A look at the European Employment Market for Flight Operations Officers

Statement from ASISTIM's Accountable Manager S. Rossmann

(PresseBox) ( Hannover, )
In the recent past we have observed a constantly rising demand for qualified Flight Operations Officers (FOOs). It has gotten to the point where it is difficult to source qualified staff to grow our team and run our daily operations. We have succeeded in finding enough talent but it was quite a stretch and forced us to go beyond our normal hiring procedures. Anyone browsing the relevant job portals will immediately notice how many vacant positions there are in our industry.

The commercial airline sector has been growing sharply for decades. But what in particular has led to this aggravated shortage of qualified FOOs in the past seven years? Of course there is no one root cause, as the matter is complex, but there are a number of indications that allow us to draw some conclusions.

For one, the executive and business aviation sector – and their strong demand for FOOs – needs to be looked at. Their impressive growth and the number of staff who service them, including many flight service providers, of course has an impact on the entire flight industry. An executive operator is far hungrier for dispatch labor than a high-frequency, low-cost schedule. Despite impressive fleet sizes is it far more difficult for executive operators to benefit from system automation and integration. In the executive sector, the flexibility and individuality of the services on offer is key – a nightmare for those whose mission it is to run a schedule as efficiently as possible. As this business model will most likely not change in the near future, it will continue to exacerbate the current staff shortage.

Presently the entry qualification requirements for FOOs in Europe are not regulated. There are national license programs but they are not mandatory. For FOOs the EASA has more or less become the regulating body, as an IOSA audit requires proof of adequate training for ground personnel. We have observed that in the last six years the demand for training has grown significantly. Our Flight Dispatch Academy has topped every previous year in terms of students, classroom hours, and turnover.

Recruiting is to a certain extent easier if the applicant holds a valid dispatch license, as this means the candidate has proven his skills towards a Civil Aviation Authority. However, flight planning and adhering to regulations is only half of the story in an OCC. For sure, many tasks and procedures are standardized by regulations, but due to the great diversity in airline operations and how they are organized you’re always in for a wild guess when hiring an applicant. Is s/he experienced enough? Has s/he worked in similar operations (ETOPS, Executive, Low Cost)? Did s/he have to deal with crews and flight time limitations? Because of this, we’ve observe that many airlines prefer hiring young talent from within their organization. These employees’ hard and soft skills are known to the employer, so they invest in training and guidance to saturate operational expertise within their organization.

The particular geographical location of many airline operators makes recruiting FOOs harder, as well. For historical reasons, some operators have their headquarters in major cities where the cost of living is high. This fact is however often not reflected in the FOOs net income. Many FOOs only find affordable housing in the suburbs and end up with a long and draining commute. Other operators have their headquarters in very remote locations and offer an attractive work-life balance but in turn lack some of the cultural charms that urban centers offer. Location is an aspect which is the most difficult to change, and surprisingly sometimes even higher salaries do not attract more FOOs to a particular region. Operators who have tried this have found that it is only a short-term solution, as qualified staff simply move from one operator to the other, still leaving a great demand in the respective region. Further, in the current strained employment market for FOOs, IT strategy plays a far greater role than most would expect.

Operators can choose two major approaches to solve their staff shortage challenges. First, there is a clear trend toward educating young talent, preferably from within the organization. Second, there is the concept of outsourcing work by using cloud platforms for operational systems, as a way to cope with staff shortages for dedicated tasks over a dedicated period of time.

In order to react to the market situation the ASISTIM Academy decided to expand their initial training portfolio in cooperation with the German CAA (Luftfahrtbundesamt) and the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK). Starting from September 2019 we will train a group of motivated candidates to become a Flight Operations Specialist which includes the commonly known positions Flight Operations Officer (FOO) and Aircraft Dispatcher (license issued by the German CAA).

Our competitive edge is our own Integrated Operations Control Center (IOCC), based on this knowledge we can teach different types of operations during an intensive on the job training within several months. 
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