An in­side look at the pos­si­bil­i­ties of fu­ture avi­a­tion ca­reers.

THE PI­LOT SHORT­AGE IS AB­SO­LUTELY REAL, MAK­ING NOW A PER­FECT TIME TO PUR­SUE A CA­REER AS A PRO­FES­SIONAL PI­LOT

Flying - - Contents - By Stephen Pope

THE PI­LOT SHORT­AGE WE’VE ALL BEEN TOLD WOULD MA­TE­RI­AL­IZE ANY DAY? IT’S FI­NALLY A RE­AL­ITY. DON’T BE­LIEVE IT? JUST LOOK AT HORI­ZON AIR, WHICH CAN­CELED HUN­DREDS OF FLIGHTS THIS SUM­MER BE­CAUSE IT COULDN’T FIND QUAL­I­FIED PILOTS TO FLY ITS Q400 TUR­BO­PROPS. OR SKYWEST, WHOSE CEO RE­CENTLY WARNED CONGRESS NOT OF A LOOM­ING PI­LOT SHORT­AGE BUT OF A “GROW­ING” ONE. OR SEA­PORT AIR­LINES, A SCHED­ULED PART 135 CAR­RIER THAT SPECIF­I­CALLY CITED THE PI­LOT SHORT­AGE AS A FAC­TOR WHEN IT RE­CENTLY FILED FOR CHAP­TER 7 BANK­RUPTCY.

Clearly, re­gional air­lines are suf­fer­ing the brunt of the ef­fects of the short­age as they face not only a dearth of qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants but fore­casts that call for a hir­ing surge at the ma­jor air­lines, which holds the po­ten­tial of steal­ing away pilots al­ready on the pay­rolls. What that means for young, as­pir­ing pro­fes­sional avi­a­tors is that now is one of the best times in the in­dus­try’s his­tory to em­bark on a ca­reer track that should pro­vide de­cent pay right out of the gate and a chance to rise quickly in se­nior­ity to the left seat of the heavy iron, where the re­ally big bucks can be made.

That’s a com­plete turn­around from just a few years ago, when re­gional air­line first of­fi­cers started out mak­ing less than some­body flip­ping burg­ers at Mcdon­ald’s and were just as likely to be out on the street on fur­lough as sit­ting down for an in­ter­view with a ma­jor air­line. To­day, many re­gional air­lines are of­fer­ing twice the start­ing salary as be­fore the short­age be­gan and even of­fer­ing sign­ing and re­ten­tion bonuses. Sud­denly, start­ing salaries of $60,000 are be­ing re­ported for first of­fi­cers, and some air­lines are of­fer­ing sign­ing bonuses that can add an­other $20,000 to the bot­tom line.

Why the sud­den shift? There are three rea­sons, mainly. When Congress raised the manda­tory re­tire­ment age for pilots from age 60 to 65 in 2009, that only de­layed the in­evitable cri­sis we see to­day. Now, as baby boomer pilots re­tire in large num­bers, younger pilots are mov­ing up in se­nior­ity to fill their place. Re­gional air­line cap­tains, mean­while, are mov­ing from the left seats of tur­bo­props and small re­gional jets into the right seats of big­ger Boe­ing and Air­bus jets.

An­other fac­tor af­fect­ing the in­dus­try is the re­quire­ment that air­line pilots hold an ATP cer­tifi­cate rather than a com­mer­cial li­cense, which re­quires 1,500 hours of flight time (un­less you have a col­lege de­gree from an ac­cred­ited avi­a­tion col­lege or flew in the mil­i­tary) be­fore you can land your first air­line job. The third pri­mary rea­son for the cur­rent short­age is world­wide growth of com­mer­cial air travel, which is ex­plod­ing. Boe­ing’s 2016 Pi­lot & Tech­ni­cian Out­look pre­dicts a need for 617,000 new pilots world­wide over the next two decades, with Asia Pa­cific re­quir­ing the most, at 248,000.

Congress en­acted the so-called “1,500hour rule” that re­quires Part 121 air­line pilots to hold an ATP in re­sponse to the Col­gan Air crash in Buf­falo, New York, in 2009. Iron­i­cally, both pilots in­volved in that land­mark ac­ci­dent had well over 1,500 hours. Ac­ci­dent data shows that no re­cent air­line crashes have in­volved pilots with fewer than 1,500 hours. As a re­sult, some are ask­ing whether it’s time

to mod­ify the re­quire­ments to make it eas­ier for bud­ding pilots to reach the right seat. The pushback by pi­lot groups, led by the Air Line Pilots As­so­ci­a­tion, has been im­me­di­ate and vo­cif­er­ous, how­ever, so it looks like the cur­rent stan­dards are here to stay.

If you dream of at­tain­ing a job in an air­line cock­pit as quickly as pos­si­ble, the good news is that a col­lege de­gree from the right school can make a big dif­fer­ence. All the ma­jor air­lines re­quire a four-year de­gree, but they don’t re­ally care what you ma­jored in. Many pilots ad­vo­cate go­ing to school for some­thing com­pletely out­side of avi­a­tion so that you have a ca­reer to fall back on in case of a fur­lough or un­fore­seen med­i­cal is­sue. But if you at­tend a four-year school like Em­bry-rid­dle Aero­nau­ti­cal Univer­sity, Lib­erty Univer­sity, Le­tourneau Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of North Dakota and scores more, you can earn a re­stricted ATP (R-ATP) much sooner. Ac­cred­ited four-year schools can get you to the promised land with 1,000 hours in your log­book, and ap­proved two-year schools with 1,250 hours.

As you might guess, the pi­lot short­age is also af­fect­ing flight train­ing. As the cur­rent pool of flight in­struc­tors logs the time they need to get hired at re­gional air­lines, stu­dents keep com­ing through the doors to start on their ca­reer jour­ney. Many flight schools have stopped rent­ing planes to gen­eral avi­a­tion pilots be­cause their fleets are stay­ing so busy. Col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are fac­ing the same dilemma, with some of­fer­ing in­cen­tives like schol­ar­ships for flight in­struc­tors to stick around.

So far, the ma­jor air­lines ap­pear to be largely im­mune to the pi­lot short­age, but that’s only be­cause the ma­jors are the end goal for most as­pir­ing pro­fes­sional pilots. But there will come a time when even the largest air­lines look at the flow of fu­ture pilots and won­der whether young peo­ple will still be at­tracted to avi­a­tion as a ca­reer. Tens of thou­sands of air­line pilots are reach­ing their re­tire­ment win­dow, roughly de­fined as age 55 to 64. With fewer new pilots en­ter­ing the pipe­line, re­gion­als will no doubt be forced to start park­ing air­planes, pos­si­bly lead­ing to a cas­cad­ing, sys­temic prob­lem.

Em­bry-rid­dle, for one, has tried to tackle the prob­lem head-on by host­ing Pi­lot Sup­ply & De­mand Sum­mits that are in­tended to serve as a wakeup call to air­lines that they need to be think­ing about the pi­lot short­age too.

Yet for all the apoc­ryphal warn­ings, there re­mains one group that stands

IF YOU DREAM OF AT­TAIN­ING A JOB IN AN AIR­LINE COCK­PIT AS QUICKLY AS POS­SI­BLE ... A COL­LEGE DE­GREE FROM THE RIGHT SCHOOL CAN MAKE A BIG DIF­FER­ENCE.

to ben­e­fit im­mensely from the pi­lot short­age, and that’s the pilots them­selves. Cap­tains fly­ing big iron at the largest ma­jor air­lines earn well over $200,000 a year. Now may be the last chance young, up-and-com­ing pilots have to take ad­van­tage of such a fa­vor­able job mar­ket. Many years from now, for ex­am­ple, Boe­ing and Air­bus may switch from two-pi­lot crews to sin­gle-pi­lot air­lines that re­ceive dig­i­tal and per­haps oc­ca­sional hu­man as­sis­tance from the ground. Drones may be used to fly cargo, up­end­ing that seg­ment of the pi­lot job mar­ket.

The good news is that if you’re just start­ing out, you are in an ideal po­si­tion to catch the cur­rent hir­ing wave and ride it through a suc­cess­ful ca­reer that will see you sit­ting on a beach with a drink in hand be­fore ro­bot pilots swoop in to take all the jobs.

Al­ter­na­tive Pi­lot Ca­reers

If you are vy­ing for the skies but have reser­va­tions about fly­ing pas­sen­gers on sched­uled routes for a liv­ing, there are many other op­tions you might con­sider. Earn­ing a liv­ing as a pi­lot does not in­evitably mean hav­ing to fly the same type of air­plane each day, reg­u­larly spend­ing nights away from home while deal­ing with un­ruly pas­sen­gers. These are just a few al­ter­na­tives that have po­ten­tial to pro­vide a good qual­ity of life and a six-digit salary. And as the air­lines suck up a grow­ing num­ber of pilots from the gen­eral avi­a­tion side, these jobs are likely to be­come more and more avail­able.

If high-alti­tude IFR fly­ing is not your thing, there are ca­reers that al­low you to fly low and fast, and use all of your stick-and-rud­der skills. For the right ap­pli­cant, aeri­alap­pli­ca­tion jobs can be fun, ex­cit­ing and well-paid. Aerial-ap­pli­ca­tion pilots gen­er­ally fly small but pow­er­ful air­planes, such as the Air Trac­tor.

There are also op­por­tu­ni­ties for aerial-ap­pli­ca­tion jobs for he­li­copter pilots.

The Na­tional Park Ser­vice is an­other op­tion for pilots who love fly­ing low in the back­coun­try. NPS pilots trans­port per­son­nel and equip­ment, and do searc­hand-res­cue, sur­vey work and lawen­force­ment pa­trol. The air­craft flown are gen­er­ally fixed-wing air­planes on wheels, floats or skis, but there are also some he­li­copter op­er­a­tions. While there are full­time po­si­tions, the NPS also hires con­tract pilots.

Air-am­bu­lance pilots have one of the most chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing jobs out there. Whether fly­ing a he­li­copter pick­ing up needy pa­tients from emer­gency sit­u­a­tions or a Lear­jet de­liv­er­ing an or­gan for a pa­tient in need of a trans­plant, air-am­bu­lance pilots en­joy healthy salaries along with the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing they help save lives.

An­other pi­lot­ing job that of­fers sat­is­fac­tion be­yond the ac­tual fly­ing is fire­fight­ing. Wild­fire-sup­pres­sion jobs are of­ten con­tract-based, and you could be forced to be away from home for sev­eral weeks while fight­ing a fire. But the pay is ex­cel­lent, and since the work is gen­er­ally sea­sonal, you can choose to do some­thing else dur­ing the off­sea­son. Ae­ri­alat­tack fly­ing can be ex­hil­a­rat­ing as it in­volves fly­ing near the ground and hav­ing to hit a pre­cise tar­get.

In ad­di­tion to fire­fight­ing by di­rect aerial at­tack, pilots can be em­ployed by the forestry ser­vice to drop smoke jumpers and cargo. There are also jobs such as aerial photo and in­frared fire map­ping within the forestry ser­vice.

If you pre­fer the city life to the woods, cor­po­rate and char­ter jobs are per­fect for pilots who don’t mind a flex­i­ble sched­ule. These pilots are of­ten on call and may be gone for sev­eral days at a time, which may not be ac­cept­able. How­ever, they of­ten end up in the most de­sir­able ar­eas in the world. Cor­po­rate and char­ter pilots rarely fly the same routes, which makes the fly­ing part of the job var­ied and ex­cit­ing. The air­craft flown are gen­er­ally high-end tur­bo­props, such as Beechcraft King Airs, or any­thing from light jets, such as Ci­ta­tions or Em­braers, to big Bom­bardiers and Gulf­streams.

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