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Professionally Speaking

The pilot shortage

We've never seen it like this

I just had a long telephone conversation with old friend Jim Hackman, retired western regional manager for Cessna's CPC program. Jim may be retired, but he is still a great source for information about the flight training end of the industry.

Folks, the long-awaited pilot shortage is here at last, and stronger than we ever expected. Airlines are hiring, and that influences all levels of aviation (see "Career Pilot," p. 51). And, yes, it has reached CFIs. Jim says that some flight schools--profitable flight schools--have shut down because they can't find CFIs. That's hard to believe.

When businesses tell me that they can't find people to hire, I always wonder if that doesn't just mean they can't hire people cheaply. I asked Jim if CFI pay has gone up with the pilot shortage, and he said it has. It really is true that when demand goes up faster than supply, prices rise. After all these years--decades--of waiting, the predictions have, belatedly, come true.

All evidence is that this pilot shortage will continue for years. The airlines are buying airplanes in record numbers; they must hire pilots to fly them. Corporate and charter flying is growing (anyone who doubts that should have gone to the National Business Aviation Association convention to see the new airplanes being purchased). Owner-flown aircraft are also on the upward move (last I heard, owner pilots are buying most of the very light jets). The people who are supposed to know are showing us the money, big time.

Perhaps the most telling indication is that Cessna--mighty Cessna--is going ahead with its light sport trainer. Cessna sees it as the wave of the future and as contributing to a rebirth of the flight training business. Cessna doesn't make many mistakes with its money. I learned that by competing with it and also by selling its products.

All this growth means more pilots will need more training throughout all segments of aviation, and that means more demand for CFIs at every level. As the airlines hire at the top, brand-new CFIs will find it easier to get entry-level instructing jobs at higher pay than in the past.

All this good news does not mean that CFIs can lie back and wait for good times to roll. As aviation careers become more attractive, more young folks will enter aviation. They will be striving for success ASAP, and they will be motivated.

I predict that successful CFIs will become more businesslike, better dressed, and more professional in every way. There will be a bigger push by flight school owners to get more done, fly more students per day and per airplane. Almost invariably, when prices/costs go up, businesses work tighter.

For the hustlers, the future looks bright indeed.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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