Non Compete Clause: Still The Norm Or Outdated?
Opinion Editorial written by Jason J. Baker – “If you really want a job as a seaplane pilot, you’ll put up with the hardships and do what you have to, to make it happen, Junior! And stop whining, for gods sake!” Harsh words from a guy whom I looked up to and who had done it all, I thought.
I realized that I was barking up the wrong tree, when explaining my own dilemma of finding a job as a freshly-baked commercial seaplane pilot to my uncle and mentor Jesse W. Baker (†) over a Maine Lobster Roll. Couldn’t he just make a few calls and “get me in” somewhere? Back in these days, there wasn’t a shortage of properly qualified pilots. Getting paid to occupy the seat in a seaplane or agricultural plane required some serious effort and knowing the right people.
We all know stories about young pilots seeking to start making money as a bush-, seaplane-, or agricultural pilot. We all know kids who think this industry owes them something. In order to get a job you have to have experience. But in order to get experience, you have to get a job! Or, of course you could buy a seaplane and poke holes in the water for a few years, before being told that your experience is without value to your prospective employer, or you gained that experience over the wrong geographic area, or in the wrong aircraft… Flying seaplanes had become a “pay to play job”, non compete clauses, training contracts were almost normal. People even paid for a right seat entry level job and the opportunity to put seaplane time in their logbook.
Times Have Changed
Barely a week goes by without hearing of seaplane outfits looking for pilots. Copilots and Captains on Caravan’s, jobs in single and multi crew operations, small and large, north and south. Expat work is offered, too. Seemingly, all you have to do is show up, breathe and have a pulse. Having a seaplane certificate and maybe 1000 hours total time may well land you on the sheepskin covered right seat of a single amphibious turboprop, where you start by slinging the gear. Most employers will hire lower time pilots, the need for crews is real. Then, after a year or two, you have enough time to upgrade. You’re not going to make a ton of money, but you’re in!
Still, like clockwork, younger readers of Seaplanemagazine.com reach out to see if I may know someone who knows someone looking for entry level pilots. Flying seaplanes for a living is the ultimate niche within a niche career, a dream hedged by many but accomplished by the fewest of the few. Why? Because pilots who stick around to gain their experience before “moving on” are not what any reputable seaplane company wants to have and invest time and money into.
Natural turnover is a problem in today’s industry – jobs are available, sign-on and referral bonuses are being paid. Except, a gear- lever operator in a Caravan Amphib isn’t going to buy a Ferrari. Life in the areas usually served by seaplane charter outfits isn’t cheap either! Ramen noodles, meet Joe the Seaplane Pilot, Joe the Seaplane Pilot, meet Ramen noodles! An apprentice is not his own master, or so the saying goes. We all had to start somewhere.
Should You Sign A Non Compete/ Training Clause Contract?
No company wants to play jumping board for the next self-declared gift to aviation. These days, generally, only companies with high turnover or funky management practices have to tie their pilots down with timed non-compete or training contracts. Many do without and try what they can to treat their employees good enough for them to enjoy their work and stick around. This means finding the right balance to also PAY them good enough.
What I suggest to youngsters looking to get in – is to do a critical self evaluation of what their own word is worth and to speak with former pilots and crews of the desired outfit. Are they remembering their time with XYZ Seaplanes fondly or would they tell you to run away as fast as you can? If able, talk to current and past employees. Remember that oftentimes only negative things are written about a workplace in forums and on social media. One disgruntled former employee can do a ton of harm to a company, you need a somewhat balanced picture.
Are you going to start flying and then scan the market for the next opportunity to raise your pay by a few bucks – or are you willing to stick around with the operator who decided to give you start? Damn the olden days, but there used to be a thing called the “Gentleman’s Agreement”. No written contract – just two parties giving each other a handshake promise to treat each other well over an agreed upon period of time. I can hear the attorneys laughing – a handshake has no value, they say. Wrong, I think. Each one of the parties sets rules under which they back away from each other, without burning bridges. I’ve been burned this way and learned my lessons, but by and large, most in our small industry know each other – screwing people or companies doesn’t stay secret and what goes around eventually comes around…
Non-compete clauses and training contracts are often just worth the paper they are printed on. Lawyers and courts decide what part of an agreement is legally enforceable. In my view, both are antiquated and out of style in today’s day and age and I would personally never consider or recommend signing one. The damage these agreements do to our small industry is multi-fold and severe. Those who force them and starry eyed wannabe seaplane captains who sign them, are actively contributing to a hostile – race to the bottom environment our industry cannot afford.
Fake Pilot Shortage vs. Real Pilot Shortage
Neither your success as a pilot, nor the success of a seaplane company is guaranteed in today’s volatile business environment. There really isn’t a pilot shortage in the wheeled business and airline industry, there is a shortage of common sense in paying pilots well and providing a competitive quality of life and work-life balance. The race to the bottom is started with starry eyed dreamers and amplified by companies who love nothing more than cheap – scared to death to loose this lousy job – labor.
In contrast, there is a serious pilot shortage in our seaplane industry, because we can’t provide the instant gratification and success to those who wish to play with us. We need dedicated long-term players, not glassy- eyed dreamers and investors looking for the quick kill. I realize that I am not making friends with the starry eyed gifts to aviation right now. My goal really isn’t to offend those, so let me regurgitate my business motto and why I stand behind what I type: Integrity is a choice! Its consistently choosing the simplicity and purity of truth over popularity. For all I care, you may replace the word popularity with cash or social status. Makes no difference for me.
The aviation industry is doing three mile steps moving towards autonomous aircraft and replacing aviation’s most important commodity from the pointy end of aircraft. I am 43 and doubt I will live to see more than a few pilot-less airplanes flying paying passengers. There is this idiotic 1500 hour rule that keeps pilots in jobs they don’t like and insurance companies mandating minimum flight time requirements, effectively removing a large part of the motivated pilot population from the market, artificially. Then we have our own challenges in growing our own industry and getting young people into a business that isn’t just roses and red wine and being surrounded by hot chicks in bikinis.
Are The Insurance Companies To Blame, Too?
Having pilots who know which parts of the plane are supposed to be submerged is highly beneficial to operators. Lets assume that after 6 hours in a Piper J3 and a quick check-ride the average seaplane pilot- wonder isn’t exactly ready to run out the door to fly a Beaver on floats. You wouldn’t want open heart surgery performed by a rookie, you may just object to the idea of being the first client of your attorney and I assume you’d hesitate to put your son, daughter or significant other into a seaplane that is under command of a guy or gal who can barely keep a SeaRey, Super Petrel or Cub on the step.
But we need pilots and we need to shape them into the kind of aviator we need in our operations. Stick and rudder skills, respect for machine and environment, a good and logical, often pragmatic approach to challenges. Insurance companies beginning to underwrite lower time pilots would be a start. What keeps these minimum flight time limits so high? Nobody has ever been able to explain that to me… especially when considering multi crew cockpits.
Are Non Compete Clauses / Training Contracts Still Going On?
I’d like to encourage our readers to engage the topic, explain the pro and contra and/ or feel invited to reveal the current state of affairs. To help keep things anonymous, you may leave a comment in the box below (where it will be anonymized if desired) or send your comment to [email protected] and I’ll post it on your behalf. I’d like to hear from current and past pilots, chief pilots, owners and operators. Don’t be shy, if you think Baker is completely off his rocker – tell me – I promise I can take it.
Jason Baker is the managing editor and owner of Seaplanemagazine.com. He also works as a freelance writer and marketing & advertising consultant. Jason holds a commercial pilot certificate (SEL/SES/MEL), instrument rating as well as advanced & instrument ground instructor certificates. For more information about consulting services offered, click on Consulting & Services. Advertising spots for 2019 are being offered now. If your company wishes to appear here in 2019, the time to get in touch is now.