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ARTICLE: Airlines Face Acute Shortage of Pilots


Federal regulations that go into effect next summer requiring newly hired pilots to have a minimum of 1,500 hours of prior flight experience, six times the current minimum, will certainly raise the cost and time to train new pilots at a time when lower salaries and more-demanding schedules have made the profession less attractive. Thousands of airline pilots will soon hit 65, the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots. In 2014 another new regulatory requirement will go into effect will which mandate more rest time for flight crews, which will mean that airlines will have to increase the number of pilots they have on their payroll by at least 5 percent. Delta Airlines will need 3,500 new pilots over the next 10 years to maintain its current requirement and American Airlines plans to add 2,500 pilots over the next 5 years.

The main line carriers have typically relied on their regional air carrier brethren as a pilot resource pool. However, the new flight time rule will impact that hiring model as well. Hiring from the regional airlines cascades the shortage to regional operators and the business aviation community as well. Tapping into experienced aviators from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy has always been a reliable resource but the attraction of making more money, no deployments and better benefits is not as powerful as it was in the past.

The concern about future pilot resource requirements has prompted the FAA to have discussions with the airlines, pilots and other stakeholders to obtain data to determine the long-term pilot staffing requirements and potential solutions. One major hurdle is the costs associated with obtaining the applicable licenses and the number of flight hours it will take to even be qualified.

For starters, it’s in the best interest of the entire aviation community that every aviation association, be it A4A, RAA, AOPA, AIA, NATA, NBAA, NACA, etc., to form a joint coalition with the FAA to identify the long term requirements. This joint group needs to develop a strategic plan for addressing the problem. No ideas or options should be rejected without detailing all the pros and cons, including revisiting the new rules and developing alternatives that will mitigate the shortage.

The “experts” will say that the rest and flight time rules, that emanated from the February 2009 Colgan Airlines accident, were long overdue. Maybe so, but what if the accident never took place? Would those new rules have been published so quickly? It would also be interesting to revisit the analysis, that went into the new flight time rule, to see the associated costs and future resource requirements included in all of these collateral costs.

The cumulative consequences of the new rules create a huge problem for the aviation industry. Ab initio training, cooperative programs with academic institutions and more sophisticated use of simulator techniques offer long term relief, but the real problems are soon to be felt; so it is imperative that one of the stakeholders trade associations immediately takes the lead and makes this an industry, if not national, priority.

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