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The Truth About The Pilot Shortage

We have all heard the story of the so called “pilot shortage” currently affecting the industry. While in a sense this is true, it is more than just a mere issue of “not enough pilots around” that has fueled the shortage. When we consider the topic, and analyze exactly what is causing such a high demand for pilots right now, there are a few key topics that have affected the industry. Hopefully, by the end of this blog, you will have a better understanding of what really caused this “shortage” and why there is such a demand for pilots today.


The “1500 hour” rule

On August 1st, 2013, the FAA put into place new requirements in order for pilots to obtain an Airline Transport License, today this is more commonly referred to as the “1500 hour rule.” Prior to this rule, pilots with as little as 250 hours, a freshly minted commercial pilot out of flight school, could be hired by a regional air carrier. Due to the events of the Colgan air crash, the FAA mandated that in order to obtain an ATP, pilots needed to have at least 1500 hours of flight experience. This had a huge impact on students and others hoping to get their foot in the door earlier on in their career, many had lost motivation even once they had done their training, and went onto other career paths. There are only a few options for those who wanted to try and build up their hours, some included crop dusting, banner towing and the most popular – flight instructing. Just a few years back, the demand for flight instructors was not nearly as high as it is today, and pay was a big problem for many. Today the “CFI” department of the industry in fact also faces a shortage of flight instructors, and pay / sign on bonuses for CFI’s continue to rise.

FAA Data Shows Airline-Ready U.S. Pilot Numbers Tumbling


Vocational schools for flight training and little financial aid

Flight training schools under part 61 are not considered universities but rather are under the category of “Vocational schools”, students have for a long time struggled to get financing for their training. There were almost no loan programs or financial institutions that would help fund students training, so perspective students were stuck day dreaming about that dream job, and were being kept from the controls. Many had gone to universities and followed other career paths as getting the funds for training was a huge issue. Even though today there are just a few options for funding, there are at least some options for students. Inflight offers financing with AOPA Finance to offer funding for training. You can find out more using the link below.


Pay issues / Quality of life

Just a few years back, the industry was in a very bad position in terms of being sustainable. Regional airlines were struggling to operate profitably and movement with the mainline or legacy carries such as Delta, United and American was stagnant. This created a bad position for those pilots wanting to enter the industry. Regional airlines were not in a position to pay first officers the wages and joining benefits most do today. Pilots flying for the mainline carriers faced long upgrade times coupled with low pay increases. It wasn’t too long ago when first year first officers at a regional airline where making less than $12 per hour at the controls! Just like the effect of the 1500 hour rule had on those dreaming of one day working for a legacy/mainline carrier, many pilots saw it as an impossible task to work for a regional airline with the pay they were receiving. Their flying became nothing but a weekend hobby and they looked elsewhere in terms of career fields in order to live a better quality of life.

All of the above can be factored in to what has actually caused the shortage in the first place. It was not an event that happened overnight, but rather something that has been building up over the past few years or even decade. Lack of motivation from perspective students due to poor future job perspectives, coupled with difficulty in even obtaining financing for training, have created a shortage in people wanting to go into the industry. So what is now driving demand?


New FAA legislation regarding mandatory rest requirements

The FAA has recently updated the legislation regarding crew rest time requirements. This is not a bad thing, the same goes with the “1500 hour “rule imposed in August 2013. The FAA now mandates that airlines follow stricter / longer rest rule requirements for airline crew. This has caused the airlines to require 5% more pilots (Per carrier) in order to comply with the new rules.


Mandatory Retirements

Due to the legislation setting the mandatory retirement age for pilots at 65, in the next 10 years over 20,000 pilots are set to retire. This makes up around 60% of the current airline pilot population. There are many other air carriers both locally and internationally that will have thousands of mandatory retirements due. The numbers are only increasing as the years go on. Many airlines are struggling to keep their aircraft occupied with crew, in turn this is driving pay through the roof. Lucrative sign on bonuses have become the norm for most pilots joining a new airline.


Growing demand of air travel

Not just in the United States, but globally the demand for air travel is on the rise. Increasing populations and the increase in frequency of air travelers, has kept airlines in business. In the United States alone the aviation sectors makes up around 5% of gross domestic revenue. Investors as well have seen a huge opportunity for growth in the sector, and billions of dollars are being put into the industry in order to assist its growth.


Today the aviation industry is flying high, and there is tremendous growth in the sector. Yes indeed, there are going to be hard times for airlines in terms of filling up airplanes with crews in the coming years due to the shortage all these issues have created. For most perspective students as well as those already with their foot in the door, this is a great position for us to be in. Increasing pay and better quality of life for crews is helping feed new perspective pilots into the field, and there are still thousands needed! Inflight can help potential students reach their dream, we offer training from private all the way to professional pilot. Contact us today at (952) 698-3000 to get started or stop by during office hours to speak to a representative from the school.