Pilot FREE AGENCY right around the corner as Pilot Shortage reaches critical mass

As I wrote in an article almost 6 years ago FREE AGENCY for pilots was close. The cratering of the economy delayed the process but it is back. In fact, it will be much worse than I initially predicted.

Remember, pilots are loyal to their specific airlines for two reasons; seniority and retirement. Both are now out the window. The reasons pilots seek the profession to begin with are: quality of life, pay and retirement. Industry bean counter’s of the past ten years, answer to the impending shortage is to diminish all of the above. Result? Nobody is willing to invest the money it requires to enter the profession.

Military pilots, who don’t accumulate the huge debt, don’t even want the job. It would be a pay cut. In fact one third of the pilots furloughed: ie have the job, and don’t have to go through the hassles of being hired…a third of those have said no thanks to recall.

Bean counter solution? Double down on punishing the crews. Result? Pilot FREE AGENCY. Keep in mind; the airlines took away pilot defined benefit pensions. This more than anything else kept pilots on-board. A-plans had a leveling factor based on years of service and the last few years of pay. So even a pilot that was junior most of his career would get a fair retirement compared to another who was a Captain for his/her entire career. THAT IS GONE! it’s all a 401K now. Seniority will hold pilots, right? Wrong. “Show me the money,” is the future for HR Departments.

Forward leaning companies are already using revolving seniority systems; direct entry Captain positions are popping up all over the world. Once the foreign carriers put extensive domiciles (pilot bases) in the USA (where all the pilots are) it is over. FREE AGENCY.

And; a lot of jets are going to stop moving which will necessitate a bidding war. Yes, the geniuses will demand an age 67 fly-till-you-die program. However, the last time I checked being an airline pilot is not indentured servitude. I plan on punching out at 60; certainly no later than 62. Flying 4 or 5 legs a day at the age of 67, ending up in Tulsa at midnight for a nine hour turn (van ride to airport, get something to eat, try to sleep, get ready, van ride back) and then do it again for three more days? Dicey, for all involved.

Oh yes; the bean-counters past solution of virtually removing the standards to become an airline pilot, is no longer an option. New FAR minimum standards kick in soon.

Viet Nam and Cold War veterans are timing out and retiring. They will go in mass, starting…NOW.

So what is the solution? I have one; but it ain’t cheap!

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2 comments on “Pilot FREE AGENCY right around the corner as Pilot Shortage reaches critical mass
  1. Justin S. says:

    I have always thought that pilots should be treated like free agents but I don’t think it will be as simple as high demand and lack of pensions. I really believe the number one reason for pilots not making the jump is low first year pay and the high risk or furlough/airline going out business. No other profession has high experienced personnel take cuts to move on. In fact it is the opposite. I think the biggest boon to pilot free agency would truly be adequate first year pay(ie min 6 figures). Modest raises as opposed to huge 30-50 pct raises over the first three years would be better. I fly for a foreign airline that has bases in the states and quite honestly the company isn’t really in love with it. There are major taxation, scheduling, corporate culture issues etc that cannot be contained when you have overseas bases. I would leave for a hometown major like you are proposing but would take six figure cut to do so. I shouldn’t have to do that.

    Maybe instead of free agency we should have trades. I know a guy that would switch with me in a heartbeat. I’d love his gig and he’d love mine. We both make the same so, why not? I take his number and he takes mine!

    • Justin;
      Exactly my point. The new phenomenon is direct entry Captain. Pilots are leaving legacy airlines in the USA to upgrade and thus double their pay over seas. A friend of mine has been an “expat” for years. He only takes Captain jobs or above (he has been a Chief Pilot and VP Flight). In fact now days he is very picky and picks by location. This past December age 65 retirements kicked in. They will trickle at first but end up being a Tsunami. Unfortunately it won’t help many of us (too old).

      PS: I think probation pay will go away soon.