There are new fears Australia could be facing a post-COVID pilot shortage after it emerged US airlines are now actively interviewing locked-down Aussies for jobs.
Aviation careers coach Kirsty Ferguson said she alone had received 70 enquiries in the last two weeks from those considering a move to the US, with Missouri-based GoJet and Utah-based SkyWest now organising interviews. GoJet operates services on behalf of US bemouth United, while SkyWest operates under a partnership with Delta, American and Alaska.
UAE giant Emirates is also thought to be actively recruiting from Australia.
It comes as Boeing warned earlier this year that if current trends continue, the global industry will be short of 600,000 pilots by 2040, with the problem thought to be particularly acute in Australia.
Ferguson, the CEO of Pinstripe Solutions, told Australian Aviation, “I can tell you that we have had over 70 enquiries over the last two weeks from Australian pilots considering the US.
“On top of that around 20 pilots from South Africa, New Zealand and Canada seeking similar opportunities to fly in the US.”
Ferguson said US regional airline CommutAir is also open for expressions of interest from Australian pilots during this time.
Australian pilots with an offer of employment can live and work in the US under the E-3 visa. The visa lasts two years initially, but can be extended indefinitely.
Prior to the pandemic, many regional airlines in the US were offering positions to Australian pilots under the E-3 visa system.
In June 2020, then president Donald Trump announced a near-total ban on international immigration visas, which, while this affected many Australians in the US, did not include the E-3 visa.
Despite E-3s not being affected by the ban, many airlines halted their hiring of Australian pilots, as carriers around the country furloughed their staff to navigate the downturn.
Since his inauguration, President Joe Biden has overturned most Trump-era bans on immigration visas, and as aviation operations pick up steam in the US, carriers are now once again interested in bringing in talent from Australia.
Captain Murray Butt, the president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, told Australian Aviation the state of the local industry is making employees reassess their options.
He said he was “aware” Emirates, the United Arab Emirates’ largest carrier, is also hiring Australian pilots.
“I think it’s less than 30 per cent of [Australian] flights compared to pre-pandemic, whereas places like the US and Europe are getting towards 80 per cent.”
“Overseas have moved on,” he added. “The co-ordination between states doesn’t appear to be at the stage where we can have any hope that things are going to improve quickly.”
Earlier this week, a Senate enquiry examining how COVID had affected aviation heard evidence that “thousands” denied government support would leave the industry.
“People simply cannot be stood down, indefinitely, without pay,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine on Monday.
“They won’t be able to support their families and so they will leave the industry.”
Captain Louise Pole, president of the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, said in the Senate inquiry “wages will be very high” overseas, which could also lure skilled pilots away from Australia.
“As we’ve seen through other crisis in the aviation industry, where [pilots] have been unable to obtain employment in Australia, they will travel around the world to gain work,” Pole said.
Murray Butt said the crew shortage was beginning just before the pandemic, and if the “aviation industry returns quickly, [the] problem is going to be worse”.