Shortage of airline pilots to fill the industry gap

It seems that every so often, the world stumbles upon a real gem, the perfect opportunity, the diamond in the rough. The part that makes everybody want to take a ride with Marty McFly back to the future is to see whether or not it’s the real thing, or just another instance of iron pyrite, metaphorically speaking. Whether or not it’s the gold rush, dot-com bubble, mortgage backed investments, or startups like Apple, we all get the chance to look at an opportunity and decide whether or not we’re willing to risk the chance.

The Civil Aviation Training company CAE has recently announced at a presentation in Paris that it will need over a quarter of a million pilots to man the upcoming aircraft demand over the next ten years. They believe that in the next ten years, while 2017 is projected to cap off at 3.2 billion passenger trips, 2027 is projected to reach at least 4.8 billion trips. City pairs with direct flights are also expected to go from around 18,000 to over 25,000 in 2027. Their statistics also support the claim that logged active commercial aircraft is anticipated to increase from 25,000 to beyond 37,000 in 2027.

What really fuels the numbers here is that along with what seems to be an exploding industry, you have an almost unreal number of aging pilots that are expected to retire soon. With retirement required at age sixty five, you have over 105,000 pilots retiring within the next ten years. It was also alarming to see that almost a sixth of all the pilots in 2016 were under the age of thirty five.

While CAE was the driving force in providing convincing statistics to back up their somewhat surprising claim, many other companies are starting to agree that they’ve seen the writing on the wall and are wondering what measures should be taken to tackle such a crisis.

One of the reasons companies are starting to believe such a gap exists is because of the process a pilot goes through in order to “pay their dues”. It’s getting to the point where kids graduating from college are expecting to get a captain’s pay, which is somewhere in the ballpark of $200,000, but the starting salaries for new first officers are more in the 25,000 to 30,000 range. In other words, the starting pay is way too cheap. It takes a while to climb up the totem pole and make it to captain, and that starting salary really seems unreasonable when you look at the average tuition rates at some of the training institutions.

To complete a whole aviation training program and get into the first officer’s seat, you’re looking at paying around $100,000, which for your career exploring millennials/centennials, is a large investment for such small immediate returns. The only other way into getting a spot on the co-pilot seat in commercial aviation is through enough military flight experience, or at least 1,500 flight hours. If you’re not willing to crunch the numbers, that’s almost 188 days you’ll have to spend flying for at least eight hours a day. Good luck finding a plane you can just cruise around in for 188 days. We haven’t even mentioned the competition you face inside the military or training institutions, but we think by now you’ve pretty much got the picture that entering the field isn’t a cakewalk.

Those are just a few of many obstacles that the aviation industry faces in the future, but is still working on solving. Boeing has announced publicly that they are seriously pursuing the idea of unmanned passenger flights, and other airline companies are looking at offering greater benefits to increase job attraction. Nevertheless, we are all excited to see if the future holds the story of a “many are called, but few are chosen”, or on the flipside, “many were called, but few responded.”