Is the Pilot Shortage Really About Pay?

Aviation industry experts are disagreeing over whether there really is a shortage of qualified U.S. commercial pilots. According to the Airline Pilots Association, there are thousands of furloughed or unemployed pilots available to fix the shortage. Many others have gone to foreign carriers that offer higher pay and perks such as housing allowances. You can hardly blame them.

Shortage or no, the entire industry has been affected by a number of things lately — the recession being one. Regional airlines have been hit the hardest, and that’s most likely for one simple reason: As the Wall Street Journal reported, the average starting salary for a first officer on a regional carrier is $22,000, compared to the average of $60,000 for a commercial co-pilot position. When training for a pilot without military experience costs upward of $100,000, the poverty line salary begs the question: “Is it really a shortage of pilots, or just a shortage of pilots willing to work for the low pay offered by regional carriers?”

The solution may be as simple as raising the pay rates (or offering loan payoff incentives) and making the money up by raising ticket prices, say some industry experts. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which recently raised the required flying hours from 250 to an unprecedented 1,500, could relax the certificate requirements. The regional carriers would then have access to at least a few more pilots.

All in all, it’s good news for the pilots of private aircraft. While corporate pilots may earn more than charter jet pilots, charter pilots are in the enviable position of earning significantly more than the commercial regional pilots (based on experience, size of jet, etc.) and they often enjoy the opportunity to fly a variety of jets. Industry movers and shakers cannot waste their time in lines, terminals packed with vacationers, and slow security checkpoints, and private charter jet pilots offer them the freedom and flexibility they need to protect their most valuable commodity: time.

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