Private jets have a pilot problem

Pilots are following the money — and it’s taking them to larger commercial airlines.

I’ve gotta come clean: I’ve been on a private jet.

A female pilot with a roller bag in front of a small white jet with entry stairs.

It was for a previous job and it was a weird ride — the restroom was so sleek, it was unclear which basin was the toilet and which one was the sink. (I played it safe and waited.)

Apparently that toilet confusion was just a “me” problem: The private aviation business has been hot, per Fast Company:

  • Usage is up 20% since the start of the pandemic.
  • Worldwide, there were ~5.3m private flights last year.
  • Private jet sales are on track for a record $34.6B year.

Wealthy customers are apparently unbothered by drawbacks like, say, the environmental impact — private jet emissions are ~10x worse than commercial flights per passenger — or the prices (leading charter provider NetJets starts at ~$6.5k/hour).

But the industry’s latest barrier…

… will be harder to overcome: There may not be anyone left to fly the planes.

This summer brought the private aviation industry an unexpected, growing pilot shortage, per Robb Report:

  • Leading US airlines Delta, United, and American recently signed new contracts with their pilot unions, all featuring significant raises.
  • Industrywide, pilot pay has increased 12% this year, and the talent wars are on — cash-rich commercial airlines are flexing their winning edge, with some airlines even paying out $100k signing bonuses.

The fallout for smaller private providers has begun: NetJets has lost 7%+ of its pilots so far this year, and rival Flexjet says it’s invested $30m in pilot retention.

Where does this go from here?

More charter providers may follow the lead of Tradewind Aviation, which positions itself as a stepping stone for young pilots to land more lucrative commercial airline jobs.

But the more private aviation leans into youth, the more they’ll face perception problems: Does less cockpit experience equate to less safe?

Alternatively: Self-flying planes are here. Cargo flights will own the first phase of testing, but perhaps private aviation will start moving toward the new tech faster than expected?

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