4 billion plane passengers took to the skies. By 2036, this number is predicted to almost double.
You’d assume with all this business growth, the number of pilots would be growing to meet the demand. However, over the past few decades, the number of commercial, business, and private pilots has continued to shrink.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there have been about 827,000 pilots within the U.S. in 1987. Since then, the number of pilots in the industry has gone down by 30 %.
Boeing predicts that the aviation industry will need 790,000 new pilots by 2037 to satisfy growing international demand, with 96,000 of those pilots needed in business aviation.
Although major American airlines aren’t experiencing the results of the pilot shortage yet. Smaller regional airlines are beginning to suffer. Flight schedules have been reduced, and some have already gone bankrupt thanks to low pilot staffing.
What’s inflicting the Pilot Shortage?
A “perfect storm” of factors over the past three decades has helped to form the pilot shortage the industry is currently facing.
From baby boomers reaching retirement to the Airline Deregulation Act. Here are five reasons for a worldwide pilot shortage and solutions to bring more pilots into the fold.
1. Baby Boomers are Retiring
Baby boomers make up nearly 500th of pilots flying nowadays. And nearly half of boomer pilots who are presently flying for major U.S airlines will reach the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots in the next ten years (65 years old).
Congress modified the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots from sixty to sixty-five in 2009. Although this might have helped the aviation industry in the short-run. Some younger pilots believe this change blocked career advancement opportunities. Leading them to seek alternative positions outside of aviation.
2. Airline Deregulation Act
Many airlines are still being affected by the consequences of the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act. Before the act, the federal government controlled airfares, routes, and also the entry of new airlines into the market.
The deregulation act created a free market for commercial airlines. That decreased fares and increased the number of passengers and available flights. several new low-priced carriers popped up, allowing a lot of Americans to fly more often.
This act also led to several carriers going under who couldn’t keep up with the new competition. Between 1978 and 2001, eight major commercial carriers (like eastern, Midway, Braniff, Pan Am, Continental, and Northwest Airlines) and over a hundred smaller airlines went bankrupt or were liquidated.
3. Stricter Safety requirements (AKA the 1,500 Hour Rule)
In 2013, the FAA upped the required training hours for pilots trying to get their air transport Pilot certificate (ATP). The new 1,500-hour rule required all commercial airline co-pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of accumulated flight time, up from just 250 hours.
The new rule additionally requires that pilots earn an extra 1,000 flight hours before they can serve as captains.
Congress also modified the duty-time rules in 2010 to help relieve pilot fatigue. Airlines had to increase their pilot staffing by 5-hitter to 8 to cover an identical schedule. That means they required to hire even more qualified pilots — at the same time that extra required hours were putting more barriers between pilots and positions with commercial airlines.
4. Fewer Pilots Provided by the Military
In the Eighties, around two-thirds of airline pilots had received their pilot training serving in the military. Now, that proportion has shrunk to less than one-third. And this is also a factor to pilot shortage issue.
This decrease in trained military pilots aligns with the military’s increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Lower demand for military pilots means aspiring pilots will have to pay for their own flight training, which is far from affordable (and can easily exceed $100,000).
5. financial Impacts of 9/11
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all airports were closed and flights were canceled for weeks. however once airports were reopened, airlines suffered a 30 % decrease in demand for months after the attack.
Canceled flights, reduced passenger demand, and higher spending for security measures led to major loss and bankruptcy for several American airline carriers. Even carriers without any past financial problems were forced to lay off many employees (or in American Airline’s case, up to 7,000 employees).
Increased TSA measures and baggage screenings led to an almost 6% decrease in airline passengers and a 9% decrease within the nation’s busiest airports, creating an almost $1 billion loss for the airline industry as a whole.
How can we Fix the Pilot Shortage?
Several airlines are taking the initiative to try and combat the pilot shortage. Airlines like JetBlue are providing employees the chance to train for the specific aircraft types that they use.
Other nationwide initiatives are focused on encouraging a lot of women to become pilots. However, training new pilots take time, and entering the field can be cost-prohibitive to some women candidates.
Another industry plan is to recruit AI-enabled automation to help relieve the growing demand. But safe, reliable AI technologies are probably more than a decade away from being prepared for use on commercial airline flights.
In less than a decade, the pilot shortage may begin to put the growth projected for global aviation in danger. Whether Congress needs to change the retirement age for commercial airline pilots to 70 or lower training hours for new pilots. Whether the industry as a whole has to increase wages or develop faster technology, something needs to change — and fast. If you have the passion for flight and you want to find more reasons to convince you to become a pilot read this article about the cool reasons to be a pilot