Pilot Shortage in the United States of America

Illustration+by+Mia+R.

Illustration by Mia R.

This past summer, millions of Americans looking to travel were left frustrated after airlines were forced to cancel or delay a significant amount of their flights due to a deficit of pilots. It is estimated that there is a shortage of around 8,000 pilots currently. By 2025, this number is expected to grow to 30,000. In addition to the cancellation and delaying of flights, major airlines like United, American and Delta were also forced to reduce the amount of flights they offer or eliminate service to certain cities altogether. Chicago O’Hare airport saw a drop in departures by 25%. In addition to major airports seeing a drop in departures, many smaller cities have been significantly affected as well. American Airlines announced the ending of service to cities like Toledo, Ohio and Ithaca, N.Y. earlier this year, an occurrence that is becoming more common. The COVID-19 pandemic has put stress on the airline industry financially. In response to this, airlines have pushed thousands of pilots out by offering their senior pilots early retirement packages. 

According to federal regulation, a pilot must have attained 1,500 flight hours under their belt prior to certification. Republic Airways, one of the many regional airlines affected by this crisis, proposed a reduction of this 1,500 flight hours rule in order to help alleviate the pilot shortage. Some experts claim that the quality of training a pilot receives is more important than the amount of time they spend flying in the air. Republic Airways agrees with this, arguing that their flight training program, the Leadership in Flight Training Academy, is as good as the pilot training program of the United States’ military. A pilot trained in the military can be certified with 750 flight hours, half of the 1,500 flight hours required for commercial pilots. Republic Airways hopes for their students to obtain certification with 750 flight hours. Republic Airways also argued that the reduction of required flight hours will allow more people with an interest in flying to pursue the path of becoming a pilot since the process of doing so can be very time consuming and costly. In order to attain all the required flight hours, it could cost over $100,000 and take several years. According to the CEO of Republic Airways, Bryan Bedford, reducing the amount of mandatory flight hours could “open the door to a rich career in aviation to any student who cannot otherwise afford to participate.”

Although there are seemingly many benefits to the reduction of mandatory flight hours, this proposal was met with criticism.The Federal Aviation Administration, or the FAA, rejected Republic Airways’ request, claiming that there is not enough data to prove that Republic Airways’ flight training program is equivalent to that of the military. In addition to safety concerns, experts also argue that a reduction in required flight hours can lead to a shortage of flight instructors, as many pilots amass flight hours by becoming an instructor. If the mandatory flight hours were to be reduced, more flight instructors would be hired by airlines quicker, which would worsen the crisis. 

Although airlines and lawmakers are trying hard to alleviate the problem, there is no straightforward solution to the shortage of pilots. As travel demands increase and the holiday season rapidly approaches, airlines and the FAA will have to act quickly or risk creating another stressful season of travel for Americans.