You’d almost be guaranteed a job, since the U.S. will soon need 87 new pilots each day to meet passenger demand. That’s one every 15 minutes.
Airlines around the world are expected to buy 41,000 new planes between 2017 and 2036. And they’ll need 637,000 new pilots to fly them, according to a forecast from Boeing released in July and reported by CNN Money. The military’s in the same boat; the USAF told Congress in March its fleet is short 1,555 pilots, and some retired military pilots have been called back to serve and train more flyers.
The pilot shortage will only intensify. Nearly half of current U.S. airline pilots will retire at the mandatory age of 65 in the next decade. Meanwhile, passenger (and product transport) demand keeps going up, with fewer pilots to ferry them. Despite signing and retention bonuses of $20,000 to $80,000, airlines struggle to address the problem, with some considering bankruptcy.
Did I mention air traffic control? The FAA and aviation industries also face ATC shortages. Ditto for aircraft mechanics.
That’s the lowdown in a 2017 report by a financial adviser to the aerospace industry, Cowan and Company, echoing what airlines and the military have been saying for years: We. Need. More. Pilots.
Don’t expect ticket prices to do anything but rise.
Hence the question: Want to learn to fly? Be it family, friends, or packages — we all depend on airplanes. It behooves everyone to encourage the pursuit in aspiring pilots.
Flying is addictive. I caught the bug at age 8 on a helicopter flight. I can still vividly recall every sight, sound, and sensation. My first solo at 25 was a bucket-list moment of pure joy. Even now when I climb in the cockpit of a small plane and start that takeoff roll, my heart pounds with excitement.
It’s empowering and simultaneously humbling to be aloft. Beautiful. Spiritual. As one WWII Spitfire pilot wrote in “High Flight,” one can almost “put out my hand, and touch the face of God.”
OK, so the dreamer is hooked, but daunted by the estimated $10,000 to become a private pilot (exponentially more to go all the way). Yes, it’s expensive, but not when you think of it as career training for a potential six-figure job. Compared to four-year college alternatives, it’s competitive — taking less or more time, depending on how it’s done.
The basic steps are:
1. Earn a Private Pilot Certificate. Starting in a single-engine plane (flight instructors at local airports — just email me for a list), this stage focuses on fundamentals. The FAA requires 40 hours flight time, but most people need 60 to become proficient.
2. Add instrument and multi-engine ratings. An instrument rating allows a pilot to fly in all types of weather; a multi-engine rating means flying larger and faster aircraft.
3. Commercial pilot certificate. Specific experience requirements (including 250 total flight hours) and higher testing standards, ultimately allowing a pilot to be paid to fly.
4. Become a certified flight instructor, fly night cargo, charter, etc. This is the hard part — spending or borrowing flight training money while building up hours. CFIs and other lower-hour flying jobs allow pilots to earn while racking up the required 1,500 hours for an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate to fly for major airlines (some are pushing to reduce that, given the shortage).
Do you need a college degree to get a flying job? No, although many pilots have them — some related to aeronautics, others not.
Are there shortcuts? Maybe. If you can qualify for competitive U.S. Air Force pilot programs (and survive deployments), the military pays for training. Otherwise, if a flight school is accredited, student pilots can apply for federal grants and subsidized student loans. Such schools tend to cost more, but they also mean meeting requirements faster, generally because it’s a full-time, organized effort. Otherwise, licensing happens piecemeal like mine — hit and miss, backtracking and taking years whenever cash is available.
But if it’s approached like other career training (get a loan, stick with it to meet the goal), it’s doable.
If you like the industry but want faster and cheaper, there’s also a pressing global need for aircraft mechanics. North Idaho College offers training in aviation maintenance and manufacturing.
Like any career pursuit, flying takes commitment. Unlike many, this training, while serious, is also fun.
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.” — From “High Flight,” by RCAF pilot John Gillespie Magee.
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network, Coeur d’Alene Airport Advisory Board member, and “99” (Amelia Earhart’s women pilots group). Contact her for more flight training tips at: Sholeh@cdapress.com.