Analysis: Pilot Shortage 2.0 on Horizon Unless Airlines Act

More than half of retirement eligible pilots are gone

By Kathryn B. Creedy

  • Study warns airlines to start training now to avert new pilot shortage.
  • More than half of pilots nearing retirement took early outs.
  • 30,000 expected to abandon airline pilot career.
  • Booming flight schools provide important pipeline.
  • Career projection unlike anything we've seen.
  • Training funding still biggest barrier

For years, airlines, business aviation and even the military struggled with workforce shortages. Covid-19 led to furloughs and, of course, the accelerated retirement of thousands of airline pilots, technicians and manufacturing personnel. While providing a brief respite, retirements only mean a more acute pilot shortage that could start as early as this year. For the first time we have an estimate of how many pilots took early retirement.

Credit: Mike Phillips, WDEL

So it is not surprising to see airlines rejuvenating their pipelines such as United’s recent announcement it would hire 5,000 pilots by 2030, at least half of which would be women and people of color. It expects to enroll 100 students this year.

American, announced it would fly 90% of its 2019 schedule this summer, recall its pilot corp and resume hiring with a goal of 300 this year. It expects to double that next hear while Allied Pilots Association worries the carrier will be short of pilots as it takes time to return to the flight deck, according to Simple Flying. Spirit and JetBlue also said they will resume hiring this year.

A recently released study by Oliver Wyman notes the experience after 9/11 and the Great Recession when new pilot certifications fell 30% to 40% in the five years after the crises. Compounding this will be the departure of what the study estimates as 25,000 to 35,000 current and future pilots abandoning the cyclicality of the aviation industry in favor of more stable careers over the next decade.

But this time, at least for pilots, there is hope for operators in search of new hires. In addition to airline programs, the flight training business is booming which means at last, the pipeline is increasing not just for duffers but for those seeking careers. The question is whether the industry can build capacity fast enough to feed the 34,000 global pilot gap expected by 2025, according to the Oliver Wyman study.


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Published by Kathryn B. Creedy

Kathryn B. Creedy is a veteran aviation journalist and communications strategist. My byline has appeared in CNN Travel, The Points Guy, BBC Capital, Los Angeles Times, Forbes Online, The Washington Post, Flyer Talk, Business Traveler, Business Travel Executive, Afar, Flightglobal, Centre for Aviation, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Low Fare & Regional Airlines, Inflight, Business Airports International, Airports, Centerlines, Regional Gateway, Runway Girl Network and Metropolitan Airport News among others. In 2018, I was cited for the Sapphire Pegasus Business Aviation Award for her work as a business aviation journalist. Created four newsletters, including two web publications Author: Time Flies - The History of SkyWest Airlines. Consistently received bonuses or commendations throughout my career. Founded Commuter/Regional Airline News, building it to become the bible of the industry. Co-founded C/R Airline News International to cover Europe. Founding editor of Aviation Today's Daily Brief, VLJ Report. Founding Senior Analyst North America for Centre for Aviation and North American Editor for Low Fare & Regional Airlines and Inflight. Key Words: Aviation, travel, business jets, commercial, aircraft, airlines, publishing, public relations, corporate communications, media specialist,

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