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New foreign pilot visas won’t help unhappy Aussie pilots

written by Kirsty Ferguson | December 29, 2017

This week we learnt the news that foreign pilots will again be able to apply to come to work in Australia under a two-year 457 visa.

It may feel unfair that Aussie pilots will also soon be competing with those overseas contract pilots, but at this stage it is a stop-gap or short-term measure so for prospective airline pilots and those looking for the next step in their careers the long game is still yours to plan and prepare for.

While jobs are here – training facilities are not

Airline and fleet growth has clearly opened more opportunities for pilots, experienced pilots, not only to grow their careers but to move to new types and aim for the mainline full service carriers, many of whom have not recruited for some time. So while we are in an upturn of activity this has amplified long-standing issues in Australia around a lack of training facilities creating hold files anywhere from three-12 months – a bit of a “great I got it” followed by a “now I’m stalled” situation.

Increased pilot movement creating culture issues

As more widebody jets come into play globally, pilots who were happy to commit themselves long-term to a narrowbody career are now considering second officer roles on the wides. Airlines are experiencing a far greater turnover of their pilot body and as with any institution this affects team culture. When there are so many to choose from why would pilots actively seek a negative workplace environment?

Perhaps the overseas pilots under this 457 visa won’t be so concerned and will fill that gap, but that is a short-term solution.


Interestingly, sideways movement across carriers has been frequent during 2017, not only as competing carriers want type rated pilots; more so, the key enticement has been culture and stability. The values and team culture of an airline have driven pilots to reassess their seniority number in their current role in favour of an environment they may be better suited to and feel more valued within. Some are even downsizing to smaller aircraft, once unheard of.

It is two-sided, if pilots are happy at their airline then most would stick with it, seniority is important so there have to be contributing negative factors leading to having a look elsewhere.

Let’s consider historically what those negatives have shown themselves to be:

  • EBA negotiation difficulties;
  • Communication difficulties between management and pilot body;
  • Takeovers or airline mergers that redistribute seniority;
  • Pilot conditions, fatigue, OTP requirements etc;
  • Pay disputes;
  • HR support and problem resolution;
  • Time to command due to lack of growth.

All of the above affects culture and an unhappy pilot body is infectious.

What pilots are telling me about their core reasons for looking elsewhere are:

  • Lack of progression due to stagnated growth;
  • Negative or toxic team or management culture;
  • Remuneration;
  • Lack of diversity of flying or fleet options.

Airlines that place a high focus on culture are attracting those candidates who have become frustrated and feel undervalued.

Dollars enticing Aussie pilots

Let’s be real here, as pilot remuneration is not what it used to be, those overseas carriers with the ability to throw dollars at candidates will also attract their fair share of applicants.

On the flipside, the opportunity to live and work in Australia is a drawcard in itself in attracting type rated overseas pilots down under with the 457 visa, even if Australian airlines cannot compete on wages alone.

Meeting the airline assessment standards

While the opportunities and choices are here, getting the role you want is not a given, it is essential that you meet the required standards on the assessment day and that includes the overseas candidates. Just because airlines need pilots does not mean that they will relax their standards, some criteria may change but standards must be met.

I have seen a recent influx of pilots who went into airline assessment processes with “perfect fit” experience but little or no preparation. The unsuccessful response is difficult to swallow when you are a good fit, so I will say again, preparation is key as they assess you on your performance on that day.

The industry’s major challenge is to invest in training infrastructure and create those pathways that facilitate pilots into this rewarding if challenging career.

Now more than ever airlines need to take a good hard look at their culture.

Those who have already done that are ahead of the game and on the top of the pile in attracting candidates.

But as a pilot, it’s a great time to go after that dream job or simply a new job.

Kirsty Ferguson is an international aviation coach and director of Pinstripe Solutions.

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Comments (14)

  • Dunover


    Airline management have been warned for years to change their ways or face an inevitable pilot shortage.
    Now I know why they didn’t care – our hopeless politicians instantly capitulate and import foreign workers to appease bad management.
    It is so very disappointing on so many levels.

  • Greg


    So what English standard will the foreign pilot require? If it’s only the CASA English proficiency then the airlines could look at relaxing the year 12 English entry requirement. That would increase the pool of suitable pilots considerably.

  • LionelMessi


    Casa should also fight to allow Aussie ICAO ATPL holders the ability to work in the reciprocating visa nations (eg. EASA nations)

  • M.Webb


    Great…they stuff General Aviation, so fewer people progress to the Airlines, and so we now need to import.

  • Jerry Springer


    There’s an overwhelming assumtion that potential recruits from other countries possess the technical skills to safely and effectively fill the position(English language proficiency aside).
    The last time an airline tried this here (ATR Fleet) it proved to be a collasal failure with a very high percentage of the pilots not attaining their check to line.
    What is likely to be different this time?

  • Chris Grealy


    I wonder what it would take to encourage pilots to keep flying in Australia. Being treated as professionals? Better wages and conditions? The right to be in a union? Could be worth trying IF the industry is really worried about the prospect of foreign-flagged aircraft and aircrew with English as a second or third language flying RPT services.
    On the other hand, we have no problem with the same thing happening on the waterfront, and why should aviation be any different?

  • Webby


    This article hits the nail on the head, while some pilots are heading overseas it’s not the reason we have a shortage of pilots. The shortage is at the entry level, regional jobs where they don’t have the experience to go as a DE Captain to China. The industry has been stagnant for so long that new potential pilots don’t see a progression, stability or remuneration to justify the cost. Airlines and their contractors have had the luxury of being able to foster a bad culture to improve their bottom line as a result of this stagnation and then wonder why people aren’t loyal, it’s a two way street! The direction on civil aviation in Australia is tragic and sad particularly given that our training and people are considered highly around the world. I am one of those pilots that have left the airlines to smaller aircraft due a poor personnel and safety culture with my previous employer. It’s about time the government were aware, but they’ve missed the real issue.

  • Abbas


    Considering Austealian and NZ are roaming the world over and get flying jobs why shouldnt foreigners that are qualified be barred from working in Australia? Let us have a fair job hunting ground.

  • Ryan


    As a foreign airline captain, I have to say it is hard to believe some of these voices came from the people who born in a free world. Some local pilots are aiming at the 457 visa, and the pilots have been brought in by it. No one was thinking about what this visa can give to these pilots, somehow, if they could find a job in Aus aviation. Many people work hard and agree with the value of this country have to leave after the “short-term” service, no matter how much contribute these people have left to this society. This visa only offers these pilots a chance to serve Australia unconditional. To be an experienced pilot is not that easy, it costs money and time, and there is no reason to ask the public to sacrifice their normal life to wait until the “local” Australian pilots to grow up. This is simple, everyone has the same right to work, if you are not ready, go home and be ready because someone will help you to finish your job.

  • Dunover


    Ryan, obviously not everyone has the right to work in Australia. I can’t tell if you’re deliberately missing the point, or pretending to know less than you do, but the world is full of Aussie pilots who would come home tomorrow for the right terms and conditions.
    In Australia the cost of training is too high and the salaries are too low. The government’s solution is to get cheap Labour from overseas instead of helping the citizens they are paid to represent.
    Whose side are you on?

  • Rod Pickin


    Governments do not posses the skills and expertise to assess the needs for say the issue of “457” visa for any industry. That decision is made by them based on inputs from the industry/s concerned. In the case of Pilots, lets take the emotion out of the equation, we need to know what area of aviation has the concerns for a pilot shortage, further the company/s concerned should be identified and they should be made to justify their approaches to government. They need to fully identify what they have done from a company aspect to alleviate the problem prior to making representations to government,, ministers or lobbyist.
    In almost every aspect of our lives we see reports of, masses of broad spectrum, non specific unqualified statements and actions by those totally incapable of understanding and making decisions effecting those industries.

  • Stephen P. Summers


    I am an Australian, learned to fly in Australia and tried to find any kind of flying job in Australia to no avail all this from 1990 . I ended up finding work overseas and have stayed overseas since. I had even tried again about 10 years ago with not a single call. Several years ago, I learned that Kendall Airlines had leased foriegn pilots to operate their fleet of CRJ’s before their demise. (This aircraft I hold a type rating in). Now I learn of this visa, this is nothing more than just another slap in the face by an industry led by incompetent fools.
    What goes around, comes around.

  • Andrew


    ” some criteria may change but standards must be met.”
    The Captains of today, were recruited at a time when there were no standards.
    People forget the so called recruitment standards were all about culling from the masses.
    To then keep the ‘standards’ when pilots are in short supply is nothing but a rort.
    It is all about stopping wages from increasing by increasing the supply with opening up the 457 visa.
    Smoke and mirrors.

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