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Pilot Hiring

Jim Barnes, MEC Coordinator 

The Leading Edge, Fall 1999
(Published January 2000)


This quarter's report will be divided into two parts.  The first will address those areas related specifically to UALs process and the actions of the Flight Officer Selection Steering Committee (FOSSC).  The second, and largest section, will focus on the recent significant changes within the industry related to pilot hiring and the industry-wide supply and demand for pilots and the potential impacts upon the UAL pilots.

UAL Pilot Hiring
Hiring continues very strong and the forecast is for even greater numbers in calendar year 2000. The plan for the remainder of 1999 is for 70-80 new hires per month.  The plan is for a gradual increase in early 2000, to 90-100 per month.  The forecast for 2000 is 1,000-1,200 new hires.

Most recently the FOSSC has spent some time focusing on the management structure of our pilot selection process.  Currently the accountability for pilot hiring rests with the VP of Flight Training & Standards, yet the responsibility for actually hiring pilots rests with the Manager of Flight Officer Employment which is under the Peoples Services Department (HR).  Each reports to a different division and is under a separate budget.  During the discussion we became aware that the pilot selection process was not part of the FSRT review that was recently conducted at DENTK. Capt.  Szakach is working with the consultants on a revision that will include the pilot selection process in the FSRT modeling.  We anticipate the report from the FSRT review in the fourth quarter of 1999.  We also anticipate that this review will greatly aid all parties in determining the proper management structure for the process. The FOSSC has also been very involved in the development of a new scantron form.  This has been necessitated by the fact that the company will implement one standard application for all positions effective June 2000.  The new application will include a position specific supplement, in our case, a single page, which is scanable on each side.  Therefore the scanable area will double from what we currently have available. This should be an improved tool for interview selection.

Industry-Wide Pilot Supply & Demand

I attended the September Aviation Information Resources, Inc. (AIR Inc.) seminar in Minneapolis, MN. Over the last four years I've attended several of these seminars per year in order to maintain an overall awareness of the industry hiring trends as well as to develop contacts at other airlines.

AIR Inc. holds six seminars each year in various cities across the country.  These seminars generally attract 400-700 pilots who are seeking jobs.  These fairs are attended by a large number of airline representatives (pilot recruitment departments), as was the one in Minneapolis.  The fair allows prospective pilots to speak with many airline representatives. This last fair was the least at- tended one I've seen, with slightly more than 200 pilots attending, despite being "hosted" by North- west Airlines.  The relatively low turnout of pilots may not be as significant as it sounds at first as AIR Inc. has never held a seminar in Minneapolis and reports that the first time in a city usually results in a relatively low turnout.

The following information is important due to the significant changes that have occurred this year regarding pilot hiring within the industry and the potential impact that such could have on pilot hiring at UAL-the ongoing collective bargaining process and the regional jet issues.

The year 1999 began with UAL as the carrier hiring the most number of pilots within the major airlines. We were only forecasting 400-500 new-hire pilots.  UAL's database of active pilot applicants exceeded 11,000.  American Airlines had just finished recalling its furloughees, and was beginning to hire at a slow rate.  USAirways still had a number of pilots on furlough status.  Delta Airlines was hiring but 10 pilots per month.  Northwest was hiring small numbers as well.  Continental, though hiring, was hiring from within its Continental Express unit as per their flow-through agreement.  TWA was hiring to meet attrition.  The national carriers (Southwest, America West, etc.) were hiring pilots but also at a relatively slow rate. The largest sector of the industry hiring was at the regional airline level.  Though no single carrier was hiring more than UAL at the time, the sector as a whole was hiring at a much greater rate than the other sectors.

Despite this picture, AIR Inc. was predicting a record year in terms of pilot hiring for 1999.  AIR Inc. forecast for pilot hiring has been accurate.  The industry-wide supply and demand for pilots has changed drastically in the last six to eight months.

Current Industry Hiring

Today every major airline in the United States is hiring pilots.  With the exception of TWA, none are experiencing any problem finding sufficient numbers of pilot applicants as yet, though all reported to me that they have also seen an increase in pilots not responding to interview invitations and pilots declining class dates.

 Q UAL is currently hiring 70-80 per month.  Only 150 to 200 of the new pilots will be to ensure staffing to comply with the Dec. 12, 1999 FAA enforcement of reserve rest provisions. In year 2000 UAL is projecting 1,000-1,200 new hire pilots, likely more toward the upper end if DENTK can accommodate such a level. The number of active applicants in the database has dropped to roughly 7,000-a reduction of more than 30% in less than one year!  Prior to this year UAL has always received sufficient new applications for the database of applicants to remain constant in number or growing in number.  The 7,000 applicants are likely the same 7,000 applicants that all of the other majors have as well.

Though not significant (at least yet) UAL has seen an increase in the no-show rate for interviews, an increase in those not responding to interview invitations, and an increase in the number of pilots turning down a class date due to being hired by another carrier. (Although all of these have increased, the rate is still very low.)

UAL continues to experience a high success rate in the selection process, roughly one-in-three.  If the high rate remains constant, roughly half of the current applicant pool will be interviewed by the end of next year.  The experience level of those being interviewed has declined during the year.  As such, it is unlikely that the success rate will remain constant.  As the experience level of those interviewed declines, it is expected that the success rate will decrease to a more common rate of one in five or six as has been experienced in the past.

 Q American is hiring roughly 80 per month.

 Q Delta has increased its hiring rate to 60 per month.

 Q Northwest is hiring 50 per month and is forecasting 450 per year for the next several years.

 Q TWA, reportedly, has been unable to hire sufficiently to cover attrition and is hiring relatively low time pilots to retain what it can.  This last year UAL has hired TWA pilots with as much as 10 years seniority at TWA.

 Q USAirways is hiring 135 per month.  They were screening pilots for interviews at the AIR Inc. seminar.  To my knowledge, USAirways is the first of the majors to do so at these fairs.

National Carriers
As with the major airline sector, all national airlines are hiring pilots.  Though none will say so publicly, privately many said that they target pilots who have traits that would make them less desirable to a major airline.  Some were also putting themselves forward as a great place to build experience for the majors.

 Q Southwest has recently dropped their requirement for applicants to have a B-737 type-rating prior to interviewing.  SWA has had the type-rating requirement since their inception.  They also said that they plan on doubling the size of their pilot force within the next five years!  Currently they are just over 3,000 pilots. SWA has frequently attended AIR Inc. seminars, but usually with only two HR representatives.  At this seminar, for the first time, they had some pilots with them to assist in recruiting.

 Q Midwest Express is hiring at an unspecified rate, and attended the AIR Inc. seminar for the first time in my experience.

 Q FedEx is also hiring large numbers of pilots, though they are not specific.  They also attended the AIR Inc. seminar for the first time in my experience.

 Q Airborne is hiring pilots and also was at the seminar for the first time in my experience.

Regional Airlines
Of most significance are the changes taking place in the regional airline ranks.  This sector continues to hire pilots at huge rates.  The competition for pilots within this level of the industry is nothing less than fierce.  Most regional airlines have reduced their minimums, some to the point of the FARS.  They are hiring directly into the RJs.  They are touting fast upgrades (some are hiring captains off the street).  The biggest problem many have is that they cannot find sufficient pilots qualified for the ATP.  Many are advertising flow-through agreements with majors as a way of attracting pilots and retaining experienced pilots in their operation at least for a period of time.  Some are also communicating that their pilots have a high success rate at getting hired with various majors.  Several of these airlines were conducting interviews at the seminar for RJ F/Os and were unable to fill their available interview slots.  The first time I have been aware of airlines actually conducting interviews at these fairs was the one in July 1999.

Pay for training has all but disappeared from the industry since the start of this year.

Many of the smaller regionals were discussing the possibility of petitioning the FAA for an exemption to the ATP requirements in order to fill captain positions. This has not been done as yet, though there are some very serious discussion of attempting to do so.

Many regionals have recently established relationships with aviation colleges where they will guarantee a graduate a first officer job after graduation in return for a commitment of two years with the airline. All of the regional airlines are hiring pilots:

 Q American Eagle is hiring 80+ per month. Their time to upgrade has changed from 6-7 years to 15 months just since the first of this year.  They are now paying pilots while in training, paying for their lodging and paying per diem for new hires in training.

 Q Chicago Express was at the seminar for the first time. They have a 3-6 month upgrade, if a pilot meets the ATP requirements.  They now have a flow-through with ATA. They pay salary and lodging while in training.

 Q Comair is also hiring at a very high rate.  Though they are filling their classes they are very concerned about the ability to find pilots that can upgrade to RJ captain within a year or two!

 Q Continental Express has recently lowered their minimums to 1000tt & 200 ME, though they did say that if an applicant had other areas of experience (i.e., turbine time), such could be waived.  They are very vocal in advertising their flow-through agreement with Continental.  They were interviewing for RJ F/Os at the seminar.

 Q Great Lakes was at the seminar for the first time and interviewing pilots there. They have no stated minimums and are canceling flights due to a lack of qualified captains. They told me that during the last 12 months they've hired more than 400 pilots, yet their seniority list only has 350 pilots on it.  An annual attrition rate in excess o 100%. (United Express carrier)!

 Q Horizon Airlines was at this seminar for the first time in my experience.  They too have recently lowered their minimums and pay salary, lodging and per them while a new hire is in training.  Though they have no formal flow-through they were very vocal in letting pilots know that many of their pilots are now flying at Alaska Airlines.

 Q Mesa Airlines was interviewing at the seminar and is hiring 40 per month.  They indicated that they plan on an 80% annual attrition rate for pilots!  They have recently lowered their stated minimums to 1000tt and 200 ME, though they too will waive the flight time based upon other factors.  They pay pilots while in training and providing some lodging.

 Q PSA, a USAirways feeder, has recently lowered their minimums and like many will even waive those.  They too are having a difficult time finding pilots with the qualifications to upgrade as they need.  They were also interviewing at the seminar.

Future Supply/Demand for Pilots
The near term supply of future pilots is very interesting.  The military has been a strong supplier for decades.  The past four years has seen an attrition from the military pilot ranks like no other period.  The supply of military pilots will last for only about another year.  At that point those who entered the military when they were training large numbers, under the Reagan/Bush build up, will have either separated or committed to stay.  The number of pilots trained since that time was significantly lower, and the military has significantly increased the time commitment for pilots.  The military is working very hard to reduce their attrition of pilots.  Bottom line, the military pipeline will slow to a trickle within a year.

The number of civilian pilots being trained is relatively low.  There has been a large increase in the number of aviation colleges, but they still are not training the numbers of pilots that will be needed if the regional airline demand continues to grow as it has.

The regional airlines will become the main supplier of pilots for the national and major airlines.  With the significant increase in regional pilots, there are sufficient pilots to supply the major's needs for planned expansion and retirements. The picture for the regional industry, however, is not very positive. They are in much the same situation as the military, with insufficient numbers of pilots and having a very difficult time retaining those with any experience.

Also of interest: simulator availability worldwide is very scarce.

The low end of the airline industry is experiencing significant problems attracting qualified pilots.  Experience levels are dropping at an unprecedented rate.  Many have eliminated pay for training and have begun paying salary, lodging, and per them while a new pilot is in training.  To ease the long-term potential problem many regional airlines are establishing relationships with aviation colleges.  This is a long-term solution only and will not impact the short-term problems.

Many in the national category are taking steps to reduce their attrition to majors.  They clearly are starting to feel a shortage of pilots.

With the exception of TWA, all of the majors are hiring at record rates.  To date none are having trouble attracting qualified applicants; however, all are taking steps to increase recruitment activities. 

The above summation has implications in at least three areas of interest to UAL pilots and the UAL-MEC:

Pilot Hiring
Clearly it is in our interest that UAL continue to attract the best pilots available.  To that end DENEV has significantly increased the requested budget for pilot recruitment.

For UAL to maintain effectiveness in pilot hiring and recruitment, the accountability and responsibility for the selection process must be brought under the same management structure.  If the accountability is to remain with the VP of Flight Training and Standards, as I believe is proper, then the responsibility for administering the process must be included in the chain of command of the VP. People Services should certainly be providing support for the process.  The current situation is such that each department is responsible to different management structures, with differing goals and budgets.  The process suffers as a result.