It’s surprising how often this question comes up. Especially this time of year when those pilots who’ve been on summer / seasonal contracts in Europe have about 4 to 6 weeks of scheduled work left and are anxious to line up that next role. It is important to mention that this can be very much a “European problem” where non-EASA pilots in the rest of the world do not seem to be so much at the mercy of seasonality in terms of aircraft utilisation. Certainly, there are big ramp ups at specific airlines for specific events like Haaj, but generally the carriers in Asia and the Middle East will keep pilots, and aircraft, at optimal utilisation for much more of the year.
About 7 or 8 years ago there were some interesting “back to back” contracts available where pilots would fly peak season in Europe and peak season in Canada each year and cross back and forth – for example from Sunwings to JetAirFly – every 6 months or so. I’m not sure if this happens anymore – I was on a Tui holiday last year and the aircraft and crew were all Canadian – the safety briefing audio was in French and English and half the passengers were exclaiming that we were about to leave Spain not France and asking if the pilot knew where he was! 😉 It would appear (based on that one flight I took anyway) that maybe Tui now take a full ACMI from Canada instead of swapping excess crews.
In any case, the opportunities to work during winter only are becoming fewer and fewer every year. Several European airlines now offer a 9 month contract where pilots are effectively furloughed from November through January or paid a pitiful basic salary for those 3 months and brought back in February then for a refresher course before the madness all begins again. Some pilots love that big chunk of downtime and the fact that it falls over the Xmas holiday season suits those with young families for example. But many pilots need a steady pay cheque all year round and can’t take big periods of non-flying so easily.
Unfortunately, the short answer to “Do you have any winter jobs for me?” is “No!”
It is extremely unusual for any airline who is using agencies to hire pilots for short term 3 to 6 month contracts at this time of the year. It’s not that the airlines don’t want or need the pilots! This is usually a function of the local limitations in terms of onboarding fresh hires. If we look at the markets with the biggest pilot requirements – for example Asia – most countries have long and onerous processes for validation or full conversion of pilot licences. In Japan, for example, the induction courses are about 5 months long to include schooling new recruits for the Air Law exam and JCAB check for example. In other parts of Asia the application process itself can take a long time – the average for China being about 9 months, the average for India being about 4 months all included (waiting for that DGCA security clearance is a pain!). So there are airlines who would just LOVE to have a cohort of highly experienced EASA pilots on their line for 6 months but by the time they’d get you ready to legally fly for them they’d be booking your ticket home!
What we would recommend to pilots who are NOT happy with seasonal contract work, or who can’t afford to be effectively furloughed for winter each year (even if still getting a low basic payment), is to have a good hard think about what next career move they might make in getting a FULL TIME role and what their top priorities are.
So often pilots will know already what their priority is – that is great! If you’re not sure then have a good think and chat to your family members and really decide what you need moving forward. If the reason you’re doing a summer contract in Europe is because you want to be home to see your family most nights then maybe you need to look at some of the excellent commuting options now available (e.g. 2 weeks on 2 weeks off) and consider whether it’s better to see the family for a couple of hours a few times a week or to spend two solid weeks with them each month!?! If the reason you’re doing a summer contract in Europe is because you didn’t have enough hours to apply for the job you preferred then hopefully you’ll have done a good 80-100 block hours per month all summer and be in a better situation now to apply for full time roles – speak to your recruiter about minimum requirements and what gaps you might need to address. If the reason you’re doing a summer contract in Europe is because the pay was really great (and it is often higher than normal to “counteract” the fact that it’s short term) then think about the kind of salary you’d like to be earning ongoingly and what options you’ve got to achieve it – if you are young enough and wanted to earn a million dollars you’d go to China (it would take 3 years) but if you don’t need THAT much money you can look at all options out there you’ll see there are plenty of roles that strike a good balance in terms of salary and roster/location.