Pilots are in short supply as the aviation industry tries to recover from COVID-19. But one private jet charter company, Cirrus Aviation Services, is planning to pay pilots while they get their needed additional hours. Cirrus says its FAA-approved program will help support the company’s growth.
Cirrus Aviation Services is Nevada’s largest aircraft charter operator. Based at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Cirrus Aviation Services has grown from one aircraft in 2009 to 30 in 2022.
Like other jet charter operators, the company’s business continued to grow through the pandemic as commercial airlines cut flights. Cirrus says their business, entertainment, and corporate customers are happy to leave the hassles of packed airports and delayed flights (as recently documented by JD Power), behind.
The company currently offers aircraft on a lease basis that range from compact Honda Jets to the fifteen-passenger Bombardier Challenger 850 with a range of more than 3,000 miles.
Although domestic airline travel has returned to pre-pandemic levels, private jet transportation shows no signs of slowing down. The new planes added by Cirrus Aviation Services brings its total fleet to over thirty aircraft.
But planes need pilots. For its business to continue to grow, Cirrus Aviation must compete with the rest of the aviation world for pilots. So, the company is launching what it says ins an FAA-approved Pilot Development Program designed to help pilots get the hours they need to move up.
“The pilots and aircraft joining our fleet will help us meet the growing demand for chartered flights,” said CEO Greg Woods. “Our Pilot Development Program, approved by the FAA, will help us develop the next generation of pilots. With the Pilot Development Program, we can teach our systems and procedures, and help pilots gain valuable flight hours while being paid.”
For Cirrus, part of that system is understanding customer service. “Our charter customers, including celebrities and Las Vegas performers, appreciate that we take their comfort, privacy, and safety seriously,” said Christi Cordo, Vice President of Sales and Flight Services at Cirrus Aviation Services.
According to CEO Woods, the Honda Jets, which can carry up to six passengers on short flights around the Southwest, are a key element of the Cirrus Aviation Pilot Development Program. In the program, new commercial pilots will fly with check pilots in the left seat. This allows them to gain valuable hours of flight experience in an FAA-approved program.
In addition to ‘earning while learning’ gaining additional hours on the Honda Jets, pilots can move upwards to become first officers on larger aircraft in like the Cirrus Aviation’s Challengers and Gulfstreams. After gaining experience as first officers, pilots can upgrade to become Captains on Honda Jets. Ultimately, they will become Captains on larger Cirrus Aviation aircraft.
The program enables pilots to gain valuable flight time while mentored by experienced pilots and within an airline system, which Cirrus sees as a key to professional progression. In its competition for pilots, Cirrus says it also offers promotion from within, competitive salary and health benefits, plus the outdoor and entertainment-oriented Las Vegs lifestyle.
In addition to its charter business, Cirrus Aviation also offers maintenance services to private aircraft owners through its facilities at Harry Reid Airport. The owners of these aircraft often make them available to Cirrus to generate charter revenue. In addition to its Las Vegas base, Cirrus has a presence in New York and at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.
Will the approach taken by Cirrus towards to the pilot shortage succeed? It’s too early to say, but across the industry, many companies are wrestling with the problem.
The Federal Aviation Administration denied a recent request from Republic Airways (which flies short routes for United, Delta and American) to cut in half the required number of hours to become a pilot. Regulations require at least 1,500 hours of flight time for commercial pilots. Republic asked to cut the minimum to 750 hours upon completion of its training program. The FAA refused to cut flight hours needed, citing the “greater public interest to ensure and maintain the level of safety.”