I was taking a break between giving flight lessons on a winter morning when a Cessna Caravan pilot employed by a contract freight-hauling company walked into the terminal as he did every weekday after his flight from Manchester, New Hampshire, to Bangor, Maine.
We knew each other just enough for a wave hello. This time, however, he stomped the snow off his black boots and called out, “Hey, you want a job?”
News flash: In 2018, pilot shortages are back, and this time by all accounts, it’s not just another cyclical case of pilot demand exceeding pilot supply.
Try and escape the news coverage—impossible, in the mainstream media and the aviation press. Everyone’s on the story, and this time it’s a “critical pilot shortage,” according to a recent headline on a Wall Street Journal article that reported that airlines are “boosting salaries and setting up training centers to combat what is projected to be one of the biggest-ever pilot shortfalls.”
AOPA has examined the phenomenon, as in July when Boeing announced its 20-year aviation jobs forecast at EAA AirVenture, predicting unprecedented pilot demand through 2037, including the need for 635,000 pilots, 622,000 commercial technicians, and 858,000 cabin crewmembers. The forecast factored in an expected doubling of the commercial aircraft fleet.
A challenge for an industry represents opportunity for its players, and access for newcomers. For the would-be career pilot, the plenitude of choices (and career-track promises) is dizzying. Careful research and gaining some knowledge of the regulations under which you're flying are the way to get started.
Even student pilots who are a long way from flying “for compensation or hire,” as the regulations define what working pilots do, will probably experience the impact of a pilot shortage firsthand. That’s because one of a hiring boom’s earliest impacts is snapping up newly minted flight instructors for new-hire pilots. I lost my first CFI to an airline job flying right-seat in a Fairchild F–27 Friendship. Five years later I got my first instructing job when a Beech 1900 came calling for the lone staff flight instructor at our local flight school. Although I never flew for an airline, my life in aviation has been shaped by airline pilot hiring trends.
The trend continues to the present day. Recently when seeking to contact an instructor in California for an AOPA interview, I was directed to her Facebook page, where I found a post announcing that she had just started a new job flying for SkyWest Airlines.
In 2018, indications are that a big reshuffle is going on as new players get in the game, existing schools expand, alliances forge between training institutions and air carriers, and aircraft manufacturers direct their production at the flight training fleet.
Florida is famed for its flying weather, and a case in point is Sebring Flight Academy, formerly Leading Edge Flight School. The school offers to train career-track pilots in a technically advanced Bristell light sport aircraft. Leveraging sport pilot regulations, Sebring Flight Academy, now run by Lou Mancuso, owner of flight schools at two Long Island, New York, airports, offers quick upgrade to light sport instructor, allowing the graduating pilot to work for the flight school and be paid “a higher than industry wage while you build the necessary hours to get your first professional flying job and your ATP license,” the school says.
Another local flight training news item in the hopper lately was an item from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Skyport Aviation at Capital City Airport announced an agreement with the training organization Harrisburg Pilots to provide a base of operations for the flight school. The news release noted, “It is well documented that a pilot shortage (is imminent) in the near future and providing flight schools to teach prospective pilots is a critical part of the mission.”
While the industry works—or scrambles, as some reports say—to cope with the projected pilot shortage, more jobs on offer and higher pay for graduates are the silver lining for the workforce. So notes Vaughn College, a Queens, New York, aeronautic-engineering, aviation, and technology institution, adding that it sees a record number of students responding to the pilot shortage, with job availability and increased pay the major motivators for students to pursue a degree in aviation. “It’s an excellent time to become a pilot,” said Assistant Professor Peter Russo, chair of the aviation department. “It’s a great feeling to know there will be a seat waiting for you in a cockpit.”
An even better feeling is to look beyond that first cockpit seat to the second flying job. Texas-based Part 135 cargo operator Ameriflight, which in January announced a “cadet pathway program” for pilot trainees of Epic Flight Academy, also announced a collaboration with UPS Airlines “to create opportunities for flight crew personnel for both airlines. The collaboration is intended to offer outlined paths under which UPS Airlines’ Intern Program participants can gain Part 135 flying experience at Ameriflight and accumulate the flight experience needed to proceed to UPS Airlines, a Part 121 certificated air carrier.”
In the days when a Cessna 208 Caravan pilot shouting a job offer across the room signaled that pilot hiring was accelerating, a CFI with airline aspirations might be coy about using the teaching position to “build time” toward that next opportunity. Not only is that no longer the case—but even flight schools beating the bushes for instructors to fill vacated positions find it necessary to hint at what lies beyond.
On the website of the well-known training institution American Flyers, the flight instructor page encourages CFIs to “build your hours for a career with the airlines while getting paid to be a Flight Instructor at American Flyers. When you are finished with the commercial airline requirements, we have strong relationships with our Airline Partners and guarantee you interview and employment opportunities.”
California’s Reedley College put it this way last May when hosting an open house to highlight its new Flight Science degree program that began in August: “Students can earn an associate of science degree in 24 months, opening the door to flight instructor positions, and eventually the cockpit of an airline or corporate aircraft.”