l“The upcoming deliveries of Bombardier’s Global 7500 and Gulfstream’s G500 and G600 in significant numbers will be the point when our industry is going to have a very significant challenge finding qualified crew members.”

That’s the opinion of Don Haloburdo, senior vice president for flight services at Jet Aviation. Highly qualified flight crew are already in short supply as airlines around the world soak up the existing supply and fewer military pilots become available. That leaves the business aviation industry wondering how to attract corporate pilots.

Major forecasts recently released suggest the shortage has only just begun. Boeing’s 2018 Pilot & Technician Outlook says aviation is looking at an “unprecedented” demand for 790,000 pilots over the next two decades and 754,000 new maintenance technicians. It also forecast a combined demand in the business aviation and helicopter sectors alone for 155,000 pilots and 132,000 maintenance technicians over the next 20 years.

Research firm Cowen & Company estimates that “more than 42% of active U.S. airline pilots at the biggest carriers will retire over the next 10 years, roughly 22,000 of them.”

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson noted recently that at the end of the last fiscal year, the Air Force was 2,000 pilots short. 

While the military is losing pilots to the airlines, they are also losing highly trained maintenance technicians to all segments of aviation. Business aviation in particular is recruiting from the military ranks. 

At StandardAero, spokesman Kyle Hultquist said the MRO is “actively recruiting veterans and finding them to be very well suited for many of our maintenance and technical roles.” He further noted that 21.5% of the U.S. workforce today is either retired or active/reserve military veterans. “In addition, StandardAero is expanding operations in places like San Antonio, where there is an embedded pool of military- and government-trained people who are qualified and available.”

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), however, is pointing at the commercial airlines as responsible, at least in part, for the pilot shortfall. “Business Aviation is finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain talent, in part because the airlines are offering what is perceived to be a better deal, but also in part because of an overall decline in the number of people choosing aviation careers.”

Clay Lacy, founder and CEO of charter, aircraft management and MRO services provider Clay Lacy Aviation in Van Nuys, California, is blunt in his assessment. “Now – and in the near future – there are simply not enough qualified pilots to meet demand, much less the significant growth expected for airlines and private jet operators over the next two decades.”

As a result, GrandView Aviation, for example, has announced a five-year retention package of up to $80,000 to draw highly qualified flight crews for its Phenom 300 fleet of light jets. And according to Becca Sipes, sales director for the Middle River, Maryland-based charter operator, it is also offering a signing bonus of $5,000 to $10,000, to be paid (commensurate with pilot experience) upon completion of training. 

Flexjet recently announced a substantial increase for its Red Label pilots, “making them the highest paid in the industry,” according to the Cleveland-based fraction ownership provider. (Red Label by Flexjet is the carrier’s premium charter offering.)

Red Label pilots are considered the crème de la crème, and Flexjet claims their total compensation is greater than their competitors’ by 25% or more. A fifth-year Challenger 350 pilot may earn as much as $176,000 a year, and a third-year aircraft commander in a Gulfstream G650 might earn $205,000 annually.

The 2018 NBAA Compensation Survey pegged the recent annual total cash compensation for senior captains in business aviation as up 12%, to $164,000.

As a loose comparison, Phoenix East Aviation airline pilot training in Daytona Beach, Florida, notes that, depending on the type of aircraft they’re flying and how long they’ve been at an airline, the median annual salary for the pilot of a large jet is $121,408.

While there are those who decry news of a pilot and maintenance technician shortage, the forecasts suggest that it will continue to grow

According to the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), the current fleet backlog of orders in China alone mandates a need for 500 to 1,000 additional pilots, “this at a time when the output for pilot training institutions worldwide is facing a shortfall of approximately 3,000 pilots annually.”