In 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) put out a report highlighting the current and future availability of airline pilots, pointing out that unemployment for pilots was hitting some low numbers. In fact, unemployment among sky captains averaged about 2.7 percent, a much lower rate than the overall economy that was earthbound. Pilot pay and hiring five years ago when the report went out didn’t indicate a shortage and things were flying high. But fast forward a few years and things are a bit different.
In 2018, the Boeing Company forecasted an unprecedented 20-year pilot demand as operators are starting to feel the pain of a pilot shortage. The company’s study showed a need for nearly 800,000 pilots in the coming years as fleet growth rates and tightening labor supply are fueling the shortages.
But Embry-Riddle, the Prescott-based pilot training school, is making lemonade out of the situation as a new wave of high-paying pilot jobs are opening up again. The aeronautical school has seen a major surge in pilot training applicants this summer. And with an unpredictable global market, many believe the situation will only grow.
“The trend is expected to continue for several years, as several factors contribute to the current projected (and beginning to be realized) pilot shortage,” said Bryan Dougherty, Dean of Enrollment Management at Embry-Riddle. “In terms of applicant growth, we are up 397 applications from last year, or 56 percent. We are up 47 percent in acceptances (236 more than last year), and up 71 percent in new enrolled students (113 more than last year).”
One major component that has struck fear into the industry is an aging labor force that’s starting to retire. With a mandatory retirement age of 65, and a majority of pilots older than 45 flying the friendly skies, the need for a fresh crop of younger pilots is rapping at the door. But with an increase in pay–median pay hovers around $115,000–flight schools like Embry-Riddle aren’t seeing a boost in interest from applicants who want a high-paying job with plenty of opportunity.
Entry-level pay comes in around $60,000, which is more attractive to recent graduates compared to other industries that may pay $40,000. And with signing bonuses included, new pilots can reap the benefits from the get-go.
The pilot shortage, however, is also having an impact on available flight instructors. Embry-Riddle is experiencing an instructor pilot turnover issue at its Daytona Beach campus as well as its main Prescott location. The university is now touting an incentive program that includes scholarships and tuition benefits toward a graduate degree in order to retain instructors.