Real Answers from Real Pilots

ExpressJet Closure

With EpressJet closure now certain at the end of SEP 2020, anyone know what might become of their pilots in an environment like this (or others like Compass and Ravn Air)? I remember when Republic Air closed down a few years ago, I’m sure all their pilots were quickly snatched up by rivals. Now I’m not sure what these pilots will do since they are not simply just furloughed but actually lost their jobs. Is the most likely course of action is they won’t find an actual airline job until the recovery, which by the latest accounts won’t be until 2023 or even 2024?

On a somewhat related topic, is it me or are new topics to the site down significantly? 6-12 months ago, it seemed like there were 6 or so new topics a day. Now it seems like just around 1 per day. If that is the case, I wonder perhaps if this is a refection on the number of people interested in becoming airline pilots in the future. Less people wanting to spend $100k on an unstable (real or perceived) industry. In turn, if that is true, will there be an newer, more acute pilot shortage in 3-7 years time since there were fewer pilot trainees / recruits during the years 2020-2023.

For anyone at an ATP location, especially CFIs, have you noticed a drop off in the number of new students or prospective students the last few months, or are you all as busy as ever?

Alex

Alex,

The pilots from ExpressJet will do what pilots have always done, whatever they can and is necessary to stay in the industry and support their families. I know many pilots who fly for Xjt (and others who were at Compass. Btw, but sure which Republic you’re taking about as Republic Airlines is still alive and well?). Some have already found jobs flying cargo and corporate, others might be less successful and have to do something outside the industry. Unfortunately that’s always been the biggest threat staying at a Regional for life, the instability. Regardless many will remain in cargo and corporate, many will find their way back, others will not. We’ve always said this industry can be volatile.

As for the forum activity I have of course noticed a slow down but I believe it has much more to do with the WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC vs “Less people wanting to spend $100k on an unstable (real or perceived) industry”. As I said this industry has always had a certain level of instability and it deters some and not others. Not sure what you’ve been up to but for me and many of my friends it feels like Groundhog Day. The whole world seems to be impatiently waiting for things to start up again. Factor in the political environment, highest unemployment in decades, layoffs, home schooling, social unrest and I believe this is a reflection of the world we’re living in vs a reflection on the aviation industry. When we do recover things will absolutely be worse shortage wise. The single number one strategy the Majors are using to mitigate furloughs and reduce their payrolls are early retirements. Remember the pilots who are furloughed are the lowest paid pilots and those near retirement are usually the highest. Strictly in terms of payroll one senior Capt buys you 4-5 newhires. Problem is the Majors are now accelerating the next 5yrs (literally thousands of pilots) into the next few months. When we come out of this there’s zero question we’ll be short.

Adam

Adam,

Thanks for your reply. My mistake on Republic, while they did declare bankruptcy (and I thought they liquidated), it was merely a reorganization bankruptcy so they are still around.

And yes the worldwide pandemic is the cause, however I was just personally stating people’s uneasiness to spend that kind of money and time on a career now that the boom times have turned in to a bust, regardless of cause. Your statement “this industry has always had a certain level of instability and it deters some and not others” is the perfect example of why I asked my question. It’s very hard to deter people from an industry when in the past 10 years it’s basically been booming and was projected to continue without COVID. Who would get deterred by that? Now that we are on hard times, it’s interesting to see in basically real time what the shakeout is looking like from those who are being deterred with the current situation (who otherwise would not have been sans pandemic). We won’t really see the actual trend for probably a year or two when official numbers from the FAA regarding new licences earned by what were student pilots during the early months/years of the pandemic, however I was seeing if there were predictive signs like interest on this forum or new student trainees at flight schools that might have a correlation to peek into the future regarding new ATP-rated pilots around 2023.

Finally, I know airlines are just trying to survive today and it’s hard to think about the future when you might not survive tomorrow, but I wonder if they took into account their current actions and realize that they are planting the seeds for a future pilot crisis and whether they have a plan to attack the next pilot shortage just around the bend or if they are solely focused on the “today”?

Alex

Alex,

The airlines will handle the pilot shortage when it happens again. The shortage is really function of the way airlines currently chose to operate. For example, pre-covid, UAL had five flights a day from ORF to EWR on 50 seat RJs. If a pilot shortage really kicked in, they could shift that to two flights per day on a 737 and still move the same number of people, but use four pilots instead of ten. Now of course it is more complex than this, but that is one way the airlines could deal with a shortage, have more mainline presence and less regional presence, something we were starting to see before March.

Right now the airlines are in survival mode. This will get better and we will come out if it sooner rather than later, but it is hard for them to worry about five years from now given the current situation.

The situation with ExpressJet is case and point why I always encourage people to move on from the regionals to the majors. It is easy to get comfortable at a regional with good pay, good schedules and choice vacation weeks, but there will never be the stability there that there is at the majors.

Chris

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Alex,

As Chris said right now all the carriers are in survival mode. This is literally like no other crisis ever as there’s no clear end in sight. I’m a union officer and have been participating in meeting at all levels for months now. They’re are purely focused on short term and will deal with the future then. Should be interesting.

Adam

This is an interesting article about potential pilot furloughs:

4 Likes

Thank you Chris and Adam for your insights on the current situation. Chris, the article was basically my thinking, just not sure if the “student pipeline” they and I alluded to is currently bearing out in real terms at flight schools or if it’s just hypothetical and in fact the trend of new student pilots remain unchanged from before the pandemic (or for some reason maybe even higher). Perhaps everyone is in fact far-sighted and is thinking the shortage is going to be more severe in 3 years time (and the rising incomes that go with it) that even MORE student pilots are signing up today then before? I guess time will tell in the end.

Alex

Alex,

I would speculate that less students are signing up now than before Covid hit. Some people tend to be very short term in their planning and make decisions based on now and not the future. We have also seen many of the smaller flight schools go out of business completely, which is one more reason that I recommend prospective students seriously consider looking for a large school with a well established history.

Chris

As a prospective new pilot, I for one am considering this current Covid situation an opportunity for me and all aspiring career pilots. If I can go from 0 hours to 1500h in the next 2-3 years (BTW I’m already 43) I’ll have a greater opportunities due to a shortage. I hope I don’t come across as insensitive to all those currently affected; I feel terrible for those who can’t continue to do what they love. It’s just that I believe that the push for early retirement and other pilots let go that can’t hold on till this current situation improves will really cause a pilot shortage in a couple years.