The airline industry is expected to face a new set of challenges in the coming years due to a shortage of commercial pilots. There are only a handful of aviation colleges in the U.S. and their graduating classes tend to be very small. At Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation, for example, graduating classes consist of approximately 150 students every year. U.S. Aviation colleges simply are not turning out enough graduates to fill the industry’s need.
Dave Powell, Dean of WMU’s College of Aviation recently stated that, “…the number of pilots being produced that actually wanted to go into this profession has slowed down significantly mainly because the pay is so bad”.
Though pilot pay is on the rise, the return on investment remains staggeringly low. Many aviation programs charge up to $100,000 to be certified to fly commercial aircrafts. Some recent graduates make as little as $20,000 each year, with significant raises only offered after years in the industry.
Despite an 11% increase in aviation students, universities are finding it difficult to meet the industry demand for pilots. U.S. aviation schools are turning out around 2,000 pilots a year when the industry is calling for 5,000 pilots annually. Many commercial airplanes on major airlines are parked at airports the better part of the week. Regional carriers are cutting down on number of flights because they don’t have enough pilots.
With most of the world’s trained pilots originating in the U.S., the global increase in demand for pilots is out-pacing the supply. Deregulation in the 1970’s slowed the growth of the profession, yet projections state that nearly 20,000 pilots will be needed in the next few years. It is unclear if the industry will be able to meet this demand.