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Pilot shortage….we come across this type of headline sporadically in the news. This makes one wonder what is going on in the aviation industry and one can witness that this industry weathervanes with amplified movement in either direction in response to the economic winds. In addition, according to industry analysts, there are currently ~60 thousand working commercial pilots in the USA, however, ~37 thousand of them will reach their retirement age between 2012 and 2017. The existing pilot shortage problem will become even more of a problem in the near future.

Since the 2008 economic downturn, student pilot enrollment has seen a major downturn for multiple reasons. The primary reason is the drying up of aviation student loans. Loans from federally affiliated agencies such as Sallie Mae, that were readily available at competitive interest rates, no longer exist. Student pilot enrollment in programs intended for career pilots essentially stopped, except for veterans with VA education benefits and well to do individuals. Even this year, there is a definite gap in pilot supply, because the training pipeline here in the US has been a slow trickle over the past two-and-a-half years.

Meanwhile the existing stock of suitable commercial pilots has been steadily hired away from the pilot suppliers (flight schools) by the ever-increasing demand from the large operators in emergency medical service (EMS), utility companies (gas and electric), and air transport companies (PHI, AirLog, ERA, Temsco, Maverick, etc.). Consequently, flight schools are now looking for qualified pilots to fill instructor positions from coast to coast.

On a side note, when you compare the expense and time investment of a college degree to the time and cost of obtaining one’s pilot licenses, with the opportunities available to holders of college degrees and professional commercial pilots looking for jobs, it is surprising to most people that the college degree costs substantially more in terms of time and money. Also without going into too many details, helicopter pilots will also have some advantages compared to their fixed-wing counterparts… in terms of earnings, availability of employment and family life.

Next time, I will share about my recent visit to China and the major developments happening there in aviation.