FAA Official: Coming Pilot Shortage Will Be ‘Painful’

 - July 3, 2012, 4:15 AM

After asking for a show of hands from air charter operators who are experiencing difficulties filling pilot vacancies, FAA deputy director of flight standards John Duncan told attendees at last month’s NATA Air Charter Summit that he gets involved in discussions about pilot shortages in a lot of different venues. “From an academic standpoint, it’s going to be interesting,” he said. “But from a community standpoint, it’s probably going to be a little painful. This is a dilemma for the aviation community.”

Although the big airlines have always been able to attract flight crews with the experience that they needed, there is a perception that the new flight, duty and rest rules will create a need for more pilots. A second dynamic is the new first-officer qualification rule, with which the smaller feeder airlines are already having problems. So the airlines have to look to other places for pilots.

How that affects the Part 135 segment will be a challenge, Duncan explained, because it means that pilots moving to Part 121 are going to need 1,500 hours, “which puts [Part] 135 operations in a different place.” He asked NATA attendees for their support for a “U.S. aviation academy” that is now under discussion. It would use four-year universities to train pilots and mechanics and leverage financial backing so the costs of training would not be insurmountable.

Duncan was elaborating on comments made by his boss, director of flight standards John Allen, at the Air Charter Safety Foundation’s symposium earlier this year. He also talked about a looming shortage of pilots and aviation maintenance technicians. Talking with academia, Allen said, the FAA has floated the idea of a U.S. aviation academy program to try to stave off a lack of pilots and AMTs.

Allen envisions a five-year program in which the pilots would come out with a four-year degree and instrument and multi-engine licenses, although funding needs to be worked out politically. Internships would be created along the way, so enrollees would work with charter companies for the 1,500 hours they need for an ATP.

According to Duncan, the academy plan would allow some control over the entry standards and some control over the selection of those candidates who come into the program. In addition there would be some “exit ramps,” so that when applicants don’t succeed they can move on to something else.

Cost of TFRs

Also under discussion at the meeting was the implementation of temporary flight restrictions (TFRs). Zach Carder section chief for general aviation risk reduction at the TSA, acknowledged that several years ago there was a perception and perhaps even a reality that only certain members of the federal government grasped the effect of TFRs on GA when they were implemented.

“To some extent that was true,” he told attendees at the summit. “I don’t think at any point it was due to an agency not caring, but more so that they were so mission-focused on what their responsibilities were, especially with any of the TFRs that involved the Secret Service.”

In addition, while the FAA is responsible for controlling the airspace and promoting air commerce, the job of the Secret Service is quite simply to shield those under its protection at various events from attack on the ground or from the air. The Defense Department, meanwhile, defends the airspace to prevent an airborne attack.

“So finding the middle ground between all of those missions can be quite complicated and quite difficult,” Carder reminded, “so you give on one hand and you take away from the other until at some point it becomes unacceptable to the respective agencies.”

He said the TSA is trying to make internal changes to lessen the impact on aviation operators and airport businesses. “Your points are definitely taken to heart,” but he emphasized that the TSA doesn’t control the airspace. That is under the purview of the Secret Service or DOD.


Another story about an alleged pilot "shortage"! Delta and their pilot group have come to an agreement that will park up to 200 50 seat RJ's. Where do you think all those crews are going to go to? And with AMR bankruptcy still playing out who knows how many more pilots may lose their jobs. With all the pilots still out of work looking for what flying jobs that are may be out there, the job prospects look awful. The so called AMT shortage is more believable but not by much. If the shortage of AMT's was that bad then pay levels would be much higher and I would be wrenching instead of flying. So far I have not seen that happen either. So far the supply is still outstripping demand so wages are low for both positions. This article should have been titled "Cheap labor shortage will be painful".

As far as TFR's are concerned, only action from congress can stop the unreasonable and mostly unnessesary TFR's. Since very few in congress have any backbone to stand up to TSA and the other agencies responsible for them nothing will change.

There is still a very large glut of over-qualified pilots in the United States. I know. I'm a regional airline Captain who's been in the aviation business for over a decade now. I attended a job fair a couple of months ago along with thousands of other over-qualified pilots, and among the few US airlines in attendance none were hiring, and all of them were curt and generally un-interested in talking to pilot candidates unless you were typed, experienced on their aircraft and had ridiculous extra-professional credentials like line-check airman, former astronaut, etc. The foreign carriers in attendance were friendly and eager to meet with prospective hires and one even went as far to tell me point blank: "We are desperate" The foreign carriers were offering superior salaries and most importantly the opportunity to advance your career by flying larger aircraft and quick Captain upgrades. Pretty much the exact opposite of the employment picture in the United States.

I was recently offered a chance to fly the exact same jet as I do now in China for triple, yes triple the take-home pay in a country where the cost of living is a tiny fraction of the US. The job also had a much better schedule and loads more vacation time. All of this in supposed "Communist China" and yet people still call the USA the "land of opportunity". I would be gone already but I didn't pass the strict Chinese aviation medical.

Foreign carriers routinely accept very low-time or zero time First Officers and then bear the burden/cost of training them to proficient pilots over many years. The same was done here in the States in the 1960's. Currently US airlines are turning up their noses at regional jet captains with thousands and thousands of hours experience who have been flying their passengers on smaller outsourced jets for years. Screw US airline management. They hate unions and love the "free market" so let them pay a "free market" price for their pilots. I am 36 years old, have a four year college degree and am still paying back the vile loan-sharking Sallie Mae for the $80,000 dollars I borrowed for my flight training (just flight training, no college in that figure.)

A tax-payer funded US airline training academy would give the airlines access to young eager, debt free, inexperienced pilots (willing to work for cheap) while passing over highly indebted, tax-paying experienced pilots like myself who have suffered for years at the hands of mercenary airline business practices. As a college grad and FAA certificated highly indebted professional pilot, I worked full time as a pilot for four years (first as an Instructor, then as a 135 night cargo pilot, then as a regional jet first officer) before I broke the $18,000 a year mark.

The airlines have had it too good for too long. Let them pay up or shut up. They can always raise ticket prices you know.

How many more of these "Pilot Shortage" stories do we have to endure? Ive been in the business now for over 20 years and I have YET to see any kind of pilot shortage. With the airlines consolidating and the general downturn in charter and corporate flying after 2008 there are plenty of qualified unemployed men and women out there. While things may be better overseas, here its still going to be a remains a very tough market.

I am interested to know exactly who these charter operators are whom are worried about pilot staffing. Just looking at most job openings, most charter operators WILL NOT hire pilots who arent already typed and more maddenly current on their airplane. There is simply no taste and/or no money for these companies to type pilots on their aircraft and in many cases to pay for their currency at one of the large simulation schools. Much of this is due simply to the current glut of pilots on the market and until that situation corrects itself, Im sorry to say its not going to change.

Im not buying the Pilot Shortage agrument until I see it for myself.

Aviation academies would destroy small schools that are already suffering.

Show comments (4)