What Just Happened?
Erik Sabiston
September 26, 2020

I know a lot of you are wondering what just happened.

We went from the very best airline hiring period in memory to the worst. For those in Oil & Gas, you’ve seen the bottom fall out. HEMS folks worry about bases closing and rising minimums. Military folks have restrictions as well, with students at Fort Rucker unable to attend classes in person, for example. This is a challenging time, fraught with misinformation and even panic in some cases. I’m here to tell you that this is NOT the end of the world, nor is the aviation industry ruined. For those who are new to this life, welcome! You’re finally a real airline, helicopter, corporate, charter, contract, agriculture pilot or mechanic, lol! You’re also not alone. Not a chance.

The airlines are definitely volatile right now. That is very true. Point to an industry that isn’t. This virus has affected this entire world severely.

Humor me while I share a story with you. Years ago, at Fort Rucker I watched in agony as my DAC friends were sequestered, and later as my contracting buddies were fired abruptly. Something had to be done, so I did what I could. I spent countless hours writing, calling and messaging every contact I had on LinkedIn, trying to get them jobs. I had my position, but I couldn’t watch these guys with families suffer. That is the spirit of what drove RTAG’s creation. RTAG isn’t about making millions of dollars. It’s about helping vets.. and not everybody wants to be in the airlines either.

If you want to fly cargo, cool! Those dudes haven’t stopped flying at all. If your dream job is flying helicopters, great, we need you out there. If it’s flying fighters for the ANG, awesome (A-10s are cooler). If it’s maybe being a regional pilot and sticking this out, sweet! If it’s flying widebody jets for Delta, rock on (..those double-breasted suits though?). If it’s getting to see your spouse every day for the first time in 20 years and putting your kids to bed each night, outstanding. Success has always been about being happy. So, go to your happy place.

As this thing plays out just know that you will be fine. Take care of your family and choose your values wisely. For many RTAGers that will mean toughing this one out. Furloughs are here. How long depends on something the airlines can’t control.

The vaccine and the flying public.

For those that aren’t familiar, this situation isn’t the airline’s doing. A virus has never shutdown life on Earth on this scale during any of your lifetimes, nor your parent’s and grandparent’s lifetimes either. It’s unprecedented. All you can do is be prepared. Mismanagement works both ways. Shore up your own emergency fund so that next time your savings account doesn’t remind you of some major airline’s 2020 quarterly reports.

Underneath this sadness is one immutable fact. The industry is hurting for pilots due to retirements. That is not the current situation with empty airliners, but eventually it will come around, just like O&G flying jobs will come around.

RTAG’s mission has always been to help pilots and mechanics. Sometimes that has had unexpected side effects, such as pilot pay. If you don’t understand that salaries have risen in the civilian sector or that military flight bonus pay has also gone up due to this movement, then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Jalalabad you might be interested in. The airlines have now reserved a chair for rotorcraft pilots, mechanics and are interested in our E2A (Enlisted to Aviation) candidates. In fact, vets represent the most reliable source of new flight training customers and tax credits in the country. If your school isn’t getting paid to train and/or hire you then they need us, and we never charge anybody a dime!

So, since the mission of RTAG has always been to help vets get aviation jobs, we will continue right alongside you. We will come out on the other side of this stronger than we have ever been. I’m confident things will return and that demand for passenger travel will be bigger than we’ve seen in 2019. Whether that means RTAGers stay in this industry for the long game is an individual decision based on a lot of factors. Some will go on orders. Many of you (unlike your civilian counterparts) have full retirement and benefits. Many RTAGers are dual rated and can stay in the cockpit. Still others have a side business, two incomes or some other source of funds at their disposal. Some are so far up the seniority list that they’ll likely never see a furlough. Some are still in the military or training for the airlines, so this will work out perfectly for them in the near term.

Sadly, RTAGers have been laid off. My hope is that any untoward effects of this crisis are extremely short lived. The opportunities are still fundamentally controlled by that pilot shortage and the global growth in airline travel. People have become used to hopping on a plane and they will return. Corporate flying, if it does eventually dip, will bounce back. Just remember, there’s nothing in aviation history like what we are currently going through to point to. What we do, and how we pull together, will decide what kind of future we build for veterans and what kind of legacy we leave for those behind us.

It’s worth mentioning again.. the last big generation of pilots is aging out. They will be headed for Fort Couch and a well-deserved retirement. Don’t think for one minute that jobs from Allegiant to Air Methods to Amentum won’t be available for all of us in the future. There will be bumps in the road, but for those that are willing to stick to it, great careers are a certainty in the aviation industry. Don’t bet against our country, our economy or our resilience. Some of you spent the last 20 years getting shot at. Don’t forget what you’ve been through already.

So, reject fear, invest your time in your loved ones, lift up your fellow veterans, always have a plan B and stay positive.

As we have always said on RTAG, on phone consults, on social media, and face to face (six feet away now) and will continue to say, “seniority is everything” and “may the best fit win”. Help your fellow RTAGers find that new job. Write recommendations. Make phone calls. Reach out to each other, to strangers. A Blackhawk only has 11 seats.. but man can it fit 24 if need be! It’s time for us to land and pick up our Chalk 2’s crew so they can fly again another day.

I’ll meet you at the rendezvous point on Tatooine!

See you in 2021.

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