Why is there a Pilot Shortage?
For many years, the core demographic of professional airline pilots has been 40-60-year-olds that first entered the industry prior to the 2000s or entered the career through a military-trained background. However, with an FAA-mandated retirement age of 65 years old, the major airlines in the U.S. are now facing a situation where thousands of their pilots are set to retire within the next few years, representing a significant portion of their workforce. This is the leading cause of the pilot shortage in the U.S..
In addition to this attrition of current pilots, the demand for air travel continues to grow and is expected to do so for years to come. For the past 50 years, the airline industry has doubled in size every 15 years, and projections expect this to continue as flying becomes safer, cheaper, and easier than its alternatives.
On average, each aircraft in an airline fleet requires 12 full time pilots on staff. While only 2 pilots may fly at any point in time in the cockpit, this ratio keeps those planes in operation around the clock, day in and day out. With airlines placing orders for 100s of new planes, this translates to thousands of additional pilots needed to be trained and hired for them to fly
For the major airlines, the solution to this pilot shortage (at least in the short term) is relatively simple, as they look to hire their pilots from the regional airlines earlier in that pilots’ career. However, not only can this solution not last for long, but it forces the problem to the regional airlines as they look to secure their own hiring plans, knowing pilots will likely leave them for the major airline carriers after only a few years.
The airline pilot shortage will not be easy to solve, but it does create a very positive outlook for the pilots themselves, making their hiring, retention and pay critical to an airline’s success.