Is there a pilot shortage? This has been a hotly debated topic for some time, particularly after the enactment of new Air Transport Pilot (ATP) rules requiring airline pilots to have more hours of flight experience. Major airlines, like Delta and American Airlines, have, in large part, continued unscathed by labor shortages. Why not? Because they can simply hire away pilots from regional airlines and Part 135 cargo carriers. Regionals have felt the shortage, increasing pay and bonuses rapidly just to keep routes services. But a pilot does not start his career at the regional airlines; most pilots’ first job is flight instruction. Is there a shortage of flight instructors (CFIs) as well?
First, let’s take a quick step back and review the typical pilot career path:
Learning to fly (Private, Instrument, Commercial, Flight Instructor)
Teaching others to fly (building hours and experience now required by the FAA for airline pilots)
Regional airline pilot (Skywest, Republic Airlines, Envoy, Endeavor)
Major airline pilot (Delta, American Airlines, United)
“There is a shortage of flight instructors and it may get worse.”
We’re seeing a shortage manifest itself at step number three, regional airlines, as Forbes, Bloomberg, and numerous industry publications have pointed out. Regional airlines have hired all the flight instructors they can and are still short of pilots. Flight schools rarely retain instructors past the point at which they qualify for an airline despite growing demand for training. In response flight instructor pay and benefits have increased dramatically, and even still staffing remains a top issue at most flight schools. There is a shortage of flight instructors and it may get worse.