U.S. airlines are facing what threatens to be their most serious pilot shortage since the 1960s, with higher experience requirements for new hires about to take hold just as the industry braces for a wave of retirements.
Federal mandates taking effect next summer will require all newly hired pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of prior flight experience—six times the current minimum—raising the cost and time to train new fliers in an era when pay cuts and more-demanding schedules already have made the profession less attractive. Meanwhile, thousands of senior pilots at major airlines soon will start hitting the mandatory retirement age of 65.
A rule requiring new airline pilots to have at least 1,500 flying hours will postpone the day flight instructor John Adkins, above, can join a carrier.
Another federal safety rule, to take effect in early 2014, also will squeeze the supply, by giving pilots more daily rest time. This change is expected to force passenger airlines to increase their pilot ranks by at least 5%. Adding to the problem is a small but steady stream of U.S. pilots moving to overseas carriers, many of which already face an acute shortage of aviators and pay handsomely to land well-trained U.S. captains.
“This is going to come to a crisis,” said Bob Reding, recently retired executive vice president of operations at AMR Corp.’s AAMRQ -2.70% American Airlines and now a consultant to FlightSafety International Inc., an aviation training provider.
Added Kit Darby, a consultant on pilot-hiring trends: “We are about four years from a solution, but we are only about six months away from a problem.”
Estimates differ on the problem’s magnitude. Airlines for America, a trade group of the largest carriers that collectively employ 50,800 pilots now, cites a study by the University of North Dakota’s aviation department that indicates major airlines will need to hire 60,000 pilots by 2025 to replace departures and cover expansion.
Mr. Darby’s firm calculates that all U.S. airlines, including cargo, charter and regional carriers, together employ nearly 96,000 pilots, and will need to find more than 65,000 over the next eight years…
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