PILOTS WANTED. WHERE HAVE ALL THE PILOTS GONE?

The day has come when airline recruiters are having trouble finding all the pilots they need to keep their flight routes open.

Photo: ptatransitauthority.blogspot.com

I don´t know how it goes nowadays, but back in the 80´s all boys in my classroom wanted to become whether a football player, or a policeman, or a firefighter or an airline pilot…. and what can I say, from all previous options a few of us were keen on the “pilot-thing” not just for the thrill and adventure of flying big machines worldwide but also for the girls, the cash and the glamour surrounding such profession.

The past:

Back in the 80´s, some of you may remember the fact that taking an airplane was not like today. Taking an airplane was a sign of social status, it meant you were taking very special holidays or you had a very important job. It was more than flying, it was getting somewhere where not everybody had the chance to go.

The Present:

We are all living on a global economy and we all want it to be for good. You cannot stop the world going around. Every day there are more and more people travelling by plane and that leads airline companies to new strategies and business models. Competition lead to a better offer and pricing for users yet it does not mean that all airlines, pilots and aviation suppliers are making good business today.

Good news is, nowadays you can buy a flight ticket from a low cost airline to fly to a nearby country at reasonable prices, even more, you can take advantage of special offers and you can find yourself hooping inside a Boeing 737-800 from London to Malaga or from Rome to Berlin for less than 10USD return ticket. All this with a guaranteed safety level that is regulated by agencies and the operators themselves.

Bad news is, you can find today’s pilots who spend savings and loans pursuing the golden dream of becoming First Officers and now they can´t find a proper professional career path as the market, its regulators and governments are all mixed in a situation where safety, economic results and labor force don´t align. And it’s getting worse, as regional and small airline companies claim that there are not enough experienced pilots on the market to fulfill the increasing passenger demand, the retirement of qualified pilots and the decreasing number of pilots that move out from military to commercial pilot careers.

The Future:

On February 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GOA) made a report about “Current and Future Availability of Airline Pilots” that was presented on request to the U.S. Congress. It is highly recommendable for those seeking a job opportunity as an airline pilot so here is the link: http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661243.pdf

This report shows important data and I would like to describe some of it below:

• Boeing forecast projected demand for 498,000 new airline pilots worldwide over the next 20 years
• FAA 2013 forecast projects that passenger demand for U.S. airlines over the next 20 years will grow at an average 2.2 percent per year through to 2033
• BLS Employment Projections 2012–2022 assumes a 6.6 percent net decrease in employment in the overall number of airline pilot positions through the year 2022—which equated to about 4,400 fewer pilot jobs over the time period.

Plus, you need to have in mind some other points:

• New rules demand 1,500 hours’ experience for both pilot and co-pilot on airline flight routes
• Big airlines can access to more qualified pilots and recruit them but regional airlines have less resources to fill their cockpits as salaries are lower in comparison with its big airline recruiting competitors
• Getting your certificate, ratings and permissions in order to carry passengers as first offices on an airline implies no less than 100,000USD for the training just as a starter
• Regional airlines pay 20 to 30 thousand dollars per year to new incoming pilots, which most of them have a loan of 120 thousand dollars used for the flight training process

As GOA report exposes, the regional airlines are experiencing difficulties to recruit qualified pilots with a CV that accomplishes all new regulations and requirements. This is happening to the point that some airlines are actually closing due to the lack of pilots, like it happened recently to Republic Airways (US).

The Conclusions:

When talking to unemployed pilots, student-pilots or first offices that today fly on regional routes they all agree. There is no shortage of pilots, there is a shortage of pay on a profession where not everything shines and blinks as some people think…pilots face radiation, non-circadian work hours, higher rates of divorce, no horizontal career movements…not to mention pilots have to keep their licenses active on the event of being unemployed or they will have to reactivate it which means more money, more time.

You would think that flight simulation could help this situation in order to make flight training more accessible, affordable and cost-effective for all agents involved. However, although flight simulation makes the integration of new crews possible on highly sophisticated airplanes through a better cost for airlines, it does not mean it’s a good business for them, student-pilots or simulator manufacturers as some of the previous are quite unhappy with the actual situation of the industry and incoming future.

Airlines are constantly struggling to keep a good result on their economic plans. Student-pilots think they are investing too much time and money on training in exchange of a salary that is decreasing year after year. Flight simulator manufacturers must comply requirements written on the 20th century for manufacturing highly sophisticated flight simulators that will be used by Student-Pilots starting with 0 flight hours’ experience.

The Questions:

Now I would like to reflect on some thoughts that become questions which can´t be answered by myself, the market will do sooner or later:

– How long will EASA and FAA keep different requirements depending on the continent you live in?
– Will there be a day when airplane manufacturers lease the airplane AND its crew to airliners?
– Will the day arrive when airlines fly their airplanes with just 1 pilot in the cockpit?
– Will the time arrive when airlines fly with no pilots in the cockpit?

You may be interested in reading the related articles below that inspired me to write this post:

– Financial Times. LINK
– Consumerist. LINK
– The Economist. LINK