More Than Enough Pilots to Meet U.S. Airline Demand

Debunking the Pilot Shortage Myth


Over the past eight years, the United States has produced more than enough certificated pilots to meet airline hiring demands and compensate for retirements, even as new and more rigorous pilot training standards were enacted to enhance safety. In fact, there are currently about 1.5 certificated pilots relative to demand, according to Federal Aviation Administration and Bureau of Labor Statistics data. So, although we don’t have a pilot shortage, we do have a shortage of airline executives willing to stand by their business decisions to cut air service and be upfront about their intentions to skirt safety rules and hire inexperienced workers for less pay.

Financial Lifelines, Jobs Saved

Two years ago, U.S. airlines were on the brink of economic disaster. Bookings dropped more than 90 percent, and executives faced bankruptcies and financial ruin. The federal government and American taxpayers—intervened and helped stop the bleeding. Airlines received not one, not two, but three financial lifelines totaling $63 billion. With leadership from the U.S. labor movement, Congress passed the Payroll Support Program, which kept thousands of pilots and other aviation workers on the job and off unemployment. This helped keep the U.S. economy going, global supply chains open, and critical medical personnel and equipment moving to fight COVID-19. It also positioned the aviation industry to be ready for recovery.

Unfortunately, some airlines planned for the recovery better than others. While some anticipated what would be needed—and when—to meet consumer demand, some don’t have the capacity to train the large number of available pilots or rely too heavily on outsourcing options that cannot meet demand. Others bet against a strong U.S. recovery, and now those airlines’ leaders are trying to blame frontline aviation employees for their bad business decisions by saying they can’t find enough workers.

Well-Trained Pilots Save Lives

Now, airlines are cutting service to dozens of cities across the country and laying the groundwork to weaken the most effective aviation safety law of the past decade—the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010, sometimes referred to as the “1,500-hour rule.”


ALPA was a strong advocate for the law, which required an overhaul in the training and minimum experience requirements for airline pilots. According to National Transportation Safety Board data, since the law’s enactment, Part 121 passenger airline fatalities have decreased by 99.8 percent.

Unfortunately, some airlines are using the fictious claim that there is a lack of available pilots to try to weaken training and safety standards and distract from their profit-first business decisions to cut service and hire inexperienced aviators for less pay instead of focusing on changes to fundamental issues associated with these profit-driven business models. The companies claim, among other things, that the first officer qualification and pilot training requirements mandated by Congress discourage potential airline pilots and are the cause for service cuts to rural communities.

Looking at the numbers, data shows that airlines make operational decisions based on the profitability of each route. Past practice proves that if you pay airline pilots commensurate with their training and experience, not only will you get qualified candidates but also a robust pipeline of future aviators.

Regulations that enhance safety and that have led to the U.S. aviation system’s exemplary safety record should never be used as the scapegoat for profit and should be untouchable by special interests. ALPA will defend against any action that would erode airline safety standards.


ALPA’s Recommendations to Maintain a Robust Pilot Pipeline

  • Invest in putting more pilots in the U.S. pipeline with several incentives, including helping students pay for expensive flight training costs, subsidizing loans for flight training in conjunction with two-year and four-year aviation colleges and universities; and exempting students from paying interest on loans while in school.
  • Align federal funding to bring pilot academic education and training to the level of other highly skilled professions.
  • Provide substantial grants to expand aviation and flight degree programs.
  • Increasing the number of students who graduate from a certified two- or four-year aviation program who obtain the license needed to become an airline pilot.
  • Increase awareness of aviation job opportunities with today’s emerging workforce, including the support and mentorship they need to enter the profession with confidence.
  • Recruit a more diverse workforce, providing role models to ensure minorities and women can see themselves as the airline pilot workforce of the future.
  • Increase Title IV funding for hiring professional pilot graduates from colleges and universities that serve underrepresented communities, such as the historically black colleges and universities.
  • Provide substantial grants to minority-serving educational institutions to start aviation programs that serve underrepresented communities and introduce them to aviation experiences.
  • Maintain the ICAO and EASA age standard for retirement


TELL CONGRESS: OPPOSE ATTEMPTS TO RAISE THE MANDATORY RETIREMENT AGE FOR U.S. PILOTS

Take Action Now



U.S. Mainline CEOs on Pilot Supply

Delta Air Lines

“We are not having any problem at all at Delta hiring and getting great pools of candidates.” 

Ed Bastian, Delta Chief Executive Officer, January 13, 2022 (Source: Seeking Alpha)

“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.” 

Ed Bastian, Delta Chief Executive Officer, January 13, 2022 (Source: Seeking Alpha)

 

American Airlines

“We’re going to have plenty of pilots. The biggest issue that we’re dealing with is the throughput of pilots and getting them through training.”

—Robert Isom, American President and Incoming Chief Executive Officer, January 20, 2022 (Source: Seeking Alpha)

 

Southwest Airlines

“I think we’ll have plenty of access to pilots and flight attendants. So I feel good that our staffing plan is going to come to fruition. And then the question just is, as we bring the people on and we mitigate the premium pay, we mitigate some of the regular operations, we run a more stable operation, can we—will we see different behaviors? And if we do, that gives us upside.” 

Gary Kelly, Southwest Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, January 20, 2022 (Source: Seeking Alpha)

 

Spirit Airlines

“The lines were all trending up. More people were applying to get pilot licenses, ATP licenses and instructor licenses. The COVID pandemic impacted that, mostly because none of us were hiring pilots in 2020. We anticipate you could interpret that data to suggest it will probably be closer to what you’ve experienced in the past, Supply and demand will work itself out over that period of time.”
Ted Christie, Spirit Airlines Chief Executive Officer, Q1 2022 Earnings Call (Source: Travel Pulse)
 

Frontier Airlines

“Well, I don't know if it's overblown for some airlines. I mean I think there's some airlines with some real challenges. But in our particular case in the near term, we have an excess of the pilots for example. And so, while we've seen some attrition greater than years past, Frontier is really in a fortunate position. We actually have a lot of tailwinds in our pilot workforce and our recruiting success versus some of the low-cost and regional airlines.”
Barry Biffle, Frontier Airlines Chief Executive Officer, Q1 2022 Earnings Call (Source: Seeking Alpha)