Breeze Airways is one of many airlines bracing for the global shortage of pilots as air travel ramps up.
The startup airline is looking to fill about 280 open pilot spots as more aircraft are delivered.
Hourly pilot wages are being increased and Australian nationals can also fly for Breeze under the E-3 visa program.
The airline industry is returning to normal, and that means once again contending with a global shortage of pilots.
Airlines moved quickly to lean their pilot workforce's but hiring at many airlines has restarted and for others, it never ended. Regional airlines and new startups in particular have been feeling the crunch.
Breeze Airways, the startup airline launched by JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman, has been steadily hiring pilots throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and is expanding its efforts as it grows its fleet of aircraft.
About 280 pilot spots need to be filled for Breeze's Embraer E190, Embraer E195, and Airbus A220 aircraft, and the airline is pulling out all the stops to attract talent.
Higher pay for all pilots
Breeze is raising pilot pay with new pay scales for pilots taking effect in January.
Pay scales on each aircraft are different with Airbus pilots earning slightly more than their Embraer counterparts given the "additional revenue-generating capability" of the aircraft, Christopher Owens, Breeze's vice president of flight operations, told Insider.
First-year pay for A220 first officers is $68 per flight hour, up by $13, while first-year pay for Embraer first officers is $61, up by $6.
"The reason for that was the overwhelming feedback that we received back from the pilots," Owens. "Their three top priorities were: pay rates, pay rates, and pay rates."
Embraer pilots fly what are known as "out and back" trips that will see them return to their home base every night. Airbus pilots will help induct Breeze's A220-300 fleet later this year and fly longer flights and multi-day trips comparable to traditional airline pilots.
Alternative solutions to the pilot shortage
Australian pilots will be able to work as Breeze pilots under the E-3 work visa program in a little-used but not unprecedented solution to the pilot shortage. Skilled Australian nationals can apply to legally work in the US and regional airlines including CommutAir and ExpressJet Airlines have used the program to recruit pilots from the country.
"It's an opportunity to give good, hardworking, well-qualified folks jobs who want to live in the US [and] want to be a pilot for a US airline," Owens said.
Breeze already has around 120 applicants for the program, with the majority of pilots living in Australia and some who are already in the US. Pilots from Down Under will, however, incur travel and visa costs before being able to fly for Breeze.
Other solutions include establishing a pipeline program with a major US flight school and Breeze may also join the likes of United Airlines in starting an ab initio program for would-be pilots with no flight time.
Breeze is also seeking airline pilots that retired during the pandemic but still have a few years left before reaching the Federal Aviation Administration's mandatory retirement age of 65. "Anybody who has three years left would be great because they bring in maturity, discipline, and lots of experience," Owens said.
Shaking off a reputation for low pay
The labor shortage also has a way of holding airlines accountable as pilots can seek opportunities elsewhere given that airlines across the country have been raising pay and lowering requirements to ensure a steady supply.
"We've been operating for seven months and we simply can't be as competitive as pilots would like us to be right now," Owens said. "Pilots just need to have a little bit of patience, see the forest through the trees, and see Breeze for what it can be."
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