Southern Airways, Wheels Up Partner on Improving Pilot Attrition

Amidst a workforce shortage for Southern Airways Express, the carrier has announced a new partnership with Wheels Up.

A Southern Airways Express Cessna 208. [Photo: AirlineGeeks/Joey Gerardi]

Southern Airways Express, a Part 135 operator based in Palm Beach, Fla., is looking for new ways to bring pilots on board with the company. News this past July broke that the carrier was suing previous pilots who left the company for breaking contracts they had signed with the airline for training. The decision to come after former pilots has seen a string of backlash from those in the industry and the federal government. However, amidst a shortage in workforce for Southern, the carrier has just announced a new partnership with another 135 operator: Wheels Up. 

The recent agreement will see Wheels Up, who recently gained funding from Delta Air Lines, sending pilots to Southern to fly as captains for a year before returning to Wheels Up. Southern Airways CEO, Stan Little, mentioned the primary issue for the carrier is pilot attrition instead of hiring.

On a phone call first reported by The Courier Express in DuBois, Pennsylvania, Little expressed his opinion on attrition with the analogy of using sticks and carrots to keep pilots from leaving prematurely. He believes that additional programs, like the one the company had previously established with SkyWest, will retain pilots who upgrade to captain for a longer period of time. 

Inside Southern Airways Express’ new King Air 200. [Photo: Southern Airways Express]

Wheels Up

Wheels Up operates a large fleet consisting of multi-engine turbine aircraft such as Beechcraft King Airs and Cessna Citations. The New York-based 135 operator has more stringent hiring requirements for first officers than Southern. Wheels Up requires 1,200 total hours to apply while Southern requires 250 total hours, based on the minimum posted requirements. Thus, under the partnership, it is believed that pilots would start with Southern, gain Part 135 operating experience, fly the required time set forth by the company and then have the ability to move on to fly for Wheels Up. 

The partnership also benefits Wheels Up. Pilots with less experience will start at Southern before gaining time and experience as a first officer and then captain before transitioning to Wheels Up. While Southern will be a partner, they won’t be the only ones. Wheels Up has also announced a similar partnership with Tropic Ocean Airways, a seaplane operator also based in Florida, as reported by Private Jet Card Comparisons

Southern has also announced a change to their pilot training program. In an effort to save money and give pilots the tools they need to operate safely and efficiently on the line, the carrier opened a new training center featuring a simulator in DuBois, Penn. The airline has started making classes smaller, working closer with pilots, and will be revamping their training program in 2024.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared on was founded in February 2013 as a one-person blog in Washington D.C. Since then, we’ve grown to have 25+ active team members scattered across the globe. We are all here for the same reason: we love deep-diving into the fascinating realm of the airline industry.

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