Pilot Shortage: Fact or Fiction? Searching for Answers

** The GAO has been asked to explore a
variety of factors that could trigger an
upcoming pilot shortage.**

First it was the World War II pilots retiring en masse. Then the Vietnam-era group. Though warnings of impending pilot shortages have come and gone, actual hiring numbers have never seemed to coincide with the predictions of large-scale retirements. But a group of aviation advocacy associations and businesses has asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to explore “a confluence of factors” that they say could lead to a real shortfall in pilots in the near future. Aircraft technicians could also be in short supply, says the group.

The request, directed to the House subcommittee on aviation, calls the prospect of the impending shortages “potentially devastating” not only to aviation, but to the overall economic recovery. Some factors in predicting a shortage include: runout from the 2007 extension of airline pilots’ retirement age to 65 from 60; current cutbacks in military pilot training; the new law requiring all airline pilots to have an ATP rating (with its requirement of additional logged hours); and an overall dearth of new student starts.

While it’s true that there have been times when airline hiring has accelerated and the “price” of acquiring a set of striped epaulets has risen and fallen over the years, the ebb and flow of available pilots has not seemed to translate to higher salaries and improved working conditions. The group, which includes many aviation industry leaders, believes that this time will be different, and has asked the GAO to look into the matter.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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