In recent days there have been statements made by airline executives that have partially blamed a pilot shortage for reduction in flying. Whether true or not it would be helpful to identify the circumstances surrounding these claims.
The rule requiring 1500 hours of flight time and an ATP for part 121 pilots was announced in a proposed state in Feb. 2012.
It was implemented summer of 2013.
For those not familiar with the pilot profession, historically in the United States airlines have paid little attention to their pilot supply. For many decades they had a significant supply of trained experienced pilots from the military, they also had a supply of civilian pilots who have at times been willing to pay to work to gain the required experience to hopefully have a shot at the major airlines where pay and benefits were better.
This structure was possible because of the ultra low requirements the FAA required for a pilot flying in the right seat of a commercial aircraft, and low training cost for new pilots. Training cost 10-25 years ago for a civilian could cost anywhere from 10-20 thousand dollars.
To describe the importance of qualified, experienced, and properly trained First Officers I should state that the Captain is the pilot who is in command of the aircraft but the First Officer is the one tasked with the responsibility of supervising that Captain. This is a basic component of crew resource management (CRM) and the importance of a trained, experienced First Officer capable of supervising captains is common knowledge and well documented in many fatal air crashes over the last ten years.
First officers at major airlines and international airlines are often paid very good wages for the responsibility they bear.
Here in the United States at the regional airlines that has not been the case even though the job done by these pilots is similar if not identical to the job pilots do at mainline and international airlines. Here in the United States First Officers at regional airlines often qualify for food stamps for the first 2-4 years.
So this brings us up to the last couple of years. Airline management teams are upset because the 1500 hour pilot requirement and the industry reality that those pilots must pay out of their own pockets upwards of 70-220 thousand dollars for basic training is affecting their ability to attract pilots with rock bottom wages and poor work rules. In other words it has forced the airlines to begin to compete for new pilots. Most industry’s filled with professionals such as accountants, lawyers, etc are familiar with this reality.
So what have the airlines been doing the last 2 years after they were notified of this rule change?
They have managed to get those regional airline pilots to take the largest pay cuts in their history.
Some Pinnacle airline pilots were forced to take pay cuts upwards of 10-20 percent or Delta Airlines promised they would shut down Pinnacle entirely. Keep in mind this was at a time when Delta was recording record profits.
US Airways management was able to impose similar cuts to the PSA pilot group with a similar threat. Now they are attempting to do the same with the American Eagle pilot group, and have threatened that they will be shuttered lest they agree to these cuts.
Republic Airways has been without a current contract for over 5 years as their management teams has sought for cuts or ways to prevent wages from keeping up with inflation.
ExpressJet a United Express carrier was recently asked to take concessionary cuts and surprisingly a month later the CEO of United announced a reduction in flying in Cleveland partially due to the inability to get enough pilots.
The surprising thing to this author is that these business people are well versed in business and economic reality.
These management teams more than anyone should understand that when there is a shortage of something prices don’t drop?
When gasoline is in short supply the market corrects to charge higher prices for gasoline and so allocates the remaining gas in a more efficient manner. Would not a similar economic reality play out if there was indeed a shortage of pilots?
Coupled with the fact that over the last couple of years they have sought significant concessions from regional pilots, they have done nothing to yet reward the financial investment these pilots must make to enter the workforce. With a foresight of over two years they have done very little to develop their pilot supply, or find creative ways to invest in their prospective pilots by providing opportunity to build time.
The solution to this pilot shortage is simple- Develop a profession where enough people think it is worth the investment and there will be plenty of pilots.