Airlines Scrambling to Address Pilot Shortage

“Major airlines are scrambling to prevent a projected shortage of qualified pilots over the next decade.”

This is how a news report from a large NBC affiliate begins. NBC is reporting on a massive problem that is presently affecting the airline industry, and threatens the industry on a much larger scale as the pilot shortage begins to affect the larger Major and Legacy Airlines such as Southwest Airlines and American Airlines.

The looming shortage is a threat to the US economy as well because simply put, the airlines have become as important to day-to-day life in the US as the electric grid that makes modern life possible. The same can be said about the global economy as the “airline grid” stretches worldwide now.

The FAA and aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus, whose livelihoods depend on accurate forecasts about the airline industry, have all been unanimous in reporting that the pilot shortage has begun and stretches over the next 20 years. North America alone will need 112,000 new airline pilots to replace pilots being forced to retire due to them reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65.

“If we don’t have enough pilots, planes don’t fly,” said Greg Muccio, senior manager at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines.

“Right now, it’s the regional airlines are the ones that are really feeling the most heat,” said Muccio. “You can talk to several of them and they are really short. I mean some of them down 100 plus pilots.”

“Heavy retirements are going to hit the industry over the next 10 to 15 years” said Muccio. “That just creates a void that you have to go try and fill, and that’s huge.”

Many airlines are raising pay and bonuses for pilots to attract more talented people to begin training for an airline career.

American Airlines for example expects to hire more than 500 new pilots this year alone, many of them to replace those who retire. More than half will come from Envoy Air, one of the American’s wholly owned regional carriers.

Envoy Air is now hiring about 70 new pilots every month to keep up with the demand.

Each new pilot hired by Envoy arrives for training with the promise of moving on to American Airlines a few years later, an added bonus for students hoping to fly for a major airline.

“As long as American Airlines is hiring pilots, Envoy pilots have a seat at American Airlines, it’s just that simple,” said Capt. Jon Reibach, director of pilot recruitment at Envoy.

Southwest is also now hiring hundreds of new pilots each year to fill the seats of older pilots set to retire, and building a larger training facility at Dallas Love Field to keep up with the aggressive hiring demands.

“We’re hiring at a pretty fast clip,’ said Muccio. “The last two years we’ve hired over 600 pilots, we’ll do the same this year and I really don’t see us backing off that number.”

Commenting on the pilot shortage Muccio said, “It’s beginning to reach some of the majors, if we’re not starting now to fix it we won’t be able to fix it.”

Many new pilots at regional airlines can now start at about $60,000 a year. Captains flying big international jets for mainline carriers can earn well over $200,000 yearly.

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