Why is there a Pilot Shortage?

It always astounds me how safe aviation has become over the past 10-20 years. Even with commercial aviation growing at steady rate of 7% annually, the number of accidents per million flights has dropped to an all time low of 2.4 per million departures. In fact, 2017 happened to be the safest year in commercial aviation history according to recent studies. As for the US Aviation industry: there was not a single fatality on a commercial U.S flight between Colgan Air 3407 in 2009 and Southwest flight 1380 earlier this year (2018). Some of this can be attributed to the improved resilience and safety standards of the aircraft manufactured by Boeing and Airbus. But a lion’s share of this should be attributed to the pilots. After all who can forget historic events like the Miracle on the Hudson?

Well over the past few years, the issue of airline pilot shortage has been coming to the forefront of the news media more often. The crux of the topic is people aren’t as motivated to become pilots as they were back in the 1970s, when the road to becoming a long haul pilot wasn’t quite as long.

Today, young pilots pretty much have to deal with large amounts of college debt while working long hours for miserly compensation from small regional airlines. With regional flight numbers now overshadowing their long haul counterparts, pilots are simply more likely to find jobs at regional airlines as opposed to large commercial carriers.

Airlines definitely don’t want to increase wages for these regional pilots because regional flights are the costliest to operate. At the same time, pilots want jobs where they could pay off their student debt within a reasonable amount of time and make a living.

So it now beckons the following questions: what can be done to motivate more people to become pilots given the hardships of the early years? What can airlines do?

A Youtube Channel called Wendover Productions just published a great video on the topic, presenting some of these issues and what airlines have done to combat them. If you haven’t seen Wendover’s videos before, there are quite a few detailed logical explanations on some hot topics in global politics, aviation, and more. It’s sort of become a Khan Academy of sorts on various topics.

A potential solution (a socialistic approach) for the problem maybe for long haul and well compensated pilots to agree to lower salaries by a certain percent to raise wages at the bottom level. Another way would be for airlines to agree to pay for pilot education with the stipulation that they work for the airline. 

Either way something probably needs to be done to address this issue. After all our very way of living is at stake here, not to mention human lives.


What do you think should be done about the pilot shortage problem? Pilot compensation?