Assuming There Is An Airline Pilot Shortage Issue... Then What?
Updated: Sep 3, 2018
Maybe you're a pilot, an airline HR team member, or a flight instructor, and you are already feeling the pinch. Perhaps you've read the articles on entry level salaries for First Officers. Maybe you also have read about ab ignitio efforts by large carriers and about support from manufacturers to support their pilot needs. If you are close to the issue, you probably already are feeling the affects.
But who will work to build a better pilot assembly line, and who should pay for it? I have some ideas, but let's view this as an open discussion. Let's move forward in this brief article with the assumption that, if there is not currently a pilot shortage, then a pilot shortage may be on the way.
"...carriers may be faced with the two options of either ignoring the pilot training issue or surviving as an airline."
In my opinion, the pilot-demand side of the market seems to be trailing behind the tensions between what is wanted (pilots) and what is needed (training). There are old market-approaches to training and training costs, but there are also new approaches to meet the market demand. I'm not saying new is always better. I'm just saying that, in this case, the classic approach may not solve the pilot issue, because markets change.
A Classic Approach
Here are three examples of how pilots have historically trained up to enter an Air Transport Pilot role:
"Let pilots pay for their training. They love flying!" - “We” want experienced pilots, but “you” pay for your training and hours. How do training costs really look to Millennials with, perhaps, debt-aversion (see number 3)?
"Ok, then hire pilots from the military." - Maybe that used to work, and maybe it still does, but, for example, the US military is facing its own pilot shortage issue.
"Well, offer flight school financing." - I get the concept, but is it a parasitic approach? “Hey, I want you to become a executive-capable professional who can land a plane in the Hudson River, and get me and my family home safely. But, I want you to go into massive debt to get that good, and sidestep the opportunity you could have had in another career!” Yes, I think pilots should invest in their training, just like a bus-driver should. It just so happens that the bus that pilots eventually drive can cost $70 million, and that training can be really expensive (refer back to number 1).
No, I don't have this "solved." I'm presenting ideas here.
An Updated Approach
So, assuming there is a pilot shortage issue, who is going to lead in the resolution? I submit that manufacturers, carriers, and yes, even governments can help subsidize the pilot training pipeline. Maybe you have other ideas too? By the way, these three are probably not an exhaustive list:
Manufacturers Can Buy Into Pilot Training: Fewer pilots (relative to demand) = fewer flights = fewer aircraft sales. Right? Maybe I'm seeing thing too simplistically, but consider that the pilot to plane ratio is (currently) 2 to 1. Does another $200,000 invested by a manufacturer (for two pilots) make sense when we're talking about an aircraft that sells for $70 million?
Carriers/Airlines Can Invest in Pilot Training: Carriers may be faced with the two options of either ignoring the pilot training issue or surviving as an airline. Is this an overstatement in your opinion? Also, what role could agencies and/or recruiters play in the training conversation?
Governments Can View Pilot Training as Infrastructure: Governments promote power grids. Governments build highways. So, if air transport is viewed as infrastructure for interstate and international commerce, then can pilot training become an "infrastructure" investment?
So, is there a pilot shortage issue? What do you think? I could be wrong in my presumptions above. Do you have insight to help clarify the matter? How could we solve this in a simplistic way?
Some things I haven’t explored here:
Integration of flight schools into carriers’ or manufacturers’ portfolios
Reduction of required flight hours for First Officers
The rotary wing industry
Kind regards from the other side of the pond,