You now have all the major elements together bar the most important – staff. It’s time to get recruiting!
With aircraft, certification, and much of your infrastructure sorted, the final parts of the puzzle to starting an airline still need to be fitted. Attention must now focus on having adequate levels of suitably experienced and trained staff in place for your naissant carrier to function both as an airline and as a business.
Employees – your building blocks to success
It is often said that good staff can be found at the core of any successful business. Airlines are no exception to this. With a team of loyal, enthusiastic, and contented employees, your airline will have the foundations with which to commence operations and have the potential to grow. Nurturing your staff to become an integral element of your whole operation is therefore vital.
While some staff will come to your airline with ready-made skill sets that will benefit your operation from their first day on the job, others will be recruited for what they can offer once fully trained. Either way, the purpose of your recruitment drive is to entice industry professionals to join you, along with those that might harbor a passion for the airline industry to get more involved.
During this series, we have seen how having a high-quality, resilient, hardworking workforce will benefit your airline. From recruiting critical managerial staff to deciding how your airline will secure support services, all of these elements will combine to influence whether a potential recruit will wish to join your airline.
Indeed, the airline brand, its operation, and the passenger experience will also be contributing factors. Ultimately it will be your job to ensure that your airline, its culture, and its style is a proposition that people want to work for and will continue to do so as your airline develops and grows.
Airlines – a complex mix of skills
As you recruit for your new airline, it must be remembered that every single employee must add value to the business. That recruit will add to your airline’s cost base with every role filled. Therefore, it must be ensured that the value added by every employee outweighs the cost burden they represent to the business, every time and all the time.
Every airline is a complex, multi-faceted structure of functions, which vary in complexity. Regardless of the experience and expertise required to carry out the task, each function should be valued as highly as the next, all of which combine to ensure your airline runs smoothly, efficiently, and profitably. Where this is the case, and every single employee can be justified, your staffing levels are correct.
If a function becomes redundant or is not meeting the predetermined goals for which the incumbent staff member was recruited, then further consideration may be required. This should, however, always be a last resort. Redundancies should only occur where market conditions drastically change, or an error has been made further up the management chain regarding headcount requirements.
External influences on staffing
The airline industry is volatile and is often subjected to worldwide events that alter its course. This has been seen time and time again over the decades.
The oil crises of the 1970s, the various wars in the Middle East in the 1980s and 1990s, SARS, the terrorist attacks in the USA on September 11th, 2001, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic have all conspired heavily against the industry.
Such events historically lead to a drop in demand for air travel, and airlines have often been left hideously overstaffed as a consequence. Regrettably, airlines have often had to remain flexible and adapt to survive. This has often led to staff members being either furloughed or, in the worst cases, having to be released for the employing airline to cut costs to survive.
The very term furlough, which became more commonly recognizable in the recent global health crisis, has been used in the airline industry for decades, particularly in the United States, as a way to balance required staffing levels against changes in demand for air travel, or commonly, where mergers between airlines have occurred.
The task of any airline manager will be to ensure that there are enough employees to enable the airline to function without having excess numbers of employees at any given time. Never underestimate this task either, as every day your airline has too many employees represents a cost to the business.
There will always be a tipping point where those costs become unsustainable, and being aware of this and mindful of it, along with regular scrutiny of staffing levels, should ensure that your airline avoids such a point.
A wide range of roles to be filled
Although there is a multitude of roles to be filled when recruiting for a new airline (the full list being far too extensive to replicate here), let’s take a look at the key areas that your attention should be focused on as you build up toward launching your airline and finally starting operations.
There are other operational roles where previous experience would undoubtedly be an asset, such as cabin crew and flight operations. There will also be many roles where, although previous experience would be beneficial, it might not be essential to carry out the job. For such positions, you might consider establishing in-house training programs to bring new recruits up to speed.
Similarly, with administrative and backroom office-based functions, your heads of department should generally bring previous experience to the job so that this experience can filter through their departments to the less experienced staff members.
With any position with your airline, nurturing and recognizing talent will be essential in staff retention. Recruitment and training of new staff cost money, so in your early years as a startup operator, recruiting experienced staff can have multiple benefits and so should be pursued as much as possible.
Before you start recruiting
Before launching a full recruitment drive, two boxes will need to be ticked first. Without doing the first of these, you can’t run an airline legally in most jurisdictions. You will need to do the second one if you are to administer an effective recruitment campaign.
As discussed in How To Start An Airline: Part 6 – Certification, as an airline, you are required to appoint individuals approved by your certification authority into your senior operational management roles.
These roles include (but are not limited to) chief pilot, fleet manager, safety manager, chief engineer, flight operations director, and head of cabin crew. As these are vital roles of responsibility for your airline, they should be filled as soon as possible in the startup process. Their experience and insight will be invaluable as you build your airline.
The second critical task will be to fill the primary Human Resources (alternatively occasionally known as ‘people departments, or ‘personnel departments’) that will coordinate and run the recruitment drive.
The process of recruiting suitably qualified and ideally suited staff can be intensive both in terms of the time required and the short time scales often involved, mainly if your airline is working to a tight schedule before launch.
Having an adequately staffed Human Resources department capable of running an effective and attractive recruitment campaign and then the processing of perhaps hundreds of applications will be essential if you are to fill the various positions at your airline, both operational and non-operational, whether they be management or entry-level employees.
Essential operational staff
While some positions with an airline will not affect the operational side of the business if they are vacant for a short period, others will. Pilots, cabin crew, and engineers are employees, without which your airline will simply not function and will not fly.
Airlines tend to recruit pilots (or ‘flight crew’) and cabin crew based on the number of aircraft in their fleet. For example, a European-based low-cost carrier has always used a ratio of six complete sets of crew (flight crew plus cabin crew) for every aircraft in its fleet in its planning process.
Such a number may sound high (and expensive), but to keep the fleet in the sky and allow for time off, leave, sickness, and unforeseen personal events, six is actually not that unreasonable and not uncommon.
The recruitment of pilots and cabin crew can be complex, and the training needs for such positions likewise. You can read more about the training and qualifications needed to become an airline pilot here and cabin crew here. Engineering staff also undertake many years of training before becoming licensed and can be allowed unsupervised near an aircraft.
You must also bear in mind that such positions also require what is known as recurrent training. Unlike other positions in an airline where you may train an individual up, but they are then trained for life, these jobs require the holder to undertake regular re-evaluation to ensure that they are still capable of carrying out the job safely.
Regular flight checks are required for the flight crew to keep your license and type rating (the additional qualification that allows you to fly a specific aircraft type) valid. Generally, these are annual checks, usually carried out in a simulator but occasionally in the actual aircraft.
With the latter type, there is line training, where a training captain supervises the pilot under live operational conditions flying passenger flights, or airlines also carry out base training.
Base training is used mainly for new pilot recruits, where one of the airline’s planes is despatched with training captains and often several new recruits onboard to carry out approach and landing exercises at a quieter airfield usually located away from built-up areas and equipped with very long runways to allow for less than perfect landing techniques!
Maintaining adequate levels of suitably qualified flight crew will ensure that your fleet can be deployed on the airline’s planned schedule, resulting in passengers being transported following their travel plans and keeping passenger satisfaction levels at an acceptable level. See How To Start An Airline: Part 7 – Passenger Experience for more on this.
As with all businesses, the ability to recruit and keep staff will be a function of job satisfaction plus the remuneration on offer.
Although airlines have often relied on a certain degree of the glamor of working in the airline industry to attract employees, it would be foolish to believe that you will retain staff if you provide salaries that are neither commensurate with the work the jobs entail or if the working conditions are unattractive. This goes for all staff, of course, whether they be operational or administrative.
The job of the cabin crew, for example, is challenging and is certainly not for everyone. As this excellent Simple Flying article explains, it is far more than just giving a quick safety briefing and serving some drinks.
Working for an airline is often seen as a vocation or a ‘calling,’ if you will. People want to work for airlines for various reasons, which should be embraced. Yet, disharmony and disillusionment can occur if staff needs are ignored or played down.
As stated at the top of this article, your staff are your most valuable asset, and it will be to your airline’s detriment and that of its customers if your workforce becomes disengaged from the overall aim of your business of safety and customer satisfaction.
As with all employers, you must offer an attractive salary and benefits package to draw the strongest applicants to your airline. Benefits such as pension schemes, death-in-service payments, annual leave allowances, and possibly health insurance will all be common elements of a benefits package. However, you may wish to go beyond the industry norms to attract the most outstanding candidates to your airline.
One particular way of attracting applications to your airline traditional to the airline industry is by offering concessionary staff travel benefits. These have long been considered the leading ‘perks’ of working in the airline travel industry. Most airlines provide concessionaire travel benefits to their own staff, but many also offer discounted fares to other airlines’ employees.
Although a large majority of concessionary fares are offered strictly on standby or ‘space available’ basis (meaning you fly if there are sets free on the aircraft on the day of departure), some airlines even offer special fares to their staff on a ‘firm’ basis. While the standby fares Can be as low as just 10% of the standard base fare plus taxes, discount fares can also represent a hefty discount on the published fare.
Add to this benefit the availability of travel industry discounts for airline staff at major hotel chains, car hire suppliers, and other hospitality venues around the world, and you have a potentially attractive benefits package that can prove alluring to potential applicants during a recruitment drive.
Such benefits should be promoted alongside the remuneration packages on offer to engage with that element of applicants that have a genuine desire for travel and the airline industry so that your recruits have buy-in to your business before they even start.
Again, while staff represents a cost to your airline, they are the lifeblood of the whole operation. With enthusiastic, motivated, and professional employees across your airline, you will be sowing the seeds for a safe, reliable, and hopefully profitable operation. Conversely, cutting corners might seem to have little effect when viewed individually, but doing so can lead to complacency.
There is no room for complacency in the complex world of airline operations. After all, complacency can lead to accidents, and a single accident could lead to the grounding of your airline, possibly for good.
Fully staffed, it’s time to fly!
With a dedicated team of employees in place, all striving toward making your new airline venture a success, you will now be on your final approach to the launch date and, at last, the commencement of operations.
Ready to present your new venture to the travel industry and the public alike, the most exciting element of starting your new airline is now well within touching distance.
Join us next time as we run through the momentous occasion of your airline finally taking to the air and operating revenue-earning flights in How To Start An Airline: Part 11 – Launch Events And Inaugural Flights, coming soon to Simple Flying.
Source: Simple Flying