With an industry-wide pilot shortage in its initial stages, young aviators are able to move from a 703 to regional airline quicker than ever before. This has a trickle down effect. To stay flying, these regionals are upgrading first officers to be their captains at a much quicker pace, which then results in the right seat of the aircraft being kept warm by even more inexperienced first officers.
This is creating an exodus of pilots from the north, where most attain their first flying job, to these now-available regional positions. 703 operators are having a difficult time finding first officers who want to upgrade and captains who want to stay. This should come as no surprise. Not many pilots choose to fly in the conditions manifested by the 703s. Most do it out of necessity and now it just isn’t required, or at least not for more than a year.
For those flying in the right seat of a King Air, PC12, Navajo etc. at their first job there are two options.
They can upgrade to captain. This brings about a pretty good salary (comparable to a regional captain on a Q400) after just a year working as a commercial pilot. They will also log PIC time which increases a pilot’s confidence in their ability to make decisions. It gives them the ability to attain an ATPL and makes for a more attractive resume down the road. The downside of this is a pretty poor overall quality of life. Frequent 15 hour days. Minimum rest. 1 hour callouts in the middle of the night. A general disregard for safety when it comes to weight and balance/weather/icing. To top it off, there’s usually a noticeable lack of respect for pilots from management.
Alternatively, they can move from their 703 to a regional airline and fly a Dash 8. This likely means moving to a metropolis like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver. These are cities that, despite the increased cost of living, young people would prefer to be living in. The regional lifestyle is objectively much more attractive than staying at a 703.
The schedule is easy to manage and known about well in advance. Even on reserve (which is likely a reality while junior), the callouts are well in advance and the duty regulations are more strictly monitored/adhered to. At no Canadian regional will you get called to start a 15 hour duty after being awake on-call for 12 hours already. The equipment flown is bigger (giggity), there’s health benefits and base is probably going to be much closer to home.
The pilot shortage is giving aviators a quicker path to a place where safety is more important than profit.
So you’ve been first officer in the Dash 8 for over a year. You have your iPad, fancy luggage, and your 3 stripes – but you want another one. You start looking into the ATPL requirements, since your airline requires that for the captain upgrade. There’s something missing! Pilot in Command time.
Your only PIC time is from your solo flights in training, and you have around 100 hours. The ATPL requires 250 hours. The Pilot in Command Under Supervision (PICUS) program that airlines like Porter provide is going to be of great use to you, but its not good enough. For the ATPL, you can fly 200 hours of PICUS time, of which 50% can be counted towards your PIC time. This adds 100 hours of PIC to your existing 100 hours but you’re still 50 hours short.
Although a pilot shortage is a good thing for us plane fliers, a new and unique problem lies here in Canadian aviation. As the rapid flow from 703 to regional airline continues over the next few years, we will see more and more pilots who are unable to upgrade due to a lack of PIC time. The eager ambition and quick upward mobility of the fresh-faced pilot could quite possibly have their career left stagnant in the right seat at the regionals.
If you have any comments or questions make sure to leave them below, and subscribe to The Modern Aviator for future articles on this topic and others. If you’re thinking of becoming a pilot in Canada then click here for some advice on the initial stages!