As much as the aviation industry is used to dealing with unpredictable global challenges and disruptions, the search for aviation talent is an increasingly demanding task that airlines continually face. In our latest article, we interview our Associate Director of Client Services, Mike Lucas. Mike has a wealth of aviation and recruitment experience that spans over 20 years. Through the relationships Mike has built with his extensive network of clients, he has gained a deep understanding of their hiring needs, as well as what the overall airline hiring market was like in 2023. In addition, we take the opportunity to cover some of the biggest milestones that airlines, including some of our clients, achieved in the past year and look ahead to what this year might have in store.
Airlines focus on growth
2023 experienced both highs and lows as airlines tried to maintain their ambition for growth, while juggling a number of ongoing global conflicts that continue to impact their operations. For example, the Russian war against Ukraine, which imposes airspace restrictions, and Houthi’s Red Sea attacks, which affect cargo trade and the price of oil, to name a few.
Meanwhile, Ryanair made a mark as one of the year’s biggest highlights, as its revenues skyrocketed to $11.701 billion, a 48.05% increase year-over-year. The low-cost carrier set a great example for strategic planning that is customer centric and effective enough to also combat ongoing challenges.
Volotea, one of AeroProfessional’s fastest growing European clients, was also on an uprising trajectory in 2023. Its expansive plans finally came to fruition as it opened its 21st base in Bari, Italy. The base will help Volotea increase its capacity by about 38%, as it will create 8 new routes to Italy, France, Greece, Spain and Croatia.
Operating costs soared to new heights
In comparison to previous years, the aviation industry grappled with escalated operating costs, significantly impacting airlines’ budgets. These costs spread to various areas, including recruitment, staff retention, maintenance, and jet fuel expenses. 2023 posed a series of formidable challenges, leaving many of our clients susceptible to a surge in expenses, with reports of up to a 21% increase in Europe. Notably, the aftermath of the air traffic control IT system meltdown in the UK prompted the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to mandate an airline fee hike from £47 to £64 per flight until 2027. This move, catalysed by the IT disruptions, drew dissatisfaction from numerous airlines. In the meantime, the aviation industry kept facing a critical challenge: the sector-wide staffing shortages, impacting operations to an even greater extent.
A direct view on on the current aviation client scene
An interview with Mike Lucas.
With over 20 years of combined experience in the recruitment and aviation industries, Mike has developed an extensive network of aviation and airline c-level contacts who have greatly benefited from his consulting services. He is a champion of driving collaborative partnerships that promote innovation, reliability, and efficiency to deliver the most effective recruitment solutions for his highly valued clients.
We interviewed Mike to gain a better understanding of the 2023 aviation client market, as well as to find out how AeroProfessional’s clients coped with the difficulties that the industry endured last year. Additionally, Mike shares how AeroProfessional assisted in shaping and implementing airlines’ recruitment strategy throughout the year and looks ahead to this year’s hiring market.
What attracted you to aviation recruitment?
I dedicated 11 years of my career working for British Airways. Following a change of career direction into overseas real estate, I was confronted with the challenges of the financial crash of 2008/2009. I got into aviation again after a friend introduced me to aviation recruitment. This allowed me to continue my passion for the aviation industry while delivering exceptional service to clients.
How did you find the aviation client market in 2023?
Not as buoyant as it was in 2022. There was a ‘mad scramble’ for talent post-pandemic, which has somewhat stabilised now. However, there continues to be a demand for flight crew and engineers among most operators.
What hiring trends (if any) did you identify in your communications with AeroProfessional’s clients in 2023?
Seasonal hiring has not been as static as in former years, where recruitment for summer contracts typically had been finalised by April. Due to shortages in flight crew and especially experienced First Officers, who faced reduced/zero flight hours during the pandemic, airlines have found it necessary to increase the First Officer-to-Captain ratio to meet operational headcount requirements.
If clients ever find themselves in an emergency where they are in immediate need of personnel and are struggling to fill in their numbers, we always ensure to provide extra support and resource to assist them. With AeroProfessional’s large candidate network, we make the process much easier for clients as we are well-equipped to deal with their hiring needs at any given time.
What aviation role(s) did clients seek to recruit the most in 2023, and how did they approach the hiring process?
We mostly hired and contracted flight crew members for our partner clients. The widespread demand and competition for pilots were so intense that many clients had to revise their terms on offer regularly, even as often as every week, to position themselves at the top of candidates' preference list.
Considering the ongoing global challenges that impact the aviation industry, have you observed clients being particularly budget-conscious?
Budget consciousness has always been a priority, given that staff can account for up to 30% of an airline’s overall costs. However, the cost of not having the right number of people is also significant when compared to having to cancel flights or pay compensation, for instance. The key is to strike a healthy balance between budget and optimal headcount.
What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges that our clients face in the recruitment process across different aviation sectors?
Apart from the general skilled pilot shortage, a significant issue is the intense competition for candidates. The impact of Covid acted as a "reset" button, diminishing crew loyalty, and narrowing the perceived gap between legacy airlines and Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs), for example. There is now a heightened emphasis on lifestyle. The evolution of aircraft technology and increased competition have made long-haul flying less appealing to pilots compared to in the past.
The attraction of licensed engineers is also a concern, particularly the fierce competition for B1 and B2 engineers with Airbus and Boeing Type experience. In Europe, operators are now paying close to six figure salaries, an increase of 20-30% versus pre-pandemic.
Clients across these different sectors have grown to rely on the feedback we have given from our candidate networks. These strong connections have enabled us to produce thought-provoking and insightful whitepapers, as well as benchmarking terms on offer.
Considering the shortages in the aviation workforce, which role(s) do clients find the most difficult to fill and why?
In particular - direct entry type-rated First Officers with 1500-2000 flight hours. These are the
pilots who would have otherwise started type- training and flying during 2020/21 but were unable to due to covid lockdowns at the time. Those lucky enough to have had that experience have been upgraded to left-hand seat positions to fill the further void created by Captains who decided to retire early because of the pandemic.
At AeroProfessional, we have been able to offer airline-specific strategies to combat this shortfall. For example, providing short- and medium-term support in the form of experienced contract crew, to assist these airlines in bridging training gaps.
How willing are clients to negotiate salary packages, bearing in mind the staff shortages and the challenges in filling talent pipelines, especially in MRO?
Very. There is also a significant acknowledgment of the need for more effective grassroots approaches. Some airlines have already embraced fully sponsored pilot/MPL schemes, and MROs are increasingly receptive to skilled/pathway apprenticeship programmes.
What are your thoughts on how aviation clients plan to hire in 2024, given the current industry conditions?
With ongoing issues affecting Pratt and Whitney engines, leading to the grounding of several A320 aircraft, there might be a temporary reprieve in pilot hiring. However, this situation could in turn create a short-term demand for more skilled licensed engineers.
With Boeing, cadets might hear the latest news about the issues with the B737-900ER and realise the lack of choice they have due to fewer airlines using B737NG/MAX planes. Because of this, they might choose to train on Airbus aircraft instead. This shift in training could mean there won't be enough B737NG/MAX pilots available in Europe for the next 12-24 months.
2024’s skies are looking brighter
As we leave Covid-19 behind, the industry is expected to stabilise, but recruitment will still remain a key focus, as airlines continue to work on their talent pipelines. According to IATA’s latest predictions, the airline industry is set to achieve net profits of $25.7 billion this year. The net profit margin is expected to rise to 2.7%, from 2.6% in 2023. Additionally, 2024 will also experience a surge in passengers, reaching a record high of 4.7 billion, surpassing the pre-pandemic levels of 4.5 billion passengers in 2019. As demand and profitability increase, airlines’ hiring needs will inevitably intensify as well.
The AeroProfessional team are specialists in the recruitment and selection of aviation professionals across the globe. Reach out to the team today to discuss your current hiring challenges and gain the expert advice and guidance you need to ensure your hiring strategy gains maximum success in 2024.
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