Pilot Shortage Creates Opportunity To Work With The Airlines

by Dave Weiman

As general aviation pilots, you and I know that student pilot starts are down, and aviation organizations and others are addressing this issue through special programs and initiatives, and we thank them for it.

Our primary motive may be our desire to have pilots join our ranks so we have a strong lobbying force, and as consumers of aircraft products and services, to help defray our overall costs for fuel, parts and insurance. Many of us are also employed in the industry, so we want to keep our jobs.

While having enough well-trained commercial pilots to fly the general public may be the least of our worries, it is a big concern of the airlines, and provides common ground in which we can work more closely together in the future.

According to the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA), the FAA has published its expected notice of proposed rulemaking revising the qualifications for air carrier first officers. The NPRM is a combination of training and experience requirements mandated by Congress in 2010 as a result of the Colgan Flight 3407 crash in Buffalo, N.Y. in 2009, and proposals that originated with the FAA. You are encouraged to submit comments on the NPRM by April 30.

The proposal would change air crew hiring requirements by making it necessary for all air carrier first officers to hold an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate instead of a commercial pilot certificate, in effect increasing minimum flight time hours from 250 to 1,500. This also causes an increase in training costs.

Applicants for an ATP certificate with an airplane category multiengine class rating or type rating would face an additional requirement to complete a new ATP certification-training program. The new training program requirement would impose broad training obligations, rather than allow ATP certificate applicants to meet the requirement in the specific aircraft and operating environment in which they would work. The training course would require training in a Level C or higher flight simulator, making it only available through a Part 141 flight school, Part 142 flight training center, or Part 121 or Part 135 air carrier, constraining the ability of some training providers to continue offering ATP training. The rule would also impact the ranks of program instructors by requiring them to hold an ATP certificate and have at least two years of experience in a fractional ownership program or at an air carrier.

The airlines currently employ nearly 96,000 pilots. A study by the University of North Dakota shows that the major airlines will need 60,000 pilots by 2025 to replace the current workforce and cover expansion. Over the past eight years, less than 36,000 pilots have obtained airline transport pilot certificates.

All of these additional requirements, while pay for starting pilots remains low, demanding schedules make the profession less attractive, pilots are retiring at record numbers, and college administrators are cutting aviation programs. In addition, new federal requirements for pilot “rest time” will take effect in 2014, reducing pilot availability by an additional 5 percent. Higher paying jobs overseas will further hurt our situation here in the U.S.

Unfortunately, general aviation often finds itself at odds with the airlines in regards to federal funding of our nation’s airspace system. And because of the political strength of the airlines, the airports that serve them are usually prioritized over general aviation airports. The airlines have failed to recognize the importance of general aviation airports as “relievers” for the commercial airports they use, and their importance relative to pilot training.

The airlines need general aviation to meet their pilot demands, as the military does not produce pilots like it once did. The airlines need our flight schools, and they need our reliever airports where training takes place. They also need our technical colleges and universities to train future pilots and other aviation professionals.

We urge our state and national aviation organizations to make an effort to work with the airlines to meet this pilot shortage through the airline industry’s support of general aviation airports, and their support of aviation programs on our campuses. The airlines need our help as much as we need theirs.

I welcome your feedback on this and other aviation topics: dave@midwestflyer.com.

SIDE BAR: While the status of flying a regional jet may not seem very glamorous considering the pay scale and physical size of the aircraft, I have nothing but admiration for these men and women who managed to get my daughter home safely over the holidays, despite lousy flight conditions. Thanks also to the airport engineers and consultants for building quality runways, and to the excellent air traffic control specialists, who we all depend on to ensure our safety.

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