Whether many of us are aware or not, the demand for skilled pilots has greatly increased in the airline industry. As more and more skilled pilots retire, the pilots coming into the work force are not sufficient to fill the widening gap being left by retirees. As this gap widens in the coming years, we are starting to see incentive increases to bring on new pilots in and fill out those vacant positions.
American Airlines has begun to offer an increased sign on bonus to pilots joining through Envoy Air, the regional airline business owned by American Airlines and operating their American Eagle brand. Envoy has increased their sign on bonus for new pilots to $15,000 in an effort to attract new pilots to fly with them. Envoy acts as the entry point for American Airlines in many cases. Inexperienced pilots often fly with these smaller subsidiary companies to gain experience. Once they have experience and hours under their belt, the company many then move them up to American Airlines proper where the pilot will likely run longer routes, on bigger airplanes.
While the airline industry will never admit this openly, much of this lack of pilots problem is one of their own making. Much of the major airline industry uses these small subsidiary companies to train pilots and get them experience. Long has this part of flying been a poor life choice. Stories are well known where pilots get paid so poorly that they share apartments with many other pilots to a point where they become bunk houses. Some evenings have come to sleeping in cots in the airport among the unclaimed luggage.
Many of these smaller airline companies run pilots ragged and beyond federally mandated flight hour limits in an effort to increase profits, sacrificing safety in the process.
Place a new pilot in this position, or even expose potential pilots to stories about this process and it's going to be difficult to attract new talent. While $15,000 goes a long way, that may not be as big of a deal when pay rates are so low for incoming pilots already. If paying pilots brings them in so far under the poverty limit that they need to share housing with 10+ other pilots, $15,000 may not be the incentive that airlines expect it to be. Increasing pay rates would be the ideal situation and what people actually want. One time bonuses are just that, one time and that isn't always going to be the best option in all cases.