Pilot Shortage Means Big Business for Flight Academies

Aviation International News » April 2012
April 1, 2012, 4:10 AM

Profound change is coming to the flight-training industry, prompted by new legislation in the U.S. and by the rapid growth of airline and business aviation in countries where aviation is finally gaining a stronger foothold. The changes are underscored by what many predict will be a shortage of pilots, thanks to fewer new pilot entrants, large numbers of retirements and lack of general aviation infrastructure in emerging countries such as India and China.

“The signs of a global pilot shortage are mounting as airlines expand their fleets and flight schedules to meet surging demand in emerging markets,” Boeing wrote in its long-term market outlook. “Asian airlines in particular are experiencing delays and operational interruptions due to pilot scheduling constraints.” According to Boeing, during the next 20 years, Asia-Pacific demand will reach 183,200 pilots, with China accounting for 72,700. “Europe will need 92,500 pilots; North America, 82,800; Latin America, 41,200; the Middle East, 36,600; Africa 14,300; and the CIS 9,900.”

The question now is where will all these new pilots be trained?

Jason Blair, executive director of the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), and NAFI member Jonathon Freye, have written a white paper addressing how the pilot training industry in the U.S. is about to change dramatically because of legislation mandating that airline pilots have at least 1,500 hours and an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate. That legislation is headed toward becoming a regulation, with the recent release of an FAA notice of proposed rulemaking . Essentially, airline captains and first officers would both have to carry an ATP. The ATP requires at least 1,500 hours of flight time. (Oddly, the U.S. legislation comes at a time when non-U.S. airlines have adopted the lower minimum flight hour standards allowed under ICAO’s multicrew pilot licensing scheme, which requires only 240 hours of flight time.)

What concerns Blair and Freye is that the sudden jump in mandatory minimum experience requirements from a commercial pilot certificate and 250 hours of flight time to an ATP and 1,500 hours will severely constrain the airline industry and lead to even greater hiring of new pilots from the ranks of flight instructors. Another consequence of the new U.S. Part 121 airline requirements will be the staggering cost of gaining the required 1,500 hours. While commercial pilots can add hours to their logbooks by flying for charter operators, most pilots gain experience by teaching new pilots. The problem then becomes who will teach the new pilots if all the instructors have been sucked up by airlines?

“In light of new rulemaking,” they wrote in the white paper, “it is unlikely that the flight training industry will be able to offer a continuous supply of qualified pilots to meet the demands of commercial carriers. The industry should not look to the flight instruction community as the training ground for its Part 121 pilots. There will not be enough positions available to meet the experience needs, and it is not a productive approach to the provision of quality flight instruction.”

Blair and Freye published some interesting statistics about the pilot population in the U.S. Pilot certificates issued in the U.S. have declined to 93,861 in 2009 from 156,955 in 1990. But the commercial/ATP numbers are far lower. In 1990, 15,500 commercial and 8,437 ATP certificates were issued. Those numbers dropped to 11,350 commercial and only 3,113 ATP certificates in 2009. Remember Boeing’s outlook, which sees a need for 4,140 new airline pilots per year just in the U.S. during the next 20 years. The Boeing numbers don’t include general aviation pilots flying corporate and charter aircraft, flight instructors and other types of working pilots.

More worrisome perhaps is the small number of active certified flight instructors (CFIs), according to Blair and Freye. To measure whether flight instructors are active, they compared the total number of CFIs in the U.S. to the number of CFIs that have endorsed a pilot for a checkride in the previous five years. Their conclusion: only 13.8 percent of the 96,473 CFIs in the U.S. are actively teaching. And the ranks of new CFIs keep declining; just 4,348 were added in 2009, down from a high of 8,164 in 1991.

“There is no feasible way given the current status of the flight training industry, and industry standard training model, to continuously supply qualified pilots for the demand of air carriers,” the white paper concluded. “There is no single solution to the predicted pilot shortage. The airlines, the FAA, and the flight training industry acknowledge the problem, but policymakers continue to ignore it. Even the FAA has acknowledged the need for ‘creative approaches to pilot training.’ Interim solutions may necessarily encompass reductions in service to match a sustainable level of qualified airmen; finding service alternatives if domestic carriers cannot provide a level compatible with demand; and developing a training process that, [while] cost effective and [possibly different] from current proposals, also meets the skill level and competency required of the airline environment. None of these solutions includes leaving the system as it is currently. If forecasts about the pilot shortage come to fruition while licensure rates continue to decline, change will be inevitable for the flight training industry.”

If anything, the coming pilot shortage is good news for flight academies, companies that specialize in pilot training, many of which are associated with colleges and universities. Major training providers such as FlightSafety International and CAE also operate flight academies–FlightSafety has one facility in Vero Beach, Fla., and CAE has 11 academies around the world–and the number of academies in countries with emerging aviation industries seems to be growing. But until these countries figure out that they need to allow average citizens to learn to fly in unencumbered airspace and in an environment that promotes the growth of general aviation infrastructure, the worldwide shortage of pilots will not abate.

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Nick Abate
on April 2, 2012 - 11:51am

Great white paper and article addressing a huge problem in the industry. It is still unclear how it all will shake out and how severely aviation will be impacted as the shortage hits. Another question I am still trying to figure out the answer to is how do we (the aviation industry) increase student recruitment and get kids excited about becoming pilots again? The high price of education and the low wages coming out of school are a huge deterrent for students and their parents.

What if the airlines helped alleviate the financial burden for students?

More thoughts at: www.brownaviationlease.com/blog

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Kyle Garrett
on April 2, 2012 - 5:34pm

1500 hour requirement aside, the real question facing the entire aviation community is "who is going to pay for all these new pilots?" Without government and/or airline subsidies, the average person simply cannot afford to earn all the certificates and ratings required to be an ATP. I hope our U.S. lawmakers recognize that the aviation training industry is now caught in a financial "Catch-22" and begins offering financial aid programs to students. Without some type of financial assistance, we could be looking at a pilot shortage of epic proportions.

Kyle Garrett - owner of AviationSchoolsOnline.com

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Dave
on April 3, 2012 - 3:02pm

What pilot shortage? I am a pilot for a US airline and just had my last day today and am now laid off. We call it "furloughed." In the airlines, that means you stop working, and no longer receive a paycheck. You do not normally receive any kind of separation pay. You get re-called back to work when business warrants it and in order of seniority. My airline is laying off in droves by year's end alone.

Pinnacle Airlines, a $1 billion dollar-a-year airline just filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and has announced the layoff of over 600 pilots by this year's end.

American Eagle, a major US regional airline is laying off pilots. 50 more to go by April 5th.

Ryan Air, an american charter airline flying wide-body jets world-wide just filed for Chapter 11 and is laying off pilots.

Citation Air, a fractional aircraft ownership company is laying off pilots in droves.

NetJets, Inc. The largest fractional ownership company has nearly 500 pilots laid off.

World Airways, the largest provider of military troop transport and one of the largest American charter airlines, and its sister company North American Airlines, have filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and are laying of the majority of their pilot workforce.

Mesa Airlines, a major US domestic carrier, has 180+ pilots laid off.

Comair, a major US domestic carrier operating on behalf of Delta, has 147 pilots laid off and is planning on massive downsizing in the near future.

I can go on with more bad facts. All these pilots are flooding the streets and the human resources departments. The majority have many years of experience and thousands of hours of flight time.

This looming pilot shortage has been going on for nearly a century. Just read any of the aviation magazines from long ago and look at the ad's the flight schools put in there.

No Avatar
dan
on April 4, 2012 - 6:25am

Aren't the AE layoffs because of the ATR going away? It will turn around. It has to. This isnt just airlines, it's every industry out there in every country. The rich have gotten too powerful and the middle class is due for a revolution.

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Dave
on April 4, 2012 - 1:40pm

AMR corporation which owns American Airlines and American Eagle has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on November 29th of 2011. The prospects for Eagle are dim, according to my colleagues there. If you look at the history of American Eagle since the 80's it is filled with bankruptcies and mergers.

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John Edwards
on May 29, 2012 - 4:11pm

So many air companies just lay off their pilots !...
Just an ad from schools eager for money.

No Avatar
George
on May 29, 2012 - 11:28pm

There never has been a pilot shortage, there is no pilot shortage, there will never be a pilot shortage. Historically airlines have been staffed by ex-military and ex-corporate pilots. Restore the pay and quality of life at the airlines to attract qualified people. As far as the above poster suggesting using taxpayer money to fund students to around in Cherokee 140s - are you out of your mind? The government is broke!

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