Are Airline Pilots In Shortage?

Following the outbreak of the SARS virus, the aviation industry is experiencing a shortage of skilled pilots.

The travel restrictions and mandatory vaccinations for new pilots have kept many potential aviators away. For Alpha Aviation Group, which runs schools in the Philippines, the government policies have kept many of its students away.

Some US airlines experienced delays this summer as they trained pilots for the worst days of the Covid-19 crisis.

Although the aviation industry is expected to eventually recover from the crisis, experts predict that the shortage will still continue.

Kit Darby, the founder of KitDarby.com, said that the shortage will limit the ability of regional airlines to expand globally. He noted that it could also cause smaller airlines to run out of pilots.

Retirement of Pilots Effects

Due to the retirement of many pilots and the growth of the industry, the US’ aviation industry was struggling with a shortage of skilled pilots.

According to the University of North Dakota, the US could still have a shortage of about 3,500 commercial pilots in 2020.

The shortage had been especially severe for regional airlines during the SARS outbreak.

Regional airlines are currently experiencing schedule reductions that affect major carriers such as Delta Air Lines and American Airlines.

The pilot shortage ended on September 30, which triggered the Covid-19 crisis. However, since many pilots decided to take early retirement packages, regional airlines were left with a huge recruitment gap.

In the US, the demand for air travel is expected to increase significantly due to the upcoming hiring season. In addition, the in-service fleet of airlines is also expected to remain significantly below its pre-pandemic level.

What are the Airlines Doing About It?

Delta Air Lines said it plans to hire 1,000 new pilots by next summer. United Airlines, on the other hand, plans to hire 5,000 pilots by the end of the decade.

A survey conducted by Oliver Wyman in January revealed that the US’ pilot demand would reach 12,500 by January 2023. This figure is 13% of the total demand.

Regional Airline Association CEO Faye Malarkey Black said that she expected the pilot shortage to increase next year due to the retirements of seasoned pilots.

SkyWest, a regional airline, said that it had a strong pipeline of potential candidates. It noted that it had also experienced significant interest from prospective pilots.

Lauren Gaudion of Republic Airways noted that the company launched its own pilot training academy in 2014.

Republic Airways’ flight academy has already seen the success of its first group of pilots.

Other flight training schools also opened their doors in response to the anticipated shortage. This includes Skyborne Aviation, which acquired the former Flight Safety Academy in Florida this year.

Although training schools can help fill the pilot shortage, it won’t solve the problem in the long run as many aspiring pilots have to wait for years to be eligible to work for a major carrier.

Related: What Should You Do When Airline Change Flight Time?

How Much Shortage is Expected?

A new report released by Oliver Wyman stated that the aviation industry could face a shortage of up to 50,000 pilots in four years due to the pandemic. The report noted that the demand for pilots will return to normal levels in 2021.

Due to the increasing number of pilots retiring, the demand for aviation services in North America is expected to reach 13,000 by 2023, up from the current level of around 11,000 pilots.

The report noted that the aviation industry has created the conditions for a potential shortage by offering early retirement incentives.

Many young professionals are avoiding the aviation industry due to the high cost of training and the unstable nature of the job. This is also discouraging many mid-career professionals from returning to the industry.

According to the experts at Oliver Wyman, the aviation industry should start recruiting and training new pilots as soon as possible to avoid a potential shortage.

The recovery of the aviation industry will be determined by how quickly airlines can increase their pilot ranks.

The Academy of Aviation Role

Although air traffic in the US has not returned to its pre-COVID levels, most aspiring pilots are still considering a career in aviation. According to Ashley Pillon, the future of the industry looks promising. She noted that many regional airlines are starting to revamp their cadet programs.

Mike Arnold, the director of marketing for ATP, said that although the current job market doesn’t look promising, it’s actually a great opportunity for those who are already working toward becoming qualified pilots. For those who are close to earning their pilot’s certificate, the school has also strengthened its ties with regional airlines.

The Academy of Aviation, which is one of the oldest flight schools in the country, operates four campuses in New York, Georgia, and North Carolina. Chris Richards, the school’s president, said that they usually reopen after the COVID-19 program has ended.

The school’s reopening in New York was prompted by the increasing number of students. While AOA doesn’t offer direct entry into any regional airline program, Richards noted that there are still plenty of opportunities in aviation.

Due to the easing of travel restrictions and the availability of vaccinations, airlines have started hiring flight simulators to meet the demand for trained pilots.

Difficulties in Hiring Pilots

Despite the bailouts that the airlines received from the federal government, experts noted that training is still an essential component of the industry’s operations. Many new pilots have to be trained on the aircraft they’re working on.

David Johnson, an American Airlines first officer, was temporarily furloughed in the fall due to the financial difficulties of the company. He was recalled in December after another round of federal aid.

Getting enough pilots trained to operate efficiently will help airlines gauge how well they’ll respond to the recovery of the passenger market. Having insufficient pilots can also affect their operations due to thunderstorms.

Southwest Airlines, which is one of the largest airlines in the US, had a hard time dealing with the financial crisis.

The company experienced frequent flight delays and cancelled flights in June and July due to bad weather conditions.

It has about 500 first officers who are still on temporary leave. The union noted that about 900 pilots are still missing from the company’s training program.

The company’s training sessions start at 5:30 a.m. and end at 11 p.m. A spokesman noted that the airline is currently hiring experienced pilots and flight instructors.

American Airlines Situation

American Airlines, which has been hiring more pilots than its competitors, had planned to complete its training by the end of the summer.

Almost all of American’s pilots have been trained on the Boeing 737 Max, which was the plane involved in the fatal crashes of two different flights.

The company also reached out to potential pilots by asking them to fly from one of its pilot bases to another.

During an interview, an American Airlines official noted that the company’s pilots have been working hard to get the necessary training.

After the outbreak of the pandemic, American Airlines started hiring new pilots. Other airlines also resumed hiring.

The company noted that it reduced its schedule by about 1% to 1,000 flights during the height of the pandemic.

Dennis Tajer of the Allied Pilots Association noted that American Airlines overextended itself by planning out its summer and late-spring schedule.

Related: Are Airline Pilots in Demand?