This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Airline pilots used to command so much respect that their reputations ranked right up there with firefighters and professional athletes. Their careers were viewed as bold and dangerous, and they would turn heads everywhere they went in uniform. But today, some airlines claim they’re struggling to keep enough pilots among their ranks to match the growth of the industry.
SkyWest president and CEO, Chip Childs testified before Congress last week, saying that a shortage of pilots could lead to the grounding of many aircraft among the regional fleets of US airlines. Childs told the House Transportation Aviation Subcommittee last Wednesday that he expects a shortfall of 15,000 regional pilots by 2026. SkyWest performs regional service for American, Delta, and United.
What Pilot Shortage?
Is there really a pilot shortage? Before 2010, a novice pilot could get hired as a First Officer by an airline with a commercial pilot certificate and as little as 250 hours under his or her belt. Airlines often cite the new 1,500 hour requirement and need for an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate — enacted in 2010 — as the catalyst for this so-called shortage.
The Air Line Pilots’ Association (ALPA), on the other hand, says no shortage exists, and according to its website, “More than 25,500 [ATP] certificates have been issued since July 2013 — this rate of issuance continues to exceed the most optimistic pilot forecast.” ALPA is also the pilots’ union for many US airlines.
Grounded by Expenses
Becoming a pilot can be prohibitively expensive for most people. In a way, it’s like medical school and one has to be career-focused and willing to go into debt while earning the appropriate licenses and aircraft type ratings. If you don’t own an aircraft, even being a private pilot can cost well over $100 per hour, plus the required classroom training. Total costs could easily exceed $200,000 to rack up those 1,500 hours, while the starting salary at many regional airlines starts below $30,000. ALPA believes the low salaries are the primary reason would-be pilots are avoiding airline careers. Needless to say, the notion of flying tiny planes between tiny towns for very little money might appeal only to those who are in it purely for the love of flying, though it pays dividends if you are committed to making it a career.
For passengers, the downside of a possible pilot shortage is that some airlines would have to reduce the number of flights they’re offering. The reduction in seat supply would drive up demand, which could also drive up the cost of your tickets.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.
Know before you go.
News and deals straight to your inbox every day.
Some airlines say an upcoming pilot shortage could seriously impact their service, while their pilots' union argues there's really no shortage at all.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards