U.S. Markets closed

FedEx founder: 'We are among the prize jobs in the aviation industry'

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

While the rest of the aviation industry suffers from a pilot shortage, FedEx (FDX) says it doesn’t have any problems hiring them.

On the company’s latest earnings call — which one analyst described as “breathtakingly bad” — FedEx Founder Fred Smith noted despite the industry suffering from a growing global shortage in the number of qualified pilots, the company wasn’t seeing much of that labor shortfall.

“We are among the prize jobs in the aviation industry, and we do not have any problems hiring aviators today,” Smith said. “We put a lot of thought in this. Our pilot attrition is going down, and so we anticipated this.”

One pilot told Yahoo Finance that they agreed with the sentiment, saying FedEx is one of the “top-tier jobs as an airline pilot” with good contract terms and work-life balance.

A FedEx Express plane at a maintenance base of Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Company Limited at the airport in Guangzhou, China in 2018. (Photo: Feng Zhoufeng/Southern Metropolis Daily via REUTERS)

Recruitment played a big role, another FedEx exec added.

“We have [the] best source of our pipeline… because the brand is so strong, because they do such a great job for us, and they're helpful in the recruitment of pilots across the world,” Don Colleran, president and CEO, FedEx Express said on the call.

Pilot pay at FedEx is roughly on par with its competitors, albeit a little lower than what pilots at passenger carriers make.

Based on data from Airline Pilot Central, an online database for airline industry employment statistics, a captain at FedEx Express for a 777 jet with 10 years of experience makes $309 an hour. At United Parcel Service (UPS), captains flying all jets with 10 years of experience make $311 an hour. Pilots flying passenger carriers make slightly more: at United Airlines (UAL), a pilot with 10 years flying a 777 makes $347 hourly and at Delta (DAL) they’d make $349.

The world needs 790,000 more pilots for the next 20 years

Unlike FedEx, the rest of the industry is desperately seeking pilots.

A recent survey of aviation professionals in the U.S. and Canada found that 46% already see a pilot shortage, with 36% expecting one in the next five years, according to BofA

Boeing’s recent Pilot & Technician Outlook for 2019 to 2038 paints an even more dismal picture. In 2017, they predicted that the industry would need around 637,000 pilots for the next two decades. Last year, they upped that number to 790,000. This year, they pushed that number to 804,000. 

The report stated that Asia Pacific will demand the most pilots, followed by North America, Europe and the Middle East.

(Credit: Boeing)

Pushing for gender equality 

FedEx’s Smith also touted the fact that the company has been hiring more female pilots. 

“In terms of female pilots, FedEx had been a leader in this. This has been something that's been a project of mine for a long time,” he said. “At one time we had the highest percentage of both. I'm sure that's different now. But we work very hard, and we participate in female and minority hiring longer term.”

Yahoo Finance previously reported that the overall pilot shortage could offer a big opportunity for women to enter the traditionally male-dominated industry.

“We’ve long had a very low number of women in aviation — as long as we’ve been able to measure and track,” Elizabeth Tennyson, vice president of aviation program operations for Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), told Yahoo Finance last year. “In the past, women were maybe not steered towards aviation as a career.”

Only around 7% of pilots overall are women, according to Women in Aviation. Out of that number, only 6.38% are commercial pilots. Even fewer, 4.38%, work as airline transport pilots.

FedEx pilots wait while packages and documents are being loaded onto their aircraft in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2008. (Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Pilot retirements

FedEx acknowledged that there was attrition in its ranks: It was going to see a net reduction of “several hundred pilots” next year “due to retirement,” Smith said, adding that the trend was a result of economic conditions deteriorating in Europe last year.

The BofA report stated that the U.S. on average has some of the oldest pilots in the world. In the transport industry, in particular, the average age for a pilot last year was 51, up from 46 in 2002. 

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami

Read more: 

Read the latest financial and business news from Yahoo Finance

Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, SmartNews, LinkedIn, YouTube, and reddit.