Learning to fly brings so many intrinsic advantages than just being able to pilot an airplane. Dave Hirschman, AOPA Pilot Editor at Large, takes a look at one young man’s journey into flying and how it has prepared him to be able to confront life’s inevitable challenges in Because He Flies.
558,000 pilots needed in next 20 years!
Aviation is in need of hundreds of thousands of pilots and technicians in coming years. The world’s premiere aircraft manufacturers have the statistics to prove it. Both Boeing and Airbus agree world-wide demand for air travel is rising so rapidly that they forecast over 30,000 new passenger planes will be needed by 2034. That’s a lot of airplanes to keep in the air.
The question is, who is going to pilot those planes? Currently, there is a projected world-wide pilot shortage. Some of it is due to attrition. Some is due to the rising cost of flight training and the low pay associated with entry level regional airline flying jobs. Some of it is due to the military creating less pilots and utilizing drones. Whatever the reasons, the problem isn’t going away soon.
Why we need more pilots now.
In the U.S., the pilot shortage has been exacerbated by the “Colgan Rule” passed by Congress in response to the Colgan Air Crash over Buffalo, New York in 2009. The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) determined the accident was caused by a combination of severe icing and poor piloting skills. As a result, a pilot must now have at least 1,500 hours before he or she can qualify for the right seat of a commuter airliner. Before this ruling, Regional Airlines were filling those seats with Air Transport Pilots with as little as 350 hours.
While the ruling has had a dramatic impact on regional airlines, the major air carriers, at least for the moment, have not felt the pinch. There is still a sizable pool of pilot talent waiting for a flying position with the majors. This is due to the extension of the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65 and to the fact that many pilots who were furloughed during the past decade are still waiting to get back into the big airlines. Eventually, however, everyone will feel the pain. With fewer pilots in the regional pipeline, the need for more pilots will be felt everywhere in the not too distant future.
The crisis has already reduced flights to some markets or eliminated them all together. Less flights, less opportunity.
But wait, all is not lost.
Some are taking measures to correct the problem. For example, last year, Boeing announced its own pilot development program capable of taking would-be fliers from first solo to first officer within a prescribed curriculum and a set time period.
JetBlue airlines recently made a public announcement offering training to anyone who wanted to become pilot. The response has been phenomenal. JetBlue’s thinking is they can train a pilot from scratch to fit their needs, their culture and their way of doing things.
More good news! Plane and Pilot Magazine recently reported pay at some regional airlines is finally heading upward from $20,000 a year to $40,000 a year for a first officer. Regional airlines are also offering incentive packages to bring new pilots into their cockpits.
All these are signs of a much needed regeneration of the pilot community. Perhaps the best news is that some in Congress and many in aviation are beginning to see that the number of hours is not the prerequisite, but the quality of those hours.
Not all want-to-be pilots will be going to Boeing or JetBlue. However, there are other viable paths to a flying career. They’re called flight schools. Our advice? Find one that’ll train you right and give you enough hours to start your career, such as 424 Aviation. Pick a school with good instructors that’ll make the most of your flight time because it’s not the number of hours you accrue, but what goes into them that counts.