SEATTLE – Aviation experts all agree that there is currently a shortage of pilots.
Adam Kephart of Galvin Flying said the shortage is not due to a lack of interest.
The full-service flight school reports that student numbers have grown from 300 to more than 400 in recent years, but typically only about 10 percent of students plan to become a career pilot.
Kephart is currently a Front Office Administrator and plans to teach full-time as a flight instructor for the next two years to meet federally mandated flight hours.
To fly for an airline, generally, a minimum of 1,500 hours is required. Nor is it unreasonable to see the total costs soar to $100,000 to $200,000 to pay for all required certificates and qualifications.
“You have to be very careful because it’s very expensive and it takes a long time to become an airline pilot,” Kephart said. “When people try to make that decision, they assess how much it costs, how long it will take me and always try to understand – even if they think there is a high demand for pilots at the moment – c Is it worth it for me to take this route.”
Alaska Airlines said more than 10,000 pilots left the industry during the pandemic.
In recent days, Alaska has canceled dozens of flights that have impacted thousands of passengers. The company issued an apology on Thursday.
In its statement, the airline said it had 63 fewer pilots ready to fly in April, citing training delays due to the Omicron surge earlier this year:
“To bring new pilots into our ranks, we have launched a new pilot academy, founded a program to develop and support BIPOC pilots and continue to support the careers of pilots who wish to transition from our regional carrier Horizon Air to employment in Alaska.”
“When there is a demand for pilots, that demand cannot be met instantly,” said Jimmy Anderson, an aviation lawyer. “We need to make it easier for people to get their pilot’s license and go through the process so it’s not so expensive and so time-consuming.”
Anderson went to flight school in eastern Washington and graduated from Central Washington University as a pilot before continuing his studies in aviation law.
He explains that in the past there have been events that have made it easier for airlines to meet the demand for pilots, which we have not seen in recent years.
“We had World War II and the Vietnam War, which created a lot of pilots who didn’t stay in the military after they finished their flight studies and military schools. After those two events, we had everything a story of going from a three-person crew of an airplane to a two-person crew of an airplane that created an additional load of pilots who were in the market,” Anderson said, “and then, more recently , the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots went up from 60 to 65 and again that created a whole bunch of extra pilots.”
As for Kephart, he is currently enrolled in the Horizon Pilot Development program, which he says will help cover some costs.
“Airlines are definitely starting to recognize that with incentives like that, they’re able to get a few more people into the pipeline,” Kephart said. “At some point, I hope to make this the first leg of Horizon and then work my way up to Alaska.”
In the meantime, Anderson doesn’t think flight disruptions will continue to be a long-term problem. He said airlines would reduce the number of flights, which Alaska said it planned to do in the short term until June as a temporary solution.
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