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Old 13th Nov 2012, 15:44   #1 (permalink)
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Serious U.S. pilot shortage since the 1960s

U.S. airlines are facing what threatens to be their most serious pilot shortage since the 1960s, with higher experience requirements for new hires about to take hold just as the industry braces for a wave of retirements.

Federal mandates taking effect next summer will require all newly hired pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of prior flight experience—six times the current minimum—raising the cost and time to train new fliers in an era when pay cuts and more-demanding schedules already have made the profession less attractive. Meanwhile, thousands of senior pilots at major airlines soon will start hitting the mandatory retirement age of 65.

A rule requiring new airline pilots to have at least 1,500 flying hours will postpone the day flight instructor John Adkins, above, can join a carrier.

Another federal safety rule, to take effect in early 2014, also will squeeze the supply, by giving pilots more daily rest time. This change is expected to force passenger airlines to increase their pilot ranks by at least 5%. Adding to the problem is a small but steady stream of U.S. pilots moving to overseas carriers, many of which already face an acute shortage of aviators and pay handsomely to land well-trained U.S. captains.

"This is going to come to a crisis," said Bob Reding, recently retired executive vice president of operations at AMR Corp.'s AAMRQ +0.26% American Airlines and now a consultant to FlightSafety International Inc., an aviation training provider.

Added Kit Darby, a consultant on pilot-hiring trends: "We are about four years from a solution, but we are only about six months away from a problem."

Estimates differ on the problem's magnitude. Airlines for America, a trade group of the largest carriers that collectively employ 50,800 pilots now, cites a study by the University of North Dakota's aviation department that indicates major airlines will need to hire 60,000 pilots by 2025 to replace departures and cover expansion.

Mr. Darby's firm calculates that all U.S. airlines, including cargo, charter and regional carriers, together employ nearly 96,000 pilots, and will need to find more than 65,000 over the next eight years.

In the past eight years, not quite 36,000 pilots have passed the Federal Aviation Administration's highest test, the Air Transport Pilot exam, which all pilots would have to pass under the congressionally imposed rules.

For passengers, the biggest impact is expected to be at smaller, regional carriers. They have traditionally been a training ground feeding pilots to the bigger airlines, which are expected to step up their poaching.

"Absent a game-changing shift in the supply of" pilots, small to midsize communities "are in jeopardy of losing some, if not all, their scheduled flights," Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, said in a July speech.

More than half of U.S. airline pilots are over 50, said Mr. Darby, the consultant, reflecting a bulge in new hires in the 1980s and scant hiring over the past decade.

In 2007, to bring the U.S. into alignment with some other countries, regulators extended the mandatory retirement age to 65 from 60. By some estimates, 80% of 60-year-old U.S. pilots now are staying on longer. But in December, the first of those who extended their careers will start turning 65.

Capt. John Silverman, a 64-year-old US Airways Group Inc. LCC +2.85% pilot, stuck around when the law changed but must retire in April. "I'm extremely healthy," he said. "I could do more time. But 65 is plenty."

The FAA's head of flight standards, John Allen, said at an industry conference this summer that the projected retirement numbers are "astounding and dramatic" and "we don't have a system to address this issue." A spokeswoman for the FAA said its official position is "to obtain data to determine long-term pilot staffing needs and solutions."

After a decade of consolidation and restructuring, some large carriers are planning to start hiring again. Delta Air Lines Inc. DAL +0.38% estimates it will need 3,500 new pilots over the next decade to maintain its ranks at 12,000, not including any growth. American Airlines recently said it plans to add 2,500 pilots over the next five years. United Continental Holdings Inc. UAL +1.18% has begun taking applications for a few positions in its Continental subsidiary.

Dave Barger, chief executive of JetBlue Airways Corp., JBLU -0.15% said in an October speech that the industry is "facing an exodus of talent in the next few years" and could "wake up one day and find we have no one to operate or maintain those planes."

There are limits to the ability of airlines, especially the regional carriers, to attract more pilots by raising wages. While the industry's health has improved in recent years, many carriers still operate on thin profit margins, with the airlines sandwiched between rising costs for fuel and unsteady demand from price-sensitive consumers.

Dan Garton, chief executive of AMR's regional American Eagle unit, said the issue "is going to become much more visible when regionals have to decrease their flying" for lack of pilots, and some smaller cities lose air service.

Mr. Garton said he has beaten the drum about the problem on Capitol Hill and at the FAA without success. The FAA said it has been encouraging discussions among industry officials to come up with solutions.

Some regulators and industry experts worry about the safety implications of having a smaller pool of applicants at a time when demand for pilots is rising. They fret that some smaller airlines could be forced to lower internal criteria and hire applicants with questionable skills or spotty training records.

"It certainly will result in challenges to maintain quality," said John Marshall, an independent aviation-safety consultant who spent 26 years in the Air Force before overseeing Delta's safety. "Regional carriers will be creative and have to take shortcuts" to fill their cockpits, he said.

Ahead of the new 1,500-hour rule, the Regional Airline Association has been testing its first officers regularly in preparation for meeting the standards, said Scott Foose, the trade group's vice president of operations and safety. "Working collaboratively with the FAA, hundreds of first officers have already received their new certificates and the rest are on track to obtain theirs," Mr. Foose said.

The military hasn't been a major source of commercial pilots for years, and the supply of new pilots has been dwindling. Among the reasons is that would-be fliers face expensive training with no guarantee of being hired by an airline once they complete it.

Third Coast Aviation, a flight school in Kalamazoo, Mich., said business is down 30% to 40% over the past five years. At California Flight Academy in El Cajon, Calif., the rolls are full, but almost entirely with foreign students who will soon return to their home countries. "We don't have locals learning to fly anymore," said Ash Dakwar, the academy's operations chief.

While no one tracks overall attendance at the nation's 3,400 flight schools, FAA data show annual private and commercial pilot certificates—both required to become an airline pilot—are down 41% and 30%, respectively, in the past decade. The National Association of Flight Instructors, in a research paper published this year, said that "there is no feasible way…to continuously supply qualified pilots for the demand of air carriers."

Congress's 2010 vote to require 1,500 hours of experience in August 2013 came in the wake of several regional-airline accidents, although none had been due to pilots having fewer than 1,500 hours.

Regional carriers now are racing to make sure their pilots have 1,500 hours by next summer, while also trying to bolster their ranks. But prospects with close to the required number of hours aren't numerous. "These people just don't exist," said Mr. Garton of American Eagle.

The FAA is trying to soften the blow. It has proposed a rule that would lower the requirement to 750 hours for military aviators and 1,000 hours for graduates of four-year aviation universities. But the exemption, if it goes through, may come too late, and it isn't expected to help most aviators in training anyway, because they come from other types of flight schools.

For them, the challenge of meeting the new requirements is uncharted and costly. "I'm stuck being a flight instructor for another year," said John Adkins, a 27-year-old pilot at California Flight Academy. He achieved the current minimum for being a co-pilot, but the new rule has delayed his dream to join an airline. "You don't make a lot of money as an instructor," he said.

The 1,500-hour mandate "has only discouraged a future generation of prospective pilots to pursue this career," said Mr. Cohen, from the regional airline group. Those who persevere "will try to get the 1,500 hours the fastest and cheapest way possible," he said. "Flying around in empty airspace or towing banners doesn't give you the training you need to fly a complex airplane."

The mandate applies to regularly scheduled passenger and cargo airlines flying jets and larger turboprops. Cargo airlines could also end up struggling to recruit sufficient pilots. Smaller planes, on-demand charters and business jets aren't covered by the new requirements.

The last big pilot shortage, in the 1960s, occurred because "everybody who was of a trainable age was in Vietnam," said Randy Babbitt, a former FAA administrator who was hired as a pilot in that era. Meanwhile, airlines were expanding as jets shortened trips and boosted traffic. Once the military pilots finished their tours, many joined airlines and the shortage problem receded.

A version of this article appeared November 12, 2012, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Airlines Face Acute Shortage Of Pilots.

Last edited by BlueSkyLife; 13th Nov 2012 at 16:18.
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Old 14th Nov 2012, 13:32   #2 (permalink)
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This is a BS story. There is no shortage of pilots in the U.S., just a shortage of pilots willing to work for welfare wages.
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Old 14th Nov 2012, 15:47   #3 (permalink)
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Yeah. $19-21 grand to be an FO with many regionals. I could earn more at Walmart.
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Old 14th Nov 2012, 15:54   #4 (permalink)
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Just another rant to up the retirement age
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Old 14th Nov 2012, 21:59   #5 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by HEMS Driver
This is a BS story. There is no shortage of pilots in the U.S., just a shortage of pilots willing to work for welfare wages.
Originally Posted by Tinstaafl
Yeah. $19-21 grand to be an FO with many regionals. I could earn more at Walmart.
Yep, if those airlines were offering a compensation package like FedEx's, they'd be flooded with applications, just like FedEx.

Not having pilots lining up for a position that pays just a little more than a job with the federal minimum wage is no the same as having a "pilot shortage"
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Old 15th Nov 2012, 05:34   #6 (permalink)
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However unfortunate it may be, pilots seem to be the only ones unconvinced by the old "pilot shortage" refrain. Flight training outfits go along because it helps them sell their product and airlines because getting more suckers to join the ranks of the hopeful applicants drives down wages. And Kit Darby, really? This guy has been making a living spouting this nonsense for decades. Oh well...

The bottom line is that Darby and anyone else benefiting from the so called "pilot shortage" just have more public credibility than a bunch of pilots wanting more money! If there were really a shortage of qualified pilots then that demand would filled by the thousands qualified pilots who simply cannot afford to fly for Burger flipper wages. Want fries with that sir?
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Old 15th Nov 2012, 06:32   #7 (permalink)
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Right On

No doubt you are truthful. No how, no way any pilot shortage in USA. Plenty of us guys out here with nearly 1500,and some with more than that. I am unable to count on both hands the amount of pilots that I personally know that have bailed, and gone into more secure and or lucrative work. I hate to tell you that a flight attendent, ramp agent at a major airline makes often more than first officers at regionals. Not to mention CFI's at foreign academys in Arizona and California. I am seeing some logic being used here for pilot shortage, but it doesn't mean there aren't enough guys out there. They just may not go back.
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Old 15th Nov 2012, 11:39   #8 (permalink)
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There will never EVER be a pilot shortage in the U.S.

Just a shortage of well paying jobs !
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Old 15th Nov 2012, 12:07   #9 (permalink)
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i'll believe there is a real pilot shortage when I see airliners parked on the ramp with a "help wanted" sign in the windshield
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Old 5th Dec 2012, 21:51   #10 (permalink)
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Here is a thought for this thread.

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Old 6th Dec 2012, 11:29   #11 (permalink)
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Pilot Shortage report from NPR- an interview with Lee Moak - President of ALPA, Roger Cohen - President of Regional Airline Association, and Andy Pastor (sp?) Wall Street Journal aviation reporter. Use the "listen" link to hear the entire show.

U.S. Airlines And A Shortage Of Pilots | The Diane Rehm Show from WAMU and NPR
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Old 8th Dec 2012, 15:55   #12 (permalink)
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When opportunistic journalism meets opportunistic airline executives, we end up with this kind of nonsense. Hear Sullys perspective:

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Old 9th Dec 2012, 01:04   #13 (permalink)
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I think Sully summed it up pretty well.

And if the day ever comes when airlines DO once again offer wages and conditions commensurate with the level of responsibility and judgment required of professional pilots, there will be little problem filling pilot slots. In order to attract the kind of people with the dedication and ability to do this job consistently and well over the long haul, there has to be a return on the investment of time, money and talent required just to qualify for an entry level pilot job.

Admittedly the age 65 rule coupled with the longest period of souring economic conditions for middle class workers since the 1930s is leading toward a bit of a "bubble" in demand for pilots. It's nothing that hasn't been anticipated for some time and couldn't easily be met by making the job a bit more attractive to the tens of thousands of pilots who already have the requisite experience but can't or won't work for fast food wages.

If the same people who constantly lobby congress for decreased regulation in order to promote a "free market" really believed their own press releases then they'd have no problem with paying more for an "in demand" human resource commodity like pilots. Another cost of doing business like fuel, airplanes and CEOs.

If airline fares have to go up to support the cost of doing business the demand for air travel will find balance with the cost of doing so. That's the real definition of a "free market". But that's apparently not the kind of balance being sought by the airline industry or any other for that matter. Not when a CEO can collect millions even as they drive their airline into bankruptcy and dump their employee pay/benefits/pensions with the full blessing of the government they bought and paid for.

So in summary don't expect pay of conditions to change very favorably anytime soon. My best advice is to marry into a rich family with the financial means to support your hobby!

In my estimation the best outcome from the coming hiring bubble will be simply that a few more slots will become available for moderately experienced pilots at a slightly increased starting pay. And that only if the government holds the line on experience requirements. Otherwise we'll see airline hiring go the same way it has in Europe: To the highest bidder!


The opinions expressed here are solely my own and based upon my personal observation, involvement and experience in the aviation industry as a pilot, mechanic and instructor over the last 28 years. It's a good thing I didn't put all my eggs in one basket or I'd be even worse off than I am! But like it or not aviation will probably remain my livelihood for the rest of my journey even if I never find another pilot job.

Best wishes,


Last edited by westhawk; 9th Dec 2012 at 01:13.
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Old 9th Dec 2012, 11:44   #14 (permalink)
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Basic math

43,000 retirements by 2020. That is roughly half of the Airline Pilots currently flying in the U.S.. There is a small percentage flying abroad and hundreds still on furlough(mostly the same pilots). With 3000 per year obtaining an ATP rating how does that not equal a pilot shortage? In 8 years you lose 43,000 and gain 24,000. Assuming zero growth at the Airlines and you will still have to compensate for losing 19,000 pilots overall. Lets not forget the higher minimums to qualify and the new rest rules. That i think should help the pilot community in the next few years.
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Old 11th Dec 2012, 05:29   #15 (permalink)
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I been hearing about the Great Pilot Shortage ever since I took my first flying lesson in 1974. I had a lot more flight time than 1500 hours before a Commuter would even answered my resume, telling me reapply when you got a 1000 hours twin time. This is so much BS. Some years back around 2007 I sent a resume as a lark to a Regional Jet Airline, I emailed a resume at 9 Am and the Chief Pilot was on the phone at 10 inviting me to interview. I went. I was also 52 at the time. I sat for the interview, it took maybe an hour, and offered me a class date, and they told me what the pay would be 19 an hour flight hour with a 65 hour min a month, I would be based at Midway Airport, at the time I held and ATP and a Bit over 14K for times. I could expect to upgrade to capt in 2 years. I said no. They were speechless. I knew it was BS before I even left to go, because the ticket they sent me had me changing airplanes 9 times to get to St. Louis. Go learn to fly because you want to and make a career out of it because you want to, not because some flight schools come up with this Pilot shortage business as a marketing tool. Pilots are a dime a bakers dozen in the United States and has been that way since the airplane was invented. It nothing new. Read Fate is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann he writes about what a crap job it really is and all the interference by the government and he wrote about it 60+ years go, about how it was 70+ years ago, nothing changed.
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Old 11th Dec 2012, 13:11   #16 (permalink)
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702, been lurking for a while but finally taking the bait. Your logic seems sound but I reckon that ideology went out the window a long time ago.

While your numbers make complete sense, the only way we will know the actual truth is when there is a TANGIBLE improvement in the terms and conditions of employment on offer. There really is no other yardstick that can be applied in accurately determining the legitimacy of these so called looming pilot shortages.

For years, if not decades, we have been hearing the same old story of supply and demand.... too many pilots, not enough planes. This was a repetitive reason to decimate our working conditions. If the converse is true then there has to be a significant upswing in what we get paid and how we are treated by these airlines.

Too many careers have been destroyed by a perceived surplus of pilots with the omnipresent threats of furloughs, shutdowns and degradation of T n C's. It is sad to see how the stature of pilots has declined with an accelerating pace to where it is at this moment.

Until there is a dramatic shift in the opposite direction this article, to me, will remain a mediocre piece of fiction.
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