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The Coming U.S. Pilot Shortage Is Real

With upward of 20,000 cockpit seats expected to open up at U.S. airlines over the next seven years due to FAA-mandated age-65 retirements, the scene should be set for the pilot pipeline to work as designed: Regional pilots working for low wages finally get their chance to move quickly up to the big leagues of heavy metal and significantly higher salaries—and college and flight school graduates gain access to the right seats of regional jets. ( More...

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flyingj481 12
I 100% agree. With regionals having pay starting around $20K/year, there can't be any shock that there is a shortage of new pilots. It's getting very hard to justify the cost of a pilot degree and ratings, and the new ATP rules don't help.
bighoss81 7
I'm one of them,senior in high school and I have always wanted to become pilot for my career. However the numbers just don't make sense. Pay more than the average four year degree only to get paid minimum wage.
ashepley17 7
There is not a pilot shortage, there is a shortage of pilots working for that pay.
WtfWtf 13
The wage shortage is precisely why this rated pilot works as a programmer.
justin chavez 5
I'm with you. My first day on the job writing code paid more that I was earning with my ATP and 7000 hours of experience... And I go home every night...
preacher1 5
Looks like with that ATP and 7000 hours you could have walked into any 121 mainline.
justin chavez 2
Not so much... They like regional guys with glass cockpit/shiny jet time.
preacher1 4
I heard that. Somebody will realize their mistake someday though. I've got mine made and retired. Good luck on your coding. I just hate to see those hours go to waste but a man has to look out for himself and money is what makes the world go round; and there is a lot to be said for being at home every night.
Mike Mohle 4
And this ATP as a sales person.
Toby Sharp 3
Flight Instructor here doing Accounts Payable Crap.............
Steve Whelan 0
And I make more as an X-ray/CT tech with a two year degree than I ever made in 18 years of professional aviation with a 4 year degree. Plus I don't have coworkers dying on the job like I did with 8 years of fixed wing EMS flying.
I agree with all of you on this one. I'm a former Marine Corps pilot who now works as a project manager for an industrial company and I make 5 times as much as I would have going to the regional's. Not to mention I am home every night and I don't have to deliver pizzas like all of my old college friends who are still flying for scraps. At least in the military they pay their pilots a decent wage, had I gone to someone like Great Lakes I would have been looking at a $60k a year pay cut. I know too many guys who have families even single guys who can't afford to take that kind of hit, especially when you are half way through your career.
jwlansford 1
This ATP is making four times regional starting pay as an engineer. Flying shiny metal is not worth the intolerable quality of life that comes with it. Seven years out of flight school and I am finally able to contract part time as a pilot. However with the current seniority structure of airlines, they will never see me walk through their door.
juan Malave 5
The problem is a the regionals, not the majors. The market for new pilots will dictate a huge change, nobody will be willing to spend about 100k and 4 years of their lives to get paid a miserable salary in the regionals to start their careers as professional pilots.
Yep. There is a wage shortage. However, folks have been talking about a pilot shortage for years. . .
El Thirtynine 3
The majors' board of directors say they have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to attract the talented CEOs to head the company. Oddly enough, that mindset doesn't filter down to the people that actually operate the company.
preacher1 4
Well, at some point, the big guys will suck the pool dry and will be forced to do something then. It could be a takeover of the regionals and a corresponding wage increase or a simple contract amendment that would allow the regionals to increase pay, but if there aren't enough people in the pipeline to fill everything, it won't matter if they double the pay. Coupled with that will be loss of service to some places if there is nobody to fill the pointy end. I'm just glad mines over and done with.
HowSwedeitis 1
I think the biggest problem is the college degree requirement/high tuition. Give me a skilled, high school-educated aviator over a college-indebted opportunist any day! Do I really care if the guy in the right seat got an A in European history? Do I really care if he/she “proved” something by having a business degree? I want a pilot, not a wannabe airline CEO…
Robert Morley 2
I agree there is no pilot shortage. There is, as some have pointed out, a shortage of decent, livable wages. There is also a great deal of discrimination in Aviation, especially among older pilots. But that's all changing because the "Bean Counters" and CEO's are beginning to realize they shot themselves in the foot big time and the repercussions of their cold-hearted tactics are now biting them in the ass! They are the ones who created this mess and I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts they're going to try to find a way to make someone else pay for it!
preacher1 1
I think what is happening that some of the bean counters at the majors are getting close to retirement themselves and are fixing to let it be somebody else's problem. I think that's called kicking the can on down the road. Our congress is good at that and they are the ones that made this mess in a knee jerk reaction anyway.
Robert Morley 1
Yes, "They" were also instrumental!!
preacher1 2
I say knee jerk reaction, on the Colgan crash, and both of those pilots had more than the 1500 hours required. I'd rather have 850 in the right seat with an interest in flying and all things about it than a 1500 hour banner puller. As a matter of fact I did. Came to me with about 600, now has close to 10000 and since I have retired, is Director of Flight Ops for the company. Hours ain't the answer. Decent pay and treatment goes a long ways,
Jim Nasby 2
Hmm... anyone see the problem here?

"Simply berating the regional airline industry to pay more will not work. Its salaries are locked by two main drivers: cost-fixed contracts that the regionals hold with mainline carriers, and pilots’ collective bargaining agreements. Consolidation in the airline industry has meant regionals have less leverage in increasing contract amounts. “The airline has little control to raise pay unilaterally because they won’t get the contract,” explained Roger Cohen, then-president of the Regional Airline Association."

So first we can't wage raises because supply and demand is apparently broken for regionals. But why is it broken? Because your competitor will get the contract? And just where are *they* going to get pilots from?

I think it's pretty absurd that any ATP makes the same (or less!) than what a lot of service industry (waiters, etc) make, even if you ignore the enormous difference in education costs.

Oh well, at least it keeps skydiving prices down (since that's a popular way to build turbine time).
BurntOut 2
AIrlines have to keep costs down (increasing shareholder value) so when there aren't the pilots with the requisite hours available in the USA to fill the left seats they are going to ask congress for work visas to bring in pilots from overseas to fly the planes. This hiring stategy works for the hotel and hospitality industry and it will work for the airlines. All it takes is a little grease on the appropriate palms and it will happen. Get used to it - WalMart is in everyones future, some sooner than others.
Peter Adeogun 1
I don't think this would happen because foreign pilots are well paid. The lowest paid pilots in the world is in the USA, sad but it's true.
bbabis 1
I too am glad that I'm winding down my career. Part 91 all the way with only a few different jobs but many types and lots of fun. I just enjoy limo driving more than bus driving. Every person I meet working their way up the aviation ladder I encourage but there is one thing not mentioned in the article and hasn't been here. That is the other option to end the pilot shortage. When pilots are no longer needed there will be no more shortage. Since the inception of passenger operations the necessary crew to operate large aircraft has moved from 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 and you better bet that airline managers are looking at 1 and none options for the future. Crew members are just along for the ride to the space station and back and the Military is flying drones of all sizes. It always has and will again filter into civilian operations.
Robert Morley 1
Actually they're looking at NONE!!! Artificial Intelligent Computer Controlled Aircraft are already being developed and tested!!
I remember "paying my dues" back in the 60's as a ship cleaner, "honey bucket",fueler,ramper etc guy to A&P to CFI on the side to build time.The paying the dues process was lengthy then and lengthy now!
If you want it bad enough you will "fill the squares".With that said I got to retire as an International Captain flying the B-767 ER.This generation appears to want it right now--sorry you gotta "go with the flow".It may not sound "FAIR" buts the WAY IT IS! Get over it and press on!
How easily we forget all the factors that go into hiring a pilot. Are there thousands of licensed commercial and ATP Pilots with valid medicals?? Probably. How are their driving records? Tickets... DUI's... Too many tickets or a DUI are automatic dis-qualifiers for being hired at reputable airlines. How do your numbers avoid a shortage with those factors in mind. If you can't drive a car responsible you think an airline is gonna let you sit in the right seat?? Yeah right. I agree there are thousands of pilots who could easily start working...however how many would be disqualified once all factors are taken into consideration. It's like a math problem.. even if the 17 steps you did were correct for one problem, that step where you forgot the negative sign makes the whole problem incorrect! There is a pilot shortage.
Randall Grier 1
I have been in aviation since 1988 flying my personal aircraft to my meetings around the United States, Canada and Central America. I discovered right away that airplane parts, maintenance and cost very way over priced. I watched many of my friends who desired to fly for the airlines, one day, eat baloney sandwiches, work at gas stations and flight instruct to pay their bills. It is wrong for the airlines to do this. Many just could not make it and gave up. I fault the airlines for their cheap salaries they pay good pilots beginning their careers. Why not take the CEO of these airlines and pay them those salaries and see if they can feed their families. If they walk a mile in the pilots shoes they will change their methods.
Jim Ries 1
Just wondering.....I thought the retirement age was 60 for pilots?
HowSwedeitis 1
Having read about “pilot shortages” for the last 15 years, I am naturally skeptical of such claims. ESPECIALLY when these claims are made by those whose primary source of funding is from flight schools promising the world to young aviation enthusiasts. (And all too often delivering nothing more than shattered dreams and astronomical debt.) A pilot shortage is just the thing to motivate people to walk through their front doors.
However I can see how the coming wave of soon-to-be 65 year olds and the obscene 1,500 hour minimums for beginning pilots could (and perhaps will) have an impact on future airline staffing, particularly regional. Many commentators have spoken about poor pay, low benefits, and tedious working environments at the regionals. This is a non-starter for me. How many times have you heard a student pilot and/or enthusiast say, “I’d fly for free” or an old timer talk about “coming up through the ranks”? There is something deeply rewarding about starting with low pay and tough hours; I believe it really makes you appreciate the better pay, hours, and working conditions at the majors when you arrive. Seniority and “coming up through the ranks” imparts a kind of respect for the position, the career, and your peers. What’s unfair is the added burden (often times crushing) of college debt. Why is this? Why do our airline pilots have anything more than pilot’s licenses? If a pilot wishes to move out of the cockpit and into the office (IE chief pilot, corporate position, etc.) then by all means, he should attain the necessary skills to do that (a degree). But to fly a plane? What does a bachelor’s degree in communications do to serve a pilot other than having a great PA message? What does a bachelor’s degree in marketing do to serve a pilot other than towing an ad banner? These degrees are useless to pilots, passengers, and airlines. The only purpose they serve is to make colleges & universities richer.
If airlines, politicians, whoever are concerned about a pilot shortage, real or not, large or small, they are best served by working to first pressure airlines to scrap this ridiculous, discriminatory practice of college degree requirements. Second, airlines should help to alleviate the cost of flight school and hours attainment. Third, airlines should assist new pilots with housing resources. Finally, and only then, should regional pay be considered.
TailspinT 1
Boeing is developing an ab-initio training program, paid by airlines It's an investment in their own future. Boeing's worried airlines won't buy aircraft because they can't attract pilots, so they're going to try to fix the problem themselves.
And where is this being done? Apparently overseas. the article states, "Boeing is partnering with seven international flight schools, including two in Asia and one in South Africa . . . "
Jason Wood 1
It's been several years for me since I dealt with getting hired but it seems to me that right now there is a great opportunity. I became an aerospace engineer at a major university and took flying lessons at the same time at the local airport. I made the decision in the second semester of my freshman year of college to become a professional pilot. I worked hard flying almost everyday I could while simultaneously continuing my studies as an engineer. I did not come from a family that had any money (my father divorced my mother and left us nothing when I was nine years old) so it was important to keep costs at a minimum. When I showed up to fly I was always prepared ( more hours of chair flying because that cost was free!). I got all my ratings at the minimum hours required and had everything done in 1 1/2 years. The total cost was approximately $9000 dollars. The first semester of my junior year I began working at the same FBO I received all my ratings. I was paid a whopping $8.00 per flight hour and $6.00 per ground instructional hour. The pay was bad BUT no more money was going out now. The rest of my flight training was therefore paid for by someone else. By the time I graduated, I had 1000 hours of time of flight time as a CFI and charter pilot. My contemporaries did things similarly and were getting corporate jobs or regional airline jobs usually a year later. I chose the military, did six years, got out, and am in my 24th year with a great major airline (currently hiring with no foreseeable end to hiring).

My whole rant is to say that first it can be done, secondly it doesn't have to cost that much. You don't have to get an Embry Riddle degree for $200,000. A small airport next to me has a group of retired airline pilots that instruct for very low rates. In fact, they have a program where you get one hour of free instruction (with aircraft) for a certain amount of work around the airport. I have a property in a fly-in community and there are many guys that just would love to take a new pilot under their wing.

Yes, the beginning wages are terrible but with dedication, you can have a flying job ( not for much money though) but to quickly gain flight time. Working as a charter pilot was $10 per hour. The Air Force only paid me $1,000 every two weeks when I was a 2nd lieutenant. Getting 1500 hours was the standard to get an ATP in my day. It was only for few short years that it was less. So to complain that now you need 1500 hours is a moot point.

So yes, you have to pay your dues. Complaining gets you ABSOLUTELY nowhere. If you want it bad enough and work hard you can get there. I have moved quickly up the ranks and have also been furloughed. BUT looking back, I wouldn't trade a moment!
ToddBaldwin3 1
Seems to me the article just barely mentioned one of the biggest impediments to the training pipeline, the high cost of earning that ATP. With many of the recent changes, it has become much more expensive.
preacher1 2
What will be the kicker is when so many look at that cost on the front end and opt for another career field entirely. Then there won't be anything but a dry pipeline and if things came around to replenish it, you would have several years involved before the first applicant could come out. Probably by the time all that happens, all these recruiters will be gone and it will be somebody else's problem, but eventually it will be a problem.
I'm sure there will be a pilot shortage. The Regional Csrriers will be the ones to suffer. Legacy Carriers are now paying descent wages and will get their pilots from the Regionals. I started as a pilot with Pan Am in 1967. Then United and I'm now a Flight Operations Instructor with Virgin America. At 74, I just can't get Aviation out of my system. Well worth the ride!
preacher1 2
Well, with 20000 retirements coming about, the majors will do OK for awhile, BUT, an RJ pilot shortage will affect the majors as well as there will be nobody to take those pax on from the various hubs and they will wind up taking them back over like they used to anyway. At that point is when the true tale will be told.
flyink 1
I have reading these forums for a long time now and finally decided its time to say something... No one is forcing these young pilots to work for the regionals. Pt 91 and Pt 135 are viable options that have many up sides, pay being one of them. The market bears $24k for a right seater and as soon as guys quit applying then the wages will go up. Thats where the shortage will be. As long as there is a line of applicants out the door then the $24k/yr won't change and there will be shortage. I personally don't feel sorry them because of all the "other" flying jobs out there that have better pay, granted some people think flying a Lear on 135 might not be as cool as flying an RJ, I fly neither at the moment, fyi.
preacher1 2
There aren't many around but I was blessed. I had a pocket full of tickets and started as FE on a 707 for a company in 1973 that was chartered 135 but operated pretty much as a 91. I elevated on into left seat on that and then we bought a 757, which I flew for 26 years, retired, came back for a year or so to hire and train newbies and fly a CRJ 200, a 767 and a King Air 90Gti. Money and retirement was far better than anything a 121 had to offer. Point is, those jobs are out there but you have to look for them and know the right people. Those jobs don't get advertised except by word of mouth.
nofossil70 1
I walked into a regional with 600 hrs. Worked for 275.00 a month for two years. Made Captain in 5 years. Worked hard and retired with 35 years and great retirement from the best airline in the USA.

What's wrong with comming up through the ranks.
Mike Mohle 7
Current cost of living, maybe?????? Houses used to cost $5,000 too.
ashepley17 -1
Best airline in the USA= United?
nofossil70 3
No DELTA is best
HowSwedeitis 1
You're talking about an industry that's changed drastically in the last forty years. There's nothing wrong with coming up through the ranks; as a matter of fact it's great, you really appreciate what you have. But coming up through the ranks shouldn't include having two heavy feet on your shoulders, those feet being unbearable college/flight time debt and unrealistic demands from regionals...
Sean Keehner 1
I can clearly see there is a common theme here. Too much demand and not enough pilots. The wages are clearly too low for the responsibility they shoulder. I have an instructor at our local airport who took a job at PSA for what I heard of under $20k a year for the right seat position. I bet flight attendants are getting more than that. I do understand this is a regional carrier, but, to expect someone to survive on a minimal salary and fly a multi million dollar aircraft with precious cargo is unreasonable.Before I got into GA flying 12-1/2 years ago, I had not idea these people were so poorly paid. The flying public needs to be made aware of this issue and not just hear about low inventory of pilots. They need to know the reason why.
GolfrGuy7 2
I Completely agree with you about the low wages, but just to clarify, first year pay at PSA is around $24k, depending on how much you want to fly. Unfortunately this is the case at pretty much all regionals. I've been at my regional for < 1 year and I've already had to bypass my upgrade slot because I don't yet have the required 1000 hours of part 121 time. The quick upgrade times right now make the first year pay a little more tolerable, but it is still painful nonetheless.
Sean Keehner 1

24k per year based on a 40 hour work week is only 12.00/hour!! Obviously you cannot fly that many hours, but it is a shame to work for "peanuts".....ATC's are making about 60-70k per year if you can get in there....
Mike Mohle 1
Best of luck to you, Ben. Hope you are able to stick with it and look forward to seeing you wearing 4 bars and at the pointy end of a 797 SST someday, making the Chicago to Hong Kong run in 4.5 hrs.!!!!!
Matt Lacey 0
Sounds like the flying public needs to note there will be an increase in the price of tickets. Ultimately the revenue for this only comes from one place. Can't argue with it. The free market works, as much as they tell us it doesn't. Or worse, they regulate a market, which breaks it, then tell us it's free and doesn't work.
FlyingTigerDPH -2
Pay up.
carl schultz 1
I'm a curious healthy 78 yr old with 5500 hours multi engine non turbo,.....would I be hired by any company?
paul patten 0
Give me a break. There was a time when anyone of you would have traded your mother to get a right seat job on a DC-3, 6 or even a BE-18 just to built time. It may be 2015 now but many of you are just a bunch of weenies.


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