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The Hidden Aspects of Pilot Careers: Questions We Often Neglect

Asking the right questions is a key attribute in any aviation career.

Inside the cockpit of a Boeing 737 MAX. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

With over four decades of experience in the aviation business, it becomes evident that there are always noteworthy headlines and events shaping the airline industry. If you’re contemplating a career in aviation, understanding this constant state of flux is crucial.

Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, aptly captured this in his famous quote: “You can’t have a midlife crisis in the airline industry because every day is a crisis.”

Kelleher’s statement holds a valuable lesson – resilience is paramount in this field. Every day, something significant is bound to happen, and you need to be prepared for it. The industry has evolved, and today, aspiring pilots have access to a wealth of information, unlike in the past when it was challenging to make informed decisions. But, even with this wealth of information, one fundamental question remains: Do you have the resilience, the “thick skin” required for this industry?

In this article, we’ll delve into the current aviation dilemma, explore what lies beneath the surface, and understand why resilience is a critical attribute for those considering a career in aviation.

The Current Challenge: Pratt & Whitney’s Engine Issue

Recently, RTX, the parent company of Pratt & Whitney, announced a rare condition in the powder metal used to manufacture certain engine parts for PW1100 GTF engines. This issue will necessitate the removal of approximately 600 to 700 engines from service for shop visits between 2023 and 2026, with a majority of these removals taking place by early 2024.

Now, reading between the lines is essential here. These engines were designed to revolutionize the airline industry, as they offer exceptional efficiency and cost savings in fuel consumption. However, a design flaw has come to light, resulting in the grounding of around 300 airplanes. This predicament affects several major U.S. airlines like JetBlue, Spirit, and Hawaiian, as well as European carriers.

A Japan Airlines flight departs from Seattle (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

Grounded airplanes impact profits, and airlines are already reeling from post-pandemic losses. Furthermore, there is a pilot shortage, adding another layer of complexity. A shortage of pilots hinders growth and profitability. Resilience, in this context, means understanding that crises like these are normal in the airline industry and being prepared to weather them.

The Hidden Dilemma: Pilot Shortage and Aircraft Scarcity

The storm of a pilot shortage and aircraft scarcity is brewing. Airlines that operate affected aircraft types will likely cite this situation as a credible excuse for poor profit scenarios. This can consume airline management teams, diverting their focus from growth strategies. It’s an opportunity disguised as a crisis, but it requires resilience to perceive it as such.

Airlines may resort to knee-jerk reactions like slowing down growth, ordering, or hiring and more importantly pulling out of certain markets in an effort to stop the bleeding. If hiring slows down, the already limited pool of available pilots may quickly be snatched up by competing airlines. Another option is incentive lines, where pilots are paid to stay home on reduced pay, might also be considered. This option may sound good to some pilots who want to reduce their flying but it does have a compounding effect on the rest of the airline.  Resilience means understanding that these situations are part and parcel of the industry and remaining steadfast in your career goals.

The Byproducts of Industry Challenges

Besides the immediate challenges, there are byproducts to consider:

Byproduct #1

Most collective bargaining agreements (pilot contracts) include profit-sharing scenarios. These agreements should ideally protect pilots, but creative accounting can sometimes affect profit-sharing payouts.

Byproduct #2

Airlines often have union groups to manage crises, and this can be a time-consuming and emotionally charged process. When unions are addressing one thing, other items often get no attention. Resilience helps you keep a cool head.

Byproduct #3

Morale can take a hit when airlines face challenges. The airline’s culture and employee satisfaction can suffer. Resilience is vital in maintaining your professional identity and coping with the emotional rollercoaster.

In today’s world, stress and tension can take a toll on individuals both at work and in their personal lives. It’s essential to care for one another and understand how crisis management can affect our careers as pilots. More important is removing the element of surprise.  Well-informed pilots are better able to handle these scenarios even if they are just starting out in their careers.  In this ever-changing industry, having thick skin is not a choice – it’s a necessity.

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  • Ken Schulte

    Captain Ken Schulte is an Airbus 320 Captain for a major US Airline as well as operating a pilot shop that caters specifically to the airline industry. Visit the shop here: https://airspeedjunkie.com

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