Expansion on shaky ground – ‘Norwegian’ pilots rate their airline

Almost half of pilots working for Norwegian Air Shuttle are unsatisfied with the current Terms & Conditions provided by the company. Roughly half of the pilots surveyed do not currently see a long-term future with the company and a third is already looking for possible employment elsewhere. Bad news for a company with ambitious expansion plans.

Those are some of the striking conclusions contained in the first ever survey, carried out among the Norwegian Pilot Group (NPG) members in July 2015.

One of the major stumbling blocks for pilots is the atypical employment practices by the company. With only a marginal 2% of the workforce being directly employed by the airline, an overwhelming 94% of pilots do prefer to be directly employed by Norwegian Air Shuttle – rather than through subsidiaries or agencies. For example, due to agency employment, approximately 30% of the pilots are unsure of their trans-national tax and social security status – hardly something to make pilots feel comfortable. It is therefore no surprise that pilots consider direct employment not only as a tool to create legal certainty, but also to greatly improve morale, loyalty and commitment to the airline, according to the survey results.

Norwegian has 14 bases across Europe located in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Spain and its first in the UK at London Gatwick. Even though 78% of the pilots are currently working from their number one choice of base, 33% of the Norwegian pilots have been forced to change their base at some point during their employment with the company. (Forced) base changes, however, create uncertainty in their private and family life and do not contribute to a positive image as a good employer.

Along with that, the survey portrays Norwegian as “commuter” airline with many of its pilots not living at base but commuting to work instead. For 79% this means traveling three or more times per month during their days off to get to work and back home. Self-funded accommodations away from home and additional commuting costs are placing an additional burden on pilots and affecting their appreciation for the airline.

Most worryingly the survey reveals that there is a lack of trust and mutual respect between management and pilots, a vital condition for ensuring Norwegian continues to be a safe airline and becomes a valued employer.

These NPG survey results must be seen against the background of the company’s ambitious expansion plans. Because such plans will require not only many new pilots to join the company, but also current ones to stay with the airline. If Norwegian wants to “stay in the game” it will have to rethink not only its terms & conditions, but – crucially – its atypical employment model to ensure its pilot-force is keen and motivated to stay on.