Air Transport World

Pilot pool is drying up. (as industry expands)

Pilot pool is drying up

Airlines have been living through a period in which a seemingly unlimited pool of skilled and experienced workers have been eager to jump at the chance of working in the industry at almost any price. This cornucopia of pilots and mechanics is not endless, according to some schools of thought; a pinch soon will be felt by airlines going to the labor market, and that pinch will be felt first and worst by the less financially secure and smaller airlines.

Another belief is that although the level of experience in the labor pool may decline somewhat in the next few years, the established aviation industry structure will continue to produce qualified workers.

Lack of comprehensive data on the labor pool and the industry's needs makes it hard to get a firm handle on the issue. The best information available, however, appears to be that gathered by the Future Aviation Professionals of America (see box).

In late 1983 FAPA predicted 1984 pilot hiring would top 5,000. The prediction was correct as 5,465 pilots were hired by majors, nationals, regionals and other airlines operating turbojet equipment.

"The airlines this year will hire 6,000-8,000 pilots,' said FAPA VP A. Kit Darby. "Last year airlines expanded by stretching the amount of time crews work each month and by growth of the work force. This year expansion will come strictly from work force growth,' Darby told ATW.

Where will these pilots come from? While many generalities can be stated the only solid fact is that the majority of new hire pilots will not come from the military, the long-time source of U.S. airline pilots. In the second half of 1984, according to FAPA, ex-military pilots accounted for 41% of major airlines' pilot hiring, 36.7% of nationals' hiring and 20.2% of other jet airlines' hiring.

Air Force pilots

This fiscal year the U.S. Air Force is projecting a 64% retention rate for pilots eligible to leave the service--about 62% for Military Airlift Command transport pilots --down from the all-time high of 78% in FY1983. This figure is not clear-cut, since it applies to the five-year span pilots are most likely to leave the service--between the sixth and eleventh years. If it is assumed that 40% of those likely to leave the Air Force does so this year, that amounts to roughly 1,000 pilots, but all are not immediately qualified for airline equipment or operations.

The U.S. Navy has more easily understood figures. After losing only 276 pilots last year, that service projects the loss of 522 this year.

The total, therefore, is in the neighborhood of 1,500 military pilots available, leaving the balance of 4,500-6,500 pilot jobs to be filled from the civil sector.

If the military cannot supply the pilots, then how about the ranks of corporate pilots in the U.S., a group the National Business Aircraft Association roughly estimates to total about 11,500 pilots. …

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