Will A Looming Possible Pilot Shortage Result In Airlines Hiring Sub Par Crew?

The airline industry might be faced with a dearth of new pilots in the next 20 years, which is causing some experts to worry that in the rush to expand their fleets, airlines will end up hiring pilots that aren’t so great just to fill slots. That would not be great for the safety of passengers on commercial jetliners, of course.

Boeing makes a whole lot of planes so it knows its stuff, and it forecasts that around 460,000 new pilots will be needed worldwide between now and 2031 to fly tens of thousands of new planes. Of those, 69,000 will be needed just in North America, most of which will be in the U.S. The area that will grow the most, plane-wise, will be the Asia-Pacific region, which will need around 185,000 new pilots.

The worry is that such a demand around the world for pilots will cause a pilot shortage.

“In many regions of the world, a pilot shortage is already here,” the Boeing forecast said. “Asia Pacific in particular is experiencing delays and operational interruptions due to pilot scheduling constraints.”

Industry officials say in Asia and the Middle East, airlines have been holding pilot job fairs, while in the U.S. thousands of pilots have been laid off and are now flying for foreign carriers.

“We have airlines around the world as they buy our airplanes and come to us on the training side of the house, saying `We’re struggling to fill (pilot) seats. Can you help us?’ ” said Carl Davis, Boeing’s chief of pilot services.

Here in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration is also worried.

“I’m concerned because it has safety implications,” John Allen, the FAA’s director of flight services, told The Associated Press.

Allen wants to get those in the industry together to figure out how to tackle a potential shortage in a way that will really address the problem and figure out how bad it is. He doesn’t want airlines to hire pilots who are technically qualified to fly but don’t have “the right stuff.”

“If the industry is stretched pretty thin … that can result in someone getting into the system that maybe isn’t really the right person to be a pilot. Not everybody is supposed to be a pilot,” Allen said.

Possible pilot shortage raises safety concerns [Associated Press]


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  1. dolemite says:

    So add pilots to the doctor and nurse shortage. If only there were some way we could combat this 9-20% unemployment!

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      It’s odd – I’ve heard about the nursing shortage for years; my sister in law is a well trained, veteran R.N. at a Good Hospital.

      From what she tells me, even the good hospitals treat their nursing staff poorly, as easily replaced peons. Nurses get upset and leave, then the hospital says it has trouble finding nurses.

      In short, that there is a shortage of nurses because of the revolving door that scoots them in and out.

      • blogger X says:

        If you treat your employees right, they’ll stay loyal. I just don’t understand how coporations are firing employees en masse yet they bring in record profits.

        • incident_man says:

          They’re bringing in record profits BECAUSE they’re firing workers here in the US. To big business, labour is a COST (except for upper management, of course), and businesses hate COSTS. So what do they do, they cut staffing and tell those left over that, in order to keep their jobs, they’ll have to work faster or harder for the same or less pay.

          Then, at the same time, halfway around the world, they hire replacements that’ll work for pennies on the dollar. And that is why very few products are made in the US anymore. It’s not because they can’t be made in the US and business make a profit at the same time; that’s what was happening 50-60 years ago. It’s because products can’t be made in the US and the business make GROSSLY OBSCENE profits at the same time.

          After all, the poor overworked CEOs and executives have to be able to buy all new luxury items every month and discard the perfectly good ones they already have (and are growing tired of) if they have to employ American workers at the same time now, can they? It just gets too stressful having to fire all those American workers to come up with cheap third-world replacements I guess.

      • who? says:

        Skilled hospital nurses are typically very well paid, considerably better than nurses outside the hospital, but the working conditions are gawdawful. In California, every RN is required to work in a hospital for a couple of years after graduating nursing school, kind of like a doctor’s residency. So the hospital can do whatever the f*ck they want to them, and know that they’ll have a steady stream of replacements if they quit. Once the 2 years is up, the nurses decide whether they want to stay in the hospital and earn bigger bucks, or leave the hospital and go into something where the working conditions are better. A lot leave.

        • DaveInBillsburg says:

          This isn’t true in all cases. My brother-in-law is an ER nurse in a city hospital in New England. He is truma certified and maintains his medi-flight certification as well. He get’s paid quite well, and they treat him well. His schedule is such that he will work two 12-14 hour overnight shifts on the weekends, have either M-F or Su-Th off and get paid full time (with full time benefits).

        • tinmanx says:

          I think “skilled” is the keyword here. I know someone who works at a hospital at a non-patient care role and he says most nurses there have no clue what they are doing and often don’t do their job properly.

          • Red Cat Linux says:

            My SIL says something similar. The hospital will aggravate the more experienced nurses that don’t have to put up with that crap, and they leave. The hospital will often replace them with kids right out of school who don’t know enough about nursing in the wild, so to speak, to be as effective/efficient.

            If the noobs are lucky, more experienced nurses will teach them the ropes. If they haven’t all left.

            Patient care suffers, and the hospital falls back on the nursing shortage excuse.

    • MaytagRepairman is stealing socks while fixing your dryer. says:

      What a local recruiter tells me is that there is a GLUT of nurses on the market that will likely continue for the next few years. I suspect the problem is the employers need to take a look at themselves to see why they have a problem.

      • who? says:

        Hospitals treat their nurses abysmally, then complain about shortages because they all quit. *There’s* your nursing shortage. Outside the hospital, there isn’t really a glut, it’s more of a balanced economy. Salaries are lower than in the hospitals, but working conditions are better. I’ve never known a nurse to be out of work for long.

        • MaytagRepairman is stealing socks while fixing your dryer. says:

          I also don’t know this guy that well. On the other hand, I also suspect we might have a for-profit nursing school in the area with a weak reputation cranking out graduates that can’t hold down the job.

  2. Bladerunner says:

    “A Looming Possible Pilot Shortage Result In Airlines Hiring Sub Par Crew?”

    Looks like a new career path is opening up for me!

  3. fsnuffer says:

    In every pilot class someone graduates last and is flying today

    • MarkFL says:

      Also true of medical school, law school, and military academies. But rank in class does not tell you everything about the student.

  4. Blueskylaw says:

    I applied for the job of pilot at many airlines, but they told me that due to current “financial and economic conditions”, they could only pay me $8.50 per hour. I now spend my days kicking the same can down the same long road.

  5. Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

    For years they claimed there weren’t enough nurses and teachers and we’d soon have a dire shortage of each. People chose those career paths assuming it’d be a recession-proof job, and now they’re all unemployed. Since they’re already laying off pilots left and right, why would anyone be stupid enough to fall for it again? All they want is a glutted market of qualified pilots so they can drive salaries down.

    • who? says:

      Not nurses. There’s still a shortage of nurses. My wife just got an out of season 25%(!) raise because the place she works was losing too many nurses to the competition, and they needed to catch salaries up.

      But the reason that there aren’t enough pilots is because, during the early(er) days of aviation, being a pilot was a cushy, good paying job, and everybody who could earn a pair of wings became an airline pilot. So there were a lot of them. Then things changed. Budget airlines, competition, bankruptcies by the big guys. There were plenty of pilots to fill the available jobs, so pilot wages and benefits got cut. A lot. Especially for new pilots, who generally start at the regional carriers. Pilots at the regional carriers make less money than the guy driving the FedEx ground truck (less than $30k, usually). So, now, becoming a pilot isn’t such a great career path. And there’s a shortage of pilots.

      Supply and demand. What will happen is that the big airlines won’t have any trouble finding pilots. They’ll just hire people away from the regional carriers. The regional carriers, on the other hand, will have to hire the FedEx ground guy to fly the plane.

      • quail20 says:

        Back in the day, as you mention, pilots were treated well and they made good money. They also went through more rigorous training and they were allowed time to rest. From what I’ve heard is that the incentives aren’t there to for pilots to fly commercially anymore. Airlines push crews to the limit of what the law stipulates they must rest and their pay has degraded.

  6. sufreak says:

    So…you want to cut salaries of employees in the industry. Then the employees leave the industry. You are left with sub par potential candidates. And then…complain?

    Or plan B. Appreciate the hard work your employees do. Pay them fairly for their jobs. They wont leave, you wont be left without employees.

    While a bit simplistic, seems more logical.

    • Bladerunner says:

      Stop that crazy talk!

    • dolemite says:

      If we paid all the good, hard working employees good, livable wages, how in the world would we be able to pay CEOs 45 million for 20 minutes of work?

      • BurtReynolds says:

        Yes. Clearly the airlines need to focus on keeping those awesome executives around. They’ve been doing such a great job keeping companies out of bankruptcy and making customers happy and loyal!

        • videoman says:

          I’ve always been told that a CEO makes so much money because they are the most important person in the company and that without the CEO a company would fail. I wish that a company (like GE or IBM) would test that idea by firing 99% of the company workforce and keep the CEO (along with a few executives). If the CEO really is that damn good then the profit margins should soar without all the wasteful spending on employees.

  7. iesika says:

    If you pay them (more) they will come… There are lots of people out there who would love to learn to fly if they thought they had a sure job lined up, and a lot of really excellent pilots who would leave the private field if the compensation were appropriate for the hassle of moving your family to a hub, sleeping in hotels all over the country, and dealing with delays.

    My cousin was a private pilot until he passed away. He was on a smallish retainer, and he got paid more when he was working. He had three kids, and would have loved the stability of a regular paycheck.

  8. aaronx says:

    Let me make sure I understand this. Boeing, makers of airplanes, are saying, “Hey! We’re pumping out planes faster than pilot schools are pumping out pilots!”

    Not saying it’s not a real problem… just seems a bit odd that the alarm is being wrung by Boeing and not the FAA or the actual airlines.

  9. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The shortage will get even more acute as US wars wind down, fewer ex-military pilots enter the workforce, and those that do are armchair drone pilots.

    Drone airliners. That’s the ticket.

    • who? says:

      Actually, drone pilots are still pilots. They just sit in a bunker in Texas instead of in the plane itself. But the “cockpit” is still a cockpit, and they still fly the plane.

      • kathygnome says:

        I suspect that drone time won’t count towards the 1500 flight hours you need for an ATP cert.

        • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

          That was my thought also, and I’d rather have a pilot who goes down with the ship if he screws up.

  10. eeelaine says:

    Pilot training can cost $20,000 + in up front investment.

    Pilot jobs available are often at salaries as low as $18,000 per year, with crappy schedules.

    I wonder why there aren’t more people jumping on this opportunity…

    • kathygnome says:

      More like $40-60k for a commercial multi-engine rating plus several years working at minimum wage as a flight instructor, towing banners, or some other horror that pays about minimum wage. Or cough up several more tens of thousands to just build time towards an ATP.

    • BurtReynolds says:

      Exactly. You either really have to love flying to make that leap. I know one guy that did. Started flying in high school. Eventually got hired as an instructor while in college. Finished his degree and kept accumulating hours as an instructor. Eventually got enough qualifications to get hired by a regional carrier. He doesn’t earn much, but lives in a low cost area so it isn’t too bad.

      That is a long, expensive road to make little money for the first few years. Never mind that becoming a Captain on a mainline carrier isn’t nearly has desirable as it used to be. He followed his dream though.

  11. MaytagRepairman is stealing socks while fixing your dryer. says:

    Some airlines will be sending a pickup truck to the front of Home Depot and asking “Who can fly a plane?”

  12. Chuft-Captain says:

    Hmmmmm. Well, let’s see. Starting pilots get paid peanuts, so I can see why there might be a dearth of people wanting to take on a high-responsibility, high-stress job that way. Plus there’s the way they stuff them into bunks in apartments with a dozen other crew when they’re off duty.

    Here’s an idea: Pay your pilots – you know, the guys and gals responsible for hundreds of lives and the successful operation and safety of a large, complicated, very expensive aircraft – a reasonable wage for the skill and responsibility required. Then give them decent out of town living quarters. I bet the problem fixes itself.

  13. JackBlack says:

    The issue keeping away potential airline pilots is not ONLY pay… Yes, that is a huge factor. You need a 4 year degree (50k or more), and full on flight training from Private thru ATP (60k or more) just to make 20k a year as an instructor working 7 days per week 12 hour shifts (only flying for 6, so only getting paid for 6). Pilots only get paid per flight hour.. Not for preflight, weather briefing, prepping the airplane, dispatch, waiting at the airport… So 20 an hour for an airline pilot is usually about 20,000 per year even though they put in the same amount of hours as a 9 to 5er (in most cases, more). So now you ALSO need 1500 hours to qualify for a regional First Officer position. That’s 2 more years of being a 20k or less per year instructor, just to qualify for the 23k per year regional airline pilot position.

    That aside – there are other issues.
    Medical discrimination: Have some kind of problem that you were officially diagnosed with? Now you are grounded. I can’t think of any other job with such bad illegal discrimination. Only the government (FAA) could get away with something like that. Many, MANY candidates get discouraged at their first Medical Certificate appointment. Usually color vision is an “issue”. Even if you are NOT color “blind”, you can fail their color vision test, and even though there are other options to demonstrate your ability to safely perform the job, most AME’s don’t know about them, and the discouraged prospective pilot never gets this information, and quits right there. See http://www.cvdpa.com for more info about color vision and why it does not matter in the world of aviation.
    This and other medical issues lead the pilots to avoid official medical care resulting in them actually flying anyway, just not healthy. Under 40, you need to renew every year, over 40, every 6 months.

    IF YOU FORGET to “disclose” something, then you go to jail. It is a government form. So apparently they don’t know what HIPAA is, nor do they have to follow it.

    Background checks: Get a DUI after 2 glasses of wine with your family? Kiss your job goodbye.

    Test and retesting: Every 6 months to a year you need to get recurrent training and flight testing. Fail? Kiss your job and 110k+ investment goodbye. Even doctors don’t have to prove themselves every 6 months. No other job requires this level of testing and retesting and risk of investment for 23k a year salary.

    Scheduling: A 20 year old determines your fate and how much time you get to spend with your family.

    Travel “benefits”: HA. Standby tickets are all you get, and they are a joke. You can’t get on the plane 90% of the time, and if you or your family did actually get on, don’t bank on getting home either… Because that also is a 1 in 10 shot.

    The FAA: Arbitrary powerhouse. They can ruin your life, and have unlimited authority. They don’t even have to follow constitutional law concerning a fair trial to take enforcement action against you or your licenses.

    Seniority: If your airline goes belly up, or you have to leave because it’s so bad, then you start at the bottom. There are no lateral career movements. Yup, even a 25 year captain has to start at 23k a year again if he is forced to change airlines. Thank the Unions for this.

  14. Velvet Jones says:

    I thought there was an article on one of the financial websites a few weeks ago that said pilots had one of the highest skilled worker unemployment rates in the nation. So someone isn’t telling the truth. It’s more likely there is a shortage of pilots who are willing to work for near minimum wage. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll start importing them just like every other position that American companies claim they can’t fill with domestic workers.

  15. SirWired says:

    What they mean when they say “pilot shortage”, they really mean “pilots at a rate we are willing to pay.” They have nobody to blame for the dearth of young pilots but themselves. A pilot just starting out at a regional carrier, after spending years and many thousands of dollars on training, doesn’t make any more (and usually less) than somebody that went to trucking school. No wonder there aren’t enough people willing to sign up…

  16. DaveInBillsburg says:

    Know a couple of pliots that were former USAF pilots that were trained quite well by the military. When the separated from the AF they tried to get positions working for airlines but the pay was about 1/2 what they were making in the military, about $35-40K to start. Both have other lines of work now because of it.

  17. yankinwaoz says:

    Gee… pay them nothing. Treat them like hell. Ask them to get into a system where the only way to move ahead is to wait for someone with more seniority to quit, die, or retire. No wonder they aren’t signing up in droves. The puddle jumper pilots make, what, $20k a year? Yea, you get to fly. But you have to live in your car.

    • NeverLetMeDown2 says:

      “Ask them to get into a system where the only way to move ahead is to wait for someone with more seniority to quit, die, or retire.”

      The airlines would be 100% happy to drop the seniority system. Good luck getting the more senior pilots to agree to it.

  18. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    The air travel seniority system is crazy. Pilots put in so much time and money for training and are paid peanuts for YEARS until more senior pilots quit and space opens up.

    And there is not much chance to be better than the next guy and move up quickly. Pilots have to do their jobs with near perfection every time. As a software developer you learn to take shortcuts that make you faster, more productive, and are able to substitute experience and logic to avoid a drop in quality.

    I can’t think of too many industries with a starting salary of $20k and an ending salary (not management or senior leadership, just worker) of $160-250k. I believe that is the sign of a problem.

  19. cknight says:

    Who would want to work in an industry where experience/seniority isn’t transferable? I have friends who are pilots, and the idea that your rank and pay level reset to base if you change carriers is absurd. It equates to industry-wide indentured servitude.

    • bhr says:

      What career does salary and seniority transfer when you change jobs outside of government work? If I leave a company and go somewhere else I lose all seniority and have to negotiate my new salary like kid out of school (though hopefully with better results)

      • shepd says:

        Every one I know of. If you leave a company as a senior xyz, generally, if you were good at xyz, and have the appropriate qualifications (and networking, sometimes) needed to be successful at applying for similar jobs, you’ll end up in a position as a senior xyz making a similar amount of pay.

        At least that is how it often works. Of course, you won’t have seniority benefits (like the extra week of vacation, etc) but most companies strive to hit average pay for new employees, lest they not hire any.

    • Not Given says:

      Not just carrier, but model of plane. My cousin made captain, moved up to a larger plane as co-pilot, worked her way up to captain, moved up to a larger plane, etc, several times. She decided to stay after her last time so she wouldn’t have to take another pay cut to move up.

  20. axiomatic says:

    Salaries are too low for any pilot to want to cope with the stress and responsibility of carting people around the nation or internationally. Management at all the airlines are paid too much and need drop their salaries a bit to pay those pilots the appropriate salaries.

  21. dirtleg says:

    Pilots are treated much like teachers these days. Spend years getting trained and certified, start out at low end of income scale for a professional position with loads of pressure and responsibility. Stick with it to make it a life long career, then have some douche that has no idea what you go through on a daily basis tell you that you make too much money and need to take a pay cut or hit the road so that executives (or adminstrators) can keep thier six or seven figure salary. The similarities are striking indeed.

  22. ARP3 says:

    So, airlines treat pilots like crap, overwork them, pay them like crap, try to bust the union that tries to improve salaries and work conditions and give huge bonuses to the executives who do it. On top of that they tell their employees that they need to take a pay cut. Now, there’s a pilot shortage. Sounds like the “free market” worked how its was supposed to, it just happened to made things worse.

  23. MarkFL says:

    As I recall, during the 1970s there was a glut of qualified pilots because many military pilots were retiring or being otherwise discharged from the Air Force and Navy. Is it possible that the Gulf War will bring a lot of qualified pilots to the civilian side?

    Of course, the flip side of that is that increased use of drones will partially offset that.