I was at an advisory board meeting for the Middle Tennessee State University’s Aerospace Department this past week and one of the other members of the board who runs a training facility in South Florida was sitting at my table during the dinner. He made a comment that in just a few years we will see a shortage of pilots based on the fact that he is seeing less new pilot trainees, with the exception of foreign students. He also commented that other major training schools in the country are seeing the same thing.
Throughout the last two decades US trained pilots were in high demand in foreign countries because these countries did not have a developed system of growing their own pilots. Will we wake up one day in an opposite scenario and find ourselves recruiting pilots from other countries to fly our airliners because we don’t have enough candidates to fill the seats?
It is hard to imagine a pilot shortage when so many pilots were put out of work in the last two years.
Later in the week I read an associated press article published in the Chicago Tribune (www.chicagotribune.com/travel/sns-ap-us-ntsb-professionalism,0,3783173.story) about the same subject.
Quoting from the article by Jan Lowy:
There are signs that future airline pilots will be less experienced, less ethical and in short supply, a panel of experts told an aviation safety forum on Tuesday.
While there are more pilots than there are airline jobs today, the reverse is likely to be true as airlines recover from the economic recession and begin hiring again, experts on pilot hiring and screening told the National Transportation Safety Board. The coming shortage may likely fall heaviest on regional airlines, who generally employ less-experienced pilots at lower salaries, they said.
There are about 54,000 pilots working for major airlines, nearly 19,000 regional airline pilots and about 2,500 qualified pilots available for hire in the U.S. today, said aviation consultant Judy Tarver, a former pilot recruiter for American Airlines. She estimated that airlines will need to hire about 42,090 pilots over the next decade, due to retirements and anticipated industry growth.
Panel members said there are far fewer military pilots leaving for jobs with airlines. Fewer college students say they want careers in aviation because they see it as an economic dead end, and airlines are increasingly having to compete with corporations for pilots.
The basic problem is this: Starting pay for entry level jobs in the airline industry is dismally low. You can make more money doing just about anything else with a college degree that doesn’t require you to spend an additional $70,000 – $100,000 in costs to get your pilot ratings on top of the degree.
The reason most of us got into aviation was for the passion of flying and not the money. Most of us who still get into this industry are doing it for the passion. The problem is that there are less young people today passionate about the opportunity to fly an aircraft. Maybe the new has worn off and flying doesn’t have that same magnetism it had in generations past. .
So if it all becomes about the money then the airlines are in trouble.
The consumer wants cheap airfares and convenient flights and they also want safe aircraft and great service. So to give them what they want the airlines beat down the costs and that includes the pay scales of all who keep the airline going – not just the pilots but everyone. So you get a pilot making starting pay of $16,000 per year! If you translate that into a 40 hour work week it comes up to $7.69 per hour. About what you make starting in fast food. It is hard to get anyone excited about a career in aviation with that kind of money.
You would like to say the airlines are raking in the big bucks at the expense of labor but the earnings of the airlines don’t reflect it.
I am not sure what the solution is, but things continuing as they are will not result in any solution, so it will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe we just outsource flying jobs like we have done with other jobs in this country. I hope not!