Pilots are scarce as the airline industry tries to recover from COVID-19. But a private jet charter company, Cirrus Aviation Services, plans to pay pilots while getting them their needed extra hours. Cirrus says the FAA-approved program will help support the company’s growth.
Cirrus Aviation Services is Nevada’s largest airline. 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 during the pandemic as commercial airlines shut down their flights. Cirrus says their corporate, entertainment and corporate clients are leaving the hassle of crowded airports and delayed flights (as recently documented by JD Power) behind.
The company currently offers leased aircraft ranging from compact Honda Jets to the fifteen-passenger Bombardier Challenger 850 with a range of more than 3,000 miles.
While domestic air traffic has returned to pre-pandemic levels, private jets show no signs of slowing down. The new aircraft that Cirrus Aviation Services is adding will bring the total fleet to more than thirty aircraft.
But planes need pilots. To grow its business, Cirrus Aviation must compete with the rest of the aviation world for pilots. So the company is launching what it says in an FAA-approved pilot development program designed to help pilots get the hours they need to move up the ranks.
“The pilots and aircraft that join our fleet will help us meet the growing demand for charter 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 clients, including Las Vegas celebrities and 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 an important part 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 flying experience in an FAA-approved program.
In addition to “earning while you learn” by gaining extra hours on the Honda Jets, pilots can climb up to become first officers on larger aircraft like the Cirrus Aviation’s Challengers and Gulfstreams. After gaining experience as First Officers, pilots can upgrade to become Captains on Honda Jets. Eventually they will become Captains on larger Cirrus Aviation aircraft.
The program allows pilots to gain valuable flight time while supervised by experienced pilots and within an aviation system, which Cirrus sees as a key to professional advancement. In its competition for pilots, Cirrus says it also offers promotion from within, a competitive salary and health benefits, plus the outdoor and entertainment-oriented Las Vegs lifestyle.
In addition to its charter business, Cirrus Aviation also provides 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 the base in Las Vegas, Cirrus is present in New York and at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.
Will Cirrus’ approach to the pilot shortage succeed? It’s too early to say, but many companies across the industry are grappling with the issue.
The Federal Aviation Administration has rejected a recent request from Republic Airways (which flies short-haul routes for United, Delta and American) to halve the number of hours it takes to become a pilot. Regulations require at least 1,500 flight hours for commercial pilots. Republic asked for the minimum to be reduced to 750 hours after completing its training program. The FAA declined to reduce flight hours needed, citing the “greater public interest in ensuring and maintaining the level of safety”.