The Great Debate: pilot shortage?

Airline pilots in uniform
An endangered species?

It seems like someone is always warning of a looming professional pilot shortage, but most often the dire predictions never come to pass. Such warnings have intensified over the past year, though, with many people arguing that we are just a few years (if not months) away from airlines having to park jets due to a lack of qualified crew. Now, a coalition of industry and government officials are asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate the issue. Is this time really different?

Those who argue that it is offer some impressive evidence. The first wave of mandatory age 65 airline pilot retirements will soon hit (the age was raised from 60 five years ago), at exactly the same time that new laws go into effect requiring both crew members to have an ATP certificate and 1500 hours. These two factors will cause an artificially fast decline in the number of qualified pilots, but unfortunately the pipeline that has traditionally filled these jobs is almost empty. From growing international carriers hiring US-trained pilots to a major reduction in the number of military pilots transitioning to the airlines, the numbers just aren’t there. While major airlines may not have a problem filling the seats up front, regional carriers may struggle mightily.

Others disagree with this doom and gloom picture, saying the purported pilot shortage is an invention of the airlines, made up to serve their own agenda. The real problem is with regional airline pay and benefit packages–if these pilots were paid more, the industry could easily attract enough pilots to keep every jet flying. The new ATP rule will simply force airlines to pay pilots a better wage, these advocates say.

What do you think? Are we really going to run out of pilots soon? Does the new ATP rule exacerbate the problem or fix it? Add your comment below.

47 Comments

  • I think it WILL happen, but not in the coming year. Student pilots are dropping dramatically. The costs of training and getting to that ATP do not outweigh the benefits, at least for many many years. We need more financing options, lower costs, and higher starting wages.

    • It seems to be “feast or famine” in the pilot supply and availability. The requirements go up and those who can not qualify drift into other occupations. Then the number of pilot entering training reduces. Some time ago… in the 80’s… pilots were so scarce that in England they created a Pilot Assistant position. A private pilot… PPL in Europe.. could act as a First officer for an airline flight. He was assigned communication duties and to follow the Captain’s orders, but NOT allowed to fly the airplane. I am sure lots of them DID in fact fly… But they were like Physicians assistants… just to do the routine chores… put the landing gear up and down etc etc.. Read the check list…

      As a result of the pilot shortage at that time we trained lots of new pilots to the point no one could get a job due to the surplus of pilots. I added to that problem considerably training lots of pilots from Europer as well as the USA.

      Mac

    • Hello, I am a student pilot. And I would love to fly for the airlines one day. The problem I have is. That I can’t afford more flight training. 1500 hrs is hard to get out of your wallet. Very hard! My idea is that if the airline needs more pilots. Then have a program that would help young pilots get schooling paid for. And the pilot would sign an agreement to fly for that company for x amount of years. Sounds fair to me. But to drag $100 k worth of flight schooling loans to the airlines. To start out making 18 to 20 k a year? How would wanna Junp on that idea? Lower the time to 800 hrs. Put the new 800 hr pilots with the season veterans before there all gone. Ya really shot yourself in the foot with the new 1500 hr rule. I truly wanna be a airline pilot. But it’s looking like only a dream for me and many more. Think before it’s to late!!!

      • I wouldn’t let the 1500 hour rule ruin your dream. That’s the least of your concerns. Get your bachelors degree, get your CFI ratings through MEI and ATP written done. Get a passport and FCC license. Keep a 1st class medical current. Don’t get in ANY trouble in school or out on the town (driving records, convictions, etc all come to play). Teach at a large 141 school for 2-3 years. Then you might be ready for an airline interview. The 1500 hour rule is really no big deal in fact it probably filters out the “I want to be airline pilot but blah blah blah so I can’t do it” guys. I fly charter, lots of flying just got my second paid type rating and third raise. The schedule sucks – every job has it’s drawbacks. But when it’s time to fly and make decent money I know why I worked hard to get here. Best of luck.

  • Why are pilot starting wages so low in the US. Why must I move to saudi arabia and earn more money as a CFI there then I would as a regional pilot in the US if such shortage existed, I can not afford to transition from CFI to regionals.and for majors The demand is for experienced pilots with thousands of hours on modern jet glass cockpit aircraft. All other hours do not matter to world wide Airlines . So yes I am for better wages back at home. New pilots will have to suck it up for some time as I did or else try to work overseas and earn bigger cash to pay off their depts.

    • Joe is typical of new aviator seeking employment.
      This will fix itself in time.
      Remember that it did in the 60’s when majors were hiring 1500 hr pilots. This is not the first time.
      Wages will go up to fill the void. Sorry Joe is about 3 years to soon to benefit.

  • The hour requirement to be an F/O for a regional has been long overdue.
    Now the wages MUST be raised to a decent starting salary of at least Forty grand minimum.

  • The hours requirement makes perfect sense. Pilot wages need to go up to attract better talent. There may be a shortage on the horizon, but it is of the airline’s own making.

  • just like the GI bill after WW2 and deregulation of the airlines in the late 70s provided incentives for an increase in the pilot population lets hope that this “pilot shortage” will incentivize many people to take pilot training, buy/rent planes and consider flying as a career.

  • I disagree with most of these commenters. I think the ATP rule will be a disaster. Nobody is born with 1500 hours, and all the old timers who say we should log hours the way they did are out of touch–there are no jobs flying checks or charter in 310s. Those operations are gone. People will either fake time or fly in circles for 1000 hours. It’s not like being a CFI is a booming business right now.

    So we either double the price of tickets to pay for big salaries or we have regional airlines with no pilots. It’s coming.

    • Oh, do I agree with you on this one. I just took up GA 2 1/2 years ago at the young age of 54,(now 56) and am just about to finish up my CFI rating. 1500 hours…let’s see, that should take me 3 years due to the fact that the days of building time from many sources are gone. The number of students are dwindling with the number of students just not finishing is astronaumical. Kids these days want instant gratification, don’t want to put in the time or effort to enter a field that is truly broken. Myself, I did not get into this endevour to make a whole lot of money, at this stage of my life I just want to fly, now the individuals that see it as a long term career, that is another story.

  • I fly overseas and am one of those coming up on age 65. My company will lose about 10pct of its pilots in the next 18 months to retirement. I also do instruction at and am on the advisory council of the aviation dept. of a university. I say all that to confirm the shortage is real.
    Reasons for it are many and varied, but primarily in my opinion due to cost and Congress/FAA. Few can afford the $100,000+ 0 to 1500 hr requirement. It will require airlines to establish their own training programs or go into collaboration with universities, and raise starting pay to livable levels.

  • I know 2 pilots with jet time + over 1,500 houres each…both laid off due downsizing of seperate employer…one, a major US airline. Both are CFI’s and have no students.

    One is selling appiances…the other collecting Obama money.

  • I am a retired USAF pilot currently working at flighsafety for meager wages. As a AF pilot I attempted to get out and go to the airlines a couple of times and did not because hiring stopped. I have heard the pilot shortage numerous times. I am one of many atp pilots retired that will not even apply to the airlines because of their hiring practices and poor pay. The airlines could run the data base and send out for new hires they just don’t want to

    • There are lots of experienced pilots who have left the airlines because they were unwilling to continue to subject themselves, and their families, to the airline life style, (Poor: pay, hours, and job security).
      Fix those things, particularly pay, and the pilot shortage will go away.
      Fail to fix those things, and mailing to a list of ATPs will accomplish nothing.
      My son has a friend who is headed to one of the major aviation Universities. A few months ago, I took them for a breakfast flight, we had a great time, and enjoyed his enthusiasm, but I could not help being glad my son is choosing a different path in life, aviation (for a living)is like acting (or professional sports), a wonderful career for a lucky few, and a disappointment for many. The regional airlines and the flight training academies have built their businesses on pilots who hope to use their training/experience as a stepping-stone to a job with a major airline. When the majors stop hiring, and as the wages and benefits decline across the board, the farm team system breaks down.
      How many kids would play farm team baseball if the top pay at a major league team was $70K/YR, and 1/2 the players topped out at $25-30K?
      How many parents would spend $100K+ to send them to school, to learn to play baseball?
      $10.00 more a seat would be enough to fix this problem.

  • Yes, the pilot shortage will be real, without a doubt. The 1500 hour requirement for FOs is ridiculous and will hurt, plus all the 65 year olds retiring. Add the fact that the pay is down and the airlines is no longer a glamours job… it sucks, compared to a few years back. Our government has killed the airline business.

    Fortunately I bailed early and got out, after a great career, but my last year’s pay with United was about half of what I would have made, and the benefits and retirement were absolutely horrible. I wouldn’t go back for any money and put up with the BS, security, regs, and low pay. A lot of us just don’t need the crap.

    And it’s been this way for over 50 years… either feast or famine. However, now it’s much more serious and could take years to recover, if ever.

    Hell, I don’t even get on a commercial plane any more…. I’ll fly myself or won’t go.

    • 1500 isn’t a joke. I had 1800 hours before I could fly single engine planes with canceled checks in the back. The joke is thinking that the cockpit of a regional jet is a place to learn how to fly. I’m sorry that you might have to take a couple of years to get some real life experience in all four seasons.

  • Pilot shortage? Where have I heard THAT before? The last time that there was a real shortage was in 1964 and most of those guys were furloughed by 1967. If it happens again, it’ll go down just like that.

  • The problem is pilots go through training similar to what a Dr. goes through, and the costs and loans to go along with it. However, our first job and for at least the first 5 years, and even longer now, the pay is comparable to working at McDonalds. I am a commercial pilot with around 280 hours. I realized this about halfway through my training, and switched to engineering, at least I can now support myself and not have to live on foodstamps.

    • I agree with most of the previous posters.
      There is no shortage of pilots, just a shortage of pilots willing to work for entry level pay and benefits.
      My employer has over 600 pilots on furlough right now, if there was a shortage they would all be back by now.

  • There never has been a true pilot shortage, nor will there ever be. The airlines want to portray a shortage to lure young people into the field only to find out the hard way about the abuses of the industry such as these extremely low wages that won’t support one person let alone a family. Viking 767 says it right, if there REALLY was a shortage his co workers would not be on furlough.

    I am not sure how prevalent the buy a job sitatuion is nowadays since I am a desk jockey. The pay for hire scam was another symptom of an oversupply of pilots. Airlines have used this scheme in the past, and that sure isn’t an indication of a pilot shortage. Such “programs” would not exist if there was a shortage.

    At any rate, I believe that the higher time requirement would help make flying on regional carriers safer, and if the buy a job baloney was outlawed would make travelling on regionals even more safe.

    I think the industry should emphasize flying for fun and encourage those with the means and the ability to learn to fly for the fun of it to do so. Emphasis on careers is the wrong approach. Encouraging general aviation flying for the enjoyment of flight is a great way to boost pilot numbers. And paying CFI’s well is a must in the equation as well.

    Blue Skies!

  • The requirement to have 1500 hours and an ATP is supposed to enhance safety. As a retired captain with 9 jet type ratings, I do not believe the number of hours leads to safety. It is the caliber of training that leads to safety. In the past, military pilots have been sent into combat with 300 hours.

    My training was done in house by instructors and check airmen that worked for my airline. They knew that one day their families might be passengers on my airplane. They were not going to send out an inferior product. I know that the Colgan Air captain never would have passed the checking at my airline.

    A pilot with 1500 hours of towing a banner does not make an airline pilot. Give me a low time pilot and train him to operate as a flight crewmember under the supervision of a captain. It is the training that counts, not the hours in the log-book.

    • There is a huge difference between civilian training and military. The problem is that most civilian training operations are profit driven and are currently hurting. They are incapable of saying no, if the future pilot can pay.

      Military training was based on a selective model with more applicants than training slots. Fail and go on to the next. It’s apples and oranges.

  • Repeat after me, “there is no pilot shortage”.

    If there was, Southwest, FedEx, UPS and Delta would be having problems finding pilots. They aren’t.

    My airline has furloughed 200 and most are still looking for work. Airlines can still demand soft requirements like a 4 year college degree.

    Who are calling for changes? Everyone who is has a skin in the game. Airlines want depressed wages and are looking for a reason to drop the ATP requirement. Big name universities are facing loosing revenue from flight programs. The pilot puppy mills need fresh meat to stay in business. What the ATP requirement means to the flight training industry is that the advantage of a quick program funded by loans has been lost to the pilot going to his local FBO. The local FBO doesn’t take out large, color ads in the aviation magazines. The huge shift that stated in the 1990’s, is shifting back to center.

  • Before deciding to fly for a living a lesson in basic economics should be the starter. It’s supply and demand at work. The supply is too great so prices are depressed.
    Fortunately for the travelling public, most pilots learn to fly because they love it. The occupation has a higher priority than the financial reward & Mr Public gets a cheap seat on a jet. If money was the motivation most pilots would be lawyers or stock market analysts, of little use to Mr Public.
    So, if you don’t like it any more, get out, let supply drop off so that demand (hence pilot pay) can rise.
    Bring on the pilot shortage!
    (Sorry Mr. Public, enjoy the cheap seats while you can)

  • US carriers bank on the high amount of licensed American pilots that is why they keep wages low. Across the globe Airlines like Emirates and Qatar who are buying insane amounts of aircraft on the other hand cant seem to find enough people to fly them. That is why they pay almost 4 times the starting pay of aby major.Airline in the US. All you need is jet time

  • I heard that the main reason for the 1500 rule coming in Aug. is because we are running out of CFI’s. What a crisis it would be if a huge pilot shortage comes, and no CFI’s were on hand to teach. I got my CFI 14 years ago, and back then, a regional airline would not even look at you with under 2000-3000 hours. It’s all about money. Bring on the pilot shortage. It is all the airline’s doing.

  • Yes, the great pilot shortage. I’ve been hearing about it since the 80s when I started flying. Instructed from 91 to 2000 and at that time you had to pay for training and sign a contract if you were hired. I remember in the early 90s congress and then president Bush were going to do something about the impending shortage. I’m not sure who starts this nonsense. There are thousand of pilots out of work. I was out at Chino airport last week. The flight school had an ad in Flight Training looking for instructors. I asked the owner if he would hire me once I am re certified. he told me he had plenty of instructors. I asked the young CFI there if they needed instructors? She told me there is a stack of resumes on the owners desk. She mentioned 80% of the instructors she graduated with three years ago no longer fly because they can’t find work.
    Lets face it. Go to Embry Riddle for four years and spend over 200K, graduate and try to find a job instructing making 15 bucks an hour.

    Let me know when that pilot shortage starts.

  • Our flight training center has went from 30 students to 8 last year and 1 starting this year. I was about to finish my CFI but then I did a bunch of research regarding time, wages, the number of student and existing instructors… I came up with, forget that and now am going after my multi rating hoping within 5 years I will have logged 1,500 hours and maybe get a banner flying job on the East coast…shoot I forgot to mention, how am I going to get the hours in the 1st place? Oh yeh there are jet positions posted all over the place for pilots needing umpteen hours to fill a seat with all of the required training, ratings and qualifications. I am going to buy a Cessna 150 and fly it everyday that I can for as long as I can, log the hours and then hope there are positions to fill..oh shoot, I will be 65 by then. Like I said, I am going to buya 150 and go flying, screw the job search!

  • Very interesting. Reminds me of when I worked for a little charter co / airline in Mt Isa Queensland Australia in 1980. I was an Avionics Engineer. I went into the bosses office one day and found a stack about 4 inches high of CVs on his desk. Curiosity overcome this cat and I looked at some of them. Guys with 4000+ hrs multi engine heavy transport time unable to get a job and desparate enough to try with a little outback air charter co. You see, the Vietnam war had just ended 5 years before and there was glut of pilots looking for work. The boss of the co said he had ridden in taxis driven by pilots with such hours and experience. Indeed, over the years it does seem to be boom and bust

  • I was late starting at this career and have done very well. Quit a high paying secure sales job in 2007. Got my advanced ratings thru MEI. Taught for 3 years at a moderately busy flight school working side jobs. Had a daughter born. Kept my resume updated and beat the streets every month to all the local charter departments. One day the cell rang for a jet FO position. 2 years of that and now Captain and growing. It’s all what you want folks. Persistence is the key and personality. Don’t let excuses get in the way. And stop reading online about why others can’t do it. They are not you.

    • Thanks tango tango I needed to hear that I was starting to change my mind about flying. I have it hard to get hours an the pay sucks but I still want to fly for get the pay live a little. Life is short I say follow your dreams.

  • I think the whole pilot shortage could become a potential reality but its more so going to affect regionals than majors. The majors will fill all the open slots with the high ranking regional guys leaving the slots open at the regionals. And i gotta agree with tango, if you put in the time and effort you can get where you wanna go. and this whole bull crap about how its impossible to find a CFI job… out where I am people are desperate for CFI’s. I’ve been offered 2 positions as a CFI and i don’t even have my CFI yet… this is how desperate they are and one was a prominent university! If you meet the right people and you put in the time and effort you can find a job.

  • Really?
    Lots of CFI jobs? I went to Chino airport to inquire about CFI postions that was advertised in Flight Training magazine only to be told, we wont need anyone until summer.
    Not many people fly anymore. The FAA is considering closing many towers. Back in the 90s MMU used to have three or four planes in the pattern doing touch and gos. Now All I hear is crickets. Don’t buy the pilot shortage hype, Ive heard it since I started flying in the mid 80s. You want be pilot? Go for it.

    • Go for it? I wouldn’t..I can’t figure out why anyone would want to fly for the airlines! You could make more driving a truck at many airlines. Pilot shortage,hmm, twice I can think of Japan and Germany at the end of WW2, thats it. I’ve been flying for the airlines for 32 years and have would never do this again. If I was young look to the rsv’s,guard, med school, law school, or Starbucks!! An old long retired Delta cap told me,”there ain’t no more stage coach drivers!” Technology is there guys. Fedex and Ups you’ll be the first to be replaced, pax a little later.

  • Pilot above is not happy with his career choice yet refuses to change for some reason. It’s not the money because he/she could make more at Starbucks. Pilot above should make a bold career move and be happy again. Pilot should also not blame an entire industry for his unhappiness. It may be pilot has no hope to be happy anywhere.

    • Yea only with career choice..wish you could jumpseat a month with me! I think you would be shocked, no actually I don’t think, you would be! Good luck to ya brother..

  • I think it is a shame that a once highly desirable career is really going down the Sh@#’$!! Not just US airlines either. I’m based in HK and CX guys used to have very desirable packages. That is all going now. To be frank the future for airline pilots is rather bleak, but as long as you have pilots that are willing to fly for food then what does one expect. It’s funny because if we are true to ourselves it’s a career that once the initial excitement has worn off is actually bloody dull and frustrating and some would say a bit of a dead end job. If I could do it again I would have just flown for fun and got myself a more fulfilling job – I would say better payed but I’m still on a decent package although such packages will never exist again for the poor sods coming up through the ranks.

    Also notice how the pilot of today don’t take pride in themselves. Many look rather scruffy; almost like security guards with a case. But if you are being payed peanuts and disillusioned with the career, naturally it is hardly surprising.

  • If there is “NOT” a pilot shortage in the near future, then… There are a lot more retards out there then I thought!

    Anyone in there right mind, to want to get into this “useless” profession, would really have to be “not thinking clearly”

    I have been flying for a living now for over 20 years. Currently have 14 years with the same Company.

    The pay sucks. People I know who cut grass for a living are doing as well as I am.

    Away from home more and more, Airlines modo ” Work more, pay less” If there is one thing I have learned in Aviation, is that they care about a pilot’s family’s about as much as I care about the neighbours pet rat.

    Ground handlers walk off the job because they believe they are worth more. Pilots sit on there hands and say, “But, I still get to fly an airplane?”

    I would give anything to go back and time and do anything else

  • The 1,500 hour requirement is just another example of how out of touch the FAA is with reality. Aviation is in crisis mode right now in large part because the FAA has done their best to make general aviation expensive. Even some of the old-timers at the FAA are starting to see that, and yet they think that making training more expensive is the solution? Airline travel is laughably safe. You are so safe on a commercial jet that it makes the dangers of driving seem horrifying by comparison. The meager benefit to safety from increasing training hours will be far outweighed by the cost. I would bet money that during my lifetime the new rule will not prevent even one accident.

  • One man meat is another’s poison. While some areas are being over supplied, others are in lack of adequate supply. Where you chose to be an airline Pilot, then go for it and not when you emerge from many hours of scenic flights then you opt to settle for the airlines as a new career at probably 50. FAA’s problem being the it relaxed it’s entry requirement hence all all and sundry now flooded the market. ATPL with 1500 is a welcome development so that airline bound pilots could focus on it while balloon flyers also should enjoy doing same. Pilots problem isn’t what they earn but how it had managed it.

  • I am a former airline captain and currently work in the Part 135 sector. The pilot shortage is real and ominous, which is great for pilots. I earned $24k my first year at the airlines and was gone 215 from home. It wasn’t much better the next two years. I have also been on the corporate/management side of aviation and am dismayed at the disregard that management has of pilot’s schedules and lives. For too long, pilots have acted surprised to get paid because they love flying, but piloting is one of the most demanding careers out there and if we do it wrong, we kill hundreds at a time. The growing pilot shortage will put more schedule demands on existing pilots, creating a negative atmosphere which discourages new pilots…

  • Oh, there may be a pilot shortage, but probably not here in the stagnant USA. Go to Dubai or China and you might find some opportunities.

    If there were actually a pilot shortage, wages would be going up. But they’re not. But they’re not, are they? So, there’s no shortage.

    Follow the money. Wages have been going down for decades. It’s not going to change now.

    And I predict that within 20 years airliners will be automated anyway. Do you think that, if an airline could get rid of all of its pilots and replace them with automation, it would? Of course it would. We’re all analogue computers responding to a tight feedback loop. Computers can do that, too.

    If I were in my 20s and beginning a career in aviation, I’d be bracing myself to be displaced by automation before it’s time to retire.

  • Well…Airlines can’t pay any LESS than they do now, because I can make more $$ flying a cash register at McDonald’s full time than I can a 50 seat regional jet.

    Add to that as a McDonalds employee I’ll be in my OWN BED in my OWN CITY every night and will not have to rent an additional crash pad, pay for $90,000 of flight training and interest on that debt, take a job interview for my own job twice a year (recurrent training) or have to maintain any real skills…

    So, I’ll take the job at McDonalds and be promoted to manager in a few years and make more than the Captains at Great Lakes, Mesa, Eagle, etc. I hope they all burn, flounder and fail and our profession gets back to some semblance of economic equilibrium. Greed started this, and greed will end it.

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