The Pilot Shortage: Myth or Poor Management?

The pilot shortage is not a myth, it is cold stark reality and the effects are easy to see. So while different sides continue to fight over the underlying cause of the shortage, the real winners in this situation are the Pilots.

One side in the discussion about the pilot shortage, the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) argues that the shortage is a myth, and turns to semantics to explain that there really is just a shortage of pilots willing to work for the wages currently being paid by airline management. ALPA also argues that airline managers are in fact responsible for the mess in the first place by becoming reliant in the belief that they will always be able to find ambitious people willing to work for very low entry-level wages at the Regionals to position themselves to be able to obtain higher paying jobs with the Major Airlines.

Another side in the discussion about the shortage of pilots, Regional Airline Management Teams represented by the Regional Airline Association (RAA), claim that the pilot shortage is the result of laws that have limited the amount of qualified pilots available to the industry. These laws require that any pilot flying for a scheduled carrier in the US have at least 1500 hours of flight experience and earn an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate in order to be hired to fly for them. New rules are also in place that requires airlines to rest pilots more for safety reasons, and Regional Managers say that they are forced to expand their pilot groups in order to comply with the rules.

Whichever side you believe, it is obvious that pilots are going to be paid more and treated better as a result. As I said in my last blog article, the airlines affected the most by the shortage initially reacted by cancelling flights and service to some smaller communities and grounding their aircraft. These same airlines are now announcing pay increases and improvements to work rules that improve the quality of life for their pilots.

On another front, unions representing Pilot Groups from the three largest Regional Airlines have all rejected new contract offers from their Management Teams that either offered raises considered too paltry to accept or asked for concessions in pay and work rules.

So who is going to fly all these new aircraft that are being dangled in front of these unimpressed pilots? Good question. The ball is clearly in the court of Airline Managers and the challenge is to make it more enticing to be a Regional Pilot. They are working on it without a doubt, there is too much to lose by parking airplanes.

After studying and writing about this situation for the past three years, two things are evident to me. All of this is working out perfectly for someone who starts flight-training today to fly for the airlines. Also, no other industry’s struggles have attracted this kind of public awareness of the supply and demand issues working in favor of its employees (pilots) as a group.