Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Upcoming Pilot Shortage...... Made Worse by the Federal Government

Most of the laws passed by congress are full of good intentions, but always have unintended consequences.

There is a looming pilot shortage on the very near horizon.  Boeing estimates that airlines in North America need 69,000 new pilots by 2031, in its latest long-term market outlook released in July.  Fewer pilots are entering self-paid flight training and the military is downsizing, flying drones, and not producing the numbers of pilots they did in the past.  Huge numbers of pilots will soon be retiring; this despite the new age 65 rule that added 5 years to a pilot's career.  The world needs pilots.  Maybe there will come a day when a paying passenger will board a pilot-less airplane, controlled on the ground by a computer geek or fully automated and flown by software, but........I doubt it.  I wouldn't.
Because of the stupid actions of one regional pilot (Colgan Air, Buffalo, NY) congress took it upon themselves to penalize an entire industry.  New minimums require that a new hire pilot have 1500 hours of flight time.  Many pilots who pay for and have paid for private training, graduate with close to 500 hours.  They get hired by corporate, regional and flight instructing schools.  All this and usually about 50 to 100 THOUSAND  dollars in debt, to earn in most cases, less than 30 thousand dollars a year.  

Even many military pilots, who leave after their obligation to serve in return for flight training come out with less than 1500 hours of flying time.
No airline, will be able to hire anyone soon. 

Moreover, now every First Officer, or co-pilot is required to have an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) rating.  This is something that every airline Captain has, as it is a requirement for becoming a captain.  It will not make First Officers any safer or smarter, but will make the politicians feel better knowing that they have done SOMETHING!  Moreover, this puts an additional strain upon airline training departments, not to mention the cost and the time "off the line," (not flying passengers) of the pilots in the training.  Currently, pilots receive mandatory refresher training twice a year.

Worry about future pilot supply for airlines has been around since the 1990s, but something has always happened to postpone the predicted shortage.  Industry experts today, however, look at the number of forward orders for new aircraft, predictions of world fleet expansion, and sustained growth in the Asia-Pacific region and cannot see a further postponement unless the world economy moves from sluggish growth into depression - and that is not, at present, being predicted.  The number of new pilots required to be trained in the next 20 years is 450,000 worldwide, according to the Professional Aviation Board of Certification (PABC). Simulation and training giant CAE estimates the requirement at 20,000 new pilots a year, which is roughly the same as PABC's prediction.  

So what does the United States do?  It ensures that we will now "import" our pilots from other countries and not many of them because of the strict screening process for non-citizen pilots.  Soon enough, we will not be able to keep up with the demand.  The "glamour' is gone from the profession (has been for a long time), the starting pay is pathetic and it takes many years to get to a point where you can actually live comfortably on the salary.  Hopefully the free market will increase the starting salaries (supply verses demand).

Still, it is a great job, one that I love.  It can be extraordinarily frustrating at times, but rewarding many other times.  If you are an aspiring airline pilot, start preparing now.  I am posting some links that you may find interesting and can help guide you.  Good luck!


  1. The free market will increase salaries? The "free market" (a joke, there is no such thing nor would you want such a thing) has had 30 years to do what it will and pay has only gone down for pilots, not up. The war on labor and labor unions has heated up, one of the primary reasons for cuts in pay. The folks running the airlines make more than ever. Costs for pilot training have gone up, to where there is almost no return on investment for most folks that choose flight school, and you want to blame the gov? If anything, the ATP rule will help raise pay, because it will shrink the pilot pool overnight.
    Connect the dots! JG Lots of hours and ratings

  2. Thanks for your post, JG Lots of hours and ratings. I am not blaming the government's added regulations for the pilot shortage as it existed before these impending rules for the very reasons you cited. What I am saying is that it is now exacerbated by the rules. Personally, I don't see the ATP requirement raising pay, but I hope you are right. The ATP requirement is an increase in overhead for airlines, an added cost, if you will and it certainly does nothing to make their current pilots (FO's)that will be receiving this training any better at their jobs. Airlines are now required to train all of their FO's and get them an ATP regardless of how long they have been with the airline. Perhaps the corporate sector will begin to increase pilot pay because of the lack of qualified pilots, but airline pay has to be negotiated by unions, so there will be no "automatic" raise in pay because of the shrinking pilot pool; at least not in the foreseeable future. Perhaps as more pilots retire, the increases will begin as unions negotiate their contracts. They may actually have to reduce their schedules because of the pilot shortage which would decrease profits (thereby making raises harder to justify). The current administration is very union friendly so maybe that will help. I too, would love to see more pay, but I am not as optimistic as you are, particularly with respect to airlines. Thanks for your comment and keep flying.