The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that between 2010 and 2020 non-airline commercial aviation, what we would define as business aviation, is expected to need to grow its workforce by upwards of 20 percent. Halfway through the decade the predictions are beginning to pan out, as general aviation (which includes the business aviation segment) pulls itself steadily out of the doldrums of the past recession.
New airplanes are being delivered, businesses are re-discovering the value of business aviation and flight departments are seeing new life. The problem is that the jobs being created are beginning to be more difficult to fill with qualified personnel.
These qualified pilots, mechanics, schedulers, dispatchers, flight technicians and attendants are not being generated for business aviation from the usual sources. Once upon a time there were enough trained personnel displaced from the cyclical airline industry and separating from military positions to provide several job applicants for each open position in corporate aviation. NBAA member companies today are saying that is simply not so anymore. Growth in commercial aviation (airline) in the Asia-Pacific region and a profitable airline industry in the U.S. is doing what it has always done for business aviation: drawing employees away with the lure of flying larger aircraft, holding more predictable schedules and provisions for a lifestyle that can be markedly different from that experienced in corporate aviation.
There are, however, tried and true methods for re-growing a dedicated workforce. “Here at NBAA, and at the companies in our membership, we have seen first-hand how valuable student internships can be in helping the next generation of bright young people find out about the many opportunities in the exciting and dynamic business aviation industry,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. NBAA has for years advocated the creation of undergraduate internship positions at its member companies. These programs allow students to connect classroom theory with current industry practices, technology and trends. Working under and shadowing those already employed in aviation gives interns a deeper insight into overall operations and can serve to validate their desire to pursue a career in business aviation at that company.
One flight department manager praised the internship process during a recent interview with AIN. “We started the intern program three years ago,” he said. “It’s very successful, not only for the intern we hire, but also exposing the ones we interview [to business aviation]. We spend a lot of time interviewing a number of people, we give them a tour of the facility and our aircraft, and it gives them an exposure to corporate aviation.”
The interns hired at this flight department for a summer stint learned about all aspects of running the operation, including budgeting, helping with an IS-BAO audit, learning about local businesses such as FBOs and even traveling on the company aircraft. The first intern this company hired went on to work for a major FBO chain. The second was working on her instrument rating, and one of the company pilots acted as her mentor. “This invigorated the flight department and brought us back to why we got into aviation,” the manager said. “It was a morale boost, and made us feel like we were helping someone out.”
Beyond internships NBAA and its member companies provide access to more than a dozen scholarships every year through the NBAA Charities, a not-for-profit organization. Its scholarship program, generously supported by NBAA member donors, offers nearly $100,000 annually in cash awards as tuition reimbursement for enrolled students and nearly the same amount in monetary and training awards for working professionals in business aviation.
“Helping one another in this industry is what a career in business aviation is all about. It’s very rewarding to see where these professionals have started and where they are today,” said Jay Evans, NBAA director of professional development and scholarship coordinator. These scholarships are administered by NBAA standing committees and would not be possible without the generous financial support of some forward-thinking NBAA member donors, Evans acknowledged. On November 19, NBAA will announce this year’s scholarship winners.
To help promote corporate aviation careers to middle school, high school and college students, NBAA is holding its annual Careers in Business Aviation Day on Wednesday November 19, beginning at 9 a.m. Two keynote speakers will get the day started: Janie Foster, air medical sales manager at Mecaer Aviation Group and an experienced medevac, search-and-rescue, firefighting and logging helicopter pilot; and Brent Terwilliger, chair of the master’s program in unmanned systems at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The rest of the event is a career seminar, where students will be able to learn more from business aviation professionals in a roundtable format.