We're at it again, hyping the upcoming pilot and mechanic shortage. (How come we never talk about flight attendant shortages?) Maintenance shops are having a hard time finding mechanics, and the new 1,500-hour rule for airline pilots means that airlines that are now losing their 65-year-old pilots to retirement are sucking instructors out of flight schools.
Oh, woe is us! What are we going to do?
First of all, let's calm down. There is no shortage in the world that sufficient money won't fix. Pay people enough and they will come. Raise the price of oil enough and clever humans will figure out an alternative.
But, I can hear aviation people saying, “It's not that easy. Aviation is different. Special. People should feel lucky to have a flying or maintenance job. It's not about the money, is it?”
Oh, yes it is.
Maybe not for young people starting out, but add a spouse and kids, and mommy and/or daddy will soon be looking for a real job, one that pays enough to put money away for college and one with decent benefits.
So what should the aviation industry do, if we don't want to suffer a real people shortage?
Simple. Figure out how to remunerate better. If your company can’t, then don't be whining when the résumé pile dries up and no one is knocking on your door.
Here are some simple ideas.
Stop charging $70 an hour and paying instructors $20 or $30 of that. Charge what you need to make money renting the airplanes and let the instructor keep all of the instruction fees. Your school will be overrun with high-quality candidates who want to stick around. They will be better teachers and thus keep students' costs to a minimum, too.
Many shops are charging more than $100 an hour for maintenance. How much of that goes to the mechanic? Shouldn't a maintenance job be a remunerative career instead of a training ground for the next job, which often is not even in aviation because aviation doesn’t pay that well? Mechanics’ work is just as important as that of the flight crew (pilots and flight attendants), air traffic controllers, line personnel and so on; all carry a huge responsibility, keeping the customer safe.
Please do us all a favor: stop racing to the bottom, and charge whatever is needed to keep our butts safe. If you can't make it fly safely for what you're charging, then get out of aviation and leave it to the professionals.
FAA (EASA, other regulators):
Stop over-regulating aviation! After a certain point, all of your well meaning efforts to fix every problem with more regulation do more harm than good. You could do far more for safety by walking around and visiting with us, rather than wasting everybody's time assessing a $687,000 fine against Delta Air Lines for a chip in a radome, for just one example. Or another $300,000 for a faulty copilot floodlight. Every time you impose more regulations or more penny-ante penalties, you ratchet up our costs yet again, which makes it even harder to pay people more. If what you are doing right this minute doesn't actually contribute to truly improving safety, then help us all out and stop it.
This isn't a problem that can't be fixed. All it takes is a little common sense. And we need to wean ourselves off the lame excuse that anyone who works in aviation should consider themselves lucky. Of course we all want to employ people who have a passion for aviation, but they aren't going to stick around unless their career is economically worthwhile.