While air travel demand continues to soar, a growing pilot shortage will force airlines to ground flights during one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.
Fox News Digital spoke to two pilots Wednesday, one veteran and the other a rookie, about their views on an industry that’s struggling to attract its most essential employee: those who fly the planes.
Since 2019, airlines have seen a 4% decline in pilot numbers. Major airlines like JetBlue and Spirit have already cut 5 to 10% of their summer schedules to focus on recruiting as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 14,500 pilots need to be hired every year for the next decade in order to keep up with the shortage.
To attract more commercial airline pilots, some companies are even looking at offering higher wages to win over potential staff.
“This is just the reaction to the immediate crisis, and that is really how you characterize the airline business in general,” said retired American Airlines Captain Bob Morgan. “The airline business is super, super price-sensitive, super, super sensitive to the economy. So it gets wild swings.”
Morgan, who worked 30 years for American, countered the idea that the industry’s forced retirement age of 65 is the main cause of the pilot shortage.
“When I got hired, 88% of the guys at American worked for our military,” he explained. “The military stopped making that many pilots; they also put a really onerous 10-year commitment after flight school, which makes it an 11, 12-year commitment. So they don’t produce the pilots.”
However, the prospect of making that commitment can be “tough” for young people, Morgan stressed.
“I think it’s really, really criminal,” Morgan said. “Do you want to spend $150,000 to $200,000 to get into an industry where you really need 30 years because the skills are not super transferable?”
Still, one young pilot recently hired by a major airline said the shortage has his peers “excited.” “The shortage is kind of what in the beginning drew me into becoming a pilot just because of the opportunities that a shortage creates with jobs,” 26-year-old Justin Jackson said.
Jackson, a former regional pilot who started flight training in 2018, explained how the job openings among major airlines now make it easier to advance in the industry. “I have a chance to fly for a much larger carrier, be paid more,” Jackson pointed out. “I think right now is the perfect time for anyone to progress their careers for sure.”
Although United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby reportedly told analysts he expects the ongoing pilot shortage to last for the next “five-plus years,” veteran Captain Morgan has a different prediction. “Automation is coming,” he hinted. “It’s just a matter of time before you’re going to start seeing maybe single-pilot operations.”
Meantime, in terms of how the pilot shortage impacts passengers, aviation consultant Mike Boyd told FOX Business’ Jeff Flock “you’re going to have fewer seats out there,” with higher demand for those seats, “but then by the end of the year, we’re going to have something called inflation starting to cut into what airlines will be able to book.”