Why Aren’t There Enough Airline Pilots?

I was recently invited to give a presentation at the AOPA Aviation Summit. The
presentation was about how to get a good flying job in the airline industry,
and I began by telling the assembled group of aviators that I had good news for
them: The airlines are hiring again and the prospects are improving quickly for pilots
who hope to fly for them. Not only that, but hiring is going to increase at
all levels of aviation for the foreseeable future.


In my role as Regional Jet Program Director for ATP I am in touch with the industry
as directly as possible by interfacing with the Recruiters and Chief Pilots
with most of the regional airlines in this country.

What I am hearing from them is this: The airlines are very concerned about the
number of qualified pilots that will be available as they begin hiring again. I
am speaking primarily about the Regional Airline Industry now since the Major
Airlines will get the pilots that they need when they start recruiting pilots again.

The Majors will simply hire the most senior Captains from the Regional airlines to
fill their recruiting needs. As Captains leave the Regional airlines to fly for
the Majors, they will have to be replaced by senior First Officers who will
upgrade to Captain. As those First Officers leave their positions to upgrade,
their vacated cockpit seats will have to be filled by newly hired pilots. When
this takes place the challenges will begin for airline recruiters.

The large Regional Airlines that have presently begun hiring have already started to face problems and have become very aggressive in looking for qualified pilots. They
have found that the historically large numbers of furloughed pilots that have
waited patiently in the past to be recalled (or rehired by the airline that
furloughed them) are not available this time. Large numbers of furloughed
pilots have gone elsewhere to fly.

They have gone overseas to fly in Asia, Europe, The Middle East, Africa, India and the Pacific Rim. These pilots have signed relatively long-term contracts and won’t be returning to fly for the US Airline industry soon. Other furloughed Pilots have left the industry all together, and that leaves recruiters few options to replace them.

For example, the US Military has always been a reliable source of superbly trained
pilots for the airline industry. That is no longer true. Although military
pilots retiring to fly in the civilian world make very good airline pilots,
over the last two decades the military has drastically cut back on the number
of pilots it trains. The Military has decreased in size as it has become more
technologically efficient. As a result there hasn’t been a need for them to
train as many pilots, and they have done a very good job of retaining the pilots
they currently have. The fact of the matter is that the military is a shrinking
source of pilots and can’t be relied upon to retire enough pilots to help
offset the demand for new airline crew members.

The genesis of the problem, both short term and long term, of finding trained and qualified pilots to fly in the airline industry is not simple enough to be discussed in this one article, and I will continue to share my
presentation from the AOPA Aviation Summit over the next few posts to PilotJobs.