loans to student pilots to help offset the costs of their initial training. These programs then lock the pilots into multi-year commitments flying for the company and require them to pay back the loans they received should they leave the company before the term is over.
SkyWest’s move comes as regional airlines, including SkyWest, struggle to fill Captain vacancies. While SkyWest’s bond may not require affected pilots to rapidly upgrade, requiring them to stay for 2,000 PIC hours roughly equates to the same commitment, calendar-year-wise, as new Republic captains.
Differences between Republic and Skywest
The major difference between SkyWest’s bond and Republic’s is that, while Republic is imposing its contract on all new hires, SkyWest is only doing so for a limited portion of foreign pilots hired at the company. Sponsoring foreign workers for a green card in the United States is a notoriously complicated and expensive process for companies, who need to proactively file paperwork and pay fees to the federal government. Foreign pilots who do not hold green cards have additional requirements to be able to fly in the United States.
At the time of writing, it seems that pilots who are American citizens or permanent residents will not be affected by SkyWest’s bond, allowing them to upgrade and move on to other airlines without concern for repaying training costs.
After Republic’s contract was announced, there were concerns that the airline would not be able to hire enough new pilots to staff flights down the road due to concerns over their contract. While this could certainly change, Aero Crew News reports that each class at Republic has been full since the new contract was unveiled. It could follow, therefore, that SkyWest will not see any change in the number of foreign pilots it hires.
SkyWest, as with many other airlines, has been dealing with staffing shortages since travel has rebounded post-pandemic. The company filed to get out of many of its Essential Air Service (EAS) routes and changed others to tag flights instead of return legs. The company has since filed to launch a charter subsidiary under Part 135 rules that would, among other things, potentially be able to fly its remaining EAS routes with less-stringent crew requirements.
“We are simply seeking fairness in approving a clearly fit operator,” SkyWest Chief Commercial Officer Wade Steel said about the subsidiary. The filing, however, drew ire from pilot unions, who claimed that approving SkyWest Charter would “make flying less safe” in the U.S. and start a “race to the bottom” in how airlines serve small cities.
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