Here’s Why We’re Facing a Commercial Airline Pilot Shortage

A new study says there could be as many as 15,000 empty pilot seats in the next decade.

By Anna CaseyJuly 1, 2016 11:51 am| ,

Being a commercial airline pilot is a profession often romanticized in movies. A six-figure salary, the opportunity to travel the globe, an old-fashioned sense of job security. With 20-20 vision and the right training, you too could be a commercial airline pilot!

But why are so few people signing up?

According to a study by the University of North Dakota, there’s a pilot deficit in the U.S., one that could nosedive to a shortage of 15,000 empty seats in the flight deck over the next decade.

Louis Smith, former airline captain who runs a consulting firm called Future and Active Pilot Advisors, says the job market took a hit after 9/11. He says the decade from 2001 to 2011 was the worst he’s seen in the 40 years he’s tracked hiring in the airline industry.

“You had a severe industry crisis, so you had major pay cuts and pension terminations,” Smith says. “That seems to be recovering now in the past three or four years.”

Smith says that since passengers were reluctant to fly after the attacks, airlines lost a lot of money.

“Airline passengers declined considerably and airlines couldn’t charge much, they had to restructure it,” Smith says. “Airlines would die if they didn’t restructure.”

Now, demand is going back up, with passengers returning to the skies and more freight being shipped via plane. But the supply of pilots might not be able to keep pace, since 35,000 will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 in the next decade, Smith says

And, he says, there are three reasons why the pool of recruits isn’t as large as it used to be. One, of course, is the financial crisis, Smith says. Another is that many pilots used to come from a military background. But now, they’re staying in the military longer.

“The military pilot workforce has shrunk, and the commitment for active duty has gone to 10 and 11 years,” Smith says. “And the military is using retention bonuses for incentives to keep it’s pilots into retirement.”

“Another thing is new regulations mandating increased flight qualifications,” Smith says. “So a very restricted number of pilots qualify to fly the airline.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Post by Alexandra Hart.