The global airline industry performs around 32 million commercial flights transporting 3 billion passengers each year. Nevertheless, the actual profitability of most carriers is still heavily reliant on the efficiency of operations management during seasonal demand changes. As a result, while during the low season airlines tend to roll back their operations in order to crop excessive spending, for contractual pilots this usually means respective changes in the number of jobs available. The question is, however, when a door closes, does a window really open?
According to IATA, despite the steady growth globally, variations in revenue passenger kilometres between high and low seasons have increased almost twice over the past decade. For instance, while in July 2013 the industry's year-on-year RPK growth was 6%, in November that same year the it dropped to as little as 4%. This year, however, the conditions might become even more challenging, as an increasing number of carriers report significant drops in demand for air travel.
For instance, due to receding traffic Czech Airlines-CSA has been recently forced to lay off 280 of its staff members, including 70 pilots. At the same time, after reporting a considerable drop in profit and demand a few weeks ago, Ryanair's CEO announced the plans to cut the airline’s capacity over the cold season, grounding as many as 80 aircraft to cut costs. In comparison, last winter the carrier boasted about having to park only 70.
“Profit-wise most carriers still remain highly dependent on their performance during the summer season, when the demand for air travel tends to rise dramatically. However, the summer-related activity boosts are usually followed by winters of strong decline. As a result, in order to balance the books and maintain the numbers in the black airlines are forced to significantly reduce their capacity on popular summer routes. Needless to say, such reductions can bring about significant long-term inconveniences for pilots,” shares Skaiste Knyzaite, the CEO of AviationCV.com.
According to AviationCV.com, due to the constantly changing business environment, more and more pilots tend to switch from their passion to something more down-to-earth and easy to forecast, dipping into a pool of less romantic job offerings in the market. In fact, according ALPA, last year there were over 137 000 active pilots under the age of 65 with ATP certificates and additional 105 000 pilots who could qualify for commercial certificates in the US alone. However, almost none of them were willing to actually pursue their pilot careers.
“As funny as it may sound, pilot forums on the Web are full of statements that being a taxi driver might grant more financial security than piloting an aircraft, especially in winter. In fact, the average amount of flight hours accumulated by a pilot in the summer and during the winter months differ greatly: from up to 100 hours to as little as 30 hours a month. Unfortunately, while this does leave enough time to take on a part-time job, sadly this just means that the highly demanded professionals have to spend their days watering plants and watching TV,” says Skaiste Knyzaite, the CEO of AviationCV.com.
At the same time, jokes aside, one needs to remember that there is still a significant shortage of experienced pilots – especially Pilots-in-Command - out there, and many airlines are still hiring, despite the winter-related cuts. For instance, United Airlines have recently announced its plans to increase hiring and training for pilots in winter in order to enable the airline to carry more people when demand peaks during the summer.
“As challenging as it may be, making a living as a pilot requires choosing the right strategy in exposing oneself to possible career opportunities, especially when the summer-related demand heat comes back. As concerns these issues, many available HR-leasing companies can be of big help in ensuring that a pilot always has offers in his primary area of expertise. After all, I think many will agree that growing tomatoes is much more fun when it remains a short-term hobby,” jokes Skaiste Knyzaite.