Taking flight: Pilot shortage in the U.S.

Published: Feb. 15, 2017 at 9:51 PM MST
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Over the next couple of years, there will be thousands of empty cockpit seats, thanks to a growing pilot shortage. This means it might become more difficult for travelers to get from point A to point B by plane.

“The forecasts are for the pilot shortage to increase," said Gary Chrisco, the Chief Flight Instructor with the Colorado Flight Center.

Over the years, Chrisco has witnessed the growing shortage first hand.

“The decline in pilot training, I would say, is 40-50% compared to 15, 20 years ago,” said Chrisco.

With a mandatory retirement age of 65, estimates there will be 20,000 empty cockpit seats in the U.S. That’s over the next seven years.

It’s a ripple effect; a lack of pilots equals a lack of flights.

“In certain places in the country, certain airlines have had to cancel flights due to crew shortages," said Chrisco.

There are many other factors that have led to the shortage. One of those is the significant change in pilot training that the F-A-A made.

“Now a pilot to fly for an airline has to have 15 hundred hours," said Chrisco.

An increase in hours, but not in pay.

“The cost of training is very substantial, and if you look at it as an investment of your personal career development versus what you're going to make in the industry,” said Chrisco. “Those numbers look better in a lot of other career fields.”

Chrisco said another factor involves the hours a pilot can be in flight,

Chrisco said at smaller airports, like Grand Junction, there are naturally fewer flights and crews, which makes the demand for flights much less.

"But when they get to that place which is called timed out, and the airline doesn't have any more pilot crews available, they actually have to cancel flights," he said.

Despite these challenges, at least one aspiring pilot has not been deterred.

“It's what I daydream,” said Josh Barnes who is currently in his second semester of a two-year flight school. “Up there in the clouds flying around."

Barnes said becoming a pilot is a lifelong dream of his.

“It's what I've always wanted to do, since I was a wee little guy," he said.

He thinks the shortage could be connected to the average salary for a starting pilot, which is about $30,000.

Barnes said it’s all worth it. He looks forward to graduating and filling one of those empty cockpit seats in the coming years.

Chrisco adds that many airlines are making strides trying to fix the shortage by creating career programs for those interested in becoming a pilot.

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