Is there a pilot shortage?

Much has been said over the last few years about pilot shortage. Is there a pilot shortage? Is it finally going to happen? What does it mean to aspiring pilots? What does it mean to the traveling public? Many questions have been raised since airlines started parking airplanes because they can’t find enough qualified pilots to fly their routes.

With more than 558,000 jobs predicted between 2015 and 2034, it is clear that the aviation industry is booming. There are several reasons why the US is currently experiencing a shortage of pilot. Let’s take a look.

Retirement Age

Back in early 2010, the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots was 60 years old. With many baby boomers coming close to that age, the mandatory retirement age was increased to 65. While this step solved a looming shortage for 5 years, we are now passed the deadline and many major airlines are seeing their top pilots retire.

The aviation pipeline ends with the major airlines. Feeding the majors are the regional carriers, who usually find their pilots from flight schools (flight instructors) or from smaller carriers (part 135 and 91). However, with a combination of diminishing interest from the younger generation, high training costs, economic downturn and difficulty to secure loans, the number of pilot licenses issued over the last decade has drastically decreased (source). The graph below shows the increasing age of both Commercial and Airline Transport Pilots.

Growth in other markets

Europe and the United States have generated the most demand for pilots prior to the early 2000s. However in recent years, emerging markets such as Asia, the Middle East, or Central/South America have created a large demand for pilots. Most of these countries are not currently equipped to train all of their pilots in their respective countries and therefore rely on flight schools in Europe or the United States to prepare their workforce. They have also attracted many American pilots who were looking for different opportunities and better pay.

The graph below was prepared by Boeing and indicates the demand for new pilots by region between 2015-2034.

The forecast from European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is similar and predicts the Asia Pacific region will lead in world traffic by 2034.

Lack of interest from younger generation

With a combination of economic downturn, difficulty to secure and expensive training, younger pilots have been less interested in becoming pilots. Despite a good return on investment and possible career earnings (as highlighted in our Pilot Salary page), the number of active pilot has decreased over the last decade.

The graph below (left) shows the decrease in the issuance of student pilot certificates in the last decade. The other graph (right) shows the decline in the estimated number of active airmen certificates held over the last decade.


Is there a pilot shortage? It seems pretty obvious that our pilot supply is being challenged with a decline in the issuance of pilot license, an increase in retirement at the majors, and an increase in global pilot demand. In addition, regional airlines are seeing their most senior pilots get hired by the major airlines and are in return draining the flight instructor supply at flight school. One sure is certain, it is a great time to become a pilot!

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