Pilot Shortage- yes or no – data analysis needed to find THE solution

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Airlines flight cancellations = proof of pilot shortage

Unions no shortage–pay is problem, inept management

SOLUTION? Retire Age 65->67, Restricted ATP

Union NO; airlines YES; GAO quantitative answer

The battle over the supply of pilots is in the forefront of the airline news front. Apparently, the advocates and opponents have not relented from their positions. Supply and demand of a human asset is difficult to quantify, but maybe this controversy will need an objective, quantitative determination.

Aviation safety policies are the result of a public dialogue amongst differing perspectives, all with the same goal—reducing risk. Opinions based on experiences are valid contributions to this dialogue, but are not as compelling as conclusions founded in data. Even numbers bear scrutiny as Stanford scholar, Thomas Sowell,  explained:

“All too often when { an advocate } cites statistics, they forget the statisticians’ warning that correlation is not causation.

Nothing begs more for better data analysis that the supply of qualified Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate  (ATP) and the elements that expand/contract the supply of qualified pilots. This debate has origins as long ago as 2014 when, in response to Congressional requests, the GAO commissioned a study:

  • what the available data and forecasts reveal about the need for and potential availability of airline pilots
  • the types of industry and government actions that are being taken, or might be taken, to attract and retain airline pilots

GAO heading

GAO found mixed evidence regarding the extent of a shortage of airline pilots, although regional airlines have reported difficulties finding sufficient numbers of qualified pilots over the past year. Specifically, looking at broad economic indicators, airline pilots have experienced a low unemployment rate—the most direct measure of a labor shortage; however, both employment and earnings have decreased since 2000, suggesting that demand for these occupations has not outstripped supply. Looking forward, industry forecasts and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment projections suggest the need for pilots to be between roughly 1,900 and 4,500 pilots per year, on average, over the next decade, which is consistent with airlines’ reported expectations for hiring over this period.

Yet studies GAO reviewed examining whether the future supply of pilots will be sufficient to meet this need had varying conclusions.

Two studies point to the large number of qualified pilots that exists, but who may be working abroad, in the military, or in another occupation, as evidence that there is adequate supply. However, whether these pilots choose to seek employment with U.S. airlines depends on the extent to which pilot job opportunities arise, and on the wages and benefits airlines offer.

Another study concludes that future supply will be insufficient, absent any actions taken, largely resulting from accelerating costs of pilot education and training. Such costs deter individuals from pursuing a pilot career. Pilot schools that GAO interviewed reported fewer students entering their programs resulting from concerns over the high costs of education and low entry-level pay at regional airlines. As airlines have recently started hiring, nearly all of the regional airlines that GAO interviewed reported difficulties finding sufficient numbers of qualified entry-level first officers. However, mainline airlines, because they hire from the ranks of experienced pilots, have not reported similar concerns, although some mainline airlines expressed concerns that entry-level hiring problems could affect theirpilots wanted regional airline partners’ ability to provide service to some locations…


Unfortunately, this authoritative analysis convinced neither the employers nor the unions about the existence of a shortage; so, the debate continued. The airlines, in particular the Regional Airlines, assert that the frequent cancellations of their flights is the result of a shortfall of pilots. The unions disagree claiming that the reduced supply of ATPs is attributable to insufficient salaries/benefit and/or ineptitude of airline management’s recovery[1] from the pandemic.

In response to airline claims of a shortage of pilots, resulting in significant disruptions of schedules, two proposals have emerged:

ALPA recognizes that its members are fatigued, a risk that an infusion of pilots would reduce; it still opposes the addition of 2 years of PICs through a retirement extension as a QUICK way to address this safety problem; their analysis—

ALPA facts

Might not a senior pilot prefer to fly domestic routes, having been prohibited from international flights by ICAO[2], RATHER THAN retiring? The increase of age, ALPA, argues, would increase the possibility of health problems with the additional 2 years, QUERY: PICs from ages 60 to 65 have been flying since 2005, data showing a rise in pilot incapacitation/disqualification would support this assertion.

As to the R-ATP opposition, ALPA makes the following argument:


alpa data chartWell-Trained Pilots Save Lives

Now, airlines are cutting service to dozens of cities across the country and laying the groundwork to weaken the most effective aviation safety law [3]of the past decade—the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, sometimes referred to as the “1,500-hour rule.”



As characterized by ALPA, the 2010 Act required additional hours not training; the Continental Connection Flight 3407 was crewed by an experienced PIC[4] and SIC[5]. The Republic R-ATP exemption petition would provide the highest levels of training- exactly what ALPA says is needed.

The arguments are far more extensive than the above and all seem to end in a stalemate[6]. Rather than continue to argue over opinions, perhaps it is time, AGAIN, for the GAO[7] to do a quantitative study. Its 2014 report pointed to possible future issues; now those uncertain forecasts may now have more reliable data to support or refute the previous expectations. Without objective determination of these facts, politics may be the determining factor for this important long-term safety conflict.

GAO cut through the data

ALPA opposes two proposals to alleviate pilot shortage

19 May 2022

ALPA flag

US pilot union Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) has pledged to block any attempt to raise the mandated pilot retirement age, which advocates say would help alleviate the pilot shortage.

supply v. demandALPA is also vociferously opposed to reducing minimum aeronautical experience requirements for pilots entering the field, claiming doing so would erode safety.

Even though numerous US airlines have cancelled thousands of flights this year due to a dearth of qualified flight deck staff, ALPA contends there is no pilot shortage to alleviate.

The path to becoming a professional pilot is arduous, lengthy and costly

“This discussion is yet another attempt to distract the conversation from the real issue, which is the failure of airlines to deliver on a key goal of the multibillion-dollar relief plan Congress provided them during the pandemic,” Joe DePete, ALPA president, says on 19 May. That goal, says DePete, was “to effectively manage air-service operations as travel resumes”.DePete and Graham

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is reportedly working on finding consensus for legislation that would raise the mandatory pilot retirement age from 65.

“ALPA strongly opposes this proposed legislation as there is no reason to change the retirement age today, and doing so would only increase costs for airlines as well as introduce unnecessary risks to passengers and crew alike,” he adds.

Increasing the required retirement age to 67 or 68 would have significant unintended consequences”, and displace pilots, ALPA says. The union adds that older pilots will be forced to leave “the most desirable international routes” because the international age limit set by civil aviation regulatory body ICAO is also 65.

“When age-65+ airline pilots return to domestic-only flying, they will then displace more junior pilots and both cohorts may require training on different aircraft, adding to the training costs of air carriers,” ALPA says.

Earlier on 19 May, ALPA released a letter from DePete to acting Federal Aviation Administrator Billy Nolen. In that letter, DePete says reducing aeronautical experience requirements for beginner airline pilots would undermine aviation safety.

alpa data chart


[NOTE: (a) the above data represent P121 carriers only; (b) the chart implies that 100% of the accident reduction is attributable to the increased HOURS (not truly just training) and thus claims credits for other factors like SMS, more reliable equipment, vastly few hours flown due to COVID, etc.)

ALPA says a recent proposal by regional carrier Republic Airways attempts to “circumvent the clear intent of the law”. The law in question requires most commercial pilot candidates to have 1,500h of flight time before qualifying for a restricted air transport pilot certification – and a seat in a US airliner.

r-atpLast month, Republic filed for an exemption to the so-called “1,500-hour” rule, saying its highly-selective ab initio training programme could be compared to the rigorous training the military provides to its pilots.

Pilots leaving the military for civilian aviation jobs are required to have just 750h of total flight time in their logbooks. Republic wants to make that the standard for its programme. Pilots graduating from university degree programmes are required to have 1,000h or 1,250h.

For ALPA, that is not sufficient. 

Raising the retirement age and easing flight-time requirements have been proposed by various aviation interest groups asDATA FROM FUTURE AIRLINE PILOTS methods to increase pilot supply as the industry clamours for qualified flight deck professionals in the post-coronavirus environment.

According to consultancy Future and Active Pilot Advisors (FAPA), US carriers are set to hire 10,194 pilots in 2022, more than double the number hired in 2021. A study by management consultancy Oliver Wyman last year predicted that US airlines will continue to face shortages in the tens of thousands for the rest of the decade.

The USA is the only country that requires 1,500h of experience before candidates may enter the field.



[1] If the airlines do not have the right scheduling and if the union solution does not result in exorbitant pilot costs, why has the union not already proposed the solution.

[2] ICAO might well be willing to advance this limit as it recommended in December 2019

[3] An assertion which requires more than a simple chart to prove. Correlation does not equal causation.

[4] “Colgan’s flight records indicated that the captain had accumulated 3,379 hours of total flying time, including 3,051 hours in turbine airplanes, 1,030 hours as a pilot-in-command (PIC), and 111 hours on the Q400. He had flown 116, 56, and 16 hours in the 90, 30, and 7 days, respectively, before the accident.”

[5] “According to a résumé in her personnel file at Colgan and her application for employment with the company, from August to December 2006, the first officer worked part time as a flight instructor at Sawyer Aviation, Scottsdale, Arizona. From January 2007 to January 2008, the first officer was a flight instructor at Sabena Airline Training Center, Phoenix, Arizona.34 She was hired by Colgan in January 2008….Colgan’s flight records indicated that the first officer had accumulated 2,244 hours of total flying time, including 774 hours in turbine airplanes and on the Q400. She had flown 163, 57, and 16 hours in the 90, 30, and 7 days, respectively, before the accident. (These times do not include the accident flight.)”

[6] ALPA has already intoned that the airlines’  “spread of misinformation about the availability of airline pilots and assist your members in properly managing the multibillion-dollar federal aid package that American taxpayers provided the airlines to ensure they could safely and efficiently serve passengers as they returned to flying.”

[7] The GAO may not be able to staff such a study on an expedited basis. In that event, there are a surfeit of experts consultants available.


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