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Job-Hunting Pilots

Go With the Flow

By Louis Smith
July 20, 2019

It had to happen. The major U.S. airlines hired greater than 20,000 pilots in the last five years, and the smaller companies at the lower rungs of the “poach chain” were scrambling to keep their cockpits properly staffed.

For the first time in sixty years, our industry is relying on the civilian sector as its primary source of professional pilots. It has created industrial “indigestion” and the pipelines under development are being aligned to provide an ample supply of pilots and to improve staffing stability at the smaller companies. To understand our industry’s initiatives to build pilot pipelines, it is important to develop the definitions surrounding the various pathways for aspiring professional pilots. It’s a new vocabulary and will invariably end up with its own acronyms. Welcome to aviation’s penchant for shorter lingo.

Destination Airline – A cockpit career position providing four main benefits: Excellent pay and benefits, retirement plans, survivors’ insurance, and disability insurance. All are provided by the company. It sits at the top of the “poach chain” and calls the shots within the limits of collective bargaining or market forces. Pilots at destination airlines usually stay until they are forced to leave the seniority list, by age or other factors.

Feeder Company – A cockpit position considered a suitable career by very few. It’s a place for “seasoning” and may involve smaller, slower aircraft. The regional jet airlines are the exception with smaller, high-speed jets operating in and out of domestic hubs. Pilots usually leave the feeder companies when they receive a better offer or leave the industry.

Flow-Through – A program providing a professional pilot career path from a feeder company to a destination airline. The devil is in the details, so the tables below will assist those new to the industry.

Positive Flow – Few events stand in the way of moving from the feeder to the destination. Termination of employment at the feeder would be one of those events. A hiring shutdown at the destination airline would be another.

Contingent Flow – Provisions are added that might impede moving from the Feeder to the Destination Company. Read the agreements carefully. Your mileage may vary.

Referral Flow – It’s all about the relationship between the feeder and the destination, but it’s important to pay attention to the promises made and the chance of a failed flow.

Just like making decisions in the command of an aircraft, it is up to you to detect any missing rungs in your chosen corporate ladder.

Below is a table of current arrangements for destination airlines within our industry. For smaller airlines, FAPA members can look at the standing notes for various companies to determine if they offer flow through or guaranteed interviews.

CF = Contingent Flow - Additional screening required
RF = Referral Flow - Destination airline agrees to review application
? = Planned Flow - Announced but not final

We appreciate your ideas and input. Please email your comments or questions about this article to: support@fapa.aero.

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