Amid a global shortage of good pilots, David Edwards talks to the experts about recruiting the right wingman...
There are few more glamorous-sounding jobs, but the talk throughout the aviation industry is of a global pilot shortage. The US Air Force is 1,500 fighter pilots short of a full quota and future projections for commercial airlines are dire: Boeing estimates that the world will need 637,000 new pilots by 2036 to keep pace with rising demand in the aviation market. “It’s probably our biggest struggle right now,” admits Jason Middleton, CEO of California-based Silver Air.
If a leading private jet management and charter company like Silver Air is struggling to find enough recruits with “the right stuff” to make it to the rank of captain, what chance does a superyacht owner with a private jet have of finding a pilot? Bobby Genovese owns a Learjet 55, along with his 46.9 metre Feadship BG Charade, and has two military-trained pilots available full time. “A 26-year-old kid doesn’t have the years of experience,” he says. “You’re trusting your life, your family, your children to a pilot. I think skilled pilots are becoming a real rarity.”
For Middleton, pilots in the corporate jet sector need a good attitude as much as ability as an aviator. “Personality is so important in this business,” says Middleton, himself a former pilot who now employs around 100 others. “With airlines you get a very different type of pilot. We really look at things like flexibility, what type of a team player this person’s going to be.”
Mark Sager, owner of 29.8-metre Burger Oriana, is that rare breed: boat owner and pilot. He thinks older pilots can be of great use to private jet owners. “There are many pilots who face mandatory retirement who still have lots of interest and flights left in them. So you can find a very experienced individual who may be very happy with some work that might not be as structured as the airlines offer.”
The right mix: What to look for in a private jet pilot
Strength of character
Pilots need to be able to make a decision and not be swayed by owners. “We really want pilots who can take a position on safety and stick with it and be strong enough to do that,” says Silver Air CEO Jason Middleton.
Training for military pilots is second to none. “If I was looking for a pilot now,” says Bobby Genovese, “I would do a search for navy and air force pilots. They’ve been in almost every situation you can imagine.”
Corporate pilots need to understand the jet owner’s business and feel part of their team. “Corporate flying can be very interesting, due to the different destinations and the needs of the company,” says experienced corporate jet and airline pilot Peter Birch-Jones.
Pilots are well-balanced personalities. Cognitive tests have shown Jason Middleton that the best pilots are neither very outgoing nor introverted. “We want them somewhere in the middle of that on the cognitive test,” he says.
Retired airline pilots can still be excellent private jet pilots. If an owner needs more than one pilot, these can prove invaluable. “The older guys can be great mentors and they are the steady ones while the younger ones may come and go,” says Birch-Jones.