Here is a lesson in semantics:
There is no airline pilot shortage in the United States, even though regional airlines are in desperate need of pilots.
There is, however, a shortage of pilots willing to work for less than $11 per hour.
There is also a shortage of pilots for the burgeoning Asian air flight market.
The details start in the United States, where the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report in February on airline staffing, including pilots, in response to reports of a shortage of pilots. The report said there was “mixed evidence’’ of a shortage of airline pilots, even though regional airlines are screaming their evidence to the skies.
In the United States, there are many small regional airlines that go to smaller airports that will not be served by the major airlines because they do not produce enough traffic. Most of those regional airlines actually work under the umbrella of a major airline, and because of that, they are subject to revenue restrictions set forth by the major airlines, who determine the price of a ticket from, say, Rockford, Ill., to Jefferson City, Mo.
According to the GAO, among 14 top regional airlines, the average new pilot salary is approximately $24 per hour. However, the Air Line Pilots Association estimates the starting salary is actually $22,500 per year, which works out to an hourly rate of $10.75 for a 40-hour-a-week worker. Eleven of the 12 regionals interviewed by the GAO said they had difficulty filling new pilot positions.
“To put it very simply, currently there is no shortage of qualified pilots,’’ the Air Line Pilots Association said in response to the GAO report. “There is, however, a shortage of qualified pilots willing to fly for substandard wages and inadequate benefits.”
The GAO report says that between 1,900 and 4,500 new pilots need to be hired annually to fill the needs of airlines in the United States. It notes that approximately 2,000 trained pilots come out of the military every year and could fill those jobs.
“Analyses imply that airlines may need to provide financial incentives - for example, higher wages, benefits or bonuses – to bring new pilots into the industry,’’ the GAO report said.
The GAO said “mainline’’ airlines, which pay new pilots $48,000 annually, are not having any problem with staffing.
The ALPA compares the salary of new regional airline pilots to other jobs that university aviation program graduates can get, such as test engineer ($52,000), operations manager ($55,000), and second Lieutenant in the Air Force (the entry level for most military pilots, which makes $53,000 annually, including allowances).
The problem is that airline passengers make their airline decisions on the cost of a ticket, which determines how much airlines can pay their employees, including pilots.
All of this staffing concern is now facing even larger consequences as airlines are flying larger planes that require more pilots Also, new safety standards (approved and endorsed by the ALPA) call for more and longer off-day standards for pilots.
Meanwhile, air traffic in the Asian corridors of Japan, Singapore and China has exploded, and airlines are ordering new fleets of airships. However, they are having difficulty finding qualified pilots to handle the much larger aircraft.
A Boeing Pilot and Technical Market Outlook report released in 2013 showed that with all the new airplanes entering the world fleet over the next 20 years, approximately half a million new commercial airlines pilots will be needed.
"Even if we set up 100 airplane flying schools tomorrow, it still wouldn't be enough. The shortage is that extreme,’’ said one Singapore based airline executive to CNN.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.