October 15, 2012

Over the weekend I heard from many of my colleagues from my days as a pilot at NetJets.

Responding to lower demand for fractional jet charter and jet cards, NetJets Europe is reducing its pilot numbers by one third in Europe. They appear to be focussing on countries with the highest employee costs, starting with France and Belgium. Many are seeing this as a very anti-European move by the US-managed company.

Fractional jet charter customers are increasingly looking to reduce costs by turning to ad hoc charter in Europe. Fractional ownership requires an upfront financial commitment and lack of flexibility – both of which many private jet customers prefer to avoid in today’s market. The difference between private jet fractional ownership and charter.

These disengaged pilots will not be enhancing NetJets’ brand in Europe over the next 90 days of contractual negotiations. Clearly in the short term this is not good news for these pilots and their families. But in the medium term,  fewer fractional pilots could be a silver lining for the more flexible and cost-effective charter segment. Many of NetJets’ pilots are already looking for new jobs in charter.

A shortage of experienced captains is widely expected to impact the aviation industry as a whole in the next 10 years. IATA (Air Transport Association) is predicting the need 17,000 new pilots every year but, at the same time, the pipeline of newly-qualified pilots is slowing. Advances in military technology and smaller headcounts means military organisations are no longer producing the same volumes of ex-pilots (who traditionally would have moved across into civilian flying). And fewer funding options are now available for the pilot looking to start out. Read more about pilot shortages in business aviation

With this dwindling pool of pilots, private aviation will have a challenging time to turn the heads of pilots from airlines, generally perceived to offer a safer career with better benefits. Compare pilot job satisfaction and rewards across aviation sectors.

Meanwhile NetJets’ Europe will now be focusing on appeasing strong aviation unions, while trying to reduce pilot numbers, and keep remaining pilot morale strong. A tricky balancing act in an already difficult market.

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