Fast Five With Sheryl Barden, CEO Of Aviation Personnel International

Sheryl Barden
Sheryl Barden
Credit: API

Business & Commercial Aviation Editor-In-Chief William Garvey talks with Sheryl Barden, president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International (API), based in San Francisco, about the impact of COVID-19 on business aviation and the global pilot shortage.

How have flight departments fared in the COVID-19 crisis?

Layoffs and furloughs have been felt in FAR 135 air charter operations, but in the traditional private and business aviation flight departments they have been more of an exception, and most of those have been in departments supporting service businesses such as restaurants, casinos or hotels. But for the most part, the traditional flight departments, although grounded, remained whole and ready despite the pandemic. 

The value of business aviation and corporate aircraft has never been greater. This segment likely will be a critical catalyst to the resumption of business. Executives are eager to visit their employees, vendors, partners and customers. Our aviation segment has the means and wherewithal to make that happen, and in doing so help the world at large recover economically.

With airlines the worldwide likely to be shedding flight crewmembers by the thousands, is the much-discussed pilot shortage now history?

I don’t think the pilot shortage is over, but a pressure valve certainly has been released for a few years. Most of our recruiting projects for business flight departments were put on pause while the shelter-in-place recommendations were in effect, but they’re reactivating now as those are lifting, and we are looking at new search projects as well. 

The challenge was and for the moment continues to be conducting interviews in person. But the overarching fact is business-aviation pilot hiring will continue. In recent years a number of pilots abandoned business aviation for the airlines, and some of them told me that doing so made them “furlough-proof.” Seriously? Well, they’ve now learned the truth the hard way that they’re not immune and that aviation remains a cyclical business, as always. And if they try to rejoin business aviation, I don’t know what their reception will be. 

To hang on to their pilots, quite a few departments bumped up salaries and improved work schedules. Is that history as well?

I hope not. Many of those improvements were long overdue. I don’t think there will be many wage increases this year, but those employers who are behind the compensation curve would be smart to adjust. Keeping a team together keeps costs in check. Finding replacements is expensive. I’ve been asked if pilots can now be had at bargain prices.

You’ve said millennial CEOs don’t want to own things, nor do they value face-to-face meetings. Is video conferencing the business jet’s doom?

I’ve been a Zoom person for years. I believe video conferencing will replace some travel, particularly those trips required to get a group of people together in one place at the same time. That said, video will never replace face-to-face meetings 100%. There is a vital human connection that video conferencing simply cannot substitute. 

Will the sudden and global collapse of civil aviation chill the next generation to careers in business aviation?

Before COVID-19 struck, we were seeing a steady increase in young people attending aviation colleges and training programs. My sincere wish is that it continues. This pandemic is a hiccup affecting almost all industries, but particularly service industries including aviation. But it will pass. And being a part of business aviation can be a great, rewarding career and we need to help young people know that.

William Garvey

Bill was Editor-in-Chief of Business & Commercial Aviation from 2000 to 2020. During his stewardship, the monthly magazine received scores of awards for editorial excellence.