Despite widespread reports of booming industry activities and pilot and mechanic shortages, rotorcraft pay is not yet reflecting excess demand for workers.
We opened last year’s look at industry wages and employment prospects with a question—was the “glass” of the rotorcraft job market half empty or half full? Over a year later, according to Rotor & Wing’s 2006 Salary Survey and Job Report, a question mark still hangs over the job market.
The upturn in flight activity—and consequently demand for the services of pilots, mechanics and others in rotorcraft—that was hinted at in our previous survey in December 2004 was real (“Half Full or Half Empty,” March 2005, page EG-4). Industry news since has supported that.
By most accounts, activities in all sectors of the rotorcraft industry are up—led by those of offshore support and emergency medical services. Industry executives in those sectors complain openly of shortages of pilots and—yet again—mechanics. Aircraft manufacturers also report they are desperate for engineers. A top executive of one said at last month’s Farnborough Air Show that there is much helicopter makers could be doing on new systems and aircraft development if they could just get more engineers.
Has all of that translated into higher pay and greater benefits for pilots, mechanics and others—the logical result of growing demand in the face of a static supply? Yes and no.
This year’s survey somewhat belies all the reports of growing industry activity. Of the 17 civil sectors about which we asked the question, “How is business compared to 2005?,” respondents in only one—logging—said it was decreasing this year compared to last. But respondents in only four sectors reported business this year is clearly better. These were aerial applications, charter, EMS and offshore support. (Offshore topped the list. Of respondents in that category, 75 percent said business was increasing compared to 2005. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said EMS business was on the rise. Fifty-six of charter and 49 percent of aerial application respondents said business was up.)
The majority of respondents in other areas said business this year is either at about the same level as 2005 or is decreasing. These included those in bank-paper transport, construction, electronic news-gathering, executive transport, firefighting (which presumably is a good thing in the big picture), geological/seismic survey, law enforcement, power and pipeline patrol, scheduled air service, search and rescue (which also, presumably, is a good thing) and sightseeing. Possibly of greatest import for the industry (and the job market), only 36 percent of respondents in the training business said business was better this year than last. Fifty-one percent said it was about the same and 13 percent said it was falling.
The 18th industry sector we asked about was the military. Of its respondents, 60 percent said “business” is increasing, 33 percent said it was about the same as 2005 and 6 percent said it was decreasing.
There also is no clear evidence that the reported jump in operations and dearth of skilled aviation employees is driving wages up. Some respondents reported noteworthy raises from 2005 to 2006. Lucky ones said their pay had jumped 10, 15 or 20 percent. That may explain why the average pay raise among respondents was 5 percent. Most individually said their raise from 2005 to 2006 was on the order of 3 percent, which lagged the U.S. rate of inflation by about a point. Many reported raises of 2 percent or less.
So the results of this year’s salary survey are a decidedly mixed bag for prospective job seekers.
Many of the survey results are presented in the tables on these pages. Before we get further into them and some of the results, though, let’s explore how the survey was done.
The survey was conducted over a two-week period in July. We tapped Litchfield Research, an independent research firm in Marietta, Ga., to survey industry members. Using the emails volunteered by R&W subscribers, Litchfield invited about 10,000 people to complete a Web-based survey form. No incentive was offered for completing it. We promised to keep each respondent’s name and that of his or her employer confidential unless the respondent indicated his or her name could be used in a story on the survey findings. None has.
A total of 1,387 respondents accepted the offer, for a response rate of 13.9 percent. Not all respondents completed the full survey.
Respondents came from organizations headquartered in 75 different countries. More than half—55 percent—were from outfits based in the United States. (All the percentages were rounded to whole numbers.)
Six percent were from those headquartered in Australia.
Four percent each were from ones based in Canada and the United Kingdom.
Three percent each were from organizations headquartered in Brazil, Italy and Turkey.
Nineteen different countries were the headquarters for at least one percent of respondents. These ranged from Argentina, Belgium, Colombia and the Czech Republic to South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Small numbers of respondents replied from organizations headquartered in 56 other countries. The total from each country fell below 1 percent of the survey respondents total (13.87) and that country’s percentage was rounded down to zero. Nonetheless, respondents from outfits based in countries like Angola, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Guatemala, the Netherlands Antilles, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar and Sri Lanka provided valuable data for the survey.
Respondents were weighted toward large operators. This is reflected in the fact that the average of the answer to the question “How big is the helicopter fleet for your entire organization?” was 104 helicopters. Few operators have fleets that big.
That question reflects our effort this year to refine the survey results to gather information about a respondent’s overall employer and his or her local work and pay conditions. An EMS pilot or mechanic, for instance, may work for a corporation with varied business activities, a multitude of bases and standard, company-wide policies on work conditions. But the specific hospital program under which he flies may dictate his pay. So that employee may have no way of knowing the average raise offered to the corporation’s employees, nor might that average affect his particular wages. So we asked for both organization-wide information and that specific to the respondent’s own operating unit.
Forty-five percent of respondents said they flew or worked for a commercial helicopter operation. One quarter said they worked for a public-service operation, which we defined as any non-military governmental agency. Eighteen percent said they flew or worked for a corporate operation, and 12 percent did so for the military.
We asked, as we have in the past, about people in seven specific job titles. They are aviation department manager, chief helicopter pilot, maintenance chief, line A&P mechanic, non-certified mechanic/mechanic’s assistant, piston helicopter pilot, single-engine turbine pilot and pilots of multi-engine light-medium and medium-heavy aircraft. We also asked about “other” job titles and a host replied, from quality-assurance technicians, base managers and chief executive officers to radar experts, test engineers and vibration program managers.
Respondents said the average number of helicopters within their operating unit (as opposed to their overall organization) was 14, again reflecting the data being weighted somewhat toward large operators. The average number of IFR-certified helicopters was eight. The average number of piston aircraft in the operating unit’s fleet was one. The average number of single-engine turbine helicopters was seven, with average number of multi-engine ones being eight. On average, respondents said, each aircraft in their operating unit fly 64 hr. a month, and each pilot works on average 43 hr. and week and flies on average 33 hr. a month.
The average number of full-time pilots in a respondent’s operating unit was 22, with two part-time or contract pilots at work on average. On average, the operating unit had 17 certified mechanics or maintenance engineers and eight non-certified ones.
One of the more curious results of this year’s survey was the answer to the question “Do you need pilots and mechanics?” We asked it twice, once for the respondent’s overall organization and once for the respondent’s specific operating unit. When asked that question for the overall organization, the majority of respondents said both pilots (56 percent) and mechanics (54 percent) were needed. But when asked about their own operating unit, most respondents said no more pilots (56 percent) or mechanics (60 percent) were needed.