Attracting the Best and the Brightest

The most important safety feature of any airline operation is a well-trained, highly experienced and qualified professional pilot. And the best way to attract and retain these pilots is to pay them competitive wages and offer a solid career progression.

Unfortunately, despite record profits, too many airlines continue to pay pilots substandard wages, which is a huge disincentive for young people thinking about a career in aviation. At ALPA, we’re working every day to ensure that we have a talented pool of qualified pilots in the pipeline—and fighting for fair wages, work-life balance, and career-progression opportunities at the airlines.

As part of an effort to have government roll back hard-fought safety regulations, there’s been a misinformation campaign peddled for several years suggesting that there aren’t enough trained and qualified pilots to fly the available aircraft, which thereby leads to a pilot shortage. Some airlines even claim there is already a pilot shortage which has led to the decrease in service to small rural communities.

Well, let’s set the record straight and stop spending time on whether there is a pilot shortage and fix the real problem—a pilot pay and career-progression shortage.

Fact: The annual number of airline transport pilot certificates issued remains strong.

Fact: More than 25,500 certificates have been issued since July 2013.

Fact: The rate of issuance continues to exceed the most optimistic pilot forecast.

Fact: Many airlines have recognized that hiring qualified pilots becomes easier when they increase pay and benefits and create career-advancement opportunities.

Fact: Regional airlines that have added flow-through programs to mainline carriers have seen their hiring improve significantly.

Those last two facts, the cause and effects, are what we should be focused on, and that is precisely what ALPA has done and will continue to do when we advocate on behalf of the future of the pilot profession. We stand by our responsibility to build a strong airline piloting career, and we seize every opportunity to do so.

I am proud that ALPA pilots are represented on the new U.S. Department of Transportation working group charged with attracting air service to small, rural, communities. Capt. Paul Ryder (XJT), ALPA National resource coordinator, will carry ALPA’s continued message that highly skilled and well-trained airline pilots play a critical role in the safe completion of every passenger and cargo airline flight and how to attract the “best and brightest” of our youth to the pilot profession.

While some airlines that have increased pay, benefits, and quality of life have had no difficulty hiring qualified pilots, many regional airlines are still paying a first-year airline pilot substandard wages with a salary below $30,000. Basic economics should drive up these salaries if these airlines want to remain competitive in the U.S. market.

And let’s be clear, an airline pilot shortage is not responsible for small community air-service challenges. Air service to small communities is impacted by economics, not pilot supply. In fact, access to and from many small communities has increased since 2012. Newer and larger aircraft have also increased the number of seats available in many small communities.

And finally, let’s not mistakenly blend safety with industrial issues as some have tried to do. They often blame the shortage on a law passed by Congress in 2010 (P.L. 111-216), where Congress directed the FAA to implemented key safety enhancements to improve the training and qualifications of airline pilots.  These safety regulations were written in blood: between 2004 and 2009, several airline accidents highlighted numerous pilot training and qualification deficiencies. I think we all agree that rolling back and reducing safety is never the right answer.

Attracting the best and the brightest to join the ranks of today’s professional airline pilots continues to be a priority ALPA initiative. Based on all indications, it remains an outstanding time to choose the airline pilot profession.


Categories: Industry, Safety