The aviation industry has been grappling with a shortage of pilots for several years now, with some experts predicting that it could worsen in the coming years, with 80,000 spots needing to be filled by 2023. The shortage has been attributed to a variety of factors, including an aging workforce, high training costs, and a return in air travel demand after the industry regains its footing following an unprecedented pandemic. While there are efforts being made to address the shortage, such as incentives for new pilots and regulatory changes, it remains unclear whether the pilot shortage will soon be a thing of the past. With that said, let’s explore the factors contributing to the pilot shortage, how long it’s expected to last and the many solutions that are being put in place to hopefully resolve this issue over the coming years.
What Has Contributed To The Pilot Shortage?
The aviation industry has been facing a shortage of pilots for several years now, with many airlines struggling to find enough qualified pilots to meet their needs. This shrinking talent pool has been attributed to many things, including low pilot pay and the high cost of pilot training, an aging workforce, and a reduction in travel demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things. Let’s take a closer look at some of these items in more detail and how they are contributing to the ongoing problem.
One of the most significant factors contributing to the pilot shortage is pay. While the cost of pilot training is a major barrier for many aspiring pilots, low pay and reduced benefits have made it more difficult for employees to see a return on their investment. Plus, it’s made it less appealing for new pilots to pursue careers in aviation, leading to a smaller number of potential candidates overall.
In recent years, many airlines have been facing financial difficulties, particularly after the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which skewed pay and benefits for pilots and eliminated a high percentage of jobs altogether. This caused some pilots to seek higher-paying jobs in other industries or simply retire, which further exacerbated the issue. Addressing pilot salary is something that is sure to enable a stable supply of pilots for the future.
Another factor contributing to the pilot shortage is the cost and time required for professional-grade training and certificates. Certain avenues of flight training can be both expensive and time-prohibitive, with many aspiring pilots needing to take out large loans to cover the cost of their training and invest several years of their time to complete the required flight hours. This has made it more difficult for individuals from low-income backgrounds to pursue careers as pilots, leading to fewer well-trained individuals to hire.
On top of that, some aspiring pilots may be deterred by the time commitment required to complete their training and build the required flight hours. As a result, the aviation industry can’t replace retiring pilots with newly qualified pilots at the same rate, a trend that is expected to continue in the years ahead.
Reduction In Travel Demand
Another huge wrench thrown in the pilot-shortage saga was the COVID-19 pandemic. With a reduction in travel demand, airlines were forced to cut routes, ground planes, and furlough or lay off many pilots. While some airlines have been able to recall pilots as travel demand slowly recovers, others have been forced to close or drastically reduce their operations, leaving many pilots without jobs.
The long-term effects of the pandemic on the aviation industry are uncertain, and it remains to be seen how long it will take for travel demand to fully recover. Nevertheless, the global event has highlighted the need for the aviation industry to address the pilot shortage and develop strategies to ensure a stable supply of pilots in the future.
How Long Is The Pilot Shortage Expected To Last?
Looking forward, the pilot shortage is expected to continue on for several years. The demand for air travel is projected to continue to increase, especially as the world recovers from the pandemic. Moreover, many pilots who were furloughed or laid off during the pandemic have found work in other industries, making it difficult to quickly replenish the supply of pilots.
OliverWyman, a leading risk management group, has released data indicating that the current shortage of 8,000 airplane pilots in North America is expected to balloon to 30,000 by 2032. Even though the supply of new aviators is expected to increase over the next decade, it is still not enough to keep up with the increase in air travel demand and wave of retirements as boomers hit the 65 year-old retirement age.
Airline Demand Has Returned
According to research from OAG, air travel data are now coming close or in-line with pre-pandemic levels not seen since 2019. Airline ticket sales also returned to 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels last year in 2022. While this is good news that the pandemic is officially behind us, and that people can go about their travel plans uninhibited, it’s also a struggle for airlines to keep up with the demand as many pilots were laid off years ago and never returned.
Are Other Commercial Pilot Jobs Facing A Shortage?
Outside of the airline industry, the pilot shortage is causing problems in almost every other commercial industry. While the airline industry is the largest employer of pilots, there are many other industries that rely on their steady employment, from corporate applications to emergency services to law enforcement to cargo transportation and more. Most notably, pilots in corporate aviation are seeing a large drop in demand.
According to experts, the scarcity of pilots in certain industries may be more severe than in the airline sector. This is primarily due to the specialized skills that pilots in these industries must possess, which go beyond the qualifications of airline pilots. For instance, corporate aviation pilots must have specific aircraft ratings, while emergency services pilots may require experience with medical care or firefighting. To tackle this issue, a collaborative approach involving industry stakeholders, including airlines, training providers and policymakers, will be essential to get the next generation of aviators off the ground.
What Steps Are Being Taken To Address The Pilot Shortage?
Managing the pilot shortage has been a significant challenge for the global economy, but efforts are underway to address the issue. Let’s zoom in on some of the steps that are being taken to address the pilot shortage, including efforts to increase the supply of pilots, improve training programs and incentivize more individuals to pursue careers as pilots.
Increase In Pilot Pay & Incentives
One of the big steps that has recently been taken to address low pilot pay is a number of contract negotiations favoring employees over employers. Even in just the past few months, many airlines have taken action to offer more competitive compensation packages that will attract and retain qualified pilots.
One example of this is the agreement between Delta Air Lines and its 15,000 pilots, which included a 34 percent raise over four years, along with other contract improvements. With this, pilots will get benefits like profit sharing, retention bonuses, and increased retirement benefits. Similarly, American Airlines announced a nearly complete contract that includes over $7B in cumulative pay and benefit increases over four years.
These new pay stipulations are aimed at making the pilot profession more attractive, particularly to new and younger pilots who may have been deterred by the cost and time required to obtain a pilot’s license. Additionally, the increased compensation packages can help retain current pilots who may have been considering leaving the profession due to low pay or poor working conditions.
Better Pilot Training Programs & Facilities
In order to bring new pilots, training needs to be approached in a more streamlined way. To this end, major airlines have started investing in their own training facilities and services, so that pilots can better invest in themselves.
For example, Delta Air Lines has opened its Propel Pilot Academy in a newly refurbished 12,000-square-foot facility situated in Vero Beach, Florida, which includes state-of-the-art simulators, classrooms and training aircraft. Similarly, United Airlines opened a new pilot training center in Arizona, called Aviate Academy, which features full-motion simulators and other advanced training equipment.
Going further, local flight schools are offering their own advanced certification training programs and partnering with regional airlines to offer an easier path toward a career in the cockpit. For instance, the SkyWest Pilot Pathway Program partners with flight schools and educational institutions to offer a clear path to a career at SkyWest Airlines. Flight schools around the country are also coming up with more streamlined methods of training. Programs like accelerated training from Inflight Pilot Training allow students to complete their certification requirements in a fraction of the time compared to traditional programs. Plus, they offer more flexibility, affordable and personalized approach to the entire process.
FAA Outreach Programs
Another big development within the pilot community has been the outreach efforts of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and other aviation organizations. One such program is focused on promoting aviation careers, particularly among young people, releasing millions of dollars worth of grants to help educate the next generation of U.S. aviators.
Through these outreach programs, young people are introduced to the world of aviation and the various career paths available to them. This includes exposure to the diverse range of aviation jobs, from air traffic controllers and mechanics to pilots and engineers. In addition to providing information about career opportunities, these programs also highlight the many benefits of a career in aviation, such as job security, competitive salaries and opportunities for career advancement.
Can You Help Fight The Pilot Shortage?
Now that you have some background information about the pilot shortage, its causes, and the efforts being made to address it, you may be considering jumping into the industry and landing a high-paying, in-demand job. With lucrative career opportunities, competitive pay agreements between airlines and pilots, and highly-regarded training programs, pursuing a career in aviation as the industry is right now, is an opportunity of a lifetime.
If you’ve always dreamed of taking the control wheel and soaring through the sky, Inflight Pilot Training can provide you with the skills and expertise to do just that. As the best private pilot training provider in the Twin Cities, we offer a range of certifications that will help you achieve your goals in the cockpit. Don’t wait any longer to pursue your passion for flying – start your pilot training with us today!
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.