Most pilots unhappy in their job

Despite post-pandemic industry recovery, cockpit professionals feel undervalued and keen to leave, survey finds

Asian Aviation
(PHOTO: Shutterstock) year’s rebound in air travel may have seen pilots return to the cockpit in droves after the mass layoffs and furloughs of the pandemic – but the profession remains a largely unhappy one. That is according to the latest annual survey of pilot attitudes by GOOSE Recruitment and FlightGlobal, which finds that more than half have not had a salary increase for five years, and for one in three, pay has fallen.

Download the survey here.

Only 15% of pilots believe their salary is keeping pace with the rising cost of living, and almost 70% say that current levels of pay will persuade fellow aviators to leave the sector.

The survey found that 63% want to change jobs in the next 12 months, including 65% of captains – the highest figure in the four years of the poll – with a better salary and benefits package as the main reason for seeking the change, followed by an improved work-life balance. Meanwhile, the 62% who say that, given the chance to start again, they would choose to become a pilot is also at its lowest. Just 45% would encourage young people to join the profession, another record low.

The survey polled 1,184 pilots across the world during the final quarter of 2022, a period where many airlines – particularly in North America – were reporting difficulty in recruiting flight crew following an unexpectedly strong recovery in passenger demand. Normally, this would suggest a market in which pilots in work or seeking employment have the upper hand. In fact, 77% of those polled are currently flying, compared with 62% last year and just 43% who were polled in late 2020 for the 2021 survey.

However, responses do not seem to reflect this, suggesting a community still in trauma and having to adjust career expectations after the collapse in air travel when governments enforced Covid-19 restrictions. In fact, 57% of respondents say they have had to change the type of flying they do because of the pandemic, with that figure as high as 81% among pilots in the Asia-Pacific region.

This is almost certainly because long-haul international travel has been slower to recover than many domestic or regional markets, such as the USA and Europe. This has led widebody pilots to transfer to single-aisle, regional, cargo or agency operations, where pay rates are often lower.

Asia-Pacific is the worst affected region when it comes to pay. There 48% of pilots have had their pay reduced. In South America, the figure is 36%. By contrast, in North America, where the traffic recovery began more than 18 months ago, and airlines have at times struggled to find pilots, 73% of respondents have seen their pay increase.

Despite the gloom in the profession, it seems likely that continuing global recovery, including in the long-haul market, will begin to drive up salaries as airlines compete for talent in short supply. In fact, 52% of pilots think salaries will increase over the next two years, with 32% believing they will stay the same. Moreover, 89% of respondents believe there will be a shortage of pilots over the next five years, compared with 66% in 2021.

Mark Charman, founder and chief executive of GOOSE Recruitment, suggests that during the pandemic, most pilots understood that cuts were necessary and sacrificed salaries and benefits for the good of their airline and the industry at large. “I don’t see this goodwill holding out for much longer,” he says. “Pilots will want to see their pay return to what it once was. I predict that 2023 will be a year with more remuneration crisis talks than ever before.”

A captain flying in North America believes his colleagues already hold the trump cards when it comes to salary. “Pilot pay is crazy right now. It is easy to job-hop for more money if the job doesn’t suit you. So many jobs, and so few pilots,” he says.

With such sensitive and complicated power balances at play, the prospect of potentially having to replace almost two in three of their flight crew this year, or find additional funds, may cause airlines some concern.

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