Saturday, 29 October 2011

Aviation - the most antiquated career path imaginable

Recently, we've been reflecting on how infuriating the aviation career path is. In what other industry can an employee NOT take their skills and experience and transfer to another company at the same level? Let me elaborate.

My husband has thousands of hours as an FO of a large widebody jet, one of the biggest there is. Great, you'll be thinking, surely he's in demand? Well, yes, but only to people who also fly this said same plane. And that's not the whole story. If he chooses to leave his current airline and move to another one on this same aircraft, he will drop right to the bottom of that airline's "seniority list".

Seniority is everything. In his current company, it can make all the difference with issues as diverse as promotion to the left-hand seat, annual leave bids and whether you get a seat on stand-by or not. In other airlines, it can also affect whether you get the days off and routes you ask for, too.

So, if he decided to move companies, he would be giving up a lot. Really key to all of this is promotion. If he moved, he would go right to the bottom of the list for that, possibly delaying his promotion by as much as 10+ years (in the case of Virgin Atlantic, for example.)

So, simple you think - he just needs to stay where he is and get promoted in a couple of years. Yep, he will do, and he'll earn lots of money doing it. All good so far. The problem then is, however, that entering another airline as a Captain is a rare thing indeed. All major airlines in the UK (BA, Virgin, Monarch, EasyJet etc) don't take direct entry Captains. So if my husband wanted to move home to work (which he'd like to, eventually) he'd be forced to give up his command and start at the bottom again as an FO, for a very paltry salary, or work for a lesser charter airline that might be accepting direct entry Captains.

This particular option is a tricky one, as charters like these are prone to collapse. You could therefore leave a well paid job in the Gulf for a less well paid one in the UK, only to find it disappear completely overnight, something we are of course very familiar with. Aircraft type is also an issue. That particular charter might not want pilots who fly my husband's aircraft, and specifically ask for, say, 737 time, an aircraft he no longer flies. Are you getting how tricky this is?

The other option is contract flying. There are some well paid jobs out there for direct entry Captains on commuting contracts. Still, commuting is a loose term, generally meaning a pilot would only make it home for 2 weeks out of 6 on average. The affect this would have on our family life is a price we don't want to pay.

So, what are we left with? Staying where we are! No matter how many times we discuss this conundrum, that's the only answer we come up with.

At least we have a great family life here, and no money worries to boot. In fact, we're currently negotiating to buy a second investment property in the UK. Every cloud has a silver lining, etc...


  1. I think my pilot (A FO at a regional in the States) has accepted this reality but I struggle with it. It makes so sense that no matter what he does to try to move up in his career, he has to start from the bottom of the seniority pile. And so our current answer is the same as yours, stay where we are!

  2. I've just found your blog after searching 'emirates pilot wife' and am thoroughly enjoying it! I am from the UK and am going to move out to Dubai with my husband next year - Im excited and terrified at the same time and have so many questions. I'm worried about not making friends and whether I'll like the country. I have no children but I also share your medical problem. Thank you so much for writing about your experiences, it gives me great hope for the future!

    V x




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