The Pilot Shortage

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Trends, Statistics and Potential Solutions

The start of the New Year is a time for enthusiasm and a positive outlook for the coming year. For most in the U.S. aviation industry, 2018 was a good year. But the uncomfortable thought of the coming pilot shortage might put a damper on some of our enthusiasm.

Here are some important statistics:

  • Boeing’s 2018 Pilot & Technician Outlook says that aviation is looking at an “unprecedented” demand for 790,000 pilots over the next two decades and 754,000 new maintenance technicians.
  • According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were approximately 827,000 pilots in the U.S. in 1987. Over the last three decades, that number has decreased by 30 percent.
  • There is an estimated demand in the business aviation and helicopter sectors alone for 155,000 pilots and 132,000 maintenance technicians over the next 20 years.
  • Meanwhile, over the next decade in the United States, about 22,000 pilots at the largest airlines—more than 40 percent of the pilots at those companies—are expected to exit the airways as they reach the mandatory retirement age of 65.
  • Due to the lack of new pilots entering the pipeline, some projections indicate that the U.S. could experience a shortage of as many as 35,000 pilots over the next 15 years.
  • Research firm Cowen & Company estimates that more than 42% of active U.S. airline pilots at the biggest carriers will retire over the next 10 years, roughly 22,000 of them.
  • In the 1980s, roughly two-thirds of airline pilots were ex-military. Recently, that percentage has dropped to less than one-third.

Many aspiring aviators now have to pay for their own flight training. That can be very costly, easily exceeding $100,000, especially in light of an uncertain future. Many are simply unwilling to take the risk. This effect was aggravated by the Great Recession.

While most of the U.S. major airlines are not yet directly experiencing the pilot shortage, many smaller regional airlines are experiencing this firsthand. Some have reduced schedules. Others have been forced into bankruptcy due to inadequate staffing.

If you’re feeling the effects of the pilot shortage now, it’s projected to get worse.

pilot shortage trainingboom

Mitigating the Pilot Shortage Side Effects

Some in the industry have begun to address the problem. Offering higher pay and signing bonuses can help, along with offering long-term retention packages — up to $80,000 to $100,000 — for staying five years.

Regional carriers are in direct competition now with airlines for pilots, who have begun recruiting out of the flight schools – enlisting pilots before they’ve achieved their 1,500-hour certificate.

While increasing financial compensation is a good start, a better long-term solution is for regional airlines to form their own “pilot pipeline.” This would require a change to the way we train pilots in the U.S., adopting the approach that other countries use of choosing a 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.

We can’t hide from the statistics. The demand for air travel is projected to double over the next 20 years. For many regional carriers to survive, they’ll need start considering dramatic changes sooner rather than later. 

Part 135 Pilot Training for 2019

The start of a new year is always a busy time for the TrainingBoom team, as we’re heavily focused on customizing many of our clients’ FAR Part 135 training content.

If you’re new to online pilot training and would like to learn more, review the TrainingBoom experience, view our content training library or hear what our customers have to say about their experience with us.

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