Skift Take

Top executives at Connect Airlines and Breeze Airways both alluded to the high-risk nature of the aviation business, but they also said that it's a good time to start up a carrier. It seems both companies are doing the early heavy lifting they will need to be successful.

There is a pilot shortage in the airline industry, but that’s no problem for Connect Airlines

The Massachusetts-based airline startup, which plans to begin services in January, has been able to pay top dollar for all the pilots it needs, according to John Thomas, CEO of Connect Airlines. He shared the information Wednesday at the Skift Aviation Forum, held at the Statler Hotel in downtown Dallas.

Because much of the industry is retiring their Q400 aircrafts — which is what Connect Airlines is using for its service launch — the company’s lease costs are one-third of what they would have been three years ago.

That means the company has been able to pay captains $250,000 each, he said, which is far above the median salary

“You get what you pay for. We have this phenomenal group of captains who have joined us,” Thomas said. 

“We think we’ve actually set ourselves up for very long-term success by making, effectively, an investment in the pilots.”

And those experienced pilots will act as mentors to the early-career pilots that Connect hires, of which there are about 80 in the pipeline. 

Owned by Waltzing Matilda Aviation, Connect Airlines plans to start service with flights between Toronto to Chicago and Philadelphia. The Billy Bishop airport in Toronto has 224 slots it can allocate to planes for takeoff each day. Connect will get 42 of those slots this winter.

“So, 42 out of a total of 224, for a startup in a slot-controlled airport, we think is pretty good,” Thomas said. 

The company announced a partnership with American Airlines last year, and the plan is to partner with more major carriers going forward, he said. 

Meanwhile, Breeze Airways is continuing to grow with plans to triple size next year, according to Lukas Johnson, Breeze chief commercial officer, at the same Aviation Forum session on Wednesday. 

“This quarter, we’re going to be growing over 50% quarter-over-quarter,” Johnson said. 

The Utah-based airline this week announced three new routes from Raleigh-Durham International in North Carolina. That adds up to 35 cities the airline serves, with more than 100 routes. 

Breeze began operations in May 2021. It was founded by David Neeleman, who started JetBlue and Azul Airlines. It has added three fleet types over the last 12 months, Johnson said. 

Johnson said the brand launched based on premium leisure — a Skift Megatrend for 2022. 

He believes that area was a bit lacking in the market several years ago, so people have reacted well to having a new option. 

“People were willing to pay for that better experience, absolutely,” Johnson said. 

“Guest satisfaction is incredibly high. Our guest [net promoter score] is way above where we thought it would be.”

Johnson said Breeze also has enough pilots, which it has been recruiting through several avenues. 

“In terms of the pilot total supply, we’ve got plenty of pilots into next year that we’ve already hired, so it’s just about getting them through the schoolhouse and actually flying.”


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Tags: airlines, megatrends, premium leisure, routes, saf2022, skift live, startups, transportation, workforce

Photo credit: Lukas Johnson (left), chief operating officer at Breeze Airways, and John Thomas, CEO of Connect Air, in discussion with Airline Weekly Editor Ned Russell at Skift Aviation Forum in Dallas Dylan Pacholek / Skift

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