Another Pilot Shortage — Really?

By Scott Spangler on July 17th, 2012

Boeing released its periodic Pilot & Technician Outlook at Farnborough on July 11. In hours the global media started producing stories of future doom because of the shortage and said that the new pilots trained over the next 20 years would be less qualified.

Are you serious? Really? You’re telling me that America’s starving flight training industry could not  properly educate 23,025 pilots a year—a number that would meet the annual worldwide quota—to ATP standards? And of that number, North America needs only 3,450 new professional pilots a year. I searched the report and couldn’t find how many went to Canada and how many would fly in the United States.

Why is that no one seems to look past the big number: Boeing forecasts a global need for 460,500 pilots over the next 20 years. Apply some middle school math and you get the annual needs 23,025 and 3,450. What should be more disconcerting is that North America’s need for 69,000 more pilots is only 15 percent of the global total and roughly a third of Asia’s need for aviators.

Here’s an idea: Rather than our collective wringing of hands over a shortage that doesn’t exist, let’s figure out how we can incorporate language instructors into flight training faculties so schools can meet the needs of those who need the most pilots, and so pilots who don’t speak those Asian languages might have a shot at a job. –Scott

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25 Responses to “Another Pilot Shortage — Really?”

  1. thomas peterson Says:

    i did not read that we don’t have the capacity to train the pilots..it’s that there are no pilots in the queue to be trained.

  2. Ron Says:

    Well, there are only 144,000 active ATP certificate holders in the U.S., so adding another 69,000 represents a significant percentage, even if some of them are going to Canada and Mexico.

    Having said that, much like you, I don’t believe there is or will be a pilot shortage. The only thing we’re short of is accurate economic forecasts for the aviation sector.

  3. Mary Says:

    Well put, Scott! In 2010, there were 265,908 pilots holding a commercial pilot certificate or better but only 75,000 + reporting making an income as an pilot or instructor on their tax return. It seems to me that with such a wide pool of pilots available to fill the “shortage”, we should get too scared.

    I hold 3 ATP certificates in two countries. I will know there is a shortage when an airline goes the FAA database of ATP rated pilot database and sends me a “we need you” letter. It has not happened yet. Another clue of a shortage would be that the entry level salaries would start increasing. That too has not happened.

  4. Marco McBrain Says:

    “You’re telling me that America’s starving flight training industry could not properly educate 23,025 pilots a year—a number that would meet the annual worldwide quota—to ATP standards? And of that number, North America needs only 3,450 new professional pilots a year.”

    Yes, that’s exactly what I”m saying. You said “to ATP standards.” Ponder this: Can you really take a pilot from zero flight time, train them for their private pilot license, instrument rating, commercial license and ATP multi-engine while taking all of those written exams and flying 1,500 hours in the same year? These students would have to log 4.1 hours in an airplane EVERY DAY, 365 DAYS IN A ROW! Not to mention the 12 hours required in a level C or higher simulator. And what about the cost of this? The cheapest Light Sport Aircraft rents for $100/hour. Throw in an instructor at $50/hour multiply it by 1,500 and you’re at $225,000. That’s without any multi-engine time or level C sim time. Who is going to pay for this?

    Here’s another fact check:

    It costs $120,000 to go from zero time to Commercial, Multi-engine instrument rating and 250 hours at any of the major flight schools. You cannot get financing anymore and after paying for those ratings you are not qualified to fly for a single part 121 carrier in the United States. Once you build another 1,250 hours you are now qualified to sit reserve 18 days a month in Newark and make $2,000/month.

    Can you see where I’m going with this?

  5. Steve Austin Says:

    “ANOTHER” Pilot shortage. WOW. I am 47 years old, been interested in aviation my whole life but thankfully did not pursue it as a career. I am a private pilot barely scrapping enough money to fly a time or two a month. If I had a hundred dollars for everytime I have read or heard about the PILOT SHORTAGE I could fly tons more! Never has been , never will be a pilot shortage.

  6. Jerry Lawler Says:

    There may not be a shortage of pilots but there will be a shortage of pilots qualified to be hired by the airlines. New regulations now require 1500 hours to be hired by a regional or legacy airline. Where does the 250 hour pilot get the 1500 hours? As a retired 747 captain with 9 jet type ratings, I believe it is the training that counts, not the number of hours in a log book.

  7. John Goodstein Says:

    As always, there has never been a shortage of pilots, just a shortage of pilots willing to work for the low wages offered by the regional airlines. Start FOs out at a realistic wage and you will find plenty of experienced pilots willing to fill those jobs. But as always, the jobs will be filled by young pilot-mill-trained workers will low experience and a taste for Ramen noodles.

  8. Paul Says:

    Pilot shortage title is too dramatic. It is a shortage of money for pilot education. Why anyone in his/her right mind would choose profession that requires education that costs in excess of $200K and pays $2K a month?

  9. @williamAirways Says:

    Déjà vu…every year this “pilot shortage” topic comes up. And every year, we all say the same thing about how there have not been, and never will be, a pilot shortage. As Mary indicated, starting pilot pay have not increased. This means that a whole bunch of pilots out there are willing to fly for peanuts (ha!).

  10. josephrsligo Says:

    I AM A RETIRED TEACHER, 88 YEARS OLD, AND I HAVE FOLLOWED THE HISTORY OF AVIATION. I APPRECIATE YOUR ARTICLE AND THE REMARKS BY MARY.

    THANK YOU.

  11. Jim Says:

    To Scott Spangler

    English is the aviation language. Students should learn English instead of instructors learning theirs.

  12. Kenneth Kirk Says:

    I can believe that there will be a pilot shortage. As expensive as anything aviation related is, it costs a lot of money to fly and the cost is only going to increase. With first officer pay barely above poverty being a pilot is something that only those with buring desire to fly will pursue this career option.

  13. Robert Mark Says:

    I doubt there will be a shortage of qualified pilots for the major carriers.

    As a few folks have pointed out here, I think we will see a shortage of pilots at the regionals.

    But not because we can’t train em. We could.

    But who can spend, or wants to spend, the money to set themselves up for a regional pilot job with such lousy pay? Few I’m thinkin.

    But who says the only flying jobs are with the regionals? There are other options. And the pay is better on a corporate job for sure. What about ag flying? What about ferrying airplanes?

    Last time I checked, you also won’t need an ATP and 1,500 to get hired. There are also Part 135 charter outfits that will need pilots.

    In my day … OK, you knew that was coming right … I scraped time together where ever I could. A few here, a few there. I taught, I towed banners … all because I knew it was part of the dues I needed to pay.

    Maybe we need to take a step back and realize that just because you graduate from a flight school with 350 hours and some certificates doesn’t mean you SHOULD be flying at the airlines … only that you might be.

    I’m sorry the airline ladder isn’t as steady as it was a decade ago, but on this one, the market will rule. If regionals really are short enough of pilots that they begin cancelling more flights, they’ll either raise the salaries to grab people, which means fares will rise, or those companies will shut down.

    Or perhaps if there really is a shortage at some point in the pipeline, some other element in the chain will take action to help fund training. Pilots would probably work at a regional for years if they had an incentive … like a company sponsoring their flight training and taking the payback out of their paycheck in years of service.

    Maybe none of this is the answer. Help the industry figure an answer out then.

    If I hear one more person cry about how expensive learning to fly is and how lousy the pay is, I’m going to be sick.

  14. David Says:

    I retired from airline management after 50 years in the business and 6 airlines, flag, domestic, and commuter. I was responsible for hiring pilots in nearly all those years. I never experience a pilot shortage even though we were often told there was one. The “pilot shortage” has been forecasted for my entire career. Like anything else, some years it was harder than others, but you could predict either by the current business cycle. Airlines overhire in the good years and furlough in the bad.

  15. Tom Cox Says:

    Perfect Storm…

    Let us consider a few things. There is currently regulation on the table increasing the qualifications for 121 & 135 operators. This certification change mainly affects SICs. 1500 hours is what is currently under the NPRM. This will be regulation not a suggestion. It is likely that ICAO will follow suit.
    With this new regulation it will be even more difficult for pilots to acquire the time to be qualified to even act as SIC with a 121 or 135 operator. This is the key to the whole “pilot shortage”. Here’s why, most pilot’s now are forced to act as a CFI to gain the experience and time to 1500 hours. Many of the cargo jobs, crop dusting jobs, and pipeline patrol jobs for “low” time pilots are a thing of the past.
    Additionally, the average cost for a pilot to go from zero time to 250-300 hours is well over 100K. Many of the avenues for financial aid are closed. This in return leaves a dwindling amount of students for CFIs to train.
    Another aspect worth considering is the amount of flight schools that have shut their doors over the past five years. I believe demand will increase and, as always, there will be a way to increase supply. However, I also believe at first there will be a higher demand for pilots over the next 5-7 years.

  16. Tom Says:

    Hi there, for a different point of view on the shortage, have a look at this.
    http://soyouwanttobeanairlinepilot.com/the-pilot-shortage/

  17. Mary Says:

    I sure don’t want anybody who paid 100K for 250 hours of basic zero-to-commercial training to be flying an airplane I’m in. That’s an average cost of $400 per hour.

    250 hours in a twin with an instructor cost far less in many places. A C152 or a DA20 rents for about $100 an hour in many places around the U.S. 250 hours in those is $25K.

    Somebody with so little common sense and research capability should not be given the controls of any aircraft from my point of view.

    Furthermore, my hairdresser paid $24K for one year of advanced hairdresser training. That’s also about the cost of one year of tuition in ivy-league universities and most students need 4 to 6 of those in the right discipline to get an half decent job.

    Many of us figured out how to get those 1,500 hours and many more although flying was always expensive. Use an online inflation calculator if you don’t believe it.

    My primary flight instructor had an Embry-Riddle education and nearly 3,000 hours before he was able to get onto the airline ladder. That was the early 90′s.

    It seems that newcomers today are constantly clamoring for free flying. We all wished that. But don’t hold your breath. Just like the pilot shortage, it ain’t going to happen anytime soon.

  18. Jose Morante Says:

    To Jim:

    Sorry Jim, but you should know that there are 6 official aviation languages recognised by ICAO. Maybe in the near future, we pilots, should learn to speak chinesse in order to increase our chances of being hired.

  19. O “apagão de pilotos” na Ásia/Oecania « Para ser piloto Says:

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  20. @williamAirways Says:

    “If I hear one more person cry about how expensive learning to fly is and how lousy the pay is, I’m going to be sick.” – Rob Mark

    Some people believe $100-200k for flight training is chump change. Most of us think that’s a lot of money. So it’s relative. Put it this way, flight training is EXPENSIVE compared to learning how to SCUBA dive. Flight training is EXPENSIVE compared to learning how to be a truck driver. Flight training is EXPENSIVE compared to learning how to be a lawyer, CCNA, programmer, etc., etc. The ROI when comparing pilot vs. lawyer or a CCNA isn’t even a fair fight.

    I disagree with you that we in the aviation community should be coming up with a solution to a “problem” that the airlines created. (I use the word problem loosely because there really isn’t a problem.) They know darn well that if they want the pilots, they can get the pilots. There are plenty of options for them to choose from. You and I both know that the reality is that the airline management folks would rather go the pilot labor exploitation route because it means more money to spread around for executive bonuses at year end. Let’s not kid ourselves that this “pilot shortage” is a real problem. It’s not. Never has, never will. Outsourcing pilots, ab initio programs supported by the airlines, street hires, university partnerships, etc. They have the solutions. But they cost the airline money and that’s not healthy for the executive bonus pool. Single pilot airliners are predicted to be the new emerging technology followed by zero pilots. We’re already seeing technology that makes pilot lose IQ points in GA airplanes. “Press the blue button and you’ll be back to straight and level. Isn’t that cool? You don’t have to know how to fly the airplane anymore! Yay!”

    Or you can take the red pill and I’ll show you how far the rabbit hole goes. ;-)

  21. J.B. Says:

    English the language of aviation? Guess you haven’t been to Canada where
    the controllers mix french & english(like other government positions this guarantees the francophones a job) Surprised this hasn’t caused an accident!

  22. Robin Says:

    Show me the money, and I will show you that no shortage will exist.
    Show me current industry pay, and I will show you a world of people that say – why bother.

  23. H. Edwards Says:

    I have to agree with Robin. While pilots do love flying, I would assume, they have long crappy hours and quite frankly the time away from home and family combined with the stresses of the job aren’t worth the money most pilots receive.

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  25. Joe Says:

    John and Marco seem to get it. The shortage is not in licensed pilots, because many guys with a Commercial pilots license are working in some other field, and making a lot more $ in most cases. The shortage will come however, because the age 65 rule now is kicking in for the older guys, and the ATP rule for FOs will apply next year.
    The real problem here is not really the airlines fault or the governments fault, although there is some blame to spread around for sure, it is economics. The ROI for $50,000 -$80,000+ for pilot training is very unattractive for someone getting started, and there is almost no one getting started right now anyway, I know as I am a CFI. How long does it take you as a pilot until you can make at least $50,000 per year? In the past before the great recession, maybe 4-6 years? Now try more like 8-10 years! That is the truth. The math just doesn’t make any sense.
    Here is another mind blowing factoid: aviation has more instructors than it does students. Twisted! Name me one other career route with that issue.
    Before the war on organized labor, and labor in general, flying was a great career.

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