As airlines in the U.S. increase hiring efforts, with 12,000 new positions created this year alone, the problem of the global pilot shortage is coming into full view. A confluence of factors have aligned to create somewhat of the perfect storm as we head into 2023. There have been such issues as lingering global pandemics, massive numbers of retirements, a lack of proper training infrastructure – and that’s not all. Let’s take a look at the main reasons why the world is facing a pilot shortage.
It Takes Time To Become A Licensed Pilot
In order to fly for the airlines, a pilot must meet a strict set of criteria. But, it can take years to accumulate the required 1,500 hours of flying time to apply for an airline transport pilot (ATP) license, as well as a bachelor’s degree if necessary. Unfortunately, the airlines don’t have a simple fix to this due to the need for experienced pilots in the cockpit, although some have started outreach and training programs to help attract prospective talent.
U.S. Airlines Are Just Starting Pilot Training Programs
Although foreign airlines have long-established training programs to help with recruiting efforts, U.S. companies like American, Delta and United didn’t follow suit until very recently. Now, they’re paying for their inaction in the form of a lack of competent pilots to pick from. Only in the last few months have the major companies started in-house training programs. American, who’s hiring 2,000 pilots this year, opened their Cadet Academy and put up $1M in scholarship funds. Other airlines have started training programs as well, including Alaska, United and Delta to usher in a new generation of aviators.
Retiring Baby Boomers
Another factor contributing to the pilot shortage is the required retirement age of 65. By 2029, no pilots from the baby boomer generation will be eligible to legally fly commercial aircraft. Almost 6,000 pilots are already hitting retirement age every year, and they aren’t being replaced as quickly as needed. There has been some talk about the FAA and Congress raising the pilot retirement age, but as of 2023, nothing has officially changed.
Global Pandemic Issues
The COVID-19 pandemic affected almost every company in the world, and the airline industry was no exception. In 2020, airline passenger levels plummeted by 60 percent and took a year to return to normal. Because of the crisis, companies offered thousands of pilots generous early retirement packages, while laying off or furloughing others. Travel has since rebounded to pre-pandemic levels and the airlines are scrambling to bring pilots back while raising salaries.
Where Major Airlines Source Their Pilots
In the past, airlines mainly sourced pilots from the Air Force. But, since the military itself doesn’t have enough pilots, that line of potential talent has shrunk considerably in the past decade. As such, major airlines are being forced to recruit from smaller regional airlines, some of whom are owned by those same major airlines. With fewer pilots to fly shorter regional flights, airlines are dropping services to more than 50 cities this year alone. Private pilot schools with the capability of certifying for airline transport are also shouldering much of the responsibility of training competent aviators for commercial jobs.
In the aviation industry, events that have happened decades ago can have lingering effects. For example, the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act created a free market for commercial airlines to operate in, causing a sharp decline in fares while increasing passenger numbers. This allowed budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, Avelo and others to thrive by hiring low-pay, low-experience pilots. Other events, like the 2008 recession and Coronavirus, caused many companies to cut certain flight departments, reduce job opportunities and divest in training. Due to lack of opportunity and poor wages, thousands of potential professional pilots were forced into adjacent careers or completely left the industry. It’s always important to keep in mind long-term problems as causal factors in today’s pilot shortage.
The Pilot Shortage Continues On
Over the next several years, the pilot shortage is expected to continue as the industry continues to adjust and find new ways to attract talent. Although major and regional airlines are increasing payments and opening training centers, they’re still running a deficit in terms of employable pilots. However, there is great opportunity for young aviators to earn a high wage in an in-demand career.
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Let our diverse team of CFIs elevate your learning experience as you take to the skies. If you’re interested in learning more about Inflight programs, contact us today or call (952) 698-3000.