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Boeing 2022 Pilot Outlook

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For followers of the US aviation industry, the ongoing pilot shortage is hardly a mystery. At every level of the community – from flight instructors to major airline pilots – companies are fighting for a finite supply and providing more competitive wage and benefit packages to attract, and retain, talent.

For an industry ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic then thrust into an incredible surge as travel rebounded, the ups and downs of the last few years have provided for wildly different hiring demands. Boeing’s 2022 Pilot and Technician Outlook explores their worldwide forecast for personnel demands over the next two decades. Certainly subject to change as the world geopolitical atmosphere and external factors influence the market, the outlook provides insight from the world’s second largest airliner manufacturer.

The Pre-Covid Environment

In the US, prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry was already showing signs of stress in the hiring pipeline. Airline employee numbers were at their highest level since 2003. Fueled by the mandatory retirements at age 65 of children of the “baby boomer” generation, airlines began struggling to fill pilot seats. The Airline Safety Act of 2010 had required airline First Officers to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, the same as Captains, effectively bumping the hiring minimum hours for regional airlines to 1,500 and leading to regional airlines competing for a small pool of qualified applicants. Major airlines were planning for over 2,000 pilots retirements in 2020; shoring up training departments and turning up the volume of hiring.

The World Stops: 2020

By spring of 2020, Covid had spread worldwide and aviation was in turmoil. Passenger traffic in April fell 96% compared to the previous year. The few planes flying were operating nearly empty while the ramps at major airports and remote fields were lined with parked airplanes tucked wingtip to wingtip – sealed up for a sit of unknown duration. Major US airlines rapidly retired airplanes that were scheduled to be in service another decade while their regional feed began to dwindle, with companies including ExpressJet and Compass Airlines closing their doors for good. Many corporate departments and charter companies parked airplanes. Outside of cargo flying, which soared as shopping moved almost exclusively online and medical supplies were needed around the world, the skies emptied and the industry ground to a halt. Airlines offered early retirements and buyouts to many employees, and an estimated 30,000 pilots left the industry in 2020 alone.

Recovery and Replacement

As vaccines arrived and Covid began to ease, demand for air travel began to soar. Business and leisure travelers pushed demand to not only match, but exceed, pre-pandemic levels in the US. Pilot hiring at every level struggled to keep pace, with major airlines canceling tens of thousands of flights due to a lack of personnel. The deficit is exasperated by two factors unique to the aviation industry:

At the regional airline level, First Officers are generally starting their first airline job. By law, to become Captains they must fly 1,000 hours as second in command – a measure designed to give them real-world experience under the supervision of a more senior pilot. However, this same law means that to perpetuate the training pipeline, a new pilot must effectively fly 1,000 hours as a First Officer then 1,000 hours as a Captain (in order to allow time for his or her replacement to build the needed time). Every Captain that exits before 1,000 hours leaves the airline in a deficit and with the constant hiring by major airlines, the regional airlines began shrinking and parking planes despite soaring travel demand.

Secondly, at all levels of airlines the training footprint is long due to the extensive requirements. A new pilot at a major airline can easily be in training for several months, a problem exacerbated by the sheer numbers of pilots being hired with a limited number of instructors, examiners, and simulators. That same pilot could leave his current carrier with just a few weeks of notice, leaving the airline utilizing reserve pilots to fill gaps in the schedule for several months until a replacement is brought onboard and trained.

The Boeing Report

Reflecting on the vast changes in the industry during Covid and the recovery, the Boeing report provides interesting insight into the state of the pilot, technician, and cabin crew market. The report is summarized perfectly in its last sentence: “In conclusion, demand for pilots is likely to soar…over the next 20 years, 602,000 new pilots will be needed to meet demand from commercial operators.” To put that in perspective, for 602,000 new pilots to reach the Commercial Pilot level (250 hours, by US Part 61 regulations) would require a combined total of over 150 million flight hours of training.

The report notes the growth of airline-sponsored cadet programs, along with the various partnerships forged between airlines, charter companies, and flight schools such as Aeroguard’s pipeline to Skywest Airlines. Additionally, non-airline companies such as Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets, by far the world’s largest fractional aircraft operator, hire a huge number of retired airline pilots, effectively allowing a complete circle for professional pilots to sustain their flying after mandatory airline retirement.

Finally, the report briefly touches on the advances in unmanned aircraft along with the potential of single pilot airliners, though it notes it is unlikely to have any substantial effects in the next two decades.

The Demands of an Industry in Demand

As flying demand is forecast to remain high in the US, the need for pilots will continue for the foreseeable future. With the Boeing report stating the industry should average a need for over 6,000 pilots per year in the US alone, potential aviators can be excited knowing the level of demand and the wide array of options available to them. No matter your aviation destination – instructional, corporate, airline, or otherwise – a solid foundation of professional flight training can help ensure you are ready for every step of your airborne career.

To learn more about AeroGuard’s professional flight training options, visit us here.

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