Airlines facing pilot shortage, begin to raise wages to combat trend
Projections published by the University of North Dakota’s Aviation Department have indicated that U.S. airlines may start running out of pilots in as soon as two years.
The issue is many current pilots are reaching their mandatory retirement age of 65 and fewer young people are choosing commercial aviation as a profession. That deficit is expected to reach about 15,000 by 2026, according to the study.
The lack of interest partly stems from low-paying regional carriers — where many aviation professionals start their careers.
“Starting pilots don’t make much at all,” said Virginia Kinach, a retired corporate pilot. “It’s seniority based.”
Common figures found online say that in recent years a starting pilot might have only made about $20,000 annually. Ed Kalabus, a retired airline pilot who is now a freelance flight instructor in Prescott, said that is about right.
These low wages follow what is a notoriously expensive flight-training process.
“If you call a puppy mill school, they’ll quote you a number like $60,000,” Kalabus said.
The situation was worsened when Congress passed a law in 2013 mandating most aspiring pilots fly 1,500 hours before being hired by a regional carrier, up from as few as 250 hours.
“That really closed it off for a lot of people,” Kalabus said.
Airlines have just begun to address these issues, specifically focusing on raising starting wages and providing additional incentives such as signing bonuses.
“There are ads out there right now that they’ll hire you, blah, blah, and give you a premium to sign on if you’re qualified,” Kalabus said. “They’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, they’re doing it out of necessity. They have to get competitive to get the better people.”