Ashley Montano prepares to land a small plane. “Give it just a little more power to make a smooth landing,” her flight instructor says.
A tiny bounce, and then a smooth touchdown.
“You guys were my first real passengers!” Montano gushes to three backseat riders.
In a few years, Montano hopes to fly jetliners. If she does, she’ll help with a serious problem facing the airline industry: not enough pilots.
Airlines have warned of a pilot shortage for years. In the early 2000s, U.S. travel boomed as thousands of pilots approached retirement age. The Federal Aviation Administration raised that age from 60 to 65 in 2007. That pushed the problem off for a few years.
During the pandemic, air travel collapsed. The airline industry encouraged pilots to take early retirement.
Now airlines are in a hiring frenzy. Retiring pilots outpace new recruits.
One consulting firm estimates that airlines in North America will face a shortage of nearly 30,000 pilots by 2032. The supply of new pilots grows, but not enough to offset retirements.
The math simply doesn’t add up.
18,000 pilots needed per year - 9,588 licenses issued in 2022 (a peak number!) = 8,412 pilots still needed.
Southwest Airlines parks 40-45 planes each day because it lacks pilots to fly them. That’s more than 200 flights affected every day for one airline!
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby says without pilots, airlines can’t expand. “Pilots are and will remain a significant constraint on capacity,” he says.
The pilot shortage is worst at smaller carriers like American Eagle, United Express, and Delta Connection.
Faye Malarkey Black is president of the Regional Airline Association. She says her carriers have parked more than 400 planes for lack of pilots and “air service is collapsing as a result.”
Airline insiders say a dozen small cities have lost all air service. About 50 more have lost half or more of their flights. The cuts come despite a rise in travel demand.
Montano is learning to fly with United’s flight school. She took out a loan to attend. “I saw that as a great investment in my future,” she says. “I absolutely think it will pay off.”
The pilot shortage allows unions to command hefty pay raises. Those drive up costs for airlines. Ultimately, the shortage results in problems for customers—both in higher costs and lesser service. For employed pilots, the raises are a bonus for showing up for work.
“The airlines are doing their best,” says analyst Helane Becker. “But it’s an uphill slog.”
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. — Colossians 3:23
Why? Many factors affect goods and services. Understanding some of those can allow for grace and patience in the face of life’s challenges. It’s also useful for revealing business opportunities where there is need.