Cirrus Aviation Services aims to solve the jet charter pilot shortage

Pilots are in short supply as the airline industry tries to recover from COVID-19. But one private jet charter company, Cirrus Aviation Services, plans to pay pilots while they get the extra hours they need. Cirrus says its FAA-approved program will help support the company’s growth.

Cirrus Aviation Services is Nevada’s largest aircraft charter operator. Based at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Cirrus Aviation Services has grown from one aircraft in 2009 to 30 in 2022.

Like other jet charter operators, the company’s business continued to grow during the pandemic as commercial airlines cut flights. Cirrus says its business, entertainment and corporate customers are moving past the annoyances of crowded airports and delayed flights (as recently documented by JD Power).

The company currently offers aircraft on lease ranging from compact Honda Jets to the 15-passenger Bombardier Challenger 850 with a range of more than 3,000 miles.

Although domestic air travel has returned to pre-pandemic levels, private jet transport is showing no signs of slowing down. The new aircraft added by Cirrus Aviation Services bring the total fleet to over thirty aircraft.

But planes need pilots. In order for the business to continue growing, Cirrus Aviation must compete with the rest of the aviation world for pilots. So the company is launching what it says is an FAA-approved pilot development program designed to help pilots get the hours they need to level up.

“The pilots and aircraft joining our fleet will help us meet the growing demand for charter flights,” said CEO Greg Woods. “Our FAA-approved pilot development program will help us develop the next generation of pilots. The Pilot Development Program allows us to teach our systems and procedures and help pilots gain valuable flying hours while getting paid.”

For Cirrus, part of that system is understanding customer service. “Our charter customers, including Las Vegas celebrities and artists, appreciate that we take their comfort, privacy and security seriously,” said Christi Cordo, vice president of sales and flight services at Cirrus Aviation Services.

According to CEO Woods, the Honda Jets, which can carry up to six passengers on short Southwest flights, are a key element of the Cirrus Aviation Pilot Development Program. In the program, new commercial pilots fly with control pilots in the left seat, allowing them to gain valuable hours of flying experience in an FAA-approved program.

In addition to “earning while you learn” through additional hours on the Honda Jets, pilots can advance to become principal officers on larger aircraft such as Cirrus Aviation’s Challengers and Gulfstreams. After gaining experience as First Officers, pilots can advance to Captains on Honda Jets. Eventually, they become captains on Cirrus Aviation’s larger aircraft.

The program allows pilots to gain valuable flight time while being mentored by experienced pilots and within an airline system, which Cirrus sees as key to career advancement. In its competition for pilots, Cirrus also says it offers internal promotions, competitive salaries and health benefits, and the outdoors and entertainment-centric Las Vegs lifestyle.

In addition to its charter business, Cirrus Aviation also provides maintenance services to private aircraft owners through its Harry Reid Airport facilities. The owners of these aircraft often make them available to Cirrus to generate charter revenue. In addition to its base in Las Vegas, Cirrus also has offices in New York and at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.

Will Cirrus’ approach to the pilot shortage be successful? It’s too early to tell, but many companies across the industry are struggling with the problem.

The Federal Aviation Administration turned down a recent request from Republic Airways (which flies short routes for United, Delta and American) to halve the number of hours required to become a pilot. The regulations require at least 1,500 flight hours for commercial pilots. Republic asked that the minimum be reduced to 750 hours after completing his training program. The FAA refused to cut required flight hours, citing the “greater public interest in ensuring and maintaining safety levels.”

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