Scott Spangler has written an interesting post on JetWhine where he noted a recent NPR story about the dwindling number of student pilots in the USA. Apparently, it is being reported that the FAA’s estimate for this year’s number of student pilot certificates will total less than 60,000 – an all time low. For some perspective: Student certificates peaked at 209,406 in 1968 (around the height of the Vietnam War) and then reached an all-time high of 210,180 in 1979. Since then though, they have been in decline and fell into the five figures in 1994.
Scott noted that he often receives plenty of questions and genuine interest about becoming a pilot from youngsters but their interests is mostly fueled by having played video games and from seeing Red Bull Air Racing. However, the NPR story also profiled a CFI and aspiring professional pilot who is the perfect example of why pilot numbers are in decline:
His loans total nearly $100,000, and to build the experience that will qualify him for a $20,000-a-year right seat in a regional airliner, he’s forced to “flight instruct, tow banners, and haul skydivers.” Think about the attitude bred by this decades-old system and the declining student and pilot population should surprise no one.
In other words, why would anyone want to become a professional pilot under those conditions? However, Scott noted that the US aviation industry only makes changes when it is forced to but then he suggested that:
A good solution might be the military model, where candidates vie for a coveted seat, knowing they will receive top-notch proficiency-based training designed for the mission they will soon fulfill. Anyone can apply, but only the best will be chosen for the education program that fills a guaranteed professional pilot slot. Because the airlines would have more invested in their pilots, perhaps they wouldn’t treat them like Doritos: Hard financial times? Furlough them! There will always be new suckers who still believe in the happy airline pilot dream.
Hence, we want to know what our readers think – especially any USA based pilots who fly for a living. Would you choose to become a pilot again or choose a different line of work? What do you should be done to reverse the decline in pilot numbers?