ALPA’s Message for Aspiring Aviators: The Looming Pilot Shortage Is a Myth

The Air Line Pilots Association has come out and said what a lot of folks in aviation already suspected: The looming pilot shortage we’ve been hearing so much about lately is a myth, created by airlines unwilling to offer better pay. There is no pilot shortage, period.

ALPA agrees that there may in fact be a shortage of pilots willing to work for poverty wages in a crummy industry, but the fact is, many thousands of qualified and experienced U.S. airline pilots are currently on furlough or working overseas. They are eager to return to U.S. cockpits — under the right conditions.

To back up its claim that a pilot shortage is a bogus crisis manufactured by the airlines, ALPA released a trove of data that paints a far different picture than the one regional and major carriers are touting. For example, right now more than 1,100 ALPA members are furloughed from their U.S. airlines, the association says. Comair Airlines closed in 2012, furloughing more than 850 “highly trained and experienced pilots, nearly all of whom are looking for jobs." Other regional carriers have gone out of business recently, putting approximately 800 more pilots on the street.

Regional airlines have started parking airplanes, complaining they can’t find the crews to fly them. ALPA says it knows why. The average first officer starting salary is a paltry $21,285 a year, it says. Delta and United, meanwhile, start their copilots at $61,000 a year. Juxtapose those numbers with pay at foreign carriers and it’s clear why U.S. airlines are having trouble filling seats, ALPA says. Emirates Airlines, for example, pays new-hire copilots $82,000 a year plus a housing allowance and other benefits. Similarly, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific pays new copilots $72,000, again with a housing allowance and additional perks.

Many pilots flying overseas say they would return to America in a heartbeat if airline industry conditions improve, ALPA says. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. The pilots are out there, and they’re eager to fly. Airlines, rather than cry about a mythical shortage, need to rethink how they run their businesses.

Here's a suggestion: Pay pilots what they deserve.

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