There are certain parties out there who would have us believe that the of qualified, employable pilots is rapidly shrinking and that the industry is headed towards a tipping point which may prove to be somewhat chaotic. When speaking to a group of charter flight operators last week FAA deputy director of flight standards John Duncan noted that the issue is "probably going to be a little painful. This is an interesting dilemma for the aviation community."
The rules regarding qualifications to be a commercial pilot are changing a bit, making it more difficult to get started. And the rules regarding duty time and rest mean that many airlines actually need more pilots just to maintain the status quo in terms of operations. So we’re doomed, right?
It turns out that there is a growing number of young adults unwilling to incur significant debt to pursue work in a marketplace which is horribly unstable and not particularly generous with the pay and benefits in the early years. In other words, there are pilots and potential pilots out there; they just aren’t willing to work at the pay scale being offered to them. And I’m not entirely sure I can blame them.
Yes, eventually the salary and the quality of life gets better as seniority kicks in. But depending on the debt load required to get to that point (and that’s getting higher with the 1500 hour rule making it take longer to get licensed) it has become much harder for potential pilots to justify riding out that period in hopes of the great long-term future. Especially with the starting salary not increasing with any significance lately.
The FAA seems to be convinced that better education options would help address the issue. They’re lobbying for an "aviation academy" which will leverage existing 4-year universities to help ease the financial burden of the training process. It seems that perhaps they’ve taken a page out of the airlines’ play book, focusing on cutting costs more than on raising revenues. Of course, the FAA doesn’t get to tell the airlines how much to pay the pilots, so that’s not too surprising. Though the existing educational programs seem to be shrinking, not growing, so it isn’t particularly clear how that will work out. The airlines not wanting to raise the starting pay rate isn’t all that surprising either. But will they be able to continue operating as mandatory pilot retirements loom on the horizon? And can the unions adjust to make the entry-level positions more reasonably compensated?
Put another way, is the issue no pilots, or just no pilots willing to work for peanuts? Seems to me the latter is the issue.
More than anything, this sort of discussion has me convinced that burning the miles as quickly as I accrue them is the smart play. Being overly invested in a scheme where the account is nearly guaranteed to not appreciate in value is a bad place to be.
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