ATP Attends the World Aviation Training Symposium

I attended the World Aviation Training Symposium (WATS) in Orlando this week, and wanted to share some of what I saw and heard there. In one of the seminars I attended, I listened as the University of North Dakota released a study about the pilot shortage, and in the same seminar we heard from the Regional Airline Professionals on the same subject.

Professor Kent Lovelace, Chair of the University of North Dakota’s Department of Aviation, presented the results of the fourth version of the United States Airline Pilot Labor Supply Forecast developed by UND. The study polled 1,700 Certified Flight Instructors as a means to determine whether there are truly current and future trends that will lead to a pilot shortage.

According to the study’s predictions, there will be a potential pilot shortage of 35,000 pilots in the United States by the year 2031 unless there are mitigation efforts made to reduce this trend, Lovelace said. One of the more telling trends from the CFI survey was that only 53.67 percent of these current flight instructors surveyed reported that they intend to fly as a long-term goal. Other study results revealed that 58 percent of the CFIs said that they are willing to go to other countries with low flight hour requirements and more that 32 percent are rethinking their plans based on the pending 1,500- hour rule.

Jim Winkley, Vice President of Flight Operations for American Eagle Airlines, reported that his airline plans to hire from between 300 to 400 new pilots in 2013. He also cited significant factors that could prevent the airline from reaching this goal in the future. One is that in 2011, American Eagle had a pool of 500 qualified applicants, but that in 2013 there are less than 100 pilots in that pool. The major airlines are beginning to recognize the potential for a pilot shortage, Winkley added. “We are seeing no relief in the future,” Winkley summed up.

Paul Preidecker, Chief Flight Instructor for Air Wisconsin Airlines, said that the airline industry needs to a better job of marketing an airline career, to be the “Ambassador of Aviation”, to help overcome the decline of interest in pursuing an airline career. He also said that airline human resources and flight department personnel need to establish meaningful metrics together to increase training success. He also recommended that regional airlines move to Advanced Qualification Programs requirements to assure new pilot qualifications. Jason Griswold, Managing Director of Brown Aviation Lease, pointed out that airlines should adopt more modern marketing strategies to appeal to younger people.

Captain Darrin Gruebel, Manager of Line Operations for ExpressJet Airlines, stated regardless of the debate, he feels that the predicted pilot shortage is already here today. He based his opinion on the facts that airlines job fair attendance is down by 50 percent, his pool of pilot applicants is “nil,” and that of every new 100 pilots interviewed by ExpressJet, only 30 are qualified enough to be offered a position. He also pointed out that his airline’s pilots attrition to major airlines is 32 percent.

Captain Mark Sawyer, President and CEO of Aerosim Academy, echoed Gruebel’s comments by saying that the combination of the pending 1,500-hour First Officer Training requirement, pilot retirements and the student pilot funding crisis is leading to “the perfect storm” of a pilot shortage.

“The real numbers are irrefutable,” Sawyer emphasized. “There are 21,000 pilots who will be retiring in the next 11 years, and there are only 21,000 regional pilots. If some studies show that here will be no pilot shortage, just ask them, where are the pilots today?” He further said that most of their students are foreign nationals and will return to their respective countries when trained. Captain Sawyer said that he projected that for the year 2013 they would only graduate 28 to 32 domestic students who will fly in the United States.

The perfect storm that is causing the present pilot shortage, and is deepening it, is upon us. It creates opportunity for anyone who wants to be an Airline Pilot, but the time to get started with flight training is now.