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Transportation Technology

Airlines Face Acute Pilot Shortage 421

Hugh Pickens writes "The WSJ reports that U.S. airlines are facing their most serious pilot shortage since the 1960s. Federal mandates are taking effect that will require all newly hired pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of prior flight experience — six times the current minimum. This raises the cost and time to train new fliers in an era when pay cuts and more-demanding schedules already have made the profession less attractive. Meanwhile, thousands of senior pilots at major airlines soon will start hitting the mandatory retirement age of 65. 'We are about four years from a solution, but we are only about six months away from a problem,' says Bob Reding, recently retired executive vice president of operations at AMR Corp. A study by the University of North Dakota's aviation department indicates major airlines will need to hire 60,000 pilots by 2025 to replace departures and cover expansion over the next eight years. Meanwhile, only 36,000 pilots have passed the Air Transport Pilot exam in the past eight years, which all pilots would have to pass under the Congressionally imposed rules, and there are limits to the ability of airlines, especially the regional carriers, to attract more pilots by raising wages. While the industry's health has improved in recent years, many carriers still operate on thin profit margins, with the airlines sandwiched between rising costs for fuel and unsteady demand from price-sensitive consumers. 'It certainly will result in challenges to maintain quality,' says John Marshall, an independent aviation-safety consultant who spent 26 years in the Air Force before overseeing Delta's safety. 'Regional carriers will be creative and have to take shortcuts' to fill their cockpits."
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Airlines Face Acute Pilot Shortage

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  • Instructing is not an apprenticeship. First Officer is an apprenticeship, a program which of course already exists.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @02:34AM (#41977799)

    "That works out to a total pilot cost per ticket of $20 and a cost increase per ticket of $10."

    30 bucks total is what I paid for my ticket the last 6 times for a flight from Germany to Barcelona or Malaga.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @02:48AM (#41977871) Homepage

    There's a shortage of airline pilots because the job doesn't pay well any more and takes extensive training. Training most US airlines are not willing to pay for. The WSJ is whining that the FAA raised the standards for an Airline Transport Pilot rating and requires pilots to get more sleep. That's in response to the crash of Continental flight 3407 on February 12, 2009. [] The WSJ conveniently does not mention that.

    Some airlines do pay for training. Here's the British Airways training program. [] BA pays pilot trainees as employees through the whole training process. Most US airlines expect pilots to work for years for less than a typical city bus driver makes to build up their hours before they fly the big iron.

    A First Officer (copilot) on RyanAir starts at $3700 a month. []

  • by Barryke ( 772876 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:52AM (#41978099) Homepage

    How odd, in the Netherlands we have a surplus of trained pilots. It was big news here of few weeks ago, with many freshly graduated pilots even willing to fly for known unsafe Africa/Asia based airlines just to get a job!

    Some news articles (dutch) i grabbed just now via Google:
    - []
    - (dated) []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:52AM (#41978101)

    Only the most senior pilots made six digits. The problem is the ranking system. Pilots are paid by seniority and you cannot take it with you if you switch airlines, including in a merger or move to a regional branded by a major. You can have instances where a pilot with 20 years experience switches airlines and starts at the bottom all over again, making $20K. This system was instituted by the union and still has wide spread support by the pilots.

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @04:17AM (#41978187) Homepage Journal
    Yup, the captain apparently failed multiple exams... In addition while having something like 3000+ flight hours, he only had 110 in the plane he was in and seems to have had very little experience in icing conditions(he was based out of Florida). The co-pilot apparently NEVER had experience in icy conditions according to the CVR: []

    Shaw responded, "I've never seen icing conditions. I've never de-iced. I've never seen any. I've never experienced any of that. I don't want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls . . . You know I'd have freaked out. I'd have like seen this much ice and thought, oh my gosh, we were going to crash."
  • by CRC'99 ( 96526 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @05:54AM (#41978469) Homepage

    Pilot training up to the level required for even the most basic job (instructor) is going to cost $50,000 or more. You can't pay that back on a $20,000 a year salary. Pilots do it because they love flying.

    Disclaimer: I am a private pilot doing my commercial flight test in ~14 hours time.

    This situation is completely correct. I've lived on sweet fuck all incoming for 5 years (think less than $25000AUD). My training here in Australia has totalled to around $110,000AUD - not including interest on loans etc. After my test, I'll have ~250 hours total flight time. If I manage to get a job straight after my test, in reality, I can probably earn $35-40k AUD. How do most pilots in my situation survive? They get a second job. Not only does this add to fatigue, it certainly doesn't make things safer.

    Why do I do it? Because its friggin awesome. If you want to fly to make a buck, then you live in another world.

    In a nutshell, the aviation industry is fucked. Everyone wants to cut their costs as far as possible without violating the law. This means cheap labour in maintenance, cheaper pilots, crappy pay and benefits.

    I really miss the wages I was paid in network administration, they were double what I'll get here....

  • by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @06:18AM (#41978551)

    Drones do exist that can take off, fly some given route, come back, and land. If the weather is fine. With systems no more complicated than simple flight controls, an engine, and whatever surveillance equipment they're carrying. Even with those extremely modest requirements, a pretty high number of them still crash due to some malfunction or other.

    If you ever have a chance to witness a flight simulator session, by all means do. As soon as systems start failing (which they do in real life, from time to time), both pilots are extremely busy and we would often wish for a third pilot to help out. Airplane manufacturers are not even considering moving to a single pilot, let alone no pilots. Maybe in a hundred years or so, but certainly not in the near future.

    Remember Qantas flight 32, with an engine that exploded and cut a number of fuel lines and electrical systems? They actually had five pilots in the cockpit instead of the normal minimum of two (observation, check pilots,...) and still took hours before they could get all the checklists done to land the plane safely.

    Whenever systems start failing in a serious way, automation starts giving up as well. Big failure in the electrical or hydraulic system? Say bye-bye to the autopilot too. Trust me, you still need us.

  • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <(gterich) (at) (> on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:45AM (#41978849) Journal

    Here's a step by step approach to becoming a commercial airline pilot:

    1) Spend $15-20K on getting your private pilots license
    2) Spend another $10K on your instrument, high performance, and complex ratings
    3) Fly 250 hours at a cost of about $100/hr to build time and experience
    4) Spend another $5-10K on a commercial rating
    5) Become a flight instructor, getting paid about $10-15/hr to put your life in the hands of a student pilot - fly about 500 hours as a flight instructor
    6) Spend another $5-10K on a CFII rating, so you can instruct instrument, getting a ~$2/hr raise
    7) Fly another 500 hours at $12-17/hr teaching instrument
    8) Spend $5-10K on Multi Engine Instrument and MEI-Instructor ratings
    9) Fly 200 hours Multi
    10) Apply for a first officer position at a Charter or Regional making $10-12/hr, but with benefits, if awarded job, spend $5-10K of your own money on the rating for whatever aircraft you'll be flying, and your ATP rating
    11) Fly 1000-2000 hours as a first officer, and then apply for a captain position making $15-20/hr with benefits.
    12) Fly 1000-2000 hours as captain for a Charter or Regional, then apply for a First Officer position for a major airline, making $20K/year - the airline MIGHT pay for your rating on their B737 or whatever you'll be flying
    13) Do that for 25 years
    14) On a seniority basis, you'll be able to apply for a captain position when an existing captain quits, dies, or retires. Then you'll make $100K plus.

    So the short story is, you'll lay out $200K of your own money to get a job that pays $10/hr, and you'll make that for 25 years, and then maybe you'll get a left seat and make the big bucks, but chances are you won't, because you'll either get sick of working 100 hours/week for 40 hours of $10/hr pay and quit, or you'll fail your Class-1 Medical on Blood Pressure and lose your job.

  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:28AM (#41979397) Homepage Journal

    with the airlines sandwiched between rising costs for fuel and unsteady demand from price-sensitive consumers

    I'm stunned the article doesn't include the public's distaste for dealing with the TSA as a substantial contributing factor in lower patronage. I've always assumed it was at least a relevant number. I know I don't fly anymore unless unavoidable due to TSA. I've had friends lose computers at the airlines. I'm avoiding the airports, and keeping both my dignity and my property safe.

    Maybe the airlines need to do some serious lobbying to get rid of the TSA, if only to be looking out for themselves? I've heard they understand it's affecting sales, but I don't see them doing anything about it other than cowering and going along with it. Ad when their customers complain, they just blame all the inconvenience on the TSA. (who really doesn't give a damn) I can't believe they have no ability to influence change here.

    If they're really in as dire straights as they're saying, evicting the TSA from their terminals ought to be somewhere on their how-to-avoid-bankrupcy list.

  • by jimbolauski ( 882977 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:38AM (#41979493) Journal
    At 5x the price you can fly private, first class is less then 2x the cost. To make the math easy will do an 8 hour flight on a Boeing 747, 4,500 miles that will burn 22,000 gallons of fuel. The price of fuel is somewhere between $3-$5 per gallon depending on the location so just the fuel cost is $110,000. A pilot making 20k a year would get paid roughly $10 / hour a 300% wrap rate would cost $240 for the trip with two pilots it's $480, for a total cost of $110,480 for the pilots and fuel. If the pilots made 100k a year the cost of pilots and fuel would be $112,400 a two percent change in cost, I did not account for maintenance, stewardess, baggage handlers, terminal fees or and other administrative cost. Fuel is by far the number one cost in the airline business labor is a distant second.
  • by whizbang77045 ( 1342005 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @11:04AM (#41980233)
    I am also a pilot, and a certificated mechanic.

    I believe the statements made in the Slashdot squib are misleading. Perhaps not intentionally so, but misleading.

    The airline pilots they are talking about are those for short haul (regional) carriers, not the more traditional airliners, like the Airbus and Boeing aircraft. Smaller airliners are not flying aircraft which require the pilot to have an Airline Transport certificate (ATP), because they don't carry as many passengers.

    The ATP required by what most of us think of as airliners requires 1500 hours before the candidate can taken the written test. Thus, pilots in traditional airliners already are required to have at least 1500 hours. This, good or bad, is just bringing the requirement for regional carrier aircraft in line with the requirement for other airliners.

    For a discussion of the requirements of the ATP, please see this link:

  • by Burning1 ( 204959 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @02:31PM (#41982589) Homepage

    Ya'll just voted in the administration that just LOVES to regulate everything about your lives and livelihoods...

    Partisan idiot. The other guy ran on an anti homosexuality, anti abortion, anti birth-control platform. We elected the guy who has been actively working to reduce government regulation of our lives and bodies.

    Also, this kind of policy is set by the FAA, not the feds. The current FAA administrator is a former pilot and professor. []

  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @02:42PM (#41982717) Homepage Journal

    We elected the guy who has been actively working to reduce government regulation of our lives and bodies.

    Seriously? might wanna lay off the Kool Aid.

    Also, this kind of policy is set by the FAA, not the feds.

    Which part of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did you miss the Federal part?


The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin