Is the Pilot Shortage Real?

Australia is changing their visa laws to attract foreign flyers. In 2016, Republic Airways filed for bankruptcy protection, citing a shortage of pilots that caused them to ground airplane after airplane. Boeing has estimated that we will need to train a new pilot every fifteen minutes to meet the demand for air travel.

People are acting as if the pilot shortage is real. But do the numbers reveal that we have a pilot shortage? As a company that wants to help you with buying airplanes, we have some insight here. Check out our answer below.

The Demand for Air Travel

Since 2005, the only year that demand for air travel grew less than 2% was 2009, due to the global recession. The world has grown smaller and more interconnected. Business leaders need to sign a contract in Shanghai on Monday, meet with the board in San Francisco on Tuesday, and finally get back to work at their headquarters in Miami on Wednesday.

Traditional means of transportation like boats and car simply do not work anymore. The world is moving faster and faster every day, and planes are simply the fastest way to get from A to B in many cases.

Another big driver of demand for air travel is the emergence of the BRICS countries as nascent economic powers. China alone is expected to add more than 800 million passengers by 2034, with India and Brazil adding slightly less than 300 and 200 million, respectively.


In 2009, Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed in Buffalo, New York. The National Transportation Safety Board laid the blame at the pilot’s feet, and the families of the victims lobbied Congress to pass more stringent policy measures.

One of the most criticized measures is the so-called ‘1,500 Hour’ rule. Airline pilots, with few exceptions, are now required to fly for 1,500 hours in training before they can fly for an air carrier operation. This did not affect primary pilots, as they already had this requirement, but rather co-pilots who had prior only needed 250. This move was popular.

The facts and the data might suggest that this was not the best move to make. It is of note that both the pilot and the first officer of the Colgan flight were experienced, and they had more than 1,500 hours flying time individually.

Furthermore, three Pilot Source studies found that hours, by itself, is not a reliable predictor of pilot performance. Researchers at Purdue University investigated the issue, and discovered that recent college graduates, pilots with fewer than 1,500 hours of experience, and pilots who graduated from a flight program accredited by the Aviation Accreditation Board International needed less additional training and had fewer non-completions. This seems to point to the fact that this regulation is just there to make people feel good, as opposed to actually fixing the problem.

Pilot Issues

When there is a shortage, usually the players with the deepest pockets win. Companies like United Airlines, Southwest, and the like, can simply raise salaries, and attract new pilots. Smaller, regional airlines are left out in the cold.

Regional carriers service 95% of all US airports, and 65% of all American airports are serviced exclusively by regional carriers. While the New York to Los Angeles flights are probably not going to disappear, smaller cities may see their service discontinued. Charlotte to Asheville and Fort Myers to Miami may not be around forever.

Further complicating matters is the fact that large airlines are plucking the pilot instructors from their flight schools. Not only air trainees expected to log more hours, but there are fewer pilot instructors to teach them.

To answer the question directly, yes, generally, the pilot shortage is real. Demand far outstrips supply. Not everyone is feeling the pinch, however. The fact remains that this is a good time to get into the business of flying.

If you are interested in buying airplanes, check out our selection today. When a question comes up, shoot us a message. We can be your aircraft buying experts.


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