The worldwide shortage of airline pilots is reducing the quality of flights on offer. According to Boeing, the Aviation industry will need almost 800,000 new pilots by 2037 just to meet demand. This is around double the current Aviation workforce, and with air travel expected to double over the next twenty years, how will airlines keep up with demand without enough pilots?
Many are claiming that the pilot shortage is due to lower ticket costs and higher oil prices – this means less money for highly trained pilots. In the 1980’s, some pilot salaries reached $300,000. This has rapidly declined in the wake of the Great Recession, with pilot wages dropping 9.5% on average between 2000 to 2012, making the job far less attractive. The pilot shortage has seen the average pilot wage skyrocket in 2018, as airlines try to retain pilots and recruit the best new pilots.
Beyond that, there are many barriers to entry for young pilots. Pilots now need to train for hundreds of hours in simulations, which, whilst making Aviation safer, rack up prohibitive costs during their training. Pilots in America must train for 1,500 hours and then an additional 1,000 hours to qualify as Captains. Finally, in the next few years we’ll see an even further reduction in pilot numbers as many existing staff are almost at retiring age.
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The blunt reality of the pilot shortage means fewer planes in the air, fewer people paying for airline tickets and less profit for the airline. This has often perpetuated a vicious cycle where airlines have reduced staff numbers to offset profit loss, leading to lower quality flights and fewer returning customers.
This is enough to drive smaller airlines out of business, as they can’t compete with larger salaries offered by competitors. Ultimately fewer airlines may lower competition but could also stagnate the Aviation market and harm growth.
Some airlines are planning to branch out into pilot training to address the pilot shortage. Qantas is planning to invest $15 million into a pilot school, and Emirates has already opened a $135 million flight academy to train the next generation of pilots. Some larger airlines are looking to lower their planes to just one pilot, or even remove them entirely. Currently most planes are required to have at least two pilots, but as airlines are struggling to meet that number, it will likely be lowered to just one in the coming years.
The pilot shortage may lessen in severity as more young people are drawn to the career thanks to higher wages, or may worsen as major airlines move to eliminate the career entirely.