By Ryan Ewing
‘Pilots Hire Pilots Here:’ Avelo COO Discusses New Hire Pay Hikes, Pilot Shortage Challenges
The U.S. airline industry is currently bracing for the ongoing shortage of pilots, as several carriers race to find their own solutions and incentives to prevent the issue from disrupting daily flight operations and route networks.
On Thursday, in its attempt to attract new crewmembers and expand its team, Avelo Airlines announced a substantial salary raise for its pilots and expects to welcome 120 new pilots this year.
As part of this pay hike announcement, AirlineGeeks spoke with Avelo Chief Operating Officer Captain Greg Baden who shared, “With the right qualifications, you could become a direct entry 737 captain.” The ultra-low-cost carrier is looking to hire 120 pilots in 2022.
“We probably lead the industry in upgrade times because we’re actually hiring captains off the street in certain numbers right now. But what I wanted to make sure in the background was that’s only because we are expanding and I will say that this year we’re going to more than double the amount of crew members we have currently,” added Baden.
Hiring direct entry captains is not a widely common industry practice, certainly not before the COVID-19 pandemic. But Baden notes that as the airline grows, it will become more traditional in its pilot hiring processes.
In a similar move to some other ultra-low-cost carriers like Allegiant, Avelo has designed its route network so that crew members start and end their day at base. Certainly a competitive benefit for prospective new hires, this approach also helps the airline save on lodging and transportation costs over time.
Referring to the added benefit of less time on the road at Avelo, Capt. Baden said, “That brings a lot of simplicity to our business and it’s a real advantage for raising a family…that’s an added benefit to the quality of life is just being able to be home every night, be a part of your family unit and sleep in your own bed.”
Avelo has bases at Tweed-New Haven Airport and Hollywood Burbank Airport, operating a fleet of six Boeing 737 aircraft.
The carrier plans to raise the first-year starting hourly pay rate by about 50 percent for captains, while new first officers will receive a roughly 30 percent raise for their first year. In addition, in its pitch to persuade prospective pilots to join, Avelo intends to provide a $20,000 sign-on bonus to its new pilots who join before June 1.
Furthermore, the ultra-low-cost carrier’s approach for more effectively and successfully combating the scarcity for pilots includes comprehensive training, uniform allowance, a virtual base stipend for both commuting pilots and those who live in base, and an assurance that each pilot will be able to work at least 70 block hours a month.
According to Baden, Avelo’s hiring minimums for pilots are “pretty much industry standard.” Most of its pilots come into the airline with turbine time, some even with actual jet experience.
Airlines such as Frontier and smaller regional operators have partnered with FAA part 141 flight schools to attract first officers with lower flight times in hopes that they will stay longer moving up the pay scale. Avelo is considering this, according to Baden, who says, “We do have several plans in the future…more to come on that.” These types of flight schools are more structured and regulated by the FAA, making them widely attractive to airlines with lower time qualifications.
“So I think as an industry in general, you’ll see younger and lower time qualified crew members entering into the civilian arena. But you know, we’re not there yet,” he adds.
The U.S. labor market remains in a crunch for workers, and as the airline industry seeks to capitalize on suppressed demand with greater capacity, adding more crew members is key. Generous new hire bonuses, lower time qualifications, and competitive upgrade times will ultimately shape airline – especially ultra-low-cost carriers – operational structures in the future.
“Pilots hire pilots here, and we have a lot of respect for what they do and what they contribute to our success,” noted Capt. Baden.
AirlineGeeks’ Ryan Ewing and Benjamin Pham contributed to this story.