The occupation of a pilot is seen as being similar to that of a ship captain. As an individual, they are in the unique position of being in direct control of a piece of equipment worth millions of dollars and of the lives of hundreds of people. Additionally, in order to enter this profession, there is a high cost with regard to training and time spent on different types of aircraft. Pilots pay this cost because of the desire to fly above all else. This is the dynamic that all employers must deal with in the industry.
There is a common perception among the general public that licensed aviators are overpaid and unnecessarily pampered by their employers. Recent strikes at major carriers across North America, including Air Canada and Northwest Air, attest to the growing demands of pilots regarding to compensation and benefits, especially in light of the recent recovery of the industry after a decade of downsizing and wage rollbacks.
Interestingly enough, pilots are well aware of the public’s disdain and have battled back through a number of public relations efforts that have centred on these key points:
The tremendous responsibility that pilots take on every time they begin their day – primarily through the responsibility he or she undertakes for the safety of others;
The cost of becoming a commercial airline pilot is tremendous and growing – excluding the cost of a college or university degree, a pilot’s career, on average, $30,000 to obtain an airline transport license, and a multi-engine and instrument rating;
The time invested in becoming a pilot to ultimately reach the command position of a large aircraft with a flag carrier – traditionally a decade or more;
The age and medical restrictions on the length of a pilot’s career may restrict the potential earning period of a pilot.
The foremost characteristic of pilots is the desire to fly at any cost. They have trained their entire lives for the opportunity to fly modern and technically challenging aircraft and to leave behind this ambition to fly is a challenge many airlines face when they attempt to move line pilots into management positions.
The challenge that employers of licensed aviation personnel, including TC, is to take note of this culture if it is going to continue to employ licensed aviation personnel. For instance, TC may have to alter its ‘bureaucratic’ reputation and make the position as challenging as possible as pilots are not inclined to look at TC as a viable career alternative to flying with an airline.
4 The Current Situation in Civil Aviation
This section will attempt to summarize current trends regarding employment, the number of operators, the number of licensed aviation personnel, fleet size, and salary levels. All of the data referenced here are reproduced in table format in Appendix ‘C’. Three segments of the overall issue are examined: the airline industry, the labour market, and TC.
4.1 The Airline Industry
According to Statistics Canada’s Civil Aviation Report, both employment and salaries for licensed aviation personnel in the civil aviation industry have increased rapidly. Between 1995 and 1996 the number of pilots and co-pilots increased by 6.0% compared to an overall increase of 2.4% for all airline employees. During the same time period, the salaries and wages for pilots and co-pilots increased 10.3% compared to an overall increase of 7.7% of all airline employees. The higher growth in both employment and salaries for pilots in comparison to all airline employees may be a reflection of the competitiveness of the labour market leading to an overall tightening of that market for licensed aviation personnel.
The increasing demand for licensed aviation personnel may be attributed to a number of trends occurring in the aviation industry. Most notable is how sudden and recent the industry turnaround is and how significant that turnaround has been.
These trends include:
An increase in the number of passengers carried. According to Statistics Canada, Aviation Statistics Centre, the number of passengers carried by air carriers, Tiers I-IV has increased from 31.8 million in 1991 to 39.4 million in 1996 with the majority of that increase occurring between 1994 and 1996.
An increase in the number of revenue passenger miles. Between 1991 and 1996 the total revenue passenger miles flown by the industry, air carriers Tiers I-IV, increased from 36.1 billion to 49.7 billion with a majority of that increase occurring between 1994 and 1995.
Greater variety in the fleet. The profile of the airlines’ fleets continues to change and modernize. Between 1995and 1996, according to Statistics Canada’s Civil Aviation Report, the number of jet aircraft increased by 9.7%, the number of turboprop aircraft has fallen 1.3%, while the total piston aircraft has fallen 0.8%. Between 1995and 1996 the number of rotary aircraft declined 1.4%.
An increase in the number of operators. According to the Canadian Transportation Agency, the number of air operators continues to increase both domestically and internationally. The number of commercial carriers has increased from 959 in 1979 to 1,021 in 1995. The number of foreign commercial carriers operating in Canada has increased from 734 in 1979 to 913 in 1995.
An increase in the number of aircraft. According to the Canadian Civil Aircraft Register, the number of registered commercial aeroplanes increased from 4,553 in 1993 to 4,756 in 1997. Additionally, the number of registered commercial helicopters increased from 1,143 in 1993 to 1,256 in 1997.
4.2 The Labour Market of Licensed Aviation Personnel
When measuring the size of the labour market for licensed aviation, one must look at the number of licenses in force or currently registered with TC. According to TC’s Aviation Forecast (1996-2009), the trend of insignificant growth in the total number of licenses will continue. Specifically, between 1982 and 1995 there was a decrease of 0.80% in the total number of pilot licenses, a increase of 0.70% of commercial pilot licences, and a decline of 0.30% of all aviation licenses.
Between 1995 and 2004 it is projected that there will be a decrease of 0.80% in the total number of pilot licenses, a decline of 0.20% of commercial pilot licences, and a decrease of 0.80% of all aviation licenses. Between 1995 and 2009 it is projected that there will be a decrease of 0.40% in the total number of pilot licenses, a decline of 0.10% of commercial pilot licences, and a decrease of 0.40% of all aviation licenses.
The stagnation in the number of ‘in force’ aviation licenses may be attributed to a number of trends occurring in the aviation industry. These trends include:
A decline in private licenses. The shift away from private to commercial pilot and airline transport pilot licenses may be an indication of a significant industry uptake of license holders. According to TC, Civil Aeronautics, between 1993 and mid-1998 the number of private pilot licenses fell from 30,392 to 27,698, the number of commercial pilot licenses rose from 7,829 to 9,055, and the number of airline transport pilot licenses rose from 8,707 to 10,426.
The changing demographics of aviation license holders. It appears that there are fewer individuals under the age of 30 holding a private pilot license then those individuals holding a commercial pilot license possibly reflecting a change in the career progression model. According to TC, Civil Aviation, the age bands for private pilot licenses in 1998 were: 17% are under 30, 22% are between 30 and 39, 26% are between 40 and 49, 21% are between 50 and 59, and 14% are over the age of 60. For commercial pilot licenses: 32% are under 30, 26% are between 30 and 39, 23% are between 40 and 49, 13% are between 50 and 59, and 6% are over the age of 60. For airline transport pilot licenses: 9% are under 30, 35% are between 30 and 39, 32% are between 40 and 49, 19% are between 50 and 59, and 5% are over the age of 60.
The enrolment in flight schools. While there now appears to be a relative boom on flight training, there are a number of restrictions on how many pilots will emerge from the flight training industry. The three significant restraints include:
the chronic shortage of Class 1 flight instructors;
the lack of provincial government support in providing funding for colleges to expand the number of funded spaces in the flight instruction program;
a lack of air operator participation in training programs; and
an end to the funding of a student pilot’s training through the Canadian Students Loan Program.
The decline in the number of military aviators. The air force has been traditionally a prime source for experienced replacement pilots for the airline industry as well as other government departments, including TC. But due to ongoing defence budget cuts which has affected training throughput and the attractive salaries of the airlines, the air force is currently 243 pilots short of the current, downsized mandate strength, and expects to lose a further 25% of its current 1,371 pilots to attrition.
4.3 The Civil Aviation Program (Transport Canada)
According to Aircraft Operator (AO)20 distribution rates (Allocation/Strength), derived from TC TIPS data, the total allocation of staffed AO positions for the TC Civil Aviation Program should be at 403 inspectors while total current strength lies at 356.5 inspectors, or at 88.5% of operational levels.21 However, the TIPS data examined and our interviews with staff and management indicate that the level of staffing vacancies is not comparable across all regions and service lines.
For instance, the CBA branch is at 89.5% of operational allocation nationally but when the specific programs within the branch were examined it was discovered that there are significant staffing shortages in the large air carrier program (7th Region) which is only at 78.4% of operational allocation. Correspondingly, when certain regions were cross tabulated with the CBA branch, it was found that the Ontario Region, at 81.8% of allocation, and the NCR region, at 80.75% of allocation, were also suffering from significant staffing shortages. In comparison, other service lines, such as aircraft maintenance and manufacturing and regulatory services, both at 100% of allocation, and general aviation, at 94% of allocation, seem to be more successful at retaining their staffing levels at or close to allocation.22
The allocation of staffed CAI positions is characterized by the following trends23:
The Department is compensating for staff vacancies partially through the use of overtime. Those regions with the highest staff vacancies have the highest average overtime. According to overtime levels for the Civil Aviation Program (FYR 1997/98), derived from TC TIPS data, approximately 69.5% of AOs have claimed overtime hours with an average cost of $5,170. Ontario had the highest level of overtime claims with approximately 75.6% of AOs claiming overtime hours with an average cost of $6,473. At Headquarters, approximately 62.3% of AO have claimed overtime hours with an average cost of $7,848.
TC’s AO population is a maturing workforce as reflected by age and length of service. In 1996/97, according to TC TIPS data, the average age of TC’s AO population was 48.5 years. Additionally, the average length of service was 16.5 years, while in 1997/98 the average age was slightly higher at 48.6 years and the average length of service was slightly lower at 15.2 years.
There has been a departure of experienced personnel, perhaps due to individuals reaching retirement age, between 1995 and 1998. In 1995/96, according to TC TIPS data, 33 AOs left the Department with a mean age of 52.8 years and 18.5 years of experience, while in 1996/97 29 AOs left the Department with a mean age of 55.3 years and 26.8 years of experience. Finally, in 1997/98 44 AOs left the Department with a mean age of 50.8 years of age and 20.2 years of experience. Total departures between 1995 and 1998 was 106 or a loss of 26.3% of total allocated strength. The mean years of service for those inspectors departing during this period was 21.8 years.
The departure of experienced personnel has affected some of the regions to a greater degree than others. In 1995/96, Headquarters suffered the highest losses with 11 followed by Ontario with eight, while in 1996/97 the NCR (headquarters) again suffered the highest losses with 12 followed by PNR24 with 8. Finally, in 1997/98 the NCR (headquarters) lost 17 AOs while the Pacific region lost 10. Between 1995/96 and 1997/98 the NCR (Headquarters) lost a total of forty inspectors, by far the highest of all the regions, with the Ontario region following with 19 during the same period.
The external recruitment from April 1995 to April 1998 has not kept pace with departure levels, but there has been a recent increase in new hires. According to TC TIPS data, in 1995/96 five AOs were recruited with a mean age of 40.3 years, in 1996/97 ten AOs were recruited with a mean age of 40.1 years, and in 1997/98 47 AOs were recruited with a mean age of 43.3 years. Total hires between 1995 and 1998 was 62 or the filling of 58.5% of vacancies resulting from departures during the same time period.
The regions have been relatively more successful than the NCR (Headquarters) in recruiting candidates to fill CAI vacancies. Between 1995/96 and 1997/98 the NCR region was only able to fill approximately 35% of vacancies resulting from departures during the same time period. In contrast, the Quebec region was able to add two new positions beyond the replacement of vacancies and the Pacific region was able to fill approximately 94% of vacancies resulting from departures during the same period. It should be noted that the Ontario region also experienced difficulty in filling vacancies through recruitment, filling just over 52% of vacancies during the same period.