There’s a lot of talk in the media about a shortage of pilots. But what does it mean? It all depends on who you ask.
There are a lot of pilots out there.
As of 2018, there were over 300,000 licensed pilots in the United States alone. Globally, there were more than 1 million licensed pilots as of 2017—and that’s just the beginning. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that by 2022 there will be an additional 95,000 active airmen licenses issued worldwide each year (that’s 146 new licenses each day).
In the United States alone there are over 100,000 pilots on active duty and many more waiting in line to get their chance at becoming one.
But we need more; demand is growing.
The aviation industry is growing, and with that comes a need for more pilots. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for all pilots is expected to grow through 2024 as the number of people who fly continues to increase. Although BLS reports there are currently around 50,000 active commercial pilots in America today and this number may increase slightly over time, it’s still not enough to meet current demands.
In fact, according to Boeing’s 20-year forecast released in December 2017: “The global need for new pilots will be driven by emerging markets across Asia Pacific where airlines are adding more than 1,000 aircraft each year…[and] will reach nearly one million new commercial airline pilots needed over the next two decades.”
The FAA says we’ll need 804,000 new civil aviation pilots in North America over the next 20 years.
That’s a lot of people! They estimate that we’ll be short by about 615,000 pilots when all is said and done—and those numbers don’t even take into account the fact that many airlines are already struggling to find enough qualified candidates to fly their planes.
But how did they come up with this number? First off, they assume that roughly 80 percent of all airline pilots will retire by 2037 (which seems reasonable). They also assume that there will be an average annual increase in training capacity of 200 new commercial pilot graduates per year (this seems overly optimistic given recent trends). And finally, they assume that there’s currently a shortage of 590 commercial pilot jobs per year.
With all of this data, however, according to a statement put out by ALPA (Air Line Pilots Association) the reason behind this shortage of jobs is that the “U.S. regional airlines that dangle one-time hiring bonuses while continuing to offer extremely low first-year salaries are ignoring the truth about what it takes to attract qualified pilots to work at their airlines and stalling the real change that is needed to head off a serious U.S. pilot shortage in the future.”
There have been some airline companies like American Airlines and Delta airlines that have stated that the shortage is not as drastic as it seems. According to Delta Airlines executive Ed Bastian there “Really there are no shortage of pilots wanting to come to us or really to our regional partners. It’s a matter of getting them through the training and getting into the right seat with the right number of hours.”
All that being said
We don’t know exactly how many pilots we’ll need in the future. It depends on how fast airlines and other companies grow, as well as other factors like increased automation and certification requirements. While numbers we’ve seen so far suggest there will be a shortage at some point, airline executives say otherwise. Either way, it’s essential for young people interested in aviation to start their careers early so they can gain experience before there is a potential for fewer opportunities available later down the road.
Advancing Aviation Safety and security since 1931. ALPA. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.alpa.org/advocacy/pilot-supply
Transcripts, S. A. (2022, July 14). Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL) CEO Ed Bastian on Q2 2022 results – earnings call transcript. SeekingAlpha. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://seekingalpha.com/article/4523147-delta-air-lines-inc-dal-ceo-ed-bastian-on-q2-2022-results-earnings-call-transcript