Where Airline Pilots Stand in Labor Statistics

By Scott Spangler on January 12th, 2015

alpGiven the recent reports of job growth and the enduring discussions about pilot shortages, I moseyed over to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see which occupations are ascending and which are in decline and where airline pilots show up on that spectrum.

The good news is that airline pilots are not on the list of Fastest Declining Occupations. Topping this list of 30 occupations  is “fallers,” you know, the people who cut down trees. By 2022 their numbers are expected to decline 43.3 percent. And there doesn’t seem to be much future at the post office, either. Postal clerks, mail sorters/processors, mail carriers, and postmasters and mail superintendents all made the list the changes ranging from 31.8 to 24.2 percent.

The bad news is that airline pilots aren’t on the list of the 30 Fastest Growing Occupations. By 2022 the number of industrial-organizational psychologists is expected to grow by 53.4 percent. Of the remaining 29 occupations, 20 of them are in medical fields from physical and occupational therapists to nurse practitioners, audiologists, genetic counselors, and a selection of aides and assistants. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are expected to grow by 31.4 percent.

The job outlook for Airline and Commercial Pilots through 2022 is pretty much in stasis at –1 percent change. But that’s for the entire group. The BLS expects the employment of airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers to decline 7 percent by 2022. The number of commercial pilots, on the other hand, is expected to grow by 9 percent. To put these numbers in context, the BLS says average growth rate for all occupations (in all fields) is 11 percent.

payMost of the airline job opportunities will be filling the seats of those who retire. As it’s been for eons, when some old captain retires, everyone moves up a number on the seniority list and there’s an entry-level seat at a regional airline, which pays around $20,000 a year. The BLS figures for airline and commercial pilot pay look pretty good, especially in comparison to “All Occupations,” but remember that these are median numbers, where half of those so employed earned more and the other half earned less.

Naturally, the bureau’s statistics for the future need for commercial and airline pilots apply only to American employers. The job prospects seem much rosier for those pilots willing to relocate to the Pacific Rim. According to an AP story in the New York Times, in the next 20 years the Pacific-Asia region will need 216,000 new pilots, which is more than twice the total number of commercial and airline pilots working in the United States today. But as is the case for all the world’s airlines, focus on the bottom line restrains wages that have not kept pace with the cost of training, an imbalance that causes aspiring pilots to think twice about their futures. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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One Response to “Where Airline Pilots Stand in Labor Statistics”

  1. Sherman Kensinga Says:

    Government numbers on commercial pilot supply include all pilots in commercial training in the U.S., based on enrollments and license applications. The government is not allowed to discern between Americans in training, and foreign students.

    Embry-Riddle and Flight Safety International are two of the biggest flight trainers in the U.S., and they both report over 90% foreign students, headed overseas when they graduate. They are legal U.S. residents, with U.S. addresses for their 6+ year training. They get U.S. FAA licenses as they progress through and finish their training, and are counted by the FAA in their statistics. But they are not going to U.S. airline cockpits.

    Foreign airlines have purchased large flight academies in the U.S. to train their pilots, and those pilots are counted toward FAA and BLS numbers.

    The U.S. used to have a tremendous pilot training industry, but it has shrunk to a fraction of what it used to be, and the remnants are surviving on foreign students. Very few Americans have entered the pilot career for many years now, the numbers continue to shrink, and very few are graduating. Based on the numbers in this article, if everyone in pilot training were American, there would be just enough pilots, but there aren’t.

    We are approaching a crisis that will likely wipe out smaller, low-cost carriers, and bring huge profits to the major airlines. Congress will be pressured to give airlines relief on safety rules relating to pilots. Pilots will be working more hours with less rest, less training, less protections. Minimally-trained MPL pilots are already likely to be approved, single-pilot operations are encroaching in smaller planes, NASA and other organizations are looking for ways to eliminate pilots.

    The future for pilots is not looking good, and young Americans are increasingly choosing other careers. A recent ICAO paper noted that trend world-wide, and suggested selling the career as potentially “space pilots”, because that might happen. We are a few short decades from eliminating pilots from a lot of cockpits, but we need pilots until then, pilots who will invest heavily in a career they likely won’t finish.

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