Pilot Career Is Losing Its Appeal, Shows Survey

 - May 14, 2013, 2:21 PM

A new survey by the University of North Dakota Aviation Department suggests that young people are being turned off by the prospect of a career as an airline pilot. Just under one third of the 205 student respondents (32 percent) said they are now reconsidering their plans to become an airline pilot. A further 8 percent said that they have already abandoned this career path.

When asked what the industry would have to do to convince them to consider an airline career, 35 percent cited salary increases, 20 percent called for a more family-friendly lifestyle and 13 percent highlighted improved work schedules. The university’s Professor Kent Lovelace told the RAA Convention today that the industry needs to offer students more defined career paths if it wants to attract them. He also said that more will need to be done to reduce training costs and provide help with financial aid. At the same time, he feels carriers could do more to project a more positive image of the profession.


Just four years ago an airline pilot job was every young Indian's dream job. This has suffered a dramatic reversal and now it ranks nowhere amongst lists of young people's jobs to kill for!

One of the chief reasons for this is the extremely negative image put forth by the management of the amalgamated Air India of its pilots, in the Indian media. It's routine for pilots to be featured in extremely negative news on an almost daily basis - as offenders in events ranging from refusing to take on board late passengers, landing on runways where the ATC controller forgot or failed to give landing clearance, being reported as having fallen asleep at the controls, having initiated action for a hijacking against irate passengers protesting inordinate delays in a diverted flight, not being paid dues for almost a year, for having anomalies in a school certificate that quickly had the media calling the pilot with over 10000 hours of safe piloting to his credit a "fake" pilot and the DGCA then prosecuting and having the pilot imprisoned! The DGCA blames the pilot on every single occasion - even when the pilot's action was in accordance with the laid down procedures endorsed by the DGCA itself! It goes on. The Indian media is fully in mesh with the Air India management and the DGCA in painting pilots in the worst possible light and doing so on every possible occasion at that.

No wonder youngsters no longer want to become pilots.

What appeal does flying commercial have? Countless retired commercial airline pilots look at the working conditions taken for normal these days and say, "No, I wouldn't do it all over again." Sweatshop working conditions are rationalized as "paying your dues." Forget it. I'll sell insurance or work as a loan officer and fly for fun.

The salaries being paid by many airlines are a disgrace. The Buffalo crash (Dash 8) had that pilot making $45,000 as a a pilot and the FO was making a miserable $16,500. That's pitiful. In my area the city bus drivers make a minimum of $50k annually and even on minimum wage someone flipping burgers at a fast food outlet will make over $24k a year.
Why would any potential commercial pilot want to lay out $70,000 in order to get a job with the responsibilities of a pilot making an average entry level wage of $35-$40,000?
There are dozens of concerns that need addressing such as an ignorant media looking for scapegoats and a moneymaking headline as already noted, working hours, lousy airport traffic situations and the worry about terrorism.
Who needs any of that?

So we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions.
1. Should we stop teaching potential pilots how to do cost/benefit analysis earlier in their education process so they will blindly walk into an airline career in all the excitement, like when we teach them to vote for the incumbent?


2. Should we force every potential pilot to watch the movie "Catch me if you can" in order to bring back the glory days of yesteryear aviation in their imagination and sucker them in that way?

Just a thought.

Although I am an ATP airplane and helicopter, CFI and CFII airplane and helicopter and have 7 type ratings, the airlines never appealed to me at all. Once upon a time most pilots at least considered the airlines, but this is not the case anymore. The word is out that the the pay continues to go down, the work conditions are deteriorating, virtually no one who is honest with himself considers it a "glory" job or a job with adventure, it is a monotonous job, ALPA seems impotent to correct the major problems and the working pilots aren't recommending it to next generation.
This hurts the whole industry down the line. Why would anyone "pay their dues" to end up in a job that just isn't what it use to be (and may never be again). Why are pilot starts down? If there is no brass ring to grab for, why get on the merry-go-round!

Although I am an ATP airplane and helicopter, CFI and CFII airplane and helicopter and have 7 type ratings, the airlines never appealed to me at all. Once upon a time most pilots at least considered the airlines, but this is not the case anymore. The word is out that the the pay continues to go down, the work conditions are deteriorating, virtually no one who is honest with himself considers it a "glory" job or a job with adventure, it is a monotonous job, ALPA seems impotent to correct the major problems and the working pilots aren't recommending it to next generation.
This hurts the whole industry down the line. Why would anyone "pay their dues" to end up in a job that just isn't what it use to be (and may never be again). Why are pilot starts down? If there is no brass ring to grab for, why get on the merry-go-round!

The problem comes from many angles.

One is that the regional airlines are actually bigger than the majors in terms of traffic, this means that even if there are a lot of retirements, you still won't make it to the "majors", it just becomes the luck of the draw. Friends I went to school with have spent 10 years now at "regional" airlines, just "waiting" for their chance to move up. Add that to paying back loans, it's extremely hard to start any kind of family or save up anything for retirement. The way it used to work a long time ago when the regional airlines were not nearly as big is that you worked for a couple years at the regional, and then got "picked up" by a major. It simply doesn't work like this anymore. Those regional airlines that have starting pay of $12-30K/yr and median of about 40 once you've gotten a few years in are now the "career" airlines.

The other issue is the dismal pay, pay and benefits have been cut for the major airline pilots, while cost of living has gone up. This isn't even addressing the low pay of the regionals, which is just ridiculous. It's a slap in the face for someone that is expected to be a professional and fly passengers, dealing with any situations that come along the way. It takes years of training and experience to get to ANY airline job and then they are paid those dismal wages, but it gets worse. If they get furloughed, they have to start out at the beginning again at a new airline, so their last 2, 5, 7, or more years are wasted. This isn't like being a doctor where you can go and start out as a "doctor" at another hospital, you start out as a first officer again earning that bottom-wage.

Now with the internet, young people are figuring out that this is not such a lucrative career anymore. Colleges and schools tried to convince young people to spend 100,000-200,000K on their flight degree programs, but the main "feeder" to the major airlines has always been military pilots who had their training paid for. Those schools try to convince us that we are about to hit a huge "pilot shortage", but that's only to keep their flow of students and low-paid flight instructors flowing. With consolidation, mergers, bigger planes and the economics of airlines, a huge hiring spree is not around the corner, as these sources have been claiming for about the last 30 years (seriously, they've been screaming pilot shortage to every generation of pilots). Until the majors go into high schools and start recruiting right out of high school, like they did once in the 60s, I don't think there's any pilot shortage coming up...

Pilot Encouragement

From my letter to on a similar topic (AW&ST Feb. 11).

True, regional airline first officer (FO) pay is not now a living wage. Why not approach this period as a low-paid apprenticeship.

If you love to fly and are attracted to aircraft that fly higher, faster, further, this career may be for you.

Find a way to survive the low-paying regional FO years remembering that even regional captains, after five years, start at $70,000 per year.

There is still an incentive to get to the major carriers. My 35-year career value at the majors places the average career—pay, benefits and retirement—at nearly $11 million in 2013 dollars. Average FO starting pay is $50,000, increasing to $95,000 after five years. A starting captain after 10 years averages $125,000, and typical captains make $155,000. Top annual captain pay averages $200,000 and peaks at $280,000.

Average retirement is fully company paid at about 12% of annual compensation, and peaks at 16% (United Airlines). Plus, it is yours the moment it is paid and cannot be lost like in the past.

The most amazing part of the job is that you work mostly unsupervised. No time clock, just show up on time, do your job, and go home. Pretty amazing when you may be taking several hundred travelers and a crew of up to 15 to Europe in a $200 million aircraft.

These benefits are all based on seniority, so getting the job fast is paramount for long-term success. You go from no choices to lots of choices as your seniority increases. This is an up-and-down business that is never as bad as it looks at the bottom (like today).

So whether it is money, time off, fun or flexibility you seek, you might want to check the facts before you bail on this career right before the next hiring boom. The race to 1,500 flight hours is on.

Kit Darby
KitDarby.com Aviation Consulting, LLC
Peachtree City, Ga.

Love for flying and putting a roof over your head are too different things. Paying over $100k for a BS degree, plus flight training, and making peanuts; I don't care how much you love flying the math doesn’t add up. Telling potential airline pilots what their "pay" is going be when they're 60 years old doesn't been a hella beans, when they’re living out of their car today! The industry is a lot different from when you started your 35 year career.

One thing you failed to mention, is the industry contracting. Airlines, like most companies, are trying to do more with less, that including higher utilization of aircraft. So with airline mergers and less airplanes, and higher regulations on flight training requirements, not sure about the boom you speak of.

You state, "True, regional airline first officer (FO) pay is not now a living wage. Why not approach this period as a low-paid apprenticeship?"

First of all, low-paid internships are usually usually short in duration, and during a period of time where the individual is not already trained in the area of work. Being a regional pilot lasts a decade or more now, and the pilots are already fully trained pilots when they arrive. Today, a pilot can expect to remain a First Officer at a regional airline for 5 to 10 years. During this time, they make less money per month than the cost of simply repaying their flight loans and student loans. Since they cannot declare bankruptcy on those loans, they have to either have their credit ratings destroyed, or they have to continue education until they become Captains. In order to keep their loans in deferment through education, they may add hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional student loans over the time it take to become a Captain and have the income to actually afford their loans.

You state, "Find a way to survive the low-paying regional FO years remembering that even regional captains, after five years, start at $70,000 per year."

The problem with this is that the pilot is unlikely to actually be a regional CA at fifth year, they are instead likely to still be a reserve FO that doesn't even break guarantee at that point. This means a gross income of about $2,700 per month. That is less than $2,000 in take-home pay. With that, they have to somehow pay for food at airports and hotels for as much as 20 days out of the month, being away from home as much as all but 11 days each month. Anyone who has traveled knows that food at airports and hotels doesn't come cheap, especially not remotely healthy food.

You state, "There is still an incentive to get to the major carriers. My 35-year career value at the majors places the average career—pay, benefits and retirement—at nearly $11 million in 2013 dollars. Average FO starting pay is $50,000, increasing to $95,000 after five years. A starting captain after 10 years averages $125,000, and typical captains make $155,000. Top annual captain pay averages $200,000 and peaks at $280,000."

In order to become an airline pilot, starting in August, one must be 23 years of age. This means that the absolute maximum amount of time that a career can last (with an age 65 mandatory retirement) is 42 years. If we use even the maximum of 42 years, let us look at the numbers. Right now, it takes about 7-10 years to become a captain at a regional airline. Let's use 7 years. In that 7 years, take-home pay will be about $24,000 per year. So... $168,000 in the first 7 years. Then, it takes about another 7-10 years as a regional airline captain to be hired to a major airline. Again, using only 7 years as a regional CA, with an average take home pay of about $48,000 per year another $336,000 will be made. The average most junior CA at the major airlines is 15 years, so the next 15 years at a major airline, for this relatively lucky pilot would be as a major airline FO. The average hourly wage you will make is $92 per hour over that time period, with an average of 68 hours of guarantee per month. This comes out to about $4,750 per month in take-home pay on average per month. This comes out to $855,000 over that 15 years. The pilot is now 29 years into their maximum 42-year career. They can now be a CA at the major airline for the next 13 years, if they are lucky enough to remain healthy and never be furloughed. They could make as much as $255 per hour, but only if they are the most senior on the biggest plane during this time. As a fresh CA, they can make as little as $114 per hour. If we say that they will progress linearly up the aircraft scale, we can average those two out for the average pay per hour that they can expect, which is $184.50 per hour. Again at 68 hours per month, this is about $12,546 per month in take-home pay. This is also an average that equates to 25.5 years into their career, if everything went perfectly for them. This means that over their last 13 years, they could make $1,957,176 more in take-home pay. This means a total of $3,316,176 in take-home pay over their 42-year career. Even put as gross income, that is only $4,365,000. Subtract out about $250,000+interest (so $500,000) in flight training loans, student loans, and credit card debt to get through the years as a regional FO, and the gross income over 42 years is really only $3,865,000. That is over $9 million less than you estimated over only 35 years. It is also an average of only $92,000 per year over the 42-year career. This again assumes that the pilot is never furloughed (unlikely to be that lucky) and that they upgrade more quickly than the current averages.

Finally, you state, "Average retirement is fully company paid at about 12% of annual compensation, and peaks at 16% (United Airlines). Plus, it is yours the moment it is paid and cannot be lost like in the past."

The truth of the matter is that the retirement compensation are only 401K matches, and average around 2%-5%. The 16% is no longer available to pilots that are hired now. That money is not the pilot's, until they retire or loan against their 401K. Over 42 years, it adds up, but we are talking only about $77,300 to $193,250 in total company addition to retirement. That is an average of $150 to $400 per month. It is not insubstantial, but it is not it is not huge, either.

Ultimately, it can be a fun job, but it really only comes out well financially if one is really lucky. Many pilots get furloughed, and have to start back at the bottom of the pay-scales. This would mean doubling the first have of the pay-scale, instead of the top half, lending to an average annual income of around $60,000 to $70,000. This is about par (or lower) for the amount of pay that can be expected in return for the education costs invested that are found in other professional jobs. Despite that, the first 7-10 years are paid at annual wages that are lower than many near minimum wage jobs, something found in no other professional industry, period. Some may have internships for up to a year, but not for 5, 10, or even 20 years. You make some good points, but your numbers are overly optimistic, and not at all reasonably attainable.

I would like to address several things that you have said.
You just brush over FO pay in one line. FO pay is terrible and I am at one of the best regional airlines. There are Pilots here that have been FOs for 7 years! And there is no guarantee that they will upgrade soon. Not only that but when they do upgrade after working here for 7 years and building a life they will be at the bottom of the captain list. This means that they will probably commute to a base and be on reserve. Reserve is terrible when you have a family. Not only will reserve pay less but while on reserve you spend more time away from home. You say that you should treat it like a low-paid apprenticeship. An apprentice will learn his trade and then rarely go down in pay when he masters that trade. Pilots are not guaranteed anything. If they change jobs they completely start at the bottom. This industry is the perfect size to screw pilots over. The group is big enough that companies don't hunt people away and offer them lots of money to come over but its too small to have a "regular" group of employees to have enough power to make things right.
In fact like me right now I am out sick. It is halfway through the 5th month of this year and I have spend almost 3 months of it out sick seeing doctor after doctor so that somebody can finally tell the FAA that I can go back to work. Oh and by the way sick time ran out a month and a half ago. There aren't very many jobs that are as risky as being a pilot. I'm not just talking about trying to land an airplane going 150 MPH on a runway that you can't see until you are 200ft or less from it. I'm talking about spending $130,000 on an education and then suddenly you could be out of a job because of a kidney stone or because you get colds and now your sinus's can't handle the pressure change.
You are quoting pay for the majors. Only half of the pilots are at a major the other half are at regional airlines.
Another problem that I have is that when you are at a regional airline you are doing work and flying with a name on the side of your Jet like United, Delta, or American. You are doing the flying for that Airline but if you switch to that airline you get no credit for time served. One of the biggest benefits is the ability to fly Standby for mostly free. The employee usually rides for free but if they want family they usually have to pay a fee for that. Pilots will gain in seniority on this list as a regional employee and then as soon as you switch to a major you lose all the seniority that you have gained. All while flying passengers under the name of the Airline that you just moved to. This is important because if you want to go home or go on vacation you are on the standby list and that fills up fast. With flight loads at record capacity it makes it tough to get on. Also vacation starts over, seniority starts over for schedules and so on. Oh ya did I mention that a lot of captains that I talk to about pass travel with their families will simply just purchase tickets because they don't want to deal with the risk of not being able to make it back to work.
You talk about the majors like its super easy to get there. If you can't survive as a First Officer making $1200 a month after taxes and other deductions and you are paying $800 a month in student loans, where are you going to get the money for food and a place to live?
"Pretty amazing when you may be taking several hundred travelers and a crew of up to 15 to Europe in a $200 million aircraft." BAHAHAHAHAHAHA. You might get to that point somewhere down the line when you are in your late 40s when you just want to get home. When you get to Europe you will be super tired and want to hit the sack because you are going to turn that plane around and fly it back as soon as rest time is up.
There are some things that you say that are true but come on Kit the airlines are a whole different beast than the one that you went through. The race for 1500 hours? To get the 500 hours cross country time required for an ATP you will need to have 2000 to 2500 hours because only 10 to 15% of flight time will be cross country. If you work your tail off as an instructor working 7 days a week 12 hours a day you can get 700 hours a year, maybe. Well that's at least 3 years as a flight instructor and then another 5 years at least at a regional possibly 10 years at a regional. You've just spent 8 to 13 years just waiting to get that dream job.
You talk about $100,000 after 5 years at a major like that is something amazing. Considering the training that you have at this point, the technical aspect of this job and how much time you are away from home you should be paid twice that. You can get a job out of high school on an oil patch making $100k. You also didn't have to take out a student loan to get there. I have heard that signing bonuses for those jobs are a new truck. Do you think an Airline will ever give you something like that?
Hey I hope you are right because at this point my ship is too big to turn around.

Rant Over

Kit, you may be in the industry, but you likely have been for so long, you are out of touch with the reality of starting out today. Please do not lead intelligent, talented people to believe that this industry will treat them well eventually, or that their substantial investment will be pay off. You cite pay and lifestyle that can EASILY take 20+ years to attain- IF one is lucky/connected and there are: no more 9/11's, major economic downturns, changes in mandatory retirement age, issues with ability to maintain a medical certificate or any of an endless array of issues in such a highly regulated industry. Im not even going to start on my (very relevant, and current) opinion on "whether it is money, time off, fun or flexibility you seek" that you mention... I WILL comment on your title:
"Kit Darby
KitDarby.com Aviation Consulting, LLC
Peachtree City, Ga."
If you are considering this career, talk to pilots-the very people in the role you aspire too. Do not try to gain perspective from airline recruiters, aviation marketing types, etc. Free advice from someone currently doing what you may be considering.

The jig is up. The carrot on the string isn't going to work anymore.


Hi the terms of contract and conditions you describe in your post are ancient history. Today's circumstances are more like pilots paying for their own type training events. Extremely low pay across the industry and no benefits packages.

I can't count the number of retired airline pilots who are working due to having had their retirement benefits emptied out due to "re-structuring bankruptcy". That's like giving a guy a 20 year pay cut. Not to mention the 20-30% Pay cuts the majors took only to be restructured again.

Please let's get real about this. Do the job if you love it but go in with your eyes wide open.

This survey is a single data point with no previous reference so we do not know if the "trend" is up or down? Flying without references will produce vertigo every time. Asking young pilots who have never had the job about the job is of limited value.

Get objective data: days worked per month (Majors average 15.2), income (from my previous comments), schedule flexibility (try to re-arange your work in a 9-5 job that has you working 22 days per month), and retirement values. Facts are so much better than emotions when making life long decisions.

Has it been better in the past - sure. Is it better by almost any measure than most of the other "real job" choices - you betcha!

Keep your airspeed up,

Kit Darby
KitDarby.com Aviation Consulting, LLC
Peachtree City, GA

You should really tell the whole story Kit. so a 9-5 job is 40 hours a week. lets say you spend 30 mins on each side driving to work so thats 9.5 hours away from home with a 30 min lunch break. For the month of May there are 23 (you cited 22) working days M-F. You take that times 9.5 hours a day and you get 218.5 hours away from home. On a recent pay stub that I had I worked really hard and I was away from home for 341 hours. Over 100 hours more spent away from home than a regular 9-5 job and that was just the time that I was actually working. That doesn't count the time spent driving to work riding the shuttle in to work to go through security (much nicer now because of known crewmember), that also doesn't count the time spent if I was a commuter. Not only that but scheduling will treat you like you are their slave where your boss might let you go to a doctors office to have an appointment. Try getting scheduling to do that for you.

As far as "The Study" goes it doesn't give specific details about their sample but I went to The University of North Dakota. I personally know Kent Lovelace. He is a very intelligent person. The University of North Dakota has an incredible aviation training program. Kent and UND know what they're doing which is the reason why the RAA had him come to their convention.

Kit, I work with the young people that took part in this survey, I am a young flight instructor. At my current job I make approximately $22,000/year before taxes, I am home every night, and I can afford my ridiculous loan payment that I've accrued because of my flight training costs (and yes I followed recruiters like you who blew smoke telling me about how glorious this airline career could be). In my time here, I have had many many friends who have made the jump to the regional FO position, they are making less money than me, cannot afford their loan payments, car payments, etc. and either sit reserve or sit in airports for almost all of their time. I have also seen friends make jumps to 135 operations, cargo operations, etc. and of all the pilots I have met, those that made the jump to the airlines appear to be the least happy with not only their job quality but also their pay and their overall quality of living. Why would anyone in my current position take an $8,000/year pay cut to work a job that drags you from home most of the month and drains the life out of you. Not to mention most of those friends have no hope of upgrading for several years. Those of us who actually see what the airline industry start up is like don't share your over-inflated level of optimism. There are several other more appealing options for pilots, young or old, single or married, that are better for pay, quality of life and overall happiness.

This is not intended as an attack on the individual, but anyone who takes the time to read this should be aware the Mr. Darby has for over 25 years been actively engaged in the business of promoting and selling careers in the airlines (including the "pilot shortage", which thus far has proved every bit elusive as real linve unicorns). His posts are hardly unbiased, and are undoubtedly motivated by the fact that a dearth of eager candidates yearning for an airline job directly translates into a loss of income.

It is true that this particular survey represents only one data point, but one need only invest about 15 minutes online in one or more of the online communities frequented by professional pilots to discover the other respondents have very accurately catagorized the reasons for the very real drop in both quantity AND quality of people entering the aviation profession.

There may well be a shortage of pilots within the decade, depending to a great deal upon the state of both the national and world economies. What Mr. Darby doesn't inform the readers is that there is an important distinction to be drawn on this shortage.

There will NOT be a shortage of well-qualified pilots available to accept true career positions, with the associated compensation and quality of life expected of those positions. There are currently MANY highly qualified professional pilots who have sidelined themselves due to the poor compensation, lack of quality of life, and outmoded hiring and renumeration models which are still employed.

There may very well be a shortage of highly qualified individuals willing to offer their time, training, experience, and expertise for poverty level wages. Airline mangagement has achieved their phyrric victory - they've slashed costs to the point where they have actually destoyed the motivation for people to gain the qualifications neccessary for their future employees.

I have no doubt they will find people to do the job, but by and large it will not be people of the calibre which the profession has historically attracted; rather it will be people who can't find something better to do. There will eventually be a real price to be paid for the "penny-wise and pound foolish approach;" be it in empty classes, cancelled flights, or tombstones. It won't matter to this week's airline managers, they will have long since collected their bonuses and passed the Ponzi scheme off to the next sucker. It will eventually be all of us who pay, when our air trasportation system fails to meet the demands of our economy.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Darby will continue to sell his mixture of hope and snake oil to those who haven't done their research. If P.T. Barnum had actually uttered the famous quote attributed to him, he would have indeed be quite right.

I been seeing that trend for sometime now. Why is it that in China, you can go and fly a ERJ for $145,000 dollars a month and here in the US you can fly the same airplane for $1,800 a month? I have the hours and the qualifications to fly for a commuter, but I am not going to take a job that pays me $1,800 a month and live a life of messery, living in airport lounges and sharing apartments with three other people. Unless the industry makes a drastic change in pay. I don't see a lot of people going into the profession.

I work for a major carrier and have for the last 17 years, this after flying transports in the USAF and an early airline job with PanAm and as an expat pilot overseas. It isn't what it used to be: angry passengers,crowded airplanes and overcooked airline food (on international flights only), lost pensions and medical benefits (we mostly pay our own way now). Even with all that, it still beats the civil engineering job I had before I got into the USAF.

Given the current environment the only two companies worth working for are UPS and FedEx because they didn't dump the pilots' pensions or file for bankruptcy. The pension was the carrot at the end of the stick that got me to leave a good overseas expat job on a tropical third world island for the lousy B-scale pay the major airlines like to stick you with the first couple of years.

Flying used to be a challenge and fun, not really a job but a talent a skill that you could get really good at, not so much now with the automatic everything that we have on the airplanes. The companies want the airplanes to be on autopilot as much as possible and this makes you the pilot a manager of a machine. Since the machine thinks in milliseconds and the best I can do it in seconds, it can outfly me everytime at least until it fails and then I have to fly a partial panel airplane when I have only flown it about 3 minutes each flight for the last 5 years.

In the future, which is very short for me, at my airline retirements are going to increase exponentially in the very near future and with the requirement for all pilots have a ATP before being allowed in the Copilots seat there will really be a shortage at least at the regional carriers as we hire there pilots out from under them. Our top retirement year, 2020 will have over 800 of use retire. Don't worry about the military providing a third of the pilots for the airlines, the military isn't making as many pilots and many of them will be flying Drones their whole carreer which doesn't count by FAA standards as flight time. There will be flying jobs, pay was cut serverly after 911 and through the bankruptcys but some of that has come back. The job isn't what it used to be it takes 10-14 days a month to get your 75-85 hours in for pay, we do a lot of red eye flights that are extremely bad on your body and mind with all the time zones we cross but then again I have been everywhere and see a lot more than I would have if I had stuck with my Civil Engineering job. Good luck to all of you out there who want to be airline pilots it's still a great job but it could be better.

As an Erau grad I changed to IT as a career. Making a lot more in that field, home everyday by 530, and building a kit plane... yet I made the right choice. Many of my roommates fly for ASA and feel like a glorified bus driver. Also the way American Airlines treated my flight mentor has really put a negative light on how airlines operate these days.

Sad really, the feeling I get is that pilots are an afterthought run by nonpilots who only care about profits. You dont have to work for the airlines to feel that way. Ever have a proplem with you travel arrangements?

Jeff hinted at the future, the military is going all drone and all that tech will migrate to civil airliners. Commercial aviation will go "reduced crew concept", i.e. single pilot ops. FedEx is in on the study by the FAA & GE looking at the feasibility of reduced crew concept with a stated potential op date in 2018 for cargo flights.

Even if air carriers suddenly ramped up
pay/benefits to compensate for a shortage
of pilots, the long term viability of the career
for a younger person does not look good:
By the time today's 22 year old turns 50
automation/drones may well have eliminated many
of their jobs. Then what?

It's all about market forces, folks. If the supply of pilots starts to dry up, prices (wages) will go up. It's that simple. So far, the pilot pipeline is plenty full, always has been, and likely will be for a long time.

And for the guy who says you can make $145,000 a month in China - SIGN ME UP!

Get a job as a bus driver and make more and have normal hours.

Back in the 1980's I too fell for the "Prepare For The Pilot Shortage" mantra being espoused by Mr. Darby. While I have no regrets at all in choosing to be an airline pilot I would chose a different path if I were just starting out. Pay is only a small reason for this change in heart. The lifestyle is what killed my passion for flying big jets. Airports are now walled prisons unlike the open "playground" which kindled my passion for flying when I was a kid. Go near any airport fence these days with a camera and you'll get a prompt visit from a TSA officer telling you to put your gear away. Sitting in front of a Kevlar door having to beg a Flight Attendant to come to the front just so you can relieve yourself is not my idea of a good time. And then there is COMMUTING! When factoring in your pay you MUST take into consideration the days/months/years you lose just getting to your base and back home again. Ho many hours are you going to spend sitting on a jumpseat or crammed into a middle seat on a packed airplane> And how about your quality of life living in a crash pad while sitting on endless reserve? It adds up folks. You must take all of this into consideration when making a career choice.

I'm with Mr. Crosier. There is NO pilot shortage and there NEVER will be one. We are our own worst enemies. The reason regional airlines can pay such horrible wages is the same reason why a dog licks his nether regions....BECAUSE HE CAN! There will always be some wide-eyed kid willing to accept horrible working conditions while looking at the "Big Airline Job" carrot dangling from a stick in front of him (her).

First off, someone needs to take these "aeronautical" universities to task. You can go to your State U for about 8,000 a year tuition and get an in-demand degree like mechanical engineering. Then you can still enter the aviation field, or if you have changed your interests while in college you can go into shipbuilding, oil services, automotive or whatever. A year, one, single, solitary year at an aeronautical university will cost what the entire four years costs at State U! And the aero degree is essentially useless in the real world.

Then never, ever, never, ever spend one thin dime on flight training. If you can't get a flight training slot in the military after graduation....forgetabboutit and go into another field. if you do get in the military, stay for 20 and get the retirement and medical benefits.

The pilot shortage is going to become a fact if less and less people want to fly for a living, then supply and demand will kick in.

This article must have been written by a non-pilot.

As a professional pilot I always get the "don't you want to be a commercial pilot" comment, I get a laugh out of it, people think the only flying job is some huge spam can airliner.

There are other aviation jobs out there that pay very well, forestry pilots flying small amphibs do near 100k, police chopper pilots do very well, heck go over seas and make 3500 a month hand flying rich tourists around and live like a king over there, dynacorp as some high paying jobs, Calfire ain't bad.

Airlines arnt the be all end all of aviation.

As a former commercial pilot I can relate to almost every comment here.
So, why wouldn't one find a pilot career enjoyable and/or appealing? Well....
- ever expanding and more annoying government regulations
- few prospects for future airline growth (cost cutting, consolidation)
- omnipresent security saps enthusiasm and sense of belonging (intangible effects)
- Kit Darby's seminars tell airline pilot wannabes that the companies 'want to get to know them' (via the employment application). One then encounters a sterile online application system with regimented fill-in-the-box forms. And no possibility for human-to-human contact. Basically, just a numbers game.
- "Equal employment opportunity" means higher-qualified men are passed over for lesser-qualified women. (I've witnessed this personally.)
- Last genuine pilot shortage was in the 1960's. Oldtimers have told me that United was hiring Private pilots, and training them. We'll never see that again.

A few facts which have been misrepresented:

Opinion: Most flying jobs in the US are with regionals who are "bigger based on traffic,"as opposed to the majors with their better pay and benefits.

FACT: By my last count, pilots flying "Mainline" jets (B737/DC-9/A-319 or larger) in the US outnumber "Regional" pilots approximately 58,000 to 18,000, not the other way around. In other words, the big jet jobs outnumber the little jet jobs by over 3:1, a very favorable ratio. [Source: Airline Pilot Central].

Opinion: There is no way to move up to the bigger jobs with their better pay and benefits as the pilot shortage is a "myth."

Fact: An unprecedented % of today's Major Airline Pilots are going to have to retire in the upcoming years. For example, I work for one of the world's Largest Airlines. When I was hired in the late 1990's, it was going to take 30+ years to retire 90% of the current pilots. Today 90% will retire in the next 22 years assuming zero growth and zero attrition, both of which will almost certainly push these numbers even higher. In other words, upgrades will happen much faster and New Hires today will statistically be able to hold Captain Seats in about 10 years and Wide-Body Captain Seats in 16-20 years. Not bad, especially if you are relatively young. I envy those who will be 45 year-old widebody captains in 20 years!
[Source: Actual Seniority List containing 11,000+ pilot's names, birthdays, and retirement dates]

By the way, it is still one of the best jobs out there, especially if you love aviation. Airline issues and TSA politics aside, when we close the door, push back, and start engines, it is largely just us, our crew, our passengers, one amazingly capable jet, and all the challenges of the ATC system and Mother Nature and all the rest is gone and forgotten until we arrive safely at our destination. Most of those with whom I work still love the job and it's benefits, even after living through the dark, post 9/11 years.

Sorry, there are no guarantees in life, but if you want it, don't give up and keep after it. In this industry, timing is everything and, if you do your part, your career just might work out better than you ever imagined.

I'm half-way through a 30-year job at one of the major legacy airlines, former military. If you love flying, an airline job will cure you. The flying is highly regimented, highly monitored, and they are gradually making use of automation mandatory. Margins of safety have been shaved, so when things go wrong they get worse quickly as you don't have as many options. And if you stray from the book answers (that change often with no explanation or training), God help you, because the airlines won't, they are eager help the FAA hang you.

Training is a joke. The airlines have added incredible amounts of new, complex systems that are poorly integrated with the old planes, poorly understood by the instructors, and often don't work as intended when weather or traffic or other unforseen anomalies occur. Apparently the engineers don't fly into Chicago during snowstorms. Half your training will be on complicated new procedures that pilots struggle with in the simulators because that's the only place they ever use them.

There are new company procedures, new airport procedures, new FAA procedures, endless new laws, but not a day has been added to training in decades, learn it yourself. The basic skills pilots need when automation pukes are being forgotten. Lucky for the majors, their most junior pilots have 25 years of flying and much of it military, and they've flown the same plane for a decade or more. The new pilots they've started training are in a world of hurt to learn what they aren't taught, and God help their Captain if things go wrong, as happened at Air France recently.

Pay and quality of life are modest, as most people know. Five hours pay for a fifteen hour duty day, so whatever pay numbers you hear cut them to 1/3. The company doesn't care if you wait an hour for the hotel shuttle, or if the hotel is in an industrial area and too dangerous to go out for food, or at the airport. Forget about staying healthy or seeing new places. Learn how to check for bedbugs.

Will there be a shortage of pilots? Yes. Will the airlines use that to get laws changed so they can hire kids with little training or experience for even less money than they do now? Yes. A shortage may create a brief rise in pay, but that will be from pilots being required to work more hours than current legal limits, away from their homes even more. Many small airlines will fail, and their senior pilots will be unemployed, looking at starting over at food-stamp wages, sitting on call far from their families in squalid apartments with too many other angry pilots. That will guarantee pay stays low.

I am so very lucky to be where I am, but I'm working on the side, building skills and keeping current, watching for or creating a better opportunity. This is just a job, not a dream, look carefully before you leap.

If you love flying, work hard in school and at your job and earn money so you can join a flying club. Be home nights and weekends and holidays, be part of your family, enjoy life and freedom and friends and adventures.

The choice to pursue an aviation career is quite simple. If you or your parents are rich and you can live a decent lifestyle for the next 10 years without income than go for it. Otherwise, you can choose poverty, broken relationships, disappointments, etc and proudly wear a T-shirt " will fly for food", than ..que sar sara..
I am a current regional pilot with over 11ooo hours.

I was a captain at one of the best regional airlines. Left 6 years ago to pursue my own business interests. No regrets. Still have a lot of friends flying. Some tell me they wish they could get out and do something like I've done. Not a career I'd recommend. That brass ring known as landing a job at the majors is pretty tarnished. I had an interview offer at a major and decided not to even go.

In one of the businesses I'm involved in, we're paying kids over $100/ hour to write web code. They make more in a few days than a regional FO makes in a month.

As a 15,000 + hour B737 Captain I fully agree with the overall consensus in this comment section. In North America and Europe, pilot terms & conditions are steadily eroding with no relief in sight. The Middle-Eastern pay has already been reduced, and the highly paid China jobs are only short-term contracts until they can hire their own Nationals. If you really want to fly the Big Jets, then by all means pursue it - just be aware of the changing realities of the industry. You should seriously consider a parallel career path: perhaps start a Law or Accounting practice on the side. You will NOT make enough money as an airline pilot, so you will require another source of income. Also, if you lose your medical or your pilot career stagnates, you will be in a strong position. Most pilots are one-trick-ponies, and that's why the airlines can so effectively undermine their conditions - they literally have no where else to go. Flying is a calling and a passion, but if you want to pursue it professionally, be smart about it. Bear in mind that the most enjoyable flying that I have ever experienced was 50' off the deck in a Super Cub operating out of a grass strip.

I just wanted to thank you everyone to express their opinions about the current situation concerning the aviation industry. I am a flight instructor in South Florida with more than 1000 hours. If I decide to go to the regional, it will be probably be for short time since I have a BS in Administration. I did came back to flying because this is what I love and enjoy; but something I can not understand is being paid less than a cashier in a dollar store. I love aviation, no doubt about it. But, I am not stupid. Anyone who accepts such a humiliating salary for several years, so they can say they fly a "cool" airplane; honestly should consider himself/herself a person with an I.Q of 90. As someone said "pilots are their own worst enemies" .......do something about it!! Start not paying ALPA anymore, they obviously are doing nothing. --sorry for the English mistakes, as you might realize I am not a townie

I was interested in being a pilot when young- but the ROI is terrible for non-military types.

Throw in the fact that if you actually love your family- being away from them will probably make you miserable. Does anyone have pilot divorce rates?

The entire string of comments has brought many memories flooding back - to where I began and where I have now ended a 38-year military and commercial avitaion and flight safety career.

The comments about the self-serving Mr Darby are spot on - the long mentioned pilot shortage will not occur UNTIL the pipeline is no longer full with major airline wannabe's. In other words, the airlines and ALPA/CALPA, USAPA, SWAPA and all the pilot unions take care of themselves. Think that is not so? How about going from 60 to age 65? Think that alleviated the shortage that had been predicted for this decade? Think again! At last check, I believe the overall number of student pilot apps in the US was down about 40%.

It is no longer perceived as a career because of all the conditions that have already been listed in previous emails. On a trip into SEA one day, I had a young female XCM who was very happy she was being furloughed as she could go do something else now - she had checked off this box in her overall working career as being done. She was leaving the industry. Unfortunately, this typifies the thought that this is no longer a career but merely a short stepping stone to something new and different down the road.

I have two sons who wanted almost desperately to follow in my footsteps. Luckily, they saw my time away from family, from soccer and footbale and all sorts of events, the fatigue once home, the constant packing and travelling and my strong suggestions that they do something that will ALWAYS be needed (such as an orthopedic surgeon, physical therapist or an engineer) be followed as career paths.

Kit, you have milked this cow for as long as I have been flying - in fact I used your service prior to being hired by the NWA in 1986. It might be time for you to stop leading these young folks down the path that is NOT what you and I had when we were much younger! Of course, I'm sure it will be very hard for you to give up a cash cow and stop misleading the young pilots - try telling them how it really is! Stats can and often are made to fit the solution being presented - as you clearly have done on here!

If you continue, Kit, you are doing them a strong disservice!

Was it a good career? In my case, I was very lucky and it was great...only had a couple of strikes to survive, some furloughs that did not reach me, so my career was unscathed...but I am one of the few whose career is unscathed - remember that!

Would I do it again?

In this environment with chain smoking mental midgets strip searching me at TSA, mid-level manager 24-year old whiz kids who challenge a captain's authoirty because they think they know operations better, needing to justify why I need more fuel for a given flight, having drunk and disorderly passengers who are just butt heads, flying aircraft with MEL items that should have been fixed a week earlier and the onus is on the crew to nurse it around the system, not to mention the routine last minute line-of-sight scheduling that is so pervasive...shoould I keep going to help some of you make a different decision?

I love to fly...always have and will...but not the way it is in this day and age...not worth it anymore! I believe the statistical average age of death for an airline pilot is around 62...think about that and consider your longevity! Do not think Mr Darby bothered to mention that part in his trying to gain new clients!

airline flying to start with is tottal crap job if u see it from logical point of view in terms of relationships ur mental sanity ur lifestyle all is down the drain but sad part is u dont chose this profession it choses u !!??? its like falling in love where all logical aspects of ur mind shutdown and all u see in tunnel vision is big 747 and U being at controls and flying out of heathrow but sad part is u pay a very HEAVY price for it !!! i have two sons my elder never liked this job because he missed me and was always sad that i was away my younger one loves machines and wanted to come in aviation but recently with type of relationship with his mother i have he has baked out so i would sujjest any young man who wants to come in this industry that u require extreme luck and relentless passsion and NEVER worry about fringe benifits of any sort this aviation profession of being pilot is like game of snake and ladders if u r ready for all the crap in the world for ur passion then its ok otherwise keep out of it plsss!!!

The fallacy here is that this "survey" involved one relatively small student body in a small, rather isolated, school. The student "attitude" could well have been influenced by one professor with a negative attitude on aviation - maybe a washed-out or furloughed pilot.

Or maybe just a professor with integrity who tells it like it is and whose observations are reinforced by pilots who have retired, or are about to, and are advising potential new entrants to find another career field. It would certainly be in the professor's best interest to mimic the cheer-leading blather of other schools to keep his classrooms filled and the government loan tuition payments coming.

The salaries mentioned above are truly pathetic when viewed against just how much it costs to put together one's licence.
Still, it's relative . . .the "poor ness" of salaries. A typical start salary for an FO fresh out of probation is INR1,75,000/- (US$3150/-) a month - about US$ 25,899/- a year. In the US that's pretty awful, but in India it's a reasonably good wage. A new captain makes between us$90,ooo/- and 120,000/- a year depending on the airline. And that is a very good wage indeed. A senior captain would earn up to US$200,000/- a year. That too in today's rather shrunken aviation hiring environment. Of course most smaller regionals have fallen by the wayside leaving the detritus of jobless pilots and engineers (but then again, most have been re-hired by other companies and the salaries are applied uniformly, so they aren't quite shortchanged on account of their disadvantages).
The real factors working against youngsters aspiring towards aviation careers are the high cost of flight training and the extremely negative negative media coverage of commercial pilots (fuelled by belligerent managements of large airlines).

I graduated from the University of North Dakota's flight test program in 1993, and at the time it was considered one of the (if not the best) flight programs in the world. I would definitely not call it a small program by any means! I know Mr Kent Lovelace, and, as with the vast majority of the staff at the University's aviation program, he is a very credible person.

In these past few years (and 6 airlines under my belt) I decided back in 2004 to quit the airlines and pursue a different career outside of the airlines (I still work with aviation, though).

Mr. Kit Darby has for many years talked about this boom in the aviation industry which has never materialized. At the time of graduation, some of my friends and I bought his starter kit (which actually contained interesting material) in hopes of a better chance with the airlines. He has probably done well selling these kits since he's been in business for at least twenty years.

To make a long story short, I would like to express my feelings about the future of pilots in commercial aviaition. I truly believe that in the future the need for pilots will gradually decrease for a simple reason: costs. As soon as technology permits, airlines will push for pilotless airplanes. Yes, yes I can hear a lot of people say that this is not going to happen, but I believe it will happen sooner or later. The next step is to reduce the two man crew airplanes to one, and then to none (as has happened with the four man crew not too long ago). I'm not sure how long it will take, but I believe I will still be alive to see this.

I write all of this with great frustration because the airline pilot career is a beautiful one, and I hate to see it disappear. I would love to be able to say I'm completely wrong about this one...we will see.

If I learned anything as a naval officer it was to, as often as practicable, make the choices that provided me with as many options as possible. Obviously that works well when you are flying too. In my case, I did 10 years in the Navy, followed by 7 years flying for Delta. In 2004 a serious injury sidelined me for 6 months, with the FAA hinting that they’d wait one year to review my medical status. Instead of waiting to see what he FAA would do in one year, I decided I’d use the time I had to retool and attempt to begin a new career. It took 9 months and a fair amount of work, but I did manage to land a new job, with comparable pay and benefits, and more importantly, the opportunity increase my responsibilities and pay if I so desired. Do I miss flying the occasional instrument approach right down to mins in snow and then working a nice crosswind landing to finish it off? Yes, most definitely. But I don’t miss that anywhere near as much I enjoy being home most week nights and weekends and all holidays. My point is this…if you are a good pilot, then you are smart enough to be good at plenty of other things too- and many of them will pay you well and also be rewarding. Take charge and good luck.

At age 47 and having 25 years of aviation behind me, I am still in the right seat. When I started my career, I met with Mr. Darby and looked at the statistics that showed how many millions I would earn as a pilot and how quickly I would become captain. Too bad the majors discovered RJs and outsourced my job.

Do NOT under any circumstance become a pilot. If you are lucky enough to make it into a senior position at a major airline you will then be trapped in a job that has but one qualification of meaning: the day you were hired. If your company goes bankrupt, you lose everything and start at the bottom of the next airline for which you work. If I had fully understood this metric when I was 22 I would NEVER have become an aviator.

Lastly, it can not be emphasized enough that even if they improve pay in the industry that doesn't change the fact that pilots between ages 20 and 40 who are most likely to be starting a family will miss every holiday, birthday, soccer game, and school concert plus be working red-eyes and staying in tiny cities at cheap hotels on Christmas Eve.

Do NOT become a pilot.

I'm hearing you, DNBAP. I am 53 and it took me 16 years in the airlines to get a command on a jet. Gen Ys now complaining (in Australia) that they have been FOs in their company for 4-5 years and haven't got a jet command yet (my heart simply BLEEDS for them!). Seniority will sink your career if your company goes bust. I have had to start at the bottom of the list 4 times now. I am flying as FO to Captains who were in primary school when I was FO on a wide-body Boeing. Australia pays better for airline jobs than the US but we nailed with much higher taxes and cost of living. To launch your career, you must either do unpaid work at a flying school whilst getting the occasional paying flight. Most airline companies want you to pay for your training, the cost of your interview, your moving costs if you transfer bases (at their demand). I have a friend who is a Chemical Engineer. He recently went for a job in another state and the company paid his airfare, hotel, transport and meals. That just shows how much the airline companies value us!

The ONLY hope is to starve the failing regional model. Mainline will keep pushing for cheaper and cheaper regional feed as long as we are dumb and timid enough to accept it. ALPA, you're a union! organize the G-D pilots against this pernicious and moronic practice of mgmts practice of makingthe lowest wage regional contract the new "standard" that everyone else has to meet.

Can't you ditherers simply state "We do not support and will not negotiate anymore undercutting of wages through concessionary regional airline contracts. All ALPA brothers are against any of our brothers who choose to accept anymore cuts"

Frustrated regional pilots need to sit back, relax and breathe. The pain of the regional and junior mainline Pilots were caused mainly by career stagnation due to the Age 65 rule. We are at the tip of one of the most major hiring booms ever in the history of the airline business. One user mentioned a 15 year upgrade for Captain at a major. Past does not equal the future. US Airways upgrade on the E190 is currently 15 months. Based on current retirement numbers those hired in the next couple years at the new American are looking at less than 10 years to wide body Captain!

The future is bright, prepare yourself to take advantage of this hiring boom. And yes, luck does have a lot to do with it. Why? Because luck is when Preparation meets Opportunity. And opportunity will soon be plentiful.

Hope you are correct. Have not yet seen or heard the expected sucking sound of regional pilots going to the majors. Also pay levels for regional pilots have not yet gone up even though the regional companies are supposedly crying for more pilots. If fact there have been some regionals asking for contract concessions, not something you would expect in a pilot shortage hiring boom!

Only a total retart would become a pilot!

I have over 20 years in the industry. 14 years at current airline job. Maxed out credit cards and at the verge of bankrupsty at age 50. Hard to get by these days on 3000. Take home. Forget helping your kids get an education!

I want to quit!! Its my dream. Just hard to do at age 50. Starting over in a new career.

However, my buddy makes a better living, cutting grass! He started out with 1500. Invested in a tractor. Lol.

Only a retard would become a pilot.

There is not a shortage of pilots in the US
! People are opening their eyes and realizing that being an airline pilot is no better than being a truck driver. You are used and abused. I have been in the industry for years and fly freight and have a much better lifestyle than most regional pilots will ever have. Why is it you can make more flying boxes than passengers? I had to compete with more than 1700 others to get my job, tell me there is a pilot shortage and I will sell you a bridge in Brooklyn. The glory days are long gone. There are plenty of well qualified pilots, just look up the number of ATP pilots in the US, 100, 000+. Not all are so stupid to grasp for the carrot that has been dangled in front of us for the past 20 to 30 years. As for Kit Darby, he needs to wake up and smell the coffee and quit ripping off the young people of this country and tell the real truth. I like many others would never recommend this profession, I hope things change in the future but we will have to wait and see.