Remember in the movie “Independence Day” when Robert Loggia is like “We have sufficient aircraft, but pilots are coming up short”? Well, The United States is now experiencing it for real. At the end of 2017, there were approximately 98,000 active commercial aviation certificates. The military isn’t faring too well either. Just ten years ago, the Air Force started forcing out pilots, because we had more than we needed. Well, now the military is forecasting a “Significant pilot shortage” by 2020.
There were plenty of Pete Mitchell’s that joined the Navy because they were from a military family, and always wanted to fly jets. However, for most it was a way to get flight training and an all but guaranteed job with the commercial airlines upon completion of military service. Wether you were a skid kid or a jet jockey, you were probably gonna get hired in the 80’s and 90’s if you had a military background.
Pay was high, and the prestige of being a pilot was even greater. Nowadays, starting pilot pay is close to that of a blockbuster video clerk. It’s almost not enough to survive on in most cases. Sure, the Captains of the big boys for the Majors still have boats and side pieces, but a new pilot is gonna be eating ramen, and using their parent’s Netflix password for the foreseeable future.
The airline industry as a whole hasn’t made profit in it’s entire existence. When you factor all the failures, along with the success stories, it’s a revenue neutral endeavor. Cheap tickets have come at the expense of pilot salaries (along with flight attendants, and other airline employees). I know a ton of Air Traffic Controllers that came from the pilot ranks. When asked why they made the switch, the most common answer given is; “It was a more stable financial opportunity for me and my family”.
Crash pads, airport food, and the same white shirt for the past three days are what the new pilots have to look forward to. Not to mention the crap 401-K benefits (if their company even offers a 401-K). Ever wonder why some pilots fly so slow on final? A good regional pilot can squeeze out $100 of overtime pay out of a block. That $100 goes a long way, especially if they are raising a family with small children.
It all begs the question “How do we get more people to become pilots?”. The country (and the world) is growing. Population estimates keep getting surpassed. Flights in the NAS are supposed to double in the next 20 years. Is the low cost model good for consumers in the short term, but bad for the nation in the long run? I have an idea, and its not that revolutionary…look at what sports franchises have done for years. Baseball has a farm system to develop players. I’d say the major airlines could easily incorporate that model to fit their needs. Would it raise ticket prices? Absolutely yes. Let’s call it what it is, an extra $25 isn’t gonna break the bank when it comes to purchasing tickets. We’ve gotten too used to the Tampa to San Francisco for $22 round trip deals that these low-cost carriers offer.
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