The good news? Air travel is booming. The bad news? There aren’t enough pilots to handle it

Jul 20, 2018


Pilots are pose inside the cockpit of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 as Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Qatar Airways and Air Italy celebrate the delivery of their first 737 MAX in Everett, Washington on May 11, 2018. ; Credit: JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images


With air travel expected to double over the next 20 years, there’s no doubt that the demand for commercial airline pilots will be strong. There’s just one problem: there aren’t enough qualified pilots out there to meet the need.

The demand is bad enough that Delta says it’s offering all its employees the chance to take an unpaid leave to go to flight school in exchange for a job as a pilot with the airline once they finish as part of a larger program to incentivize more people to come fly for them. Regional airlines are feeling the worst of the shortage, with carriers seeing their schedules trimmed and some, like Republic, even going bankrupt due to staffing issues. Many new pilots start their commercial careers with a regional airline before moving to one of the larger carriers like Delta or American.

What’s driving this shortage? For starters, the deregulation of the airline industry in the late 1970s which led to the birth of low-cost carriers. 9/11 also played a big role, causing many of the legacy airlines in the U.S. to go bankrupt and forcing many pilots out of their jobs, leaving them with a choice of either taking a lower-paying job with another airline or finding another career altogether. Many commercial airline pilots get their training as pilots in the military, but that need has decreased thanks to the rise in use of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles. Federal law requires commercial pilots to retire at age 65, and the current shortage means more people are exiting the profession than are entering.

How are airlines coping with the pilot shortage and what are they doing to incentivize new pilots to join their ranks? What are people who might have looked at being a pilot in the past, like ex-military, doing instead? How much of an undertaking would it be for airlines to recruit and train their own pilots? Call 866.893.5722.

With guest host Libby Denkmann.


Capt. Lee Collins, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA), a Washington D.C.-based airline pilot trade association working to enhance airline safety and the pilot profession

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