NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pilot Shortage Hurts Airlines

February 10, 2014

Airlines have long been anticipating a large wave of pilot retirements, but it has come earlier -- and has been more severe -- than companies expected. It is the regional airlines that are hurting the most, though their shortage has also impacted the bigger airlines, which rely on the smaller carriers for short routes, says the Wall Street Journal.

The shortfall is partly due to new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules that have increased training requirements for new pilots and have imposed new rest rules on current pilots.

  • In August of 2013, the FAA required new pilots to have 1,500 hours of prior flight experience.
  • This is a huge increase from the previous requirement of 250 hours, raising the costs and time of training.
  • On top of this, the agency also issued new requirements mandating more rest time for pilots, which has meant that airlines have had to hire 5 percent more pilots in order to maintain their current level of service.

The 1980s was a major decade for pilot hiring, whereas the last 10 years have seen very little hiring. As a result, thousands of pilots are reaching age 65 -- the mandatory retirement age. As a result, regional carriers are seeing their pilots scooped up by the larger airlines -- who can afford to pay higher salaries -- and are struggling to find new pilots with sufficient flight experience.

  • Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, has said that aviation graduates are now forced to "spend the next two years flying around in circles" to reach the required 1,500 hours.
  • The vice president of the Allied Pilots Association, Neil Roghair, estimates that half of American Airlines' pilots will leave the company over the next 8-10 years. He expects to see 25 pilots retire each month by 2018, skyrocketing to 60-70 retirements each month in the next decade. "We'll have to hire 100 pilots a month to keep up," he said.

It is not just the commercial airline industry that is suffering from the shortage. The Air Force estimates a fighter pilot shortage of 400 within three years.

Source: Susan Carey and Jack Nicas, "Airline-Pilot Shortage Arrives Ahead of Schedule," Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2014.


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