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Leslie: Hope Flies

Today, the global demand for pilots is huge and there are many opportunities both overseas and here at home.


September 28, 2007
By Steve Leslie

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A couple of years ago, in the wake of the collapse of Canada 3000,
Michel Leblanc founded the now defunct Jetsgo. The failure of C3 had
left a void in the Canadian airline economy and Leblanc decided the
time was right to give it another go. Only this time, his fledgling
company attached additional conditions to employment of new-hire
pilots. Jetsgo required prospective new hires to fork out $30,000 as
collateral. Leblanc agreed to repay the pilots’ security deposit in
full plus interest over a threeyear period of employment. Unfortunately
for the new hires, many of them are now out of pocket and are faced
with little or no income.

I
have empathy for the ex- Jetsgo pilots. I was in their shoes three and
a half years ago. I was out of work and with no income. For 16 months,
I expended a lot of energy knocking on doors, making telephone calls
and contacting as many Canadian employers as I could. Even with over 20
years of experience, I got nowhere. The airline industry was in a
downturn and few jobs were to be found, at least in Canada. As much as
I wished for a made-in-Canada solution, it took me many months to
realize that I would have to look outside our borders. Eventually I
found that light at the end of the tunnel.

Today, the global
demand for pilots is huge. There are many opportunities for pilots. For
instance, an Ireland-based contracting agency recently advertised for
757 captains and first officers to be leased to a Kazakhstan-based
carrier, Air Astana. An up-and-coming Middle East carrier – Qatar
Airways – has also been conducting an ongoing recruitment campaign.
Qatar monthly salaries start at $US9,000 for captains and US$6,800 for
first officers – interestingly enough, several ex-pilots of Royal
Airlines (a previous Leblanc venture) are now working for Qatar
Airways. Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways are actively
looking for pilots to bolster their burgeoning cargo fleets. There are
also many good corporate jobs available for pilots who wish to pursue
this facet of the industry.

The common thread among these
overseas opportunities is the additional incentives available to lure
prospective pilot candidates. The incentives generally include a
healthy tax-free salary, accommodation, medical insurance, schooling
for dependents and various other enticements. Granted, most of the
advertised opportunities require some sort of type rating, relevant
experience and an ICAO licence or equivalent.

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If an overseas
opportunity doesn’t strike your fancy, try looking closer to home.
There are some Canadian firms rostering pilots on overseas assignments.
Kenn Borek Air springs to mind. Borek has been rotating crews through
the Maldives for a few months at a time to fly float-equipped Twin
Otters for Maldivian Air Taxi. Another Calgary-based operation flies
Challengers on European contracts; the pilots rotate one month on and
one month off.

If you decide to work outside of Canada for an
overseas company, there are some downsides. These may involve
contractual issues and the way some airlines conduct business. In
nearly all cases, you must agree to a fixed-term contract, say from one
to five years. Also, to validate your license in the host country and
before you even enter the flight deck, you may have to undertake
several weeks and sometimes months of additional training. This is
something that you should be aware of before you even consider
accepting a contract. Nonetheless, the downsides are minimal and are
often not even an issue. As a pilot, it remains your obligation to
maintain your medical fitness, to pass a biannual flight test and to be
available to operate flights as directed by the airline.

In
spite of the countless airlines that have come and gone from Canadian
skies, Canadian airlines will always be necessary for the health of the
Canadian economy. However, on a worldwide scale, they are but a small
part of the global aviation industry. Despite having to jump through
many hoops, the opportunities outside of Canada abound and there is no
comparison with what little is available at home.

I recently
read an interesting comment by a Canadian pilot, which pretty much sums
up the current state of affairs in Canada: “…We’re adrift and
rudderless in this country.” He was referring to the lack of government
support for our industry. Simply put, and as any airline worker will
tell you, the lack of sensible government airline policy is killing our
industry. And to make matters worse, unreasonable and exorbitant
taxation is having an appalling affect on the health of the industry.
It will only be a level playing field when government policies are
changed. Unfortunately, they are not likely to change anytime soon. No
wonder many Canadian pilots have fled to more lucrative climes.

If
I were to give any advice to you as an out-ofwork pilot, at the very
least broaden your horizons and look further afield. Many Canadians
before you have been in your shoes. Don’t wait for Angus or Michel to
bankroll another startup. C3 is never coming back. Jetsgo has left the
building. It is an unfortunate state of affairs, but it is reality.

Flying
overseas is a great opportunity and it is an adventure. The
opportunities are out there and the airlines want you. Although, it may
take a huge leap of faith, chances are you will not look back. As for
me, I am now on the outside looking in. Canada will always be home to
me, but I don’t fall asleep at night any more wondering about my next
paycheque or whether my company will be closing its doors tomorrow. May
you have a smooth ride and strong tailwinds wherever your next flight
takes you.

Good luck.


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