Airline Pilot Hiring Accelerates

Employment trends indicate possible future pilot shortage.

Airline Pilot
Airline Pilot
Courtesy of ATP

After several dismal years for employment-seeking pilots, it appears that the airline industry has made a major turnaround. Airline Transport Professionals (ATP), an airline pilot training academy in Dallas, reported a 170 percent increase in placement of its students for the first six months of 2011 as compared to the same time period last year. According to the government, the pilot population at U.S. carriers increased by 4.9 percent from 2009 to 2010. During the same period, the increase was most significant at the low-cost airlines such as Southwest, Virgin America and AirTran, which added 11.2 percent to their pilot employment figures.

The current hiring trend is partially a result of the mandatory retirement age rule for pilots, which increased from 60 to 65 years when President George W. Bush signed the new rule into law in 2007. The pilots who chose to continue their employment at that time are now close to retirement age.

Pilot attrition is just one factor that has boosted pilot hiring at the airlines. An increased demand for travel has caused airlines to increase fleet utilization and add more airplanes. Additionally, possible changes in pilot duty times due to come into effect in August could further add to the demand for pilots.

The potential pilot shortage is an international issue. Dubai-based Emirates Airlines flight crew resourcing specialist Michael Keating said in an interview with USA Today that the airline will need to hire more than 500 pilots by April 2012. And order books from the Paris Air Show seem to also indicate an escalated need for pilots. According to several reports coming out of event in France, Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier took orders for hundreds of airplanes during the first two days of the show.