Who wants to be an airline pilot?

Apparently not many according to a recent article posted on AVweb by a certain “Captain X” who reported that a substantial percentage of the newly hired airline pilots they get just aren’t excited like they used to be about their career prospects. Moreover, Captain X wrote that during the 2007 and 2008 hiring booms, people were climbing over each other to get an interview but now when they call ten people, only five bother to show up.  

Worst, those who bother to show up can’t pass a written test that is straight out of the FAA commercial pilot written and can’t seem to do much else (which Captain X went into considerable detail about…) Captain X then offered the following explanations that both he and his colleagues have come up with to explain the current and increasingly dire situation:

  1. The usual fallback explanation: The younger generation just has a sense of entitlement and don’t want to work as hard.
  2. The airline industry has driven or frightened away the best and the brightest.
  3. The upcoming 1500-hour / ATP minimum requirement for all airline pilots, which will go into effect in 2013, has scared everyone away.
  4. We process information differently because we are all wired and connected to the cloud now – meaning new training procedures are needed.
  5. Economic hard times is making it harder for instrument pilots to remain proficient on their own.
  6. No one is getting commercial pilots’ licenses anymore as FAA data shows that the numbers have plunged over the last three years.

However, Captain X did not mention the fact that regional airlines in the USA have earned somewhat of a bad reputation for both pilot pay and the quality of life for pilots plus there has been an explosion in the growth of airlines around the world – especially in the Middle East, China and SE Asia as the middle class in these areas continues to grow and travel more. In other words, perhaps pilots are finding greener pastures further afield.

Given that Captain X has voiced his views on the situation in the US, it would be interesting to hear what any UK or European pilots, especially airline pilots, think. In other words, is the situation the same in the UK and over on the continent (where the economy is fast on the way to crashing) or is this just an American problem?

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5 Responses to Who wants to be an airline pilot?

  1. Jason January 6, 2012 at 06:23 #

    You know what the main problem is, especially here in South Africa, back in the day you could fly and build your hours with just R100 which is about $12.50 at the current rate, now you looking at nearly R1600 dual with instructor just to fly around in a Cessna for an hour, people do not have the money to become pilots anymore. The worst part is that the Comm will cost aprox R250 000 which people just don't have and when you look for grants / loans / bursaries they are all none and void which leads to the fact that you become driven away to other prospects.

    Sure you could do what I do and work 7 – 5 each day, put away money at the end of the month, and then to top it off I would get my license in a mere 10 years, emphasis is that it is a Comm License. So I can see why.

  2. David Colgate January 6, 2012 at 09:05 #

    As a 25 year old I’ve always aspired to be a commander of the clouds. However, “commercial flying” lacks the luster to me it used to have. Auto pilot, computers, poor pay, unhealthy working hours for family life have all put me off. Having worked hard to achieve A-Levels and other qualifications befitting of the role as airline pilot, I am no longer interested and haven’t been for many years. Couple this with the extraordinary expense involved in achieving a licence it’s something far out of reach. It’s certainly nothing to do with not working hard (I trained as an ATCO and unfortunately failed, but I worked my socks off). I strive to work hard towards funding a PPL to enjoy flying the way I think it should be – hands on while sharing the experience with friends and family. Finally, it is gradually dawning that until an alternative fuel source is found, I believe there is a general feeling is that the future of commercial flying is one shrouded in darkness. Fossil fuels won’t last forever, and we have yet to hear how that will impact airlines. Doesn’t say much for job security.

    • Matthew Stibbe January 9, 2012 at 07:34 #

      David – I agree. I can't see why anyone would invest

  3. Micah January 6, 2012 at 13:23 #

    In the US I think it is #2, but also (related to #6) it costs too much for flight training these days.

    Back in the “good old days” 10-years ago it cost about half of what it costs to train now at the university I attended. The rise in costs can be attributed to increased costs of attending college, higher fuel costs, and higher insurance costs. Even training at an FBO, I don’t think you can get away with less than a 50% increase over the past 10 years. Compare the cost of training to paltry First Officer salaries and there isn’t much incentive for new pilots to start the uphill battle.

    For me, I was working full-time as a CFI when one of my students offered me a “desk job.” His explanation is that he didn’t want to want to lose his flight instructor. For me the benefits were manifold: an employer that I enjoyed working for, reasonable work hours, living in the same city with my wife and (future) kids. Looking back on the decision I made 6 years ago, I don’t regret it at all. I miss the idea of flying jets, but I have a reasonable work schedule and I see my kids every day (also, the salary is reasonable). I may be willing to fight management or schedule at a jet-job, but I don’t see any reason to fight both.

    • Matthew Stibbe January 9, 2012 at 07:32 #

      The economics of running a flight school seem to be pretty grim, don't they? At my airfield in England, the largest school (where I learned) just closed down. Prices are going up, schools are closing down and, as you say, instructors are being squeezed. I had an instructor at a school in the US once who was being paid something like $10 an hour airborne. No students, no pay. Bad weather, no pay. I think its sort of a death spiral where rising prices reduce the number of customers leaving fewer and fewer people to support a large fixed overhead. There has to be a smarter way but I don't know what it is.

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