How Will The Airline Industry Handle A Pilot Shortage? - Airspeed Junkie

All over the news and in several leading aviation journals you will see that we are coming upon a huge pilot shortage.  While this is true, most media venues get the facts all wrong.  Mostly because they are not experts in the field nor do they work in the field of aviation.  Granted we are going to experience a pilot shortage in the coming years, this is due to the large levels of attrition that will be occurring at most larger airlines.  Pilots are being forced to retire whether they like it or not at age 65, this is what causes the gap in pilots.  This is true, but there is another avenue that the general public is not privy too   There are plenty of well qualified and experienced pilots out there to hire.  There are pilots that have not even applied to commercial airlines and there are ones that are not chosen.  The question is how do you get the pilots who have not applied to apply and how do you get the overlooked pilots to interview.  One of the answers lies in the very fact of the way most airlines do business.  I say this with experience since I fly for a major airline and I have gobs of experience as a captain.

Airline management does not come to the airport.

I have said it before and I will say it again.  Most problems can be solved easier if the airline management actually comes to the airport.  The airports are where are passengers are and also where are prospective pilots and flight attendants are.  You have to be there, you have to absorb the pulse of the airport experience, you cannot do this from an office 1000 miles away.  So if you are engrained in the pulse of pilot activity you will notice that there a bunch of experienced pilots that have not even applied to the major airlines as a whole.  Why?  That question would be better answered with another question.  Why should they?

Experienced pilots are found at two different levels, some are corporate pilots and some are regional airline pilots.  Experienced corporate pilots tend not to apply to commercial work for one of two reasons, they either love corporate flying and the pay they collect or they hate the thought of starting over on the pay scale if they come to an airline.  Regional Pilots, the older, more experienced guys, have been at a regional airline for a long period of time and have a seniority number that allows them to make decent money.  The thought of pulling that safety net out and starting over is not appealing nor is it economically feasible in regards to retirement.  If you are going to lure those pilots over, you have to make it worth their while.  Today’s competitive landscape of razor thin margins and high operating costs will simply not allow it.  The only way you would get this to happen is if every airline agreed to collectively increase their wages or create some sort of hiring bonus.  The chances of all airlines coming to that agreement are between slim and none.  If you increased pay it would not be sustainable after the hiring shortage ended.  While it would be great for pilots to make more, today’s unions would never support going backwards on pay once new numbers were established.  Most likely a hiring bonus would be the only way to lure experience pilots out from their lucrative jobs.  In fact there are some airlines that are already experimenting with this very idea.

See this article for an excellent example of pilot hiring bonuses   ( thanks Paul Templeton from

There is also another group of pilots called “the I can’t get an interview for the life of me” pilot group.  These are aviators that meet the requirements for interviews but for some reason do not get the opportunity.  As line pilots we all know them.  We have them on our jump seat’s, we have them as friends and neighbors.  When we ask them if they have their resumes in and filed they always say yes.  Why they do not get called is a mystery.  Oh sure some management types will tell you this or that, but the fact is this, there is a stack of applications at every airline with pilots dying to get hired.  Granted there are always the dreamers, pilots with not enough qualifications, but there are also really good experience aviators that are trying to get in.

Aviation Colleges

There has also been a lot of press about aviation colleges saying that graduating classes are much smaller than needed to fill industry vacancies.  It is has been quoted that the industry has suffered because the pay is so bad.  The fact of the matter is, pilots graduating from colleges are not the candidates that airlines are hiring, they simply do not have the basic experience.  Those pilots are at the bottom of the food chain and enter into entry level aviation jobs.  Those jobs do in fact stink in regards to pay and benefits.  That in itself is part of the problem of the industry, you cannot graduate and live with normal expectations.  Those types of jobs always entail a long amount of horrible hours and dismal pay, this has long been referred to as paying your dues in aviation.  Personally this is where the root of getting people to go into aviation lies.  The airline level pays very good, much better over the past years as choices get better.  One shining improvement has been aviation colleges offering aircraft with better and more updated equipment on their training aircraft.  This has helped the pilots have better access to more advanced features that help them better down the road.  This makes a pilot better faster, but still does not address hours in the log book which is what airlines want (and insurance companies too).

So how do airlines solve the problem?

It really has come down to some creative thinking that is going to get the job done in order to meet the needs for airline staffing.  Simply increasing pay won’t work.  You have to find the pilots that have the experience and you wont find them in any airline office.  You have to scout for them, much like professional athletes are scouted for by teams.  I am not saying this is the only way, however it’s a form of a creative process that has to occur.  If you want to find experienced pilots you have to think like them and find out where they are.  You have to ask a bunch of questions and find out what their reasons are.  Then when you find those reasons, you can address a plan.  That’s the new agenda, it cannot be solved using an old formula, you have to think out side the box.  Ask a pilot they will tell you, they live in this “pilot shortage” type of world daily.  To solve these issues you have to think like a pilot and go where pilots go.

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