Preparing for the Pilot Shortage

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

The Major Carriers Have Already Implemented Their Plan

Is there a pilot shortage in the United States? Most say “yes” and are concerned about its potential impact over the next three to five years.

The shortage isn’t affecting the major carriers – Southwest, Delta, United, FedEx, and American. They currently have a steady supply of experienced crews to choose from.

It’s affecting the regional affiliates and regional carriers.

There’s no single reason for the shortage; it’s resulting from a combination of pressure on pilot supply, pilot demand and basic economics. Salaries at some regional airlines have gotten so low, with harsh working conditions, that many pilots have simply left the industry. Worse yet, it’s discouraging new pilots from entering our field. Civilian pilots in the U.S. must complete a long and expensive process before applying at an airline – securing their own FAA credentials and logging thousands of hours of training, all on their own dime. And those who do enter at the regional level are eager to move on to the major carriers.

The mandatory retirement rules are also shrinking supply, with an estimated 30,000 pilots reaching retirement age by 2026. The major airlines are hiring now in anticipation of this, which is placing more pressure on lower-paying regional airlines. The projected shortfall of pilots could end up grounding up to 60% of the U.S. regional airline fleet in operation today.

preparing pilot shortage

Higher Compensation Is the Easiest Solution

Owners of regional airlines are already operating on thin margins, so they probably don’t want to hear that increasing salaries is the easiest solution. But that’s the truth. Pilots are more attracted to the better pay and lifestyle offered by major airlines.

Reducing hiring standards isn’t an option. The FAA has enacted tougher hiring standards for entry-level pilots after a rash of accidents, mainly due to less experienced pilots with as little as 350 hours of total time.

The only other potential solution is to change the way we train pilots in the U.S., adopting the approach that other countries use of choosing young candidate (with no prior experience) and training them from the ground up in a tightly-controlled regimen that puts them in the cockpit of a jetliner very quickly. This seems unlikely to happen.

Increasing pilot salaries at the regional level is the easiest solution. For those operators averse to increasing salaries, ask yourself these two questions:

  • If you were an aspiring pilot, would you sink $100k + and years of your life into primary training with a likely payout of low wages and tough working conditions?
  • How will your airline look in five years with a 25% to 50% route reduction?

We don’t mean to sound like alarmists, but it’s wise to create your plan for the pilot shortage that looks very likely in the near future.

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