Q: As a pilot student myself at this moment being, I am very fearful of the job situation right now. How is the job opportunity looking in the coming 12 months and further? What do you expect?


A: We understand your fear and hope that it does not take your focus away from your training. It is important that you don’t allow yourself to drift into a negative circle.

At the moment the recovery of the Aviation Industry is largely depending on two major things. Covid-19 and the economy. First we need to be able to travel again. Then people will need to be able to afford to fly again. It could be a few years before we will see demand for flying being back to pre Covid-19 levels. Airlines are going to adapt to the market and it is unlikely there will be a shortage of pilots any time soon.

Here is our:

  • Analysis of the pre Covid-19 job market.
  • Pilot jobs in 2020 and 2021.
  • Tips and advice.

Analysis of the pre Covid-19 job market

The issues with the B737 Max had already led to a halt in pilot recruitment in many airlines. Some airlines even started to make pilots redundant.

2017, 2018 was years where many pilots (in Europe) had gone straight from flying school to an A319 or B737. This created a lot of positivity in the pilot training industry and several MPL or cadet schemes was launched. Flying schools had amazing times as many signed up to become pilots. So despite the job market for pilots started to slow down, there are still a lot of pilots in the pipeline, just like yourself.

So on one hand we have experienced pilots losing their jobs and on the other hand a high number of student pilots graduating. If you got your wings in the last quarter of 2019, there was not a lot of jobs you could have applied for. We know this as we where involved with helping some low hour pilots into pilot jobs.

Pilot jobs in 2020 and 2021

When a regional operator like Flybe went under and low cost airlines like RyanAir stopped their recruitment, it made things a lot worse. This is why. Regional airlines and low cost operators was where you could get in straight from school. When big airlines like Virgin, SAS, British Airways make job cuts, it is of course bad for the industry, but these pilots will most likely not be going for the same type of jobs as you would as a student pilot. The problem is that some regional and low cost airline pilots, might.

We know it sounds harsh, but don’t turn your eyes or expectations up to join the career airlines at least for 2020 or 2021. Career airlines would be SAS, British Airways, Virgin, Lufthansa, Finnair etc. Some career airlines have a clause where they for up to 5 years, will have to re-hire a pilot they made redundant, before they can hire someone from outside. Even without such a clause, it still makes sense for an airline to hire a recent employee or someone with a rating and experience, due to faster/ cheaper training and integration of that pilot.

For the rest of 2020 and possibly into first half of 2021 more pilots are going to lose their jobs as airlines continue to make cuts. There might be a small increase of cargo jobs and business jet jobs. Cargo jobs tend to be on bigger jets and cargo airlines will be looking for pilots who are already rated or pilots that they could train fast and cheap (because they have experience). Business jet operators are usually prevented from hiring low timers, due to insurance issues. So none of these options are likely to present any real chance for pilots with no experience.

The next thing to be prepared for is that pay and terms and conditions are going to go down for pilots. Trade unions are likely to be engaged with the airlines trying to save jobs. The pilots cannot really offer to fly more (be more productive), as this will just undermine even more pilot jobs. One of the only things the trade unions can offer the airlines, is a reduction in pay. When the top airlines are lowering their pay and terms and conditions other airlines are likely to follow. Expect this to impact you too.

We could see more pilots going part time, early retirements options being offered and of course natural retirement. The numbers will unlikely be outnumbering the amount of pilots who lost their jobs due to Covid-19.

In 2021 those airlines that have survived might be increasing their flying approaching the summer 2021 season. This will however be heavily depending on what the status is with Covid-19 and the global economy. The economy is probably still in recovery and this would slow things down in the Aviation Industry. There will still be thousands of experienced pilots being unemployed.

When demand for flying starts increasing again, we think that some low cost operators could be tempted to offer student pilots “pay to fly schemes” on for example an A319 or a B737. Pay to fly, is where the operator asks you to pay first for a typerating let’s say 20.000 EUR and then ask you to pay another 20.000 EUR to get 200-300 hours of experience (line training). To fly 200-300 hours usually takes about 6 months. In this time you can expect to pay for your own accommodation and not get any pay- so basically it is like being back at the flying school. Usually there is a little promise of you being able to get some paid flying with the operator by the end of your contract, but it is rarely a guarantee. These schemes nearly died out as many condemned the operators, but there would probably be student pilots eager to take part. These kind of schemes are really not of any interest to experienced pilots as they don’t need the hours. So the good news is that you as a student pilot can expect some options to get flying. The bad news is that you can expect to pay a lot of money for them.

In the turbo prop world, there will be unemployed experienced pilots. Regional traffic is probably going to recover the fastest, so there might be better chances of a job here than on a jet. Still it is risky business to complete a typerating with no job offer first but that is probably the gamble you will have to make to have a chance of a job. Most pay to fly schemes in the past has been on jets but you never know. There might be some hour building schemes on ATR etc.

Tips and advice

So what kind of things could you do if you have a pilot licence in 2020, 2021?

Even with everything going on at the moment, there will still be some jobs for student pilots. The segment to look for is GA- “general aviation” because pilots with experience rarely want to go back to GA flying. GA flying could be flying sightseeing tours, photo flights, banner towing – all jobs on a small aeroplane. There might also be a rare opportunity to get a job flying a small turboprop like B1900, C208 or PC12 somewhere in a 3’rd world country or as a safety pilot for a private owner. The challenge for you is that these type of jobs are rarely advertised. The way you get a chance of getting one of these jobs is by knowing someone in the industry. You can be sure that if you start showing a bit of attitude or start demanding things, you have lost the job. This is not to say you should do something that you are not comfortable with, but just letting you know that you are unlikely to be able to negotiate.

Don’t expect to have time to consider a pilot job offer. If you get the pilot job offer, our advice would be to take it straight away. You can do yourself a favour by already having arranged money for a possible typerating, so you can pay with a few days notice. The flexibility required to get the pilot job could be really challenging. You may be locked in a non-flying job, where there is a notice period. Well bad luck for you. The employer just moves on to the next one, that is free to start on next Monday. It is really hard. If you go for a non flying job, make sure you can get out of it fast.

You also need to try and stay sharp, flying skills, theory etc. The pilot training is an investment you made in yourself and the longer you spend away from flying, the harder it will be to get back. We have written about how you can stay sharp by using mental training

Try to develop some new skills. It could be languages for example.

The flying school rarely prepare you for how you can sell yourself over a cup of coffee or how to write a good CV and cover letter. Our advice is, start practicing interview skills and make sure you have a sharp CV and you know how to write a good application.

Try to build a network. You can do this for example by being active on linked in.

Become member of a flying club. Try to fly with other pilots. Maybe it is only in the backseat of a piper, but it still gets you a little taste of flying.

Gliding can be a great (and cheap) way to do both networking and also some flying.

Keep a sharp lookout at operators websites for any job openings. You do this by regularly going to the operators website. Be careful to rely on 3rd party websites for job info. Same with pilot communities on Facebook. The really hot jobs are rarely shared in these forums. They go to those who have first hand contacts.

If a smaller operator looks for pilots, be prepared to hand in your CV and cover letter in person to the chief pilot. If going in person is not possible due to travel cost etc, get someone who works for the operator to hand it in for you along with a recommendation. This is where networking starts paying off.

Forget all about “copy paste applications”, they tend to go straight into the bin. Each application must be tailor made to the company. Once you have applied, demonstrate dedication and persistance by politely calling or emailing at for example monthly intervals. If they tell you not to call or email, obviously don’t.

The next two tips seem so basic but we sadly know of pilots who have have missed opportunities because of these.

Make sure you regularly check your spam filter and call back any missed calls.

Don’t trust deadlines. It is normal for airlines to close for applications once they have had enough applications – for example once they have received 1000 applications. Never wait until last minute to apply for a pilot job. Apply as fast as possible but put some efforts into it.

Stay positive. Even in “normal times” it could take a year or two for a student pilot to get a flying job. There is really nothing new to graduate as a pilot in really bad times. Many pilots before you have had to wait 5 years or more for their chance to get a flying job. Don’t give up. The irony of this industry is, that when you get the opportunity to go flying, you will probably get two or three offers at the same time. Expect the job opportunity to come when you least expect it. You get the email or phone call, interview same day, start on Monday kind of thing.

If you need someone to guide you and keep you on track, you are welcome to book one of our pilots for some coaching. We have many pilots who graduated and made it through tough times and we would be happy to help you with CV, cover letters, interview training or career advice.

Happy landings,

Ask a pilot

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