Flight Crew Gossip: The Pilot Shortage

  • Nov 21, 2013 8:40pm GMT

When starting a trip, the captain and I often chit chat about gossip and rumors flying around regarding things that may be happening at our company; the possibility of expanding our routes, getting new airplanes and even hiring new pilots. This conversation will often lead to the topic of the pilot shortage. For the first time in over 10 years, all of the major airlines in the U.S. have started hiring pilots. Almost all of the pilots that were furloughed, or laid off from those airlines are being recalled. And many of the regional airlines have been continuously hiring over the past few years.

Over the past 10 years, movement in the airline industry has been very stagnant. This was initially brought on by the terrorist attacks on 9/11, leading to a massive amount of pilots being furloughed. When the industry was starting to recover, the FAA raised the mandatory retirement age of airline pilots from 60 to 65 which happened around the same time the stock market collapsed. Movement in the industry was at a standstill. Traditionally, major airlines hired pilot applicants from the military as well as the regional airlines. Pilots at regional airlines saw their job as a stepping stone on their way to the major airlines. While flight instructors would move into those regional airline positions, thus creating movement.

Pilots that were furloughed over 10 years ago, found jobs outside of the airline industry while others found pilot positions overseas. At the same time, regional airlines have been slashing pilot pay in order to keep providing service at a low cost to their major airlines. Many prospective pilots have turned away from the industry due to these events. The cost of flight training and a degree followed by endless years of instruction and then more years of minimum wage regional airline pay is not very enticing. This has lead to current pilots and would be pilots finding careers in other industries that have more rewarding pay and benefits.

In the past year, the pilots that were set to retire 5 years ago at the age of 60, are now turning 65. Major airlines have begun interviewing and hiring new pilots to replace the retirees. Airlines have also been hiring in anticipation of the FAA’s new rest rule regulations. Although the number of pilots needed to cover the loss of workable hours is unknown, airlines will need to hire additional pilots.

The wave of retirements is good news for current airline pilots because that means career progression. Both regional airline and military pilots will have the ability to move onto a career with the majors. The big U.S. airlines will have no issues attracting pilot candidates. Pilots from regional airlines, military, cargo companies as well as pilots that went overseas for jobs will all be competing for the major airline positions. Currently the regional airlines have plenty have applicants to fill new hire classes. But flight schools are already taking the first hit of the shortage.