Fact and Fallacy of the “Pilot Shortage”

March 1, 2016

THE PILOT SHORTAGE is here, and it’s been making headlines. Network news channels have been carrying the story, as have dozens of print and online sources. Earlier this year, Republic Airways, a large U.S. regional carrier that flies on behalf of American and Delta, filed for bankruptcy protection. It blamed the filing, in part, on a dearth of qualified pilots. Other carriers have been cancelling flights and mothballing aircraft.

Yes, the shortage is real. It’s critical, however, to make clear which sectors of the airline industry we’re talking about. The first step in this discussion is to categorize properly. First, we are looking specifically at the U.S. airline industry. Civilian pilots in the United States are responsible for securing their own FAA credentials, and for logging hundreds of hours of flight time before applying at an airline. It’s a long, slow, and very expensive process. Other countries often recruit pilots differently, with a growing reliance on so-called “ab-initio” programs, whereby young candidates are chosen from scratch, with no prior experience, and are groomed from the ground-up, so to speak, in a tightly controlled regimen that puts them in the cockpit of a jetliner very quickly. These programs are ultra-competitive and there is no shortage of applicants.

Even more importantly, we need to draw a sharp divide between the major carriers and their regional affiliates. It’s the latter that have the problem on their hands. By “regional airline” we’re referring to the numerous subcontractors who operate smaller jets and turboprops: those myriad “Connection” and “Express” companies, whose actual identities are usually concealed beneath the liveries of their major carrier affiliates. For civilian pilots, the typical career progression includes a substantial amount of tenure at the regional level before, assuming he or she is fortunate enough, progressing to a major.

Unless something changes drastically, the majors will continue to have surplus of highly qualified candidates to choose from. They are able to cull from from the top ranks of the regionals, as well as from the military (military pilots often progress directly from the armed forces to the cockpits of major carriers, effectively skipping the regional racket entirely). Even with the impending wave of retirements, a steady supply of experienced crews is unlikely to be depleted.

At the regionals it’s a different story.

How it came to this is both a long and short story. The short story is that pay at the regionals is terrible and working conditions are harsh. Keep in mind that becoming a licensed pilot in the first place, to the point where one is eligible to apply for an airline job — any airline job — requires a huge amount of time and money. It can take years, and the average pilots sinks well over a hundred thousand dollars into his or her flight training and education. Salaries at the regionals, meanwhile, begin as low as $20,000 dollars a year, and top out at under six figures. Schedules are demanding and benefits paltry; the relationship between management and the workers is often hostile. On top of all that, the regional industry is highly unstable. Carriers come and go in waves of mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies.

But this is nothing new. Pay and working conditions at these companies have always been substandard, and filling jobs has seldom been a problem. What’s different is that the regional sector has grown so large. It used to be very small, and pilots saw these jobs as a temporary inconvenience — paying one’s dues. It was a stepping stone toward a more lucrative position with a major. Today, regional jets account for an astonishing one half (53 percent was the last number I saw) of all domestic departures in the United States. Pilots are now realizing that a job at a regional could easily mean an entire career at a regional. Thus, a diminishing number of pilots have been willing to commit the time and money to their education and training when the return on investment is at best unpredictable.

AirlinePilotHiring Banner Ad

In the meantime, the FAA has enacgted tougher hiring standards for entry-level pilots. Over the past two decades, as the regional sector grew and grew, thousands of new jobs were created. To fill these slots, airlines sharply lowered their experience and flight time minimums for new-hires. Suddenly, pilots were being taken on with as little as 350 hours of total time, assigned to the first officer’s seat of sophisticated regional jets. Twenty or thirty years ago this would have been unthinkable. Then came a rash of accidents, including the Colgan Air (Continental Connection) disaster outside Buffalo in 2009. Regulators began taking a closer look at hiring practices, eventually passing legislation mandating higher flight time totals and additional certification requirements for new-hires.

Some airlines blame the shortage at least partly on these tougher rules. Technically they’re right, but really all the new regulations are doing is returning things to historical norms. My first job with a regional — “commuters” we called them in those days — was in 1990. Competitive applicants at the time had between 1,500 and 2,000 hours, and most of us had an FAA Airline Transport Pilot certificate as well. That’s more or less what the FAA requires today. The difference, of course, is that there are more jobs to fill.

An aspiring aviator has to ask, is it worth sinking $100,000 or more into one’s primary training, plus the time it will take to build the necessary number of flight hours, plus the cost of a college education, only to spend years toiling at poverty-level wages, with at best a marginal shot at moving on to a major? For many the answer is no.

The regionals, to their credit, have begun upping their salaries. Some now offer signing bonuses of several thousand dollars, while work rules also are improving. The cost structures of these carriers, whose existence is primarily to allow the majors to outsource flying on the cheap, limits how much they can lavish on their employees. But if they want to stay in the game, they have little choice, frankly, other than improving their pay and benefits.

Back to the Ask the Pilot Home Page Visit the Blog Archive Back to Top!

Leave a Comment

Maximum 1500 characters. Watch your spelling and grammar. Poorly written posts will be deleted!

70 Responses to “Fact and Fallacy of the “Pilot Shortage””
You are viewing newest comments first. Click to reverse order
  1. Carey says:

    The rule was put into place because RJs were hiring pilots with 200 hours and playing them less than the garbage man. Pilots took the jobs so they could have the chance of moving on to the mainlines where they would start their career (5-10 years in) making less than the gate agents and finishing their careers making less than the staff accountants who calculate these crappy pay rates. The industry has had AMPLE time to figure out what to do to handle the pilot shortage that EVERYONE KNEW was coming when the baby boom pilots began mandatory retirements. The problem is the reality of the pay caught up with them. The word got out and a generation figured out that the juice was not worth the squeeze. They really couldn’t AFFORD to be an airline pilot. The only money in the airlines is in the pockets of the senior leadership. It is ridiculous to blame the pilot shortage on a safety rule. The blame lies squarely with the the industry leadership that chose decades of big bonuses at the top and big dividends over sustainable pay for pilots. Too bad. I have zero sympathy. Start emptying your wallets you greedy morons.

  2. Benoit says:

    There will be a real shortage when airlines will recruit pilots with no experience on type, when they will finance the rating and so on… I do confirm that the industry need in order to reduce the pay scale a huge amount of unemployed pilots to select the most experienced at low cost…
    Trainee pilots, be ready to ruin yourself and to accept anything, and this is the truth…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Accept CPL Licences.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Lower your flight time limits to say 800 hours!

  5. Dutch Dekkers says:

    In two words: Well spoken!

  6. EMBguy says:

    I work in an industry where a fighter pilot with 800 hours of centerline thrust after how many years in the military to achieve that, is considered better than me by the majors. How much better is this person at flying a twin a fine airliner!? Not better, much worse, yet they get hired right in to delta flying a 757. I know this because I jump seated to New York City and watched an arrogant newbie do the expressway visual 31 in to Lga and it was pathetic. Embarrassing actually- dangerously embarrassing. I work in a field Where women are the cream of the crop in the hiring pool. Ladies, all for ya. Love you long… But, it’s garbage and you know it and you all admit it. And race, do I dare say this, matters as well. There is a huge affirmative action movement in the name of diversity in the hiring programs at these places. If you are male, white, and non military good fricken luck. And don’t waste our time debating this because we all know it’s true we all see it constantly. Even playing field? That’s all I’m asking for. Affirmative action was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Anyway, I thought I’d hit these points. We all know there is no shortage. It’s a pay problem. This stuff I mention is some of the icing on a cake.

  7. EMBguy says:

    The 1500 hour rule was created by congress because they were pissed and shocked at what the first officer of the BUF flight was making. They figured more experienced pilots would equal higher starting wages. Poor girl stayed in the crew room all night she couldn’t afford a hotel and I’m here to tell ya!!!! It’s still fucking happening!!! I see it, all the time. It goes on. People are piss broke and hating life. Over worked big time treading on fatigue constantly and not making fatigue calls for fear of punitive punishment- which the FAA approved, and fear of an even smaller paycheck.

    So, why can’t we make what were worth? Point the finger at management, unions, etc.. But read this. This drives me insane. Pilots cutting other pilots throats. Example beyond the scabbish behavior by our group. i sit next to a united guy the other day and exchange subtleties, sayin it’s been a long day. 8 hours flying 4 legs with a return to gate and no apu in 100 degree Austin, tx heat. Guy goes on to tell me of his 14 years at regionals and how my 4 years isn’t shit basically. Here’s another fun one. Delta guys. Nobody cares you work there and wear the hat all the time. Take your wind checks, my pay checks forged on my sweat, start landing on the correct runways, by your 5th wife something nice, and be nice. You no better than me.

    • Patrick says:

      I agree with some of what you’re saying, but you need to chill. Insulting your mainline colleagues is a little obnoxious, and does not reflect well on you.

  8. Jay says:

    Poverty level wages? I’ve heard a woman making a living wage flying for a regional jet airliner in two years. Two years meaning from a few flight lessons to professional jet pilot in that time frame. How is that possible if all these requirements are in play and airlines don’t normally hire inexperienced people even as first officers, especially for JETS? Is there a fast tracking program people don’t mention? Is it a quota due to it being seen as a male dominated field?

  9. Was going to be a career pilot back in the 80's but father talked me out of it says:

    My father retired from Delta in the mid 80’s, his monthly retirement pay is right at $12,500 a month. His monthly retirement. (read that very closely: THAT IS HIS “MONTHLY RETIREMENT PAY”-$12,500.00 A “MONTH” As you can see his “monthly” retirement is almost as much as much as the current annual salary for today’s RJ pilots. That’s SICKENING for today’s pilots, thus the very reason I have more enough hours and ratings to qualify for any airline captain position but choose NOT to fly for a living. The pay has gone to the dogs because the so called Pilots Union is nothing remotely close to a Union, in fact they shouldn’t be able to shut their eyes at night for calling themselves a Union. They do nothing to protect the Pilots, however they do protect the airlines in every sense of the word. They are more like a Union against Pilots for the Airlines Management team. Until the pay is compatible with the responsibilities they will continue to YELL Pilot Shortage, but that’s far from the truth. We could place an ad in the Airline Pilots Assoc “Local Major Airline looking for qualified Pilots; starting pay $100K with benefits package and 2 weeks paid vacation after first 6 months of employment……you all that thinks there’s a pilot shortage would find out real quick there’s NO SUCH SHORTAGE AT ALL, If anything there’s enough Pilots to staff 16 more major airlines, WE AS QUALIFIED PILOTS REFUSE TO FLY FOR PEANUTS.

  10. 46 year old 5,800 hr Non Flying Pilot working as an Engineer says:

    You are in total denial and/or you do not have the qualification to even read this board let alone journal in it. Read my Lips: THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF QUALIFIED PILOTS with PERFECT RECORDS WITH ZERO STRIKES ON THEIR PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL RECORD. As many other qualified pilots such as myself have already stated: Offer a starting salary of 100K and you’ll find out real quick there is NOT a shortage of qualified Pilots in this country. I GET SO SICK of hearing that there’s a shortage. The only shortage is pilots that aren’t willing to work for FREE. I’m making a great living as an engineer and could have a flying job tomorrow if I wanted to go on food stamps and there’s tens of thousands of pilots like me out there that chooses to not fly for free. How is it that a doctor has one life in his hands and makes $250K plus a year or much more and we as well experienced and well trained pilots have 300 plus lives in our hands and only get paid $20K to $60K on average (40+ years exp and close to retirement age maybe $120K+?
    THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF HIGH TIME PILOTS WITH EXTREMELY CLEAN RECORDS THAT ARE WILLING TO FLY IF THE SALARY IS COMMENSURATE WITH THE RESPONSIBILITY AT HAND. I mentor a lot of young men and women and a few of them are pilots, and of course I deter 100% of them from entering the pilot profession. the few already pilots flying RJ’s are on government subsidy (welfare, food stamps etc). Raise the salary and you’ll see there’s no where near shortage, Makes me laugh!

  11. Space Angel says:

    Capt. Smith is spot-on with this article. I fly for an airline you have heard of. We have heard rumors of problems with retention and applicant quality, but nothing definitive. However, go to airlinepilotcentral.com. Several regional airlines are offering signing bonuses. Trans States Airlines is offering $7500. If the nameless one who owns TSA is coughing up thousands for first officers, something is definitely going on. And they are offering interviews by Skype! (Cue Dylan’s “the times they are a-changin….'”)

  12. Suparshwa Shah says:

    With time, only rich and wealthy & NOT worthy will be able to pursue aviation

  13. Maurice Kinoshita says:

    The article neglects to state the obvious. Almost if not all of those crashes occurred with an ATP flying. So time counts for nothing. Competence and accountability are what matter. Renslow was an ATP that didn’t know how to fly ditto the Asiana 214 pilots that crashed the 777 into the seawall at SFO. Seriously, nobody watching the most critical parameter of flight-airspeed, during the most critical phase of flight-the approach. Wake up! This lack of airmanship / understanding of the aircraft’s controls lead to almost ever major accident on recent record Air France A330 stall, AA losing the vertical stabilizer, etc. ALL crashed by ATPs! The only competent crew that comes to mind was Sullenberger’s. The ATP rule and total time count for nothing. As for the pay issue it is the unions fault. If ever there was a need for merit pay this is it! Competent pilots are worth the money and incompetent pilots MUST be dismissed as people’s lives depend on it.

  14. Sam says:

    I have to be a little snarky here because I disagree that there is a shortage of pilots. I think there is a shortage of applicants. Drawing a line between majors/legacies and creating two markets is a little misleading in my view. The minimum qualifications to fly for a legacy and regional are now nearly equal at ATP plus some breakdown of time. Many people are getting hired at majors and ULCCs without the previously required 1000 TPIC. To me, this signals that we really have one pool of qualified pilots. Those pilots are choosing not to work for regionals if at all possible. They won’t work at a regional then “progress” to another regional; they’ll go “upward” if able.

    I think the GAO report on pilot supply used three indicators of a shortage

    1. Entry level wages increasing?
    2. Unemployment rate in the profession?
    3. Numbers/openings?

    To me only #1 provides any indication of a shortage. Although raising salaries from 17,000 to 30,000 is probably not going to draw significantly more applicants so I’m not sure it meets the threshold for triggering that indicator.

    If I built a hospital and offered minimum wage to doctors and nurses and didn’t receive any applicants is that a indication of a shortage? Both airline industry sectors have the same mandated minimum qualifications, engage in the same type of work and some times use the same equipment. I make the argument that the world airline business has one pilot supply and companies have to compete for the pilots

  15. Jim Houghton says:

    Is there some natural law that states regional airlines have to pay pilots less than a living wage and work them to death? What are the economics driving this thing? Obviously, people are not paying enough for their tickets, right? The majors want passengers to be able to get from Podunk to a hub so they can take that flight to Hawaii or Paris. And presumably the Podunkers want to take their vacation. So why aren’t the Podunkers paying what it costs to get them there with qualified and well-rested pilots all the way? And why aren’t the majors kicking in some money to ensure that there’s a supply of Podunkers coming to the hub to be transported long distance for big money?

  16. Jeff Guinn says:

    The major carriers will always have a surplus of highly qualified candidates to choose from. They are able to cull from from the top ranks of the regionals, as well as from the military. The impending wave of retirements won’t come close to depleting a steady supply of experienced crews.

    I fly for a major cargo carrier you might have heard of.

    Six months ago, our Chief Pilot said the supply of qualified pilots will be exhausted within three years.

    My company has about the same demographics as the rest of the majors. 30% of our seniority list will have to retire in next 8 years.

    No one has any idea where 20,000 pilots are going to come from.

    • Patrick says:

      I don’t know, Jeff. I’m not buying it. My own airline claims that it has FIVE THOUSAND pilots in its pool of “qualified applicants.” So long as the regional carriers can figure out a way to maintain necessary staffing levels, the majors will always have a fat supply of RJ pilots to pick from — plus whatever numbers the military can provide. So, it would behoove these carriers, as well as their major carrier affiliates, to make sure that salary and working conditions are adequate enough to ensure a steady supply of pilots.

      • Jeff Guinn says:

        Hi, Patrick.

        My own airline claims that it has FIVE THOUSAND pilots in its pool of “qualified applicants.”

        But how many of them are unique to your airline? If college applications are anything to go by, the average qualified applicant has has applied to more than one airline. Therefore, the actual number of qualified applicants is far fewer than the number of airlines times the number of applications.

        So long as the regional carriers can figure out a way to maintain necessary staffing levels …

        Here is the first rub. No doubt due to the turmoil in the industry since 9/11, and crappy pay and working conditions at the regionals, plus the out of pocket expense, the civilian pilot training pipeline isn’t nearly big enough.

        Making matters worse, the number of entry level jobs to build flight time is far fewer. For instance, back in the day a lot of guys flew checks to clearing banks at night. That doesn’t happen anymore.

        Which makes the initial hurdle — 1500 hours — that far harder to attain.

        Our chief pilot told us that regionals are now offering signing and retention bonuses, and that Delta is guaranteeing an interview to the guys at their feeder operations.

        So the free market is responding to limited supply with more money. Now, about that 10 year lag …

      • Edgar says:

        The air force has reported a shortage of pilots (20% since 2001) and is trying to replenish this with UAV flights. Our industry needs to figure out a happy mid ground or we are all going to get replaced by unmanned flight!

  17. Brian says:

    I’ve just been through an operator conversion course in the EU — one of the candidates paid 60.000€ to fly in the Maldives for 2 years. This is the problem: too many are willing to pay to fly, whilst those who ahve talent but no money never get the chance. The industry had only itself to blame.

  18. Stephen R. Stapleton says:

    There is never any such thing as an employee shortage. What there is a shortage of employers willing to pay the necessary wages to hire the people they need. I assure you, any regional carrier could get every pilot it needed and then some by simply paying $150,000 to start. Shortage over.

    About ten years ago a machinist shop owner was on a local call-in show bemoaning the lack of machinists and how he couldn’t hire enough or get the ones he had to stick around. I called in and bet him $1,000 I could hire as many machinists as he needed in a week. We were on the air and he took the bet. The next day, I met the owner and the radio show host at the station’s office. I placed an add on Craig’s List offering twice the prevailing wage and had enough very qualified people by the next day. The owner called foul because I raised wages. I told him that is how you get and keep the best employees. Ford did it and it works.

    Never did get the $1,000, the welsher.

    • Jim Houghton says:

      There can be a customer shortage, no? Don’t you think the airlines know where the cut-off point is, where people will drive to a national park instead of flying to Hawaii because the ticket costs too much? Just as your machinist knew he wouldn’t have customers for his widgets at the price point he’d have to charge in order to pay those double wages.

  19. B747Av8r says:

    The regular of comments by wannabe pilots regarding the 1500 hour rule as being to stringent are most certainly out of place.

    Spending time, effort and money to gain the required flight experience is not easy for sure, but make no mistake – it wasn’t easy 25 years ago either. That somehow today’s generation of aspiring aviators seem to insist on a “break” is beyond comprehension.

    There are many good reasons for not putting inexperienced people into the cockpit of an airliner full of people.

    Laymen may equate flight experience with the sole manipulation of flight-controls of an airplane, but it is far more than that. The exposure to flight in different regions, seasons and circumstances is certainly very valuable, but it is only part of becoming an experienced pilot.

    Another significant part is the exposure to work with other crew members over time as any non-flying related deficiencies would surface in due time and raise serious questions. This type of natural self-audit as well as the ability to take constructive criticism with grace is a fundamental part of professional aviation.

    As an example, I am confident, that the 1500 hr rule would have helped to prevent the Germanwings co-pilot from killing 150 innocent passengers and crew. His psychological problems would have prevented his advancement into a cockpit of a commercial airliner.

    There is no shortage of pilots in the US, Just pilots who are willing to work at poverty wages.

    • Mr Flyer says:

      It’s not today’s aviators not wanting “a break” from gaining 1500hrs in single pilot and light aircraft operations before joining airlines, if you’d look outside of the US virtually all major airlines prefer to use ab-initio pilots, those that are well selected and thoroughly trained. And I don’t see their safety record as being inferior.

      Talking about gaining experience, the experience gained flying light aircraft is only really applicable to light aircraft. Too much of this flying can cause “bad habits” to creep in and it can be harder to train a pilot with this experience in multi crew flying.

      And you also talk of exposure to work with other crew members to expose non-flying related deficiencies but this argument is a bit redundant, if you consider the first job of a newly graduated pilot in the US is either flight instructing, sightseeing, banner towing etc. All single pilot flying. The better way would be to put them under the mentoring up of senior training captains as an airline FO.

      With regards to german wings, people can appear outwardly healthy and performing normally yet internally be suffering a mental condition. They also can develop mental conditions at any stage in life. The idea that particular pilot would’ve been stopped if he had to fly 1500 single pilot hours is a fallacy. It didn’t help weed out the pilots who deliberately crashed Egyptair, Silkair and attempted to crash FedEx in Memphis. All three were experienced and mature ex-military pilots.

  20. Mr Zafar Chaudhry says:

    I totally disagree with you and any one else who says there is a pilot

    I have over 3,000 hrs (1800 hrs Multi) and I have been applying for the last fours years and I have not received any response from the airlines.


    You have stated this but I will contradict what you say as always this communication will go unanswered.

    • Pilot says:

      I am with you brother, I also have over 5,000 hours and over 2000 ME hours, with ATP Certificate and no regnal airline is willing to give me the opportunity to interview. Yes, I do have a very clean record. There is no pilot shortage.

      • Dude says:

        Mesa would take you over the phone. No first class medical? 5000 and 2000 and not getting a call doesn’t sound right

        • Patrick says:

          I have to agree. If, with those credentials, you don’t have regional carriers begging you to come work for them, you’ve got something glaring in your record, or you’re otherwise not telling the whole truth.

  21. Mr Flyer says:

    Airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific etc and almost all non-US airlines have been producing high quality sponsored or an initio cadet pilots with low hours for more than the past 20 or 30 years. Even now with British Airways’ Future Pilot Program, they will repay the entire cost of pilot training in full over 7 years of employment. Aer Lingus will pay for a pilots training costs upfront. Why would they do this when I’m sure there would be a large amount of British and Irish youngsters and pilots with experience who would willingly fork over the money themselves? They must see the value in their respective programs. And I should point out, the training at the Lufthansa academy or CTC or Oxford is a step far above the ab initio programs offered by companies like Gulfstream.

    I believe the 1500 hour rule was an attempt to create an artificial shortage in order to raise entry level pilot pay. That’s a fine thing to do, but then don’t suggest it was for safety related reasons, I’ve seen no evidence that a low houred pilot (who was properly trained) isn’t just as safe if not safer than a pilot with many hours flying single pilot before joining an airline.

    I think I’d take the word of most of Europe’s and the World’s highly safe and well trained pilots before I took the word of the US Congress when it comes to determining what makes a safe airline pilot.

    • Patrick says:

      I agree with most of what you’re saying, but the idea that the 1500 hour rule was “an attempt to create an artificial shortage in order to raise entry level pilot pay,” is ridiculous. You can argue that the rule is otherwise misguided, but you’re giving way too much credit to regulators * and * to those who lobbied for the changes.

  22. Mr Flyer says:

    Patrick, I’m going to take issue with one quote from your otherwise well written article:

    “Suddenly, pilots were being taken on with as little as 350 hours of total time, assigned to the first officer’s seat of sophisticated regional jets. Twenty or thirty years ago this would have been unthinkable. Then came a rash of accidents, including the Colgan Air (Continental Connection) disaster outside Buffalo in 2009. Regulators began taking a closer look at hiring practices, eventually passing legislation mandating higher flight time totals and additional certification requirements for new-hires.”

    Now I’m not sure if you’re suggesting that low houred pilots were the sole cause of the crashes, but in the Colgan case apart from the FO actually having 1500hrs when joining Colgan other factors like fatigue and poor training played a bigger part.

    The idea that you need 1500 flying hours before stepping into the right hand seat of a turboprop or jet is a uniquely American requirement, but the experience from literally every other country in the world shows you can take a pilot with low hours and successfully integrate them into high capacity multi crew airline flying. But you need to have a good candidate selection process, comprehensive, structured training, proper monitoringandf assessment of candidates whilst training and proper multi crew cooperation traning to prepare them for multi crew operations from the start of the training process.

  23. Richard says:

    Nice Article. Now visit us for ATPL and airline prep. It’s free.

  24. JD says:

    Kinda curious why you feel that the majors will not have a problem. The generally accepted number of mandatory retirements in the industry by 2022 is 18,000 pilots not accounting for those who decide to leave before 65, medical out or growth (Re. United’s recent 737 orders) yet the ‘smartest and the brightest” seem to think since they have X,000’s of apps on file they will not have a problem. Do they actually feel that all of those people have actually just applied to their airline alone? They are delusional if they do because the fact is that 90% of those X,000’s have applied at ALL of the majors, SWA et al and will indeed take the first job that is offered leaving 3 or 4 other airlines without a pilot they were counting on. Anyone in the industry who is not in denial can clearly see this.

    • Patrick says:

      My feeling is that so long as the regionals can, one way or the other, keep their rosters filled, the majors are not going to have a problem. Eventually it’ll be incumbent upon the majors to make sure this happens, both for the sake of their regional operations and for their future pilot needs. There will be a cost to this, but they’ll have no choice. The regionals will become de facto flight academies — even more so than they are already. And you’ll also have the pilots from the armed forces. The military feed isn’t as robust as it once was, but it’s still there.

  25. Alex says:

    “An aspiring aviator has to ask, is it worth sinking $50,000 or more into one’s primary training, plus the time it will take to build the necessary number of flight hours, plus the cost of a college education, only to spend years toiling at poverty-level wages, with at best a marginal shot at moving on to a major? For many the answer is no.”

    And that’s why I chose not to pursue a piloting career. It’s a shame, because I’m sure I would’ve loved it. But I also want to live well. I’m now 7 1/2 years out of college, and earning a salary that would take a regional pilot an entire career to achieve.

    I can live with the choice.

    • Craig says:

      My son, now in college, loved flying while growing up. His birthday and holiday presents were all plane-related, and over time he created a great simulator at his desk with all kinds of peripherals. We paid for him to take maybe 20 lessons in a Cessna.

      For a long time he assumed he’d be a pilot when he grew up, but as he began researching pilot careers he found out how woefully underpaid they are. The deal reminds me a bit of the old apprenticeship scams (as still exists in the medical field), where you are paid ridiculously low wages for stressful working conditions for a number of years, but your reward is getting a well-paid job when the apprenticeship is over. Only, in the airline industry there is no actual apprenticeship – just low paid jobs for years and a possibility of getting more later.

      Even then he found that the top airlines have cut salaries and benefits, too, so that an engineer with similar experience often makes more than a senior pilot.

      Sadly, my son gave up on his pilot career, and I’m sure there are many like him. I’m sure that the airline’s preferred solution will be to continue to pay very low wages but instead for immigrants on visas – and they’ll use the lack of supply of new pilots as justification for those visas.

  26. Jerry Denim says:

    I feel this article gets it about 90% right, but just like everything else I have ever read on this topic in the business press or general news type publications the author chooses to perpetuate the myth that there is a big difference between regional airlines and the legacy airlines that employ/exploit them.

    Regional airlines are fake airlines. They are shell companies that only exist as the playthings of Legacy airlines. Their sole purpose is to increase the profitability of the legacy carriers by arbitraging labor, sowing discord among professional pilot ranks and encouraging ‘race to the bottom’ labor market dynamics. The sides of the aircraft are painted with the logos for Delta, United and American. The tickets held by the passengers in regional jet cabins are sold by Delta, United and American, and in many cases the aircraft themselves and various other ‘regional’ company resources belong to the parent/master legacy company. The regional sector hasn’t grown, but rather the legacies have successfully maximized profits by expunging thousands of professional pilots from their seniority lists while still getting them to fly their aircraft and passengers for cheap. if the legacies in-house their struggling shell company regionals and give the hopeless regional pilots a seniority number with a decent wage, work rules, and benefits this so-called ‘crisis’ will be over. It’s only a crisis if you are an airline CEO addicted to cheap, exploited labor.

  27. […] Ask the Pilot article believes the pilot shortage will critically impact the Regional Airlines only, as the large […]

  28. Richard says:

    How easily we forget all the factors that go into hiring a pilot. Are there thousands of licensed commercial and ATP Pilots with valid medicals?? Probably. How are their driving records? Tickets… DUI’s… Too many tickets or a DUI are automatic dis-qualifiers for being hired at reputable airlines. How do your numbers avoid a shortage with those factors in mind. If you can’t drive a car responsibly; you think an airline is gonna let you sit in the right seat?? Yeah right. I agree there are thousands of pilots who could easily start working…however how many would be disqualified once all factors are taken into consideration. It’s like a math problem.. even if the 17 steps you did were correct for one problem, that step where you forgot the negative sign makes the whole problem incorrect! There is a pilot shortage.

    • CPZ F/O says:

      I love how you think that you know how many sidelined ATP guys aren’t flying because of DUIs. Just wow. Are you a pilot at a regional airline? Are you a mainline pilot? I think of the 20 something ATP qualified pilots that I PERSONALLY know who aren’t at an airline right now, aren’t because the career is extremely volatile, the quality of life is terrible, and pay is not commensurate with the stress of the job and the stress it puts on their personal lives. P.S. there are several regional airlines hiring people with multiple DUIs and multiple training failures over the phone because management doesn’t care who flies your plane.

      • Richard says:

        On the how many DUI pilots are flying for regional airlines comment… I am very specific with what I say so please read carefully before adding sarcasm and objection into a response. I said reputable airlines… big difference. There will always be companies who hire from the bottom of the barrel. Yes anybody can fly for GoJet, but go apply to Southwest or Express Jet if you wanna go regional entry level; with all of those traffic tickets or a DUI… good luck. I recently read application criteria which stated if you have two moving violations or a DUI in the past two years, DO NOT apply. So once again reputable is the key word here and in my previous comment.

        • Jerry says:

          2 years is barely any time.

          Honestly, they probably just put that 2 year limit there to make sure the initial, by initial I mean the 1st year after mostly, ass-wringing that the government puts people through for getting a DUI isn’t going to affect their availability for employment.

          After the first year life goes back to normal, and if you’re not a complete moron unable to learn major life lessons may be less likely to have problems in the future than someone else who simply has not learned the hard way, truly.

  29. bobbi says:

    > It’s somewhat telling that virtually no regional carriers have raised their salaries or benefit packages

    No need while there’s still people who are glad to get paid to fly, no matter the pittance, no matter the lousy working conditions, no matter how meager the benefits, no matter how scant the possibility of climing the aviation career ladder.

    Long-haul, over-the-road, 18-wheel drivers are faced with a similar dilemma. They’re making a steady living, but at a high personal and financial price. The major trucking companies ave no need (yet) to replace drivers who job jump, since the competitors’ pay packages aren’t any better.

    Drivers are already becoming difficult to recruit and retain. It’s getting steadily worse, and the future is multi-modal, road-trains and relaxed regulation.

    Which is more important, safety or “shareholder value”? Yeah. Right. Sure it is…

  30. John says:

    Sounds like the regionals are something akin to minor league baseball. Start them out low and dangle the carrot in front of them. This is all too common in American industry today.

  31. Jim says:

    I retire some 7 years ago from a major. Was trained to fly in the USAF 46+ years ago. We were hearing about pilot shortages even back then. Of course, there was a brief period, well before Deregulation, when United did hire some very low-time people… “This is not your Grandfatathers airline industry!” 😉

  32. Martin Mitev says:

    One regional FO actually ran the numbers and explains his process and the result in a podcast for AVWeb:


    Unsurprisingly, his math matches your spot-on article.

  33. D R Lunsford says:

    We in IT have heard the lie “shortage of skilled American IT workers” for going on 15 years, back to the dotcom days. It’s a blatant lie and both Republicans and Democrats make it to kiss up to corporate America. They import H1B workers by the thousands who displace American workers with better skills. We have the added burden that these scabs have somehow got a reputation for being highly skilled, when in fact they usually do crappy work. The only reason for this is corporate greed.

  34. Marshall says:

    And if a CFI shortage ever happens, the legal minimums for a Part 121 FO will probably be reduced back down to 250 hours while no one’s looking.

  35. Marshall says:

    I’d take the analysis one step further. The question isn’t whether there will be an airline pilot shortage, the question is whether there be a CFI shortage in the US. As you point out, the majors will always have 300 apps for every pilot position. Applicants will include ex-military, regional pilots with 2000+ TPIC hours, and furloughees. Similarly, the regionals can always rely on a steady applicant pool of Part 91/135 pilots, CFIs, and FOs from other regionals. If hiring ever picks up in a big way, the shortage will not be in the 121 world, it will be in the CFI world. Only after the supply of experienced CFIs has dwindled would regionals start to feel a supply pinch, and that would probably take many years as there seems to be a steady supply of folks willing to fork over $50k+ to get their CFI ticket (plus CFII, MEI, ATP, etc.).

  36. Sean S. says:

    The question is, will the “upgauging” of legacy carriers and the rest requirements require the legacy’s to open up hiring again in any significant way? While I highly doubt it will result in a major dent in the sheer supply, it may result in the transfer of significant people at the regionals who have been working a longtime the chance to get into the majors.

    • Patrick says:

      It depends what you mean by significant. There will be, or should be, hiring by ALL of the legacy carriers in the next decade. But it won’t be on the scale that we’ve seen in years past — if for no other reason than regionals now account for such a huge share of the flying….

  37. BoDean says:

    Quote: “but it’s somewhat telling that virtually no regional carriers have raised their salaries or benefit packages to levels that would appear aimed at retaining or attracting pilots.”

    Nailed it!

    Spot-on and well-written article.

  38. Raffi says:

    it is disgusting the level of coruption in our media, when airlines can project absolutle lies to the general public, without any regard for objectivity. There is no shortage when wages are low.

  39. Ranzabar says:

    “We have met the enemy… and he is us”

    If you spend any time in corporate America, you’ll see that the decision making process involves posturing, politics and voodo economics. The airline braintrusts are leading the cause to a the ultimate unsustainable industry.

    When you penalize a human being for attempting to become an airline pilot by using the supply and demand model of “pay-newbies-as-cheap-as-dirt-is-good”, you can expect just what you have. A pilot shortage you’ll never resolve.

    Explain how that works for the industry you Einsteins of commerce.

    Nice to be retired, though I would have liked a shot at the 787…after the battery debacle of course.

    • Nicholas Robinson says:

      Seems to me that in lots of professions that people wanting to enter get all the shitty jobs for shitty pay—in my business (graphic design) sometimes shitty jobs for NO pay—as one works up the industry ladder to gain experience and flight hours.

      How is this any different? People expect to be hired by the majors after doing their first solo?

      Seems to me a way of avoiding a lot of this job-ache would be to do your flight training in the military.

      Leastways that used to be how a lot of pilots got their wings.

      • Patrick says:

        The difference, I think, is that the financial outlay is a lot higher and it takes a lot longer to make a decent living. And flying is an extremely specific pursuit. You are really committing yourself. There’s almost no transfer of skills or experience into another line of work.

  40. Keith Walker says:

    I know at least 4 young people who have spent about $75,000 each to get to commercial licence standards and they cant find jobs.

  41. Eric says:

    “Shortages” of various professionals are manufactured in the media by interested stakeholders to manipulate supply and demand. In the case of pilots, the stakeholders appear to be the airlines who desire a larger and cheaper supply of pilots.

    I am a veterinarian and I have been hearing about a “shortage” of veterinarians for the last 20 years. The fallacy of a veterinary shortage has been promulgated by veterinary schools who desire larger enrollments and therefore larger volumes of tuition, and by corporate veterinary chains who desire a plentiful inexpensive work force.

    Meanwhile veterinary salaries are dropping. Many veterinary graduates are unable to find work as veterinarians, defaulting on student loans, and taking jobs in fast food.

    There will never be a shortage of starry-eyed kids who will do or pay anything to become pilots or vets. I pity the poor dumb young people who throw their lives away by choosing these careers in these times.

  42. Mike says:

    Most enjoyable job I ever had. However, after two years of 18 hour days and selling stereos on the weekend to pay rent, it was time to move on. I could not commit to ten years more of this with only a slight hope of making the majors. What if I failed my medical? What if there was a downturn in the economy? Pilots pay a high price to sit up front.

  43. Brett Greisen says:

    It’s another version of “we don’t have enough software engineers” which really means that the employer wants H-1 specialist workers (lower pay & visa tied to the employer) & don’t interview the senior people who are also up on current software, etc.

  44. Siegfried says:

    As long as the wages for pilots are low when compared to comparable other trained professionals, even at entry level, I don’t think there is a sign of a significant shortage.

  45. Avery Greynold says:

    US businesses have become crybabies who want it all, and for free. An unlimited supply of fully trained and experienced applicants to be hired at entry level pay without benefits. And if Americans won’t take the lowball offers, they want to be able to import foreigners.

  46. Ed says:

    Sounds kind of like the overabundance of phds/doctoral students trying to get tenure-track jobs in academia…

  47. Simon says:

    Isn’t this basically the result of the US aviation industry’s race to the bottom?

    What are the airlines doing to recruit good pilots? How much are they investing into future aviators? I know that ‘wealthier’ airlines like Swiss or Lufthansa have their own flight schools. They pay for their future pilots’ education (or parts of it) and in return these young pilots sign for a job with the airline for a certain number of years.

    How much does AA or United pay towards flight school? Exactly. I’m afraid you DO end up getting what you pay for.

  48. Elizabeth Matheson says:

    It’s incredulous that so many pilots make so little and have such horrible conditions in which to try to rest, eat, etc. I want my pilot well paid, well rested, fed, and ready to go. I think most of us do.