As the United States begins to recover from the pandemic, airlines are facing a new challenge: a shortage of pilots. Thousands of experienced pilots have retired or taken leave in the past two years, and airlines are now scrambling to find new recruits. However, there are still obstacles to becoming a pilot, even as initiatives are being put in place to smooth the path for new recruits.
The demand for passengers has exploded in recent months, causing many carriers to reduce their fleets and cut their networks. This has left smaller cities across the country without vital air service connectivity. The reason for this is that there are not enough qualified staff to meet the demand. The National Air Carriers Association, which represents low-cost carriers as well as cargo airlines that conduct both scheduled and charter services, says it expects the USA to experience a shortage of 28,000 flight deck personnel over the next decade. This is due to a number of factors, including an aging workforce and a need for more interest from young people in the industry. The problem is compounded by the fact that it takes a long time to train a pilot, and the number of pilots who are eligible to retire is increasing. Airlines are working hard to address the issue, but it is a difficult problem to solve.
The pilot shortage is a major issue for the airline industry, and stakeholders are looking for ways to increase the pilot supply. Future and Active Pilot Advisors say that this year, airlines are projected to hire more than 13,000 pilots, which is a new record. However, airlines say that not enough people are entering the career field, and the barriers to entry are high. Therefore, it is logical that stakeholders across the industry are looking at how they can rapidly increase the pilot supply by tweaking the way pilots are trained.US airlines are beginning to offer more “pathway programs” and partnerships with flight schools to help potential pilot candidates achieve their career goals in response to the upcoming pilot shortage crisis.
Pathway programs such as the following:
- Aspiring pilots can apply with no flight experience and be promised a route to the commercial flight deck
- A fraction of simulator hours can be credited towards the 1,500 flight hours requirements
- Multi-Crew Pilot license that efficiently and effectively train pilots on a specific type of aircraft, in a multi-crew setting for a specific airline
Everyone involved in aviation agrees that the most important goal is to train the next generation of safe, competent pilots. However, they cannot agree on the best way to achieve this, so the student pilots whose careers are at stake are stuck in a holding pattern. Airline-managed ab initio pilot pathway programs have given candidates more options, but unless the rules change, these programs will not help them progress quickly into a commercial cockpit. Bagden emphasizes that there are many enhancements to training that go above and beyond the minimum standards that were established by the FAA. He hopes that simulator time will be credited, but regardless, the airline is going to procure simulator devices because they make training better, pilots better, and lead to safer outcomes.