Pilot Shortage: An Update

We’ve talked a lot about the impending pilot shortage and what it means for the future of flight. But new headlines suggest that a looming pilot shortage is simply a myth. Could the argument of a pilot shortage be masking the true problem of low salary and inadequate benefits for many pilots? Let’s explore the recent headlines and try to dissect what this means for the future of aviation including what a more cost-effective solution for flight training could mean for the industry.

You may remember, many were attributing a pilot shortage to the increased (and costly) training requirements for pilots and the growing number of baby boomer pilots reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. But recently, the Air Line Pilot Association (ALPA) argued that in fact there is no pilot shortage. The problem? “there’s no shortage of pilots, only a shortage of pilots willing to fly for substandard wages and inadequate benefits.” In the article, the ALPA points to statistics that show otherwise including:

  • 72,000 pilots jobs in 2012

  • With 137,658 active pilots under the age of 65 with ATP certificates

  • An additional 105,000 pilots who could qualify for commercial certificates

One important distinction to make is the fact that ALPA is assessing regional airlines. Regional airlines typically offer lower wages and benefits, which is why many may find it difficult to attract entry-level pilots. With training requirements now at 1,500 hours (up from 250 hours previously) new pilots have had a hard time justifying low wage jobs with the increase in required flight hours.

Spirit Airlines CEO, Ben Baldanza shared with Reuters “rules on pilot experience would mainly hurt regional airlines.” He went on to state: ‘I do think it's reasonable to expect that the regional industry will get smaller, and there will be fewer airlines and fewer regional airplanes.’

Looking at the economics of the airline industry, it seems like the regional airlines are the ones that will be hit hardest. According to a recent New York Times article, which highlighted a G.A.O report, increased flight training requirements are leaving entry-level pilots more experienced. As a result, they expect higher salaries than what regional airlines can afford to offer. In turn, many regional airlines are indeed experiencing a pilot shortage forcing them to cancel flights and reduce their fleet of aircraft.

So what does this mean for the future of flight training? I believe it will be up to the aviation industry to find new and innovative solutions to lower the cost of flight training for both operators and students. These solutions will need to be cost-effective and scalable. This could be accomplished through a transition to more simulator based training, which would reduce operating costs for flight training programs. Additionally, new solutions for student financing and reductions in training costs through new and improved technology could reduce flight training costs for students. Finding more cost-effective solutions for flight training will lower the barrier of entry for prospective pilots and enable entry-level pilots with the financial flexibility they need when entering the workforce.