Pilot Shortage

Pilot Shortage

Global Pilot Shortage

Global pilot shortage is ‘one of the biggest challenges’ facing the airline industry, says Boeing CEO. Boeing expects the need for 600,000 new pilots globally in the next two decades. The civil aviation industry alone will need 260,000 new pilots over the next decade, according to CAE. However, the aviation industry does not have enough pilots to meet the growing demand resulting in pilot shortage. Oliver Wyman expects global pilot shortage to reach 80,000 by 2032.

North America is already facing an acute pilot shortage, which accounts to 11% of pilot supply or 8,000 pilots. The region is expected to face a shortage of 30,000 pilots by 2032.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), at its peak, there were 84,520 airline pilots in America in 2019. The number has declined since COVID as many took early retirement. American Airline says that one third of its 15,000 pilots will retire in the next 7 years. A data from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shows that half of all licensed airline pilots in the US are within 15 years of their retirement age.  A government estimate in US expects the country to face a shortage of 18,000 pilots annually for the next decade.

There’s a similar situation in Middle East. The Middle East does not produce enough pilots locally and the Middle Eastern Airlines mainly rely on foreign pilot recruits to meet their operational requirements. Growth in air travel demand and aggressive expansion of Middle Eastern Airlines has resulted in pilot shortage in the region. Middle East is forecast to face a shortage of 3,000 pilots by 2023 and 18,000 pilots by 2032.

Europe currently does not have pilot shortage and the situation will likely remain so until the middle of the decade. However, Europe is also expected to face a shortage of 19,000 pilots by 2032.

Reasons for Pilot Shortage

In US, one of the major reasons for pilot shortage is the aging pilot population facing mandatory requirement. Currently, FAA requires the commercial pilots to retire by age 65. According to RAA (Regional Airline Association), 5,000 pilots will reach retirement age in the next 2 years and 14,000 pilots will age out by 2026.

The COVID pandemic also dealt a huge blow to the industry. Amid global shutdown and halt in air traffic, the airlines chose to shrink their workforce by offering early retirement packages to their senior pilots. However, as the travel restrictions were lifted and the flight demand grew unexpectedly, there were not enough pilots to meet those demand.

Many of the industry experts also blame strict and lengthy requirements to become a pilot as one of the reasons resulting in pilot shortage. For example, in US, FAA requires 1,500 hours of flight time to apply for air transport pilot license. Few of the airlines have asked to reduce this requirement. However, despite being controversial, 1,500 hours requirement is also critical to flight safety.

High cost to become a pilot is another reason preventing many students from pursuing this career path and resulting in pilot shortage. In US, it costs $91,995 to become a pilot for those with no previous experience and $71,995 for those who already have a private pilot certificate. In Europe, it can cost £13,000 to £79,950 to become a pilot depending on whether you are pursuing a Private Pilot License or an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL).

Pilot Shortage Solutions

One of the probable solutions to pilot shortage is to make pilot training more affordable and accessible. For example, AeroGuard Flight Training Center in association with Meritize provides merit-based funding options to qualified students. This program also takes an applicant’s academic history or military service into consideration, helping many qualified applicants to easily receive required funding for pilot training.

ATP Flight School, the largest flight training institute in the US has expanded its training capacity and actively coordinates with its airline partners to tackle pilot shortage issue. ATP now operates satellite training centers and has increased enrollments by almost 50% (2,500). ATP plans to train 20,000 airline pilots by 2030.

Lawmakers have also proposed legislation to raise mandatory commercial airline pilot retirement age in the US from 65 to 67 years. The “Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act” would not change any other pilot training and qualifications requirement besides age.

Regional airline, Republic Airways also proposed to reduce the 1,500 flight hours requirement to 750 hours. However, many oppose this proposal as it might also raise flight safety concern.

Few of the airlines have hiked pilot pay to tackle pilot shortage. Foe example, American Airlines owned regional carriers have announced to raise pilot salary by 50% through the end of August 2024 to attract more pilots.


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