About 17,000 passengers had a surprise earlier this summer when Horizon Air, a small regional airline, canceled hundreds of flights in August and September. Among them were flights from Seattle to Boise, Idaho and Spokane, Washington. According to the Seattle Times, the company canceled the flights largely because they had no pilots to fly.
The gap between pilot demand and supply has always existed, but the problem is getting worse; according to Forbes, to meet the growing demand, 790,000 new pilots will be needed by 2037. However, it is unlikely that this demand will be met. Piloting used to be an attractive job for young people, b ut it has lost its appeal in recent years. This is in part caused by an expensive six-month training process to become a pilot. According to Reuters, in the U.S, this training can cost around $70,000, and when combined with a four-year degree program, this expense can increase dramatically.
Prior to 2013, pilots who completed this training program were eligible to become US airline co-pilots. However, in Aug. 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandated a system that required 1,500 hours of flight time before trainees could take on the job of co-pilots. This put an extra burden on trainees since there are few scholarships or subsidies to support them.
“The pilot shortage is a problem because it might result in decreased safety for planes. Airlines might overwork pilots or even employ pilots who are not qualified because of this shortage.” Junior Ho-Hsin Wang said.
It is critical that the airline industry starts enacting solutions to fill the pilot shortage immediately. One obvious fix would be to increase pilot wages, especially for beginner pilots. Although this would be unsustainable for the aviation industry in the long-term due to airlines’ tight budgets, airlines can increase the entry salary of pilots while keeping the overall salary of pilots over their entire career the same. According to Fortune, the average starting salary of pilots is $22,500 per year, which boils down to approximately $10.75 per hour. This low pay has turned down many potential pilots and heightened the demand. By raising the pay of starting pilots, there could be an influx of entry-level pilots.
Additionally, subsidies in the extensive training process can alleviate the financial load of the students. The Experience Path Partnerships programs across the U.S. creates partnerships to make the flight instructor path more efficient. Delta Airlines has launched its Propel Pilot Career Path Program that offers college students mentoring from professional pilots and a fast track to work for the company. The program also grants up to $25,000 to trainees. Airlines ought to follow through with proposed measures to increase the industry workforce, such as increasing the retirement age of pilots from 65 to 70 years old and hiring retired military pilots.
However, the most promising fix is to recruit more female pilots. According to a 2017 survey by FAA’s Aeronautical Center, only 7 percent of pilots are female. It is crucial that efforts are enacted to incentivize more women to join the aviation industry, and one way to do so is to follow in the steps of airlines such as EasyJet. The company has set a target that by 2020, 20 percent of its new pilots should be female. Budget airlines establishing clear quotas for the recruitment of female staff can alleviate the lack of women in the aviation industry and set a precedent for other airlines.
Additionally, the push for female pilots should be made from a young age while also targeting older women. Introducing children to female pilots early in life could spur them to work towards a career in the cockpit, and directing general aviation training scholarships to include an older demographic can encourage women over 50 to start or complete flight programs.
“The gender gap in the aviation industry, especially in piloting, needs to change. We need qualified people to join the aviation industry because job shortages can cripple airlines.” Sophomore Rebecca Ahn said.