How Will “Tsunami” of Pilot Retirements Affect the Industry?

Published: 05-02-2023
The pilot workforce is aging. How will this affect aviation?

Photo by Matt Bennett on Unsplash

Photo by Matt Bennett on Unsplash

Because pilots are forced to retire at age 65, there is a predictable cycle to the career of a commercial airline pilot. If enough pilots aren’t trained to replace the existing pilots, however, a major crisis could occur. This crisis is what the CEO of the Regional Airline Association called a “tsunami” of pilot retirements.

Faye Malarkey Black spoke before the US House transportation and infrastructure committee, and she relayed some interesting and potentially concerning statistics. Black, representing the RAA, told Congress that over the next 15 years, almost 50% of the current commercial airline pilots will be forced to retire.

She broke down the numbers further, telling the committee that there are 70% more pilots between the ages of 43 and 64 than between the ages of 21 and 42. These extremely lopsided numbers could have major impact on the aviation industry in the coming years.

The good news for existing commercial pilots is that, as a highly in-demand profession, pilot salaries may rise as airlines compete for the best employees in a smaller labor pool. If too much stress is put on the industry though, airlines could experience big problems if they have to cut back on the number of flights and their slots at different airports.

One of the reasons Black spoke to Congress is because her organization of the Regional Airline Association represents regional carriers, who are frequently used by pilots to graduate to bigger carriers like United and Delta. When the majors poach from smaller carriers, however, the loss of pilots begins to harm the very feeder system that the majors rely on.

A debate continues about the possibility of raising the mandatory retirement age of pilots, squeezing a few more flying years from our best captains. Critics contend that a change in policy is not worth the safety risk that could come form pilots who may be too old to fly.

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