Opinion Editorial On Non Compete Agreements

Non CompeteImage from File, Seaplanemagazine.com

Opinion Editorial On Non Compete Agreements

Non Compete Agreements

Image from File, Seaplanemagazine.com

Opinion Editorial – written by Eric Weaver: Like so many others I have been sitting back, occasionally hitting the “Like” or “Share” button as I’ve read the various articles about non compete agreements and corresponding lawsuits. I have a hard time defending either the pilots or the companies.

The Pilots may be the more egregiously harmed by this practice but they are not blameless; they signed the agreement. The one thing that is certain they are the ones with the least amount of power and have the most to lose. As we all know picking on the less powerful is never becoming and in many ways is indicative of our current broader societal discourse.

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I can see reasons for a pilot signing a non-compete such as having low time or being inexperienced. And I cannot fault a company from wanting to protect their investment. Where there is a breakdown is how long does this commitment last and how is it harming the industry?

As a Part 119 person for another 135 company I understand the frustration of hiring, training, and then losing a pilot. It is though, the nature of our chosen business. Unfortunately, in my experience that it is more likely that I will have to dismiss a pilot for other reasons. Yes, management does occasionally have to release employees. What would happen to these agreements if an employee was fired? Are they still binding?

The Real Struggle: Filing Lawsuits

What I am really struggling with is filing lawsuits against pilots after they have worked and spent a year or two working for the company. It seems to me that it is very short sighted to attack the people that have been building your business and reputation. How does that effect the pilots that are currently on the line? From my perspective it cannot be positive. Line pilots are the ambassadors for our businesses. They are the recruiters for our next generation of pilots. Suing pilots is counterproductive.

As a chief pilot it’s always risky when you take on a new pilot, train them and invest in them, but isn’t that what every employer in every highly skilled business does? I always have a discussion with my new hires stating that my expectation is that they will be with the company at least a year. So far I have not been disappointed.

Most of the time even when they do choose to leave many decide that they would like to return a year or two later. I myself am living proof of that, having left and returned.

I asked earlier how is this harming the industry? I think there are a several of ways.

  1. It removes a group of pilots from the already small pilot pool of Seaplane flying.
  2. It keeps wages artificially low for the least experienced AND eventually for the experienced pilot who wants to continue flying seaplanes but cannot achieve their personal financial goals at their current company.
  3. If the practice continues it will eventually result in one of the many transportation unions trying to organize pilots. (Maybe it’s time for something like this?) This could be another long winded discussion.

One thing is sure, though: As long as this practice of limiting peoples career choices continues, there is one benefit: My wages will continue to grow at a faster than normal industry rate. So I guess for that part, “Thanks”…

Eric Weaver is a Commercial Seaplane Pilot holding ATP SEL/ SES MEL/MES and also a CFI/CFII and MEI. Over his career in the Seaplane industry he has accumulated approximately 6.000 hours of which 5.000 have been on Seaplanes. Eric currently serves a Part 135 Chief Pilot in the Seaplane industry.

2 Comments on "Opinion Editorial On Non Compete Agreements"

  1. I agree Brad, Just want to add:

    Many pilots and employees enjoy working for the smaller more intimate companies. They will take less pay if they can work closer to home and spend most their nights with family. The operators of the smaller businesses need to recognize these personalities and show them proper respect.

    I work for a 135 that treats their employees well enough contracts are not necessary. In turn, the leaving pilots participate in finding their replacement. The pilots have access to the online schedule and choose the flights that they want to take. The company hires 500 hour pilots and usually within two years they have their mystical 1500 hours and lots of Class B airspace experience. More often then not the pilots continue to fly an extra 500 hours while they airline shop.

  2. Non Compete and Training Contracts are a vestige from the post 9/11 days when employers delighted in telling pilots that they are “a dime a dozen” or words to that effect. News Flash: THOSE DAYS ARE OVER!

    There is now a significant shortage of qualified pilots that is exacerbated by the high costs of entry into this profession.

    So yes, pilots, if you sign a legally binding contract and then fail to abide by its terms and conditions – you may find yourself on the receiving end of a civil suit that is going to be expensive and time consuming to defend. The solution? When a prospective employer puts a training contract or non-compete contract in front of you, just say no and go work for someone else. Having said that, a one year commitment to any employer who provides you with some very expensive training is completely reasonable and if you’re not prepared to make and keep such a commitment, you are in the wrong business.

    But employers, heed the words of this editorial. Your pilots are also your front line customer service personnel. They reflect all that is good and bad about your company. Trust me on this one – a pissed off and unhappy employee (pilot or otherwise) is NOT good advertising for your company. Furthermore, professionals are very effective at networking. When they network, they absolutely discuss – in unambiguous terms – their employers and the quality of life at their work places. Do you have a henchman check airman, Chief Pilot, or Director of Operations who is known to “put those pilots in their place”??? You better modify that behavior or replace that person or YOU are going to have one massive recruiting and retention problem. Holding high standards in training and operations is one thing, having a hatchet man who intimidates your employees is quite another. We see it in the Part 135 freight world today and it has left this segment of the industry in the unenviable position of having to recruit either extremely low time pilots or pilots who – in any other job market – would be unemployable. The results are not pretty – extremely low time pilots do not have the depth of experience to make quality decisions or manage “out of the box situations”. Second, third, and forth chance pilots who have been fired from other employers with cause are in that situation for a reason and are unlikely to significantly change the behavior that got them into that situation. They also tend to adopt a victim mentality that is counterproductive and infectious.

    But fundamental to recruiting and retaining quality pilots who will go on to bigger and better things while saying positive things about your operation is treating them as the valued professionals that they are and then expecting them to represent your company accordingly. When you limit their futures or intimidate them into indentured servitude with a contract, you’re not doing your business any favors.

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