Is There Really a Pilot Shortage?

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Mike Shekari/Staff Reporter

For the past several years, there has been a fierce debate in the airline industry about what has been described as a looming pilot shortage. Airline owners and management claim there is a shortage of qualified pilots to take the place of the aging “baby boomer” generation who will soon be retiring from the workforce, while trade unions such as the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) claim that there is not a shortage of qualified pilots, but rather a shortage of pilots who are willing to fly for regional airlines barely above minimum wage.

In order to address any possibility of a pilot shortage, Embry-Riddle hosted a summit with management and pilots from major and regional airlines, manufacturers, the FAA, and Embry-Riddle faculty last Spring. However, there were no representatives from pilot unions or the Embry-Riddle student body present at the summit.

In response to the lack of attendance from union representatives and Embry-Riddle students, Joseph Elm, a United Parcel Service (UPS) B757/767 captain and 1985 Embry-Riddle alumnus, wrote a letter to the editor of the Avion Newspaper. The letter contained an accusation that the University “was involved in a summit that airline management used to figure out a way to pay graduates less money,” after spending a quarter million dollars on their education. Elm also voiced a concern about why the pilot unions and student body were not invited. The Letter can be found at this link.

In order to address these issues, I interviewed Chancellor Tim Brady, who was the Dean of the College of Aviation at the time.

Brady described the summit as not being open to other educational bodies because it was a forum the University facilitated for the airlines to discuss a pilot shortage. He also stated that “I understand the ire of the individual, but it was totally misdirected,” referring to Joesph Elm. Additionally, he mentioned that pilot unions such as ALPA were not explicitly invited to attend, but were not barred from attending either. When asked if they would have been accepted into the summit if they had asked to attend, Brady replied “absolutely.”

Due to the amount of data on the pilot shortage and the lack of consensus among the industry, the College of Aviation launched their own study into the pilot shortage.

The study found that there are currently over 220,000 active commercial and airline transport pilot certificates in the country, which is more than what is needed to staff domestic airlines. In order to find out how many more of these pilots would be willing to work for the airlines if pay were increased for entry-level regional airline first officers, a survey was randomly sent out to 35,000 pilots, receiving 1,950 responses.

According to the study, if the pay of regional airline first officers were to be increased to around $45,000 yearly, enough pilots would be willing to work for the airlines to relieve the shortage that the airlines are currently feeling.

This data supports the claims made by groups such as ALPA that there truly is not a shortage of qualified personnel, but rather a shortage of pilots willing to work for such low wages, a problem further compounded by the continued rise in the cost of an aviation education.

At the end of the interview, Chancellor Brady said that it is not our job as a University to have a position, but rather to gather those who do have positions and uncover the truth.