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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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  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @01:31AM (#41977487)

    Disclaimer: I am a private pilot, but know several commercial pilots.

    Congress decided that regional airlines (who pay pilots $18-22K/year to fly) needed pilots with more experience instead of the previous 800 hours they were required to have, due to accidents such as Colgan Air 3407. Others have argued that pilot fatigue (regional pilots schedules are pretty grueling, and you're only paid cabin door close to cabin door open), as well as pressure from the airlines themselves to meet business metrics are the issues. []

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @01:38AM (#41977517)
    Its interesting to note that the crash that seems to have spured Congress into action was Colgan Air 3407 []. It appears that both pilot and co-pilot had experience far over the newly mandated limits, ruling the 250 hour requirement out as a reason. There are some questions about crew competence. So its more than a matter of sheer hours of flight time. It also requires training and pilot scheduling. Both of these will cost the carrier money. I can imagine the special interest wrangling that went on behind the scenes as this legislation was being crafted. It doesn't surprise me that the end result skirts around all the issues in which various parties have vested interests.
  • by Bitsy Boffin ( 110334 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @01:51AM (#41977573) Homepage

    The simple fact is that there are just not enough reasons that makes one want to be an airline pilot.

    Some of the downsides are:
        Expensive outlay in initial training through to Commercial Pilot Licence level.
        Huge time investment in hour building after that, flying usually as an instructor, hacking about with students doing their best to kill you, for nowhere near enough money to live on without a second job or two.
        Even more expense to get multi engine rating, turbine rating...
        Then you get to sit your ATPL.
        Then if you're lucky you might get offered a job as first officer (copilot)
        Then you have to do a rating on the aircraft you're going to be flying, which you'll have to pay for, and is generally stupendously expensive, or your employer pays for your rating but you are then indentured to the employer for years. All the time earning diddly-squat.
        Ascending to captains chair, or onto larger types, is usually seniority based, and if you want to move to a new employer, you go back to the bottom of the ladder.

    Most of the upsides are:
        You get to fly planes for a living.
        You get to wear a pilot hat and put bars on your sleeves.

    It's just not an attractive job any more. It's not even an "impressive" job any more, once upon a time, pilots were seen as near enough to gods, today, they are barely a step above your local bus driver.

    For some, getting to fly panes for a living is enough,they just love flying *that much*. But there are not enough of those people to meet the demand.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @01:58AM (#41977607)

    I remember when pilots would make reasonable salaries (think six digits). Less than $30k for someone with that many hours? That is just wrong, and no wonder why there is a pilot shortage, because for that much training, someone can be a lawyer, IT guy, or some other profession and have a chance at making enough to pay the vills.

    I'm sorry, but I have zero sympathy for airlines and how they treat customers like trash, as well as their employees.

    If they have a pilot shortage, they need to do like every other business: Whine about it to Congress and hire the H-1Bs. Oh, the H-1Bs don't have the training? Well, go and train them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @02:49AM (#41977873)

    I am an ATP Pilot turned computer programmer. There is no shortage of pilots, just a shortage of pilots willing to work for 18k a year and be treated like crap. I went into the airlines after 4 years of college for a bachelor in Aeronautical Science, several years of flight training and being an instructor and over 100k in debt. What I found out was that the old theory of working for a commuter to build your time was gone. The major airlines outsource over 65 percent of the flying to the commuters who are now flying tons of the majors old routes. So what you have to look forward to someday is maybe making it to a major after surviving several furloughs and years of 18k in pay. Oh yeah the furloughs? They are because the majors move the flying around to whoever is cheaper, and if a commuter starts to get too powerful, they shut them down and open them back up under a different name after filing bankruptcy and selling the assets off to their new company. Over the years it has gone from needing to be super experienced and professional to guaranteeing people jobs if they pay the airlines 70k. Yes that's right people now pay them for guaranteed jobs. Oh and the crash rate? There was years without a pilot error crash, then the airlines started lowering their minimums, and requirements from college degree to heartbeat, and they plowed 3 or 4 into the ground within a few years. The whole thing is really complicated, and the airlines like it that way. On top of all this they put out propaganda that the avg pilot makes $120k a year. Guess what the average pilot now makes $22k a year, has to pay for a dump crashpad, parking, their own uniforms etc... All this for a job that you are never home and on avg is letting you get home to your family maybe 10 days a month after the bitch of commuting. Oh and on top of it, the government bails the bad airlines out every time they go into bankruptcy. United and US Air were out of business in 2005 ish time. Guess what the government came in, wouldn't let the creditors re po their airplanes, and bailed them out. So the next time you say you "won't fly this airline", don't bother. Because your tax payer money allows them to run the crappiest operation they can. Politics gets involved and they say "we have to keep the airline" x amount of people will lose their jobs. Guess what, all the airlines that were doing a good job have planes and pilots ready to go on furlough, and can help the "FREE MARKET" prosper. The problem is it's not free, especially when cities and states fund their pensions on US Airways stock, and the shit starts hitting the fan. Sincerely, a bitter ATP pilot that isn't going back to that crap hole job for less than 200k!

  • Oh god (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @03:07AM (#41977941) Journal

    Yeah, myth busters in a sim, where the "pilot" was not tired after a long shift and had to land the aircraft already put in line with the runway, was perfectly functional, with a perfect radio connection, with no real life pressure, could land it in perfect weather conditions.

    Well, here is a fucking hint, I did that WITHOUT someone talking me through it. It is fucking easy! That they even managed to crash shows how stupid these guys really are. Anyone can try it themselves, you can play with high quality sims as "games" on the PC all you want and most come with scenario's that do put you in line with the runway and all you got to do is land. As long as you don't start freaking out and jerking the controller around, you will be able to land the plane pretty easily.

    The problem in real life is that when shit happens, it happens in spade. Bad weather, confusing communication, failing instruments, high pressure, lack of sleep. THAT causes accidents, not having to land fresh on a sunny day with no wind on an wide open runway.

  • by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @04:15AM (#41978181) Journal

    ... who knows?

    Maybe the gubment hikes the basic requirement to force the airline to think of the unthinkable - to employ robots as pilots

    Hey, Hong Hai (Foxconn) is doing it in China, Canon is doing it in Japan, what is stopping USA from joining in the fun?

  • by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @05:41AM (#41978431)

    More experienced pilots, like... those who towed banners for 1500 hours, or those that gave instruction on little Cessna 152s flying around aeroclub fields?

    Those skills are completely irrelevant in a modern cockpit. In fact, remember the crash of AA587? The copilot used full rudder to get out of what he thought was the onset of a spin. The correct reaction in a small propeller airplane, but completely inappropriate in a large swept wing jet. I bet he had lots of experience flying small planes.

    Anyone can "fly" an airplane with very little training, a few hundred hours is plenty. Then comes the hard part: learning how to handle a large aircraft, with all its complex systems, autopilots, flight management systems, etcetera in a busy airspace in bad weather conditions. You learn those things in the simulator and on the job as a first officer, not by flying in an aeroclub.

    As for freight: those jobs will be filled up pretty quickly if nobody can start in the regionals anymore, and who wants to be a pilot if it means doing night flights for minimum wage for several years first? Also, those companies don't exactly have the highest safety standards so you're giving them bad habits from the get-go.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @07:26AM (#41978787) Homepage

    Haven't they practically done that already? I remember a Mythbusters episode where an air traffic controller was able to successfully talk the (untrained) team through an emergency landing in a simulated 747.

    ...and at the end of the episode they said that an airline would NEVER do that, they'd just hit the 'autoland' button.

    Did you know that an awful lot of landings are automatic anyway? The pilot just sits there and watches. All airliners have a legal requirement to land automatically at least once a month or they lose their certification. They often do more than that, especially at foggy airports or when visibility is poor.

    These days the pilot is mainly there for when things go wrong, not for when things are going right.

  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7.cornell@edu> on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @11:29AM (#41980401) Homepage

    One key thing - these minimums increases were in response to Colgain Air 3407, as mentioned previously.

    Captain had 3263 hours (only 110 on type though) - I'm fairly certain the new regs don't affect time-on-type... A minimum of 1500 on-type means you'll never have anyone.
    FO had 2200 hours, 770 on type

    Assuming the new regs are for total hours and not on-type, the new regs solve a problem that didn't exist in the first crash. Safety theatre, kind of like the post-9/11 security theater, where the first new regulations passed nationally were ones that were PROVEN TO HAVE FAILED AS A MEASURE by 9/11. (Most of the 9/11 flights were out of Newark, which had only allowed ticketed passengers at the gate for at least a few years at that point.)

  • by ArsonSmith ( 13997 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @11:56AM (#41980561) Journal

    how would it even be 10%???? If a pilot flies 2x4 hour flights 5 days a week with a plane that carries 250 people average that comes close to 125000 people a year. $1 increase in ticket price could more than double or triple their current pay.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito