This is my first collection of thoughts around improving the VA experience.
I will initially focus around issues of rank and progression.
Though eventually I’ll move on to other topics such as improving codeshares, creating dynamic networks between VAs and other advanced thinking around how to run a better airline.
Today most airlines offer ranks based around real world aviation.
This comes with a variety of problems.
First, most airlines would start their ranks at an unrealistically low entry point, one at which most major airlines would not hire a pilot.
Some airlines have gotten around this by either introducing a training segment using GA aircraft for their very first rank or restricting pilots to fly on their regional variants.
Second, real world aviation has very few true ranks, typically Second Officer, First officer, Captain and Training Captain.
To satisfy the need for a longer progression some airlines have added somewhat realistic ranks, like Senior First officer or Senior Captain. Others have borrowed from the military and created ranks such as commander or fleet admiral.
What’s more interesting is this ranks are tied to the ability to control increasingly large aircraft, or paradoxically, increasingly more desirable aircraft.
This created the conundrum of most airlines placing the 788 or 789 (and likely the upcoming A350) at the very top of their ranking structure together with A380s or 747s.
While their is some logic to the idea an airline would assign more senior pilots to larger 4 engine aircraft, there is little real world logic that can be applied to placing the 788 in such category, with some ranking or above the 777, a much larger aircraft.
I understand the drive to do this, it’s the proverbial carrot in the stick that would lure Pilots to reach those higher hours flying your airline colors.
But this brings us back to 2 issues, realism and end game.
End game is something I have been thinking a lot about as a VA.
What carrot can I possibly offer a pilot that has already unlocked every aircraft in my airline?
We know we must offer carrots, otherwise we would t bother with a ranking structure at all.
Some airlines have introduced meaningless ranks, like the fore mentioned fleet admirals or supreme galactic commander. But not only can this get rather silly, but in most cases people achieving said rank do so simply because they love flying for the airline and found a sense of community therein, not because of any meaningful reward rendered by such a badge.
I think the VA paradigm is way overdue for an overhaul in introducing new concepts to keep pilots hungry for progress.
Implementing things like that is always hard or even impossible as an existing airline, but new ones can experiment with different progression systems and rewards.
I can develop a multitude of ideas that would create a more advanced progression system. The main problem is to overcome the issue of the reward pool being limited to unlocking aircraft from a very limited pool of aircraft in that airlines roster.
While some airlines have introduced codeshares as a way to plug some gaps in their roster, there is still a small number of desirable aircraft we can reward pilots with.
Moreover if we heavily gate and granulate the rewards (IE making someone slowly progress though the entire CRJ catalogue, then move on to Embraer before their are even allowed to touch a narrow body Boeing or Airbus, let alone a much more desirable 787, one risks alienating pilots that don’t like flying such small planes and face long hours of flying then before they can unlock desirable aircraft they would be happy to fly.
Some CCs have experimented with introducing the concept of money. But realistically what could a pilot buy with that money?
I shiver at the thought of making them buy their own planes or pay for their own fuel. The unrealism would be tremendous, and again, this would feel more like a hindrance than a true reward.
One could envision a reward mechanism like “create your own custom route” as in, let pilots fly a seasonal or experimental flight your airline doesn’t currently have in the real world.
Again that abandons realism and can quickly get out of hand (I can imagine a lot of really weird Ultra Long Haul or trolly Pyongyang routes popping up).
I’d like to hear any ideas from pilots, especially those who have been part of multiple VAs.
What kind of rewards work for you in VAs you have been in?
What would you like to be rewarded with that you never have?
What keeps you flying for an airline?