Current State of the Aviation Job Market in Asia: With BizJet Member Bill Ermolovich

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Bill Ermolovich, a retired airline pilot and longtime BizJetJobs member, has a job he loves flying a BBJ/737 in Asia for a private individual (Part 91 operation). We interviewed him a few months back, when he told us what he loves most about his current position:

“My current Part 91 private jet job is a full-time position with medical, dental, and all the benefits you’d have at the airlines. There is also 28 days of paid vacation each year and a business class seat for the vacation. The pay is fantastic, and the flying is absolutely wonderful. I love going to places I’ve never been, and I am living in a fantastic country outside the U.S.”

You can read our first interview with Bill here.

Given his years of experience and contacts in the industry, especially in Asia, Bill has a unique perspective on COVID-19. When he contacted us with an idea for an article about COVID-19 and business aviation, we knew his perspective would be helpful.

BJJ: How do you see COVID-19 impacting corporate aviation in general?

Bill: I believe that when the coronavirus runs its course, the first aviation companies to recover will be Part 91/135 private jets. When world leaders in business want and need to reconnect, private jets will be the only game in town.  Private jets are fast, reliable, and safe. Personal point-to-point travel is going to be the business edge the world economy needs to rebuild.

BJJ: As our industry contact in Asia, what are you hearing out there right now?

Bill: In preparing for our conversation, I have interviewed private jet pilots, airline pilots, Boeing training instructors, and Gulfstream test pilots.

When travel restrictions lift and borders open, the consensus is that only those with their own aircraft or flight department will be able to conduct business across borders.

Smart people and those who can afford to are keeping their pilots and private jets, who are doing landings to maintain their currency.

BJJ: We have all heard by now about airline pilots being furloughed. Can you give us more insight into how coronavirus is impacting commercial flying in Asia, since you are arguably a few months ahead of the rest of the world on the virus timeline?

Bill: Most people don’t realize that this goes well beyond not being able to book and fill flights. With commercial airlines, when you let a large aircraft like a 747 sit around, you quickly run into major maintenance issues.

One estimate I saw estimates it could take up to 400 maintenance hours to bring an aircraft back, not counting issues that develop with systems.

With 8,000 aircraft grounded, that would be 3,200,000 hours of maintenance to recover the world’s aircraft fleet, not including repair of degraded systems.

Combined with the airline pilot training and currency issues, I predict the airlines will not soon be back to flying a full schedule.

Airlines are also running into a huge issue with training. As far as simulators go, big training companies located in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Singapore have all but shut down. None of the pilots scheduled to be trained can cross borders to do their training. Not only have the pilots been grounded, but the governments of Singapore, China, and Japan won’t allow people to come in for training. It’s also become impossible to get qualified instructors to run the trainings. The entire airline crew staff in Asia have been left high and dry when it comes to annual training.

The bottom line is, airlines won’t be able to service every spot in the world immediately. You have the issues of the airplanes themselves being behind on maintenance. You have an entire crew that’s lapsed on their training. Even if the FAA extends the timeline for airman medical review for a few months, there are so many other factors at play. If your crew is union and the plan is to train backwards based on seniority, it’s going to take a long time for the airlines to get back to fully operational.

BJJ: Tell us more about how pilots who are still flying are able to maintain currency.

Bill: When you fly to another country to keep your landing currency, take heed. Things are changing so rapidly with quarantine rules, even though you have approval to depart your country today, things might change by the time you get back.

In Asia, if you’re a citizen or a long-term employment visa holder, you do have special status as an airman. If your SIC doesn’t, the rules may impact you differently. I’ve seen situations where the SIC has to quarantine in a hotel, while the PIC gets to go back to his house – and the other way around. I’ve seen people who have to start their quarantine over, due to rules changing.

One way around this is to get your landing currency by flying around your current country. If this isn’t possible, just be aware that things might change. Try not to get bent out of shape about it.

BJJ: How do you think social distancing – both rules about it and people’s fears regarding it – will play out in passenger aviation?

Bill: One interesting piece has to do with the regional airlines or “puddle jumpers.” My son is a SkyWest pilot. They’re a regional airline still flying with smaller loads so people can be appropriately spaced. They don’t always cross borders, so they’re still allowed to fly. Regionals can still make a profit right now. The CRJ-200, for example, is in the black once they book 6 passengers. These smaller aircraft don’t need 70-80 people to be profitable, and I’ve heard of regional aircraft being used for longer flights for exactly this reason.

Long story short, if you’re a businessman who wants or needs to jump in and have face-to-face meetings as soon as you can, you’ll need a private jet.

BJJ: We’ve heard anecdotal evidence, so we’d love to hear yours. Where are private jets still operating, and in what capacity?

Bill: In large countries, Part 91 operations are still flying. Part 135 operations have all but halted. Within the U.S., private jets are still flying. In Russia, which is a huge country, the same thing is happening. I personally know that the CEO of a large food corporation in Russia still flies every Tuesday and Thursday contracting for food delivery.

The caveat is, these private jets can’t fly across borders without a 14-day quarantine.

I do believe there will be a tremendous job upswell as soon as borders are open.

BJJ: Have you heard about how these shutdowns is impacting aviation manufacturing?

Bill: Yes, I have heard through the grapevine that Boeing manufacturing curtailed, as you would expect from a manufacturer of heavy jets. Interestingly though, Gulfstream, which exclusively focuses on corporate jets, is still manufacturing airplanes. I’m certain this is because everyone expects and predicts they will be needing them.

BJJ: To say this has been a hard time for pilots would be a tremendous understatement. What would your advice be to the would-be commercial or corporate pilot who is furloughed or otherwise grounded right now?

Bill: Any time you are between jobs is a great time to do some self-enrichment. I’m taking Mandarin Chinese and Russian classes, since I’m not flying as much. I’m seeing this as a good opportunity to make myself even more valuable. Of course many in-person trainings have been canceled, but several trainings are being offered online. The Scott International Procedures training (Scott IPC), for example, is available online.

The Bottom Line

Aviation is like a game of musical chairs. Over time, BizJetJobs has witnessed pilots flocking to corporate aviation, a pilot job shortage, and the entire cycle repeating itself multiple times. Part of your job as a pilot is knowing that the music could stop, and planning your next move.

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*Please note that Bill is expressing his own opinion in this interview. The opinions expressed are his, and do not reflect the opinions or views of BizJetJobs.com, its owners or its membership.