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Pilot Shortage: Where’d All the Pilots Go?

Why are there really 210,000 less licensed pilots now than there were in 1980?
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The pilot shortage began when deregulation pulled us all away from small town airports.

Flying is, and will always be, expensive and demanding because it is. It can be a hobby or profession, but whether you pay for it, or it pays you, it is an industry that demands respect and self-discipline from its participants. The reasons why 80% of student pilots drop out have also always been the same; lack of money and the high demands of the industry. But, given that it has always been difficult, why are there really 210,000 less licensed pilots now than there were in 1980?

It’s a complex question and there are as many answers as there are pilots. There are thousands of people who say they want to learn how to fly, but there is a disconnection between that statement and actually going out there and pursuing aviation as a career. The common denominator is that it is too expensive to learn how to fly and the financial rewards once you make it, are comparable to minimum wage. An equally significant cost is the perpetual lost time away from spouses and children.

Add in insurance, fuel, consumables, airport fees, taxes, flight physicals, check rides, ground school, books, computers, medical exams, maintenance/annuals, and upgraded required equipment, on top of having to pay a flight instructor, and this is enough for most flight students to walk away, despite their passion to fly. Compound these basic costs with foreign countries sending students to larger American flight schools, and this formula keeps prices high at formal training facilities. All these factors create a high threshold for the up and coming generation of pilots and it’s the main barrier that most can’t get over, no matter how much passion they have to fly. But, what about the carrot that lures the rest to climb over this giant wall? What awaits them once they get there? Is there still an incentive to keep climbing to reach the airlines, or have the airlines lost enough allure that the dreams vanish once pilots start reaching for it?

Pride and the Pilot Shortage

In order to answer that question, it is necessary to pull back from the fundamental details of getting there and relook at the entire industry of the airlines to understand where the true disconnection comes from. The ideology that came from last week’s conference at the International Air Transport Association seals its fate. The airlines have gone from pride to prejudice while riding record global profits for the airline industry.

IATA Logo - are the part of the problem regarding the pilot shortage?

(IATA is playing a part in the pilot shortage)

During this annual meeting of the world’s top airline executives, a buzzword was bantered around by several of the airline CEOs and CFOs: “Discipline”. Discipline means requiring punishment for bad behavior, but in this case, it is code for wanting to cut even more costs and squeezing more money out of passengers. I thought it was ironic that this accountant style leadership used this word to describe their view of what is lacking in the aviation world. It makes me shake my head in shame at what the airlines have become. The formula for failure is simple; take away pride and all you have left is disdain. Take away pride, and the new generation of potential pilots, who learn from the present, will turn towards other possibilities.

What the CEOs forget is that discipline is something you force, not something you earn. With the leaders in aviation thinking this is what we need, the industry is doomed to stumble. What every airline CEO needs to be giving and earning is respect. Respect. Respect for their passengers, their employees and the pride of the industry. Setting up ideas like charging passengers, especially families traveling with children, to reserve a seat together is completely disrespectful and creates an air of shame for the industry. It starts at the top and flows down, no matter what industry it is.

The collapsing of pride over cost is epidemic and the sentiment is retaliated on a wide, but quiet quest by millions of employees. They aren’t doing anything wrong, but they are quietly pushing against the disrespect. It costs the industry exponentially more than just fixing the problem, but it won’t show up directly on their spreadsheets. They just can’t see past the ledger. The best I can do to summarize this complex ideology is to give you just one simple story.

I was a junior captain sitting reserve in MSP so my flying schedule was feast or famine. I was either sitting day after day waiting to fly, or I was on the road for days at a time, never knowing when I’d get home. Crew scheduling would tell me to pack for two days and seven days later, I’d be walking through my front door. It is okay, I accept those terms. The only thing I knew for sure is that I had spent fifteen years, tens of thousands of my own money in training, college, and years of exhausting work and self-discipline to earn a slot in the captain’s seat. In exchange, I received one week of vacation that was assigned to me. I didn’t get to pick when it was, it just showed up on my schedule. Assigned vacation. Either way, I relished knowing I could disconnect from the constant pressures of work.

Not wanting to fight standby status to get on a flight, I purchased a ticket to Miami and reserved a car to get me to Key West.

Beach in Key West - Pilot Shortage: Where Have all the Pilots Gone?

(Image by: Ed Schipul, CC2)

This would put me far away from any major airports. I knew better than to answer my phone on regular days off, but since this was assigned vacation, I had no fear answering it on my second day of vacation. I reflexively cringed when the voice coming through was like getting a call from the Devil himself.

“Hi Erika! This is crew scheduling. Glad I got a hold of you, we have to junior assign you for a trip day after tomorrow.”

“Oh, sorry guys, I’m on assigned vacation. I’m in Key West and not coming home for another five days.”

“Nope, Erika. That’s not how this is going to go. If you don’t come back and fly this trip, you’re fired. You are junior on the captain seniority list, and since you answered your phone, you have to comply.”

“Then, you have to get me back to MSP. My airline ticket can’t be changed and my flight is not for five more days.”

“Nope. Your base is MSP, so you are responsible for getting yourself back to your base. Where you are on vacation is not our problem.”

“I’m on a vacation that was assigned by crew scheduling. I didn’t have a choice. You not hiring enough pilots to cover your flight schedule is your problem, so why do I have to pay for your problem?”

“Do you want your job or not? If you hang up, the next call is to the chief pilot. I promise, if you don’t cover this trip, you’re gone…”

I have self-pride, self-respect and I need my job. I also did dispatching in the past, so I knew how hard it was to get trips covered. To keep a long story short, after paying an extraordinary amount to get home, I made it back to MSP in time for the trip the next morning at 0600. At 2200 hours the night before, I got a call from crew scheduling saying that they did, indeed, find another pilot to cover the trip, so I could continue my vacation days. When I explained what I did to get back for them, their response was basically that it wasn’t their problem.

The Seeds of the Pilot Shortage

So what? It’s just one of many examples of disrespect that have happened to thousands of professional pilots. This happened to me, so how could this affect anything else? It starts by pulling a low-level frustration I had with the company into the cockpit. I was proud of my position, and I have a deep appreciation for my comrades, so I would never do anything to harm my professionalism, but there are things I could and did do which cost the company thousands – enough to pay for another pilot to be there on reserve, and the bean counters will never figure this out because they’ve never been in my seat.

When I first started in the industry, it was a personal challenge to save my company money. It was a collaborative effort because I felt like they were family, so I did everything I could to cut costs. I would always taxi out on one engine, keep the APU off and just use external power/air, fly at the best fuel burn altitudes, take the cheaper hotel rooms, etc…but as the years passed and the industry evolved into “discipline” mentality, rather than respect, then a new attitude entered all of our perspectives. For example, it’s more beneficial for me and my crew to have a little longer flight, so let’s just take on a little extra fuel and fly at the altitude which burns more fuel and takes longer because we get paid a little more. Let’s ride the brakes to earn a few more minutes while we wear away the brake pads. Why hold the airplane for connecting passengers when it’s our last leg and we all have to commute home. My crew wants to catch their flights home too, so why should I care about the passenger who will miss the connection. There are no rules broken, so you can’t “discipline” that, but this changing pride costs the airlines more than what the accountants can plug into their formulas.

Just ask the professional pilots flying right now. They have worked tirelessly for many years, through the perils of flight training, furloughs, commuters, charter, mergers, and company shutdowns. They have flown in the dead of night, in all weather, in many different aircraft and scenarios. Their value is in their experience and it is priceless. They are proud of their accomplishments because they should be. However, read any electronic pilot posting board, where free speech rules and anonymity pulls down the fear of speaking out, and you can see and feel a palpable change in pride for the industry. They are often ashamed of what it has become and what their leaders ask of them. They are ashamed that the “product” they deliver, their passengers, are being charged for a can of Coke while their CEO makes $17.4 million. Pilots understand profit margins, so they have to caveat recommending this industry to new pilots. The next pilot generation is losing the exuberance of its mentors because aviation is currently filled with cynicism, uncertainty and extraordinary expense to family and friends.

The pilot shortage began when deregulation pulled us all away from small town airports, where many pilots began their dreams. 9/11 put a barrier around the rest, followed by shallow accounting leadership over the last decade. Factor in that student pilots no longer have to dream about seeing the world because they have access through their keyboard or other well-paying jobs, and you can understand why those 210,000 people turned away from aviation.

Just a few people with a positive ideology can change the world. The aviation industry begs for leaders who recognize the balance required between honoring this glorious industry, while still making enormous amounts of money. It can be done, but not with a ruler and “discipline”. It will be done with respect, pride and profit. Bring back the pride and you will bring back the pilots.


(Featured Image by: Dan Nguyen, CC2)


  • Erika, I couldn’t agree more. The industry today is disheartening. I am a 3000+ hour helicopter pilot with just about every military and FAA qualification and an MBA from a top 10 school and the best the industry can offer is $60-80K unless I leave my family for months at a time.

    Despite my choice to go into investment banking and remain flying in the reserves, I am the co-founder of an organization that helps military pilots and mechanics transition. I have spent over $10k to start the organization, website and host an online career fair to unite employers with transitioning pilots and mechanics and I still cannot get recruiters to even do their jobs and participate, even when I offer the opportunity for free and have 200 veterans willing to work for peanuts. Such a frustrating industry and I have learned that trying to change it is like boiling the ocean.

    • Sandra Vandenburg says:

      Let’s look at one thing: “their CEO earns $17.4 million”. WHO can stand up and claim to be worth that much? WHO? Income inequality gone mad????????? Does no one else see this as absolutely absurd???? 17.4 MILLION!!! What sort of value is this individual truly attributing? Can no one else see the obvious?? This isn’t just in the airline industry… At $17.4 million this individual must be creating a Really excellent company that Really respects its employees, since any GREAT leader knows that a great company needs the buy-in, the loyalty and sense of belonging from at least a great majority of its employees to move in any direction/operate. The alternative is increased competition, where employees realise they deserve better and start their own ventures on better terms, with more fairly distributed rewards, and hopefully have the insight to be more customer centric….. but, this isn’t just in this industry…..

    • terri says:

      Quality folks are needed at Flight Standards!

  • Eric Marsh says:

    Great article. It seems to me that this is a problem that goes beyond aviation to much of the workforce in general.

  • Steve says:

    This is really spot on. I left the industry due to the conditions of it and it is amazing the utter contempt management has for its workers. Even the corporate side of aviation has this mentality. I wonder what it will take to change things. I’m not sure it’s even possible.

  • Rex Burns says:

    Nicely done. Well written, passionate yet not emotional. Keep up the good work!

  • F. Otero says:

    Impeccably said. You have just described some of the (main) reasons why I always disliked most of my passenger-carrying airline jobs. In fact I only accept one when I have no other option (such as freighters, corporate/VIP or even simulator training, preferably abroad, always). No wonder I had more than 11 different jobs along my 35-year career…

  • Ann Onymus says:

    It’s not just aviation. The medical field suffers from this same phenomenon as well. I’m a nurse at a very well known and prestigious hospital, and we get treated like dirt. The nursing staff has been running short – one to five nurses short every single shift – for a year and a half now. 18 months of too many patients, increasing responsibility, expected overtime shifts and coming in on your off shift to work. Patient care has suffered. I guarantee that people have died because of it. Administration doesn’t care. They forced our most experienced members of the profession into early retirement and now wonder why the new staff aren’t “getting it.” I attribute these symptoms to a culture-wide obsession with money and the bottom line. Hey, management! Take care of your people and we’ll take care of your business. Mutual respect, it’s not that hard a concept. Except that, apparently, it is.

  • Clint Kennedy says:


    I think you are in target here, but, and it’s a big one, you clearly showed why pilots are not respected and have been treated poorly with your own example. Any pilot who compromisesul family, friends, or their freedom away, because a GED educated scheduler’s threat, does not respect themselves. Pilots themselves have become slaves to fear and in the process brought the entire career down as a whole. We are our own worst enemy, because we act as individuals in a group. We make individual choices we think have no effect, when in reality it has changed everything. We have created our own bondage to a world of disrespect.

    The reason for the disrespect is our own lack of self-respect. This came from within ourselves and has multiplied into something that we never may get control over. Maybe it started as us simply being “go-getters”, “team member”, thinking we actually made a difference, or even to stroke our own egos or pride. Somewhere the lines blurred and we just kept accepting poor treatment, and continued to accept it as became even more draconian.

    Bad contracts, violations of contracts, poor pay, poor benefits, threats from the company, etc…..all happened because we allowed it too. Yes; fuel prices, bankruptcies, and 9/11 did not help our cause, but that’s no excuse for pilots allowing themselves to be under duress and a sense of fear at all times. This problem is bigger than an undisciplined management team. They are only doing it cause we allow them too. It’s that simple. Until pilots, as a whole and as individuals, wake up and stop being a victim, start saying “no” to anything that not respectable, management will not stop. It’s like an abusive relationship, if the victims never fight back, the perpetrators will continue to inflict pain and will not stop because we pray or will it to go away.

    Problem is we are looking around hoping for a savior. We hope for an ex-Southwest like CEO, union leader (s) not scared to fight, a news story that shows our plight and affects change, or even the consumers to say enough. We are going to be at that station a long time before any of those trains come along. We have to help ourselves.

    Clint Kennedy
    American Airlines
    Airbus 320 FO

    • Michael Collins says:

      Nicely put Clint and Erika!

      We pilots don’t stand up enough. Embarrassingly I have to admit, I’ve coward down a time or two early in my career. As a low time new hire pilot at American Eagle, we were reprimanded by the Chief Pilot for not landing in a level 5 thunder storm. We made the right decision diverting when we did and back to our base in Nashville. As good, hard working employees, elected to sleep in the crew lounge (it was a late night push), knowing we would be the ones to reposition the A/C for the inbound flight. That gave us nearly 2 hours more sleep, on one of those dreaded CDO (Continuous Duty Overnight) schedules. However, that doesn’t change the power of the threats coming from a tyrant chief pilot. His public outburst were often and many times at the expense of some poor soul who did not deserve it.

      I made a whopping $15,000 that year (92) and after 5 years with the company, still had not cleared $24K. At that point, I had 12 years experience, 5000 hours, and still in the bottom 10% in seniority. The capitalistic system only favors the executives. And the management at AMR is the best at manipulating it’s labor groups, as Crandall, Carty, and others, have proven time and time again.

      I’ll add, we had one guy who would stand up every time. His normal response was, “Then FIRE ME, if you don’t like it!” Eventually they did, but it was years later, and I have no doubt he didn’t care. He may not have had the support of management. But his actions had a lasting impact on me, not to mention the lack of actions from management with their empty threats.

      No doubt, we pilots do it to ourselves by not taking charge of our destiny. Fortunately though, it looks like 210,000 potential pilots did (by pursuing other careers). And some of the regional pilots did it by voting down their TAs, as my Eagle brothers and sisters did last year. Yes, they got smacked for it, but it’s part of the process. The next time a large regional has the guts to do it, better pay and work rules will follow.

      PS – After getting out of aviation (due to all the reasons listed in this thread) I’m ready to return to it. I currently live in Kansas City. Look me up if you know of a “Good” job.

    • regis says:

      Well said, we have become victims of our self egos

  • David gehman says:

    Excellent article. This is why I chose the route I took…which was at least humane. I did corporate flying and enjoyed a somewhat more decent schedule because I had great folks to fly for. However the demands of sending three daughters to university and a son yet in high school…for the past eight years I have been in a leadership management position to support my family. I hope to return to some good flying days again soon…although mine will be corporate. Growing up my dream was the airlines…for the reasons you have well illustrated…That is a bucket
    List item that will not be checked off. But I hae been so blessed to fly charter Learjets and king airs…and enjoyed that a bunch! Thanks for your article.

  • Max says:

    Erika- You pretty well nailed it. The landscape is changing before our eyes and not for the better. Since our accountant CEO took over Southwest, it’s all about the almighty dollar. There exists a hubris at that level which defies logic, or common sense. Management used to put it’s relationship with it’s “people” first. Those “people” were the employees. Now those “people” are the shareholders. Its been a great ride, but unfortunately those days are well behind us. What used to be fun and exciting is now just another job, where one looks forward to time off, and getting out of the airport before the JA call comes. Whereas we used to amicably negotiate with the company, today we form a strike committee. Amazing what the wrong people can do to a great company and industry.

  • Ross Aimer says:

    Very well said Erika!
    In a recent interview with a journalist who asked about the same subject, I responded;
    ” There has never been a shortage of pilots in this country. However, there is finally a shortage of STUPID pilots who used to spend upwards of $200,000 for a job that paid $20,000 a year!”
    My heart bleeds for the commuter airline CEO’s who claim they have to park their RJs for the lack of pilots. Pay them decent wages, and they will come!
    Captain Ross Aimer
    (UAL Ret.)
    CEO, Aero Consulting Experts,
    Los Angeles

    • Doc Radford says:

      Capt. Aimer, Your comment about R.J. CEO’s…..Perfectly said as always Boss! Cry me a river fellas!
      Doc (UAL Ret.)

  • Terence says:

    Hi, since airlines for the most time have never really been profitable, any black ink on the balance sheet is like manna from heaven. That leads managements that have not an iota of loyalty and integrity towards its employees, resort to the worst kind of slave driving. Corporate flying is different, though less intense, and the focus is on saving time and not money…which changes the equation.

  • gatt says:

    Nobody has dared speak to me like that since I left the Marine Corps. I’d have told them to pound sand. You have no problem finding another job. There’s a pilot shortage.

  • James Izumi says:

    I left the country to pursue further my career. The US had become a dead end. There is no shortage of pilots for the legacy carriers. Regional aviation is having problems finding new pilots. Pinnacle (9e) is now offering 20k year longevity bonuses just to keep pilots from leaving. I was fortunate enough to find a L-seat A-320 job with no time in type. I consider myself exceedingly lucky.

  • Johan Swart. says:

    Very well written and its the honest truth. Not only in aviation but the same goes for the rest of the workforce worldwide ……..no matter who or what you work for. Its happening in goverment dept’s to the private sector ! We
    find ourselves in an ever changing and money calculating world ………giving a new take on the saying that says “money makes the world go round”. From a business point of view it might make sense but from a peoples prospective its doomed to failure, especially when it comes to aviation. The veteran sector of aviation is going into retirement, leaving
    a huge gap experience wise . Experience in aviation is of paramount importance ,given the fact that mistakes made in the air could and will have a disastrous effect on the industry !
    Hers hoping and praying that the powers to be will come to there senses and that common courtesy will once again prevail.
    Wishing you all blue sunny skies and keep up the good work.

  • Michael says:

    210,000 fewer licensed pilots please. Good grammar is a sign of professional credibility.

    • drew says:

      Really? That is your only remark? Way to miss the forest by looking at the trees.

      • Michael says:

        Yes, that’s my point exactly. There are those who would curtail their reading on sight of such an error in the first paragraph and that would be a pity because it is otherwise a good article. Actually, I didn’t expect my comment to pass moderation; my intention was merely to draw the author’s attention to that sentence, which I had imagined she would have been able to amend discreetly.

        • Del Coro says:

          > There are those who would curtail their reading on sight of such an error in the first paragraph

          Yes there are. Those people are assholes.

          • Alan says:

            Person: Fire… Fire dude your on f’ing fire!
            Michael: Dear Sir, To whom do you speak of? Surely you would properly address your exclamation. Hath thou not ever thought whether or not the intended party might disregard the statement and go upon a rant irregardless of your message?
            Coroner: Why didn’t the guy put himself out of fire…
            Person: Grammar Nazi
            Coroner: Damn what a shame.

    • T says:

      From the front desk of an FBO to the captain’s seat of a Boeing 727-200…I think she’s got plenty of “professional credibility” bud. Go troll somewhere else.

    • Allison says:

      Hahaha! Thank you Michael. I was thinking it 🙂

    • Terri says:

      Since you’re going to be picky–Certificated pilots, please.

  • Steve says:

    A very interesting article which cuts to the core of the current pilot shortage problem, in my opinion. I would however disagree with the term “leadership” when it is used within the article. The managers mentioned are not leaders and show little leadership,they are managers who are optimizing the bottom line for their shareholders, in the short term. We can often have managers managing, but seldom do we have managers leading, and the terms are not mutually exclusive. It is just that they seem to have become confused over time by those that need to exhibit leadership, but

  • Steve says:

    can only seem to mange. Apologies for the break in this thread.

  • Destin McIntosh says:

    I very much appreciate this article. I think that the greatest threat to the airline industry is in fact a lack of respect from the executive and managerial levels.

    I also know that relationships between pilots and schedulers has always been tenuous. However, speaking as a scheduler, it should also be known that we suffer the same neglect and disrespect from our companies as pilots do. I know that becoming a scheduler isn’t as difficult or expensive as becoming a pilot, but we are just as vital a cog in the airline machine as any other portion of the organization.

    It is the fault of the leadership for creating an organizational structure that seems to pit divisions of labor against each other when we should have the ability to work with and for each other instead of for a contract that is so limiting and rigid.

    That is my two cents.

  • Fixed Sight Training says:

    I agree with this article. My own experience was from a freight standpoint. The company I worked for in Denver paid $100 for a 15 hr day, mostly sitting around outstations. The “five day schedule” was Mon, Tue, Wed, Thurs, Fri and Sat, because pilots are too stupid to count. We had meetings in the middle of our rest period every month which included how many pilot resumes they had received. Both the airplanes I used to fly, 400 series Cessnas have since crashed due to maintenance issues and one resulted in a pilot fatality. Even after all the time, money and sacrifice I’d put into aviation this was enough and I decided to leave aviation as a career when I started a family.

    One other factor is training costs. It’ s no longer a function of $50 per hour for a C-172 but now $125 for a C-172 with a glass cockpit you neither need nor want for training. It’s hard enough to get students to look outside without teaching them to rely on a computer which replaces situational awareness and which costs a fortune to buy and maintain.

    • Opteryx says:

      “$125 for a C-172 with a glass cockpit you neither need nor want for training”

      Well, yes and no….you certainly don’t need it to get your private license but as you advance, you do need that experience. Many job postings now require glass cockpit experience…..

      • Chris Cunningham says:

        Glass cockpits in a C172 are a complete waste. Yes,companies want glass cockpit time but they’re generally referring to larger aircraft types.

        I fly with cadets who started straight and level on glass ckpit/moving map/EFB C172 and they have no concept of looking out the window. Even on an Airbus the “upright display”(window) is still necessary.

        I recently looked around the field where I learned to fly and later instructed. They were charging 3x what I used to pay for the same heaps of shit, only now there in a Garmin 1000 in it. whoop de do…..

      • hemp says:

        Acutally, it’s $125 for a barely IFR equipped, 40 year-old, steam gauge C-172 that’s frequently down for maintenance in between 100-hours.

        The only offsetting upside today is the availability of online video/web-based training, which is considerably more affordable, more convenient, and likely as good if not better than many in-person ground schools. But for building hours, the cost is nuts and the fleet is dilapidated.

  • Matthew says:

    Very well said and presented.

    I started my aviation career in high school with an aviation class that offered ground school training. I started flying with the goal of becoming an professional pilot, but quickly learned that the cost would be a massive hurdle to overcome. As I graduated I looked into school and what I would need to move forward. I also started working for an regional airline on the ramp to get into the industry and make connections. As I met pilots and saw the conditions under which they worked, the low starting pay, and the debt ridden lifestyle they lived under I decided to look for other career paths.

    I chose ATC and have not looked back, but with many friends on the pilot path I still worry about the direction of the industry. The low moral and hard working conditions will bleed saftey issues. Thankfully there is still pilots who love their job enough and have enough respect for themselves and coworkers to keep the airlines running. Sad to say, but hopefully if the shortage gets bad enough the pilots will regain power and respect. They will be needed more, the airlines and operators will have to pay more and offer better benefits to retain pilots.

  • Walter Waldecks says:

    Your article is spot on Erika. And it’s not just in the USA. It’s a world-wide problem. The Middle East airlines are beginning to reap what they have been sowing for many years now.
    Likewise some of the Far Eastern airlines. The disrespect these crews are treated with, their managements outright lying, and the erosion of contractual conditions is absolutely shocking.
    A brief perusal of any professional pilot blog or forum will attest to this.
    Sadly this became inevitable with deregulation and when accountants and pen-pushers started calling the shots. They produce nothing – add no intrinsic value – yet they have the temerity to pretend that they do, and reap undeserved rewards as if they truly earned it.
    In reality virtually any one of them could be replaced with a temp from Kelly Girl tomorrow. The regularity with which job hopping at CEO level occurs proves this point.
    And up until recently, pilots could easily be replaced as well. But – the times are changing. Initially the shortage is going to be felt in the upper echelons of medium and wide-body crew. And then the experience level will drop further as fewer youngsters are attracted into the industry to replace the retirees. It’s inevitable. Indeed it’s already happening.
    The next few years are going to be very challenging for many airlines. Watch carefully as developments unfold at Qatar, Emirates, Etihad and Cathay and the huge crewing problems that lie around the corner for them and many operators.
    Management only have themselves to blame for the coming dilemma – simply because they’ve made no effort to understand what makes the piloting profession tick.
    Ironically, it’s easily fixable. But not with the current generation of accountant/manager/pen-pushers. And that’s what’s going to make this lesson very hard.

    • Opteryx says:

      It’s funny – decades ago there was a problem with Air Force pilots (especially fighter pilots) getting out in droves and going to the airlines. The powers that be couldn’t understand. Thought it was all about money. Came up with a big bonus to stay in. Didn’t make much difference. Couldn’t see that pilots were being marginalized and the rest of the (ground) pounders were being set on pedestals as “tip of the sword” (everyone in the Air Force wears wings now) and more additional duties were piled on and there was less flying and more regulation, etc, etc. Now the airlines are going through some of the same stuff.

  • james kreft says:

    Your perspective is correct. Its the whole industry that is unraveled by the seams. First the pilots then the fa’s then the ticket counter and the the under the wing folks. it has become a bottom line industry. Maybe with the slight exception of Southwest. From the outside looking in it appears that Southwest and Virgin really care for there people. The rest of the major US carriers are all out the cheapest labor the cheapest fuel and the cheapest mechanics. Everything else is a mere after thought.

  • Patrick says:

    Unfortunately people still believe that pilots are overpaid, have sport cars and huge villas with swimming pool. Time have changed, middle east airlines management are changing the game as well.

  • Ann says:

    Heartbreaking to read. Have a grandson who has never wanted anything else. He is at the “premier” flight university where there is such a shortage of instructors and DEs he cannot finish the rating he should have got last semester. We are feeling as if it is “breach of contract” as we heard “we don’t let students fall through the cracks” etc. before he enrolled. We’ll see how this comes out when he graduates next year and just hope for the best. So sorry to read about so many disillusioned pilots. All the best to you all.

    • Opteryx says:

      I called back to my alma mater when I saw they were looking for an instructor. Thought it might be cool to go back there as a “professor of aviaition”. It paid in the low 20s…..apparently, the entire industry relies way too much on pilots’ love of flying as a substitute for an actual living wage.

  • Chuck Baston says:

    Respect pride and profit. Well Erika, you got one out of three and that’s good enough for a “CHICK” in the cockpit. However, the rest of the guys humping the line have no specialty protection class such as being female to protect their “free speech,” or push them through training with a leg up at hiring into your 727 due to the rare “CHICK” in the cockpit. You hit on a lot of the key issues in the industry but as one of your posters here points out, much of it is not specific to aviation but a downfall of American values and motivations. It’s pretty simple and whining is not going to fix anything, it’s all about money. That’s right, money, and not just your CEO’s but yours too. Money has become the primary focus for all of us greedy Americans and that apples to you as well. You say accountants and CEO’s don’t plug pride and respect into their formulas, well that’s because their is no money in it. You say the industry needs to have respect for traveling families, there is no money in that either. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why families continue to fly all around the country even though they can’t sit or spend time together? These same families could rent a car or mobile home and drive across the country spending much quality time together, but they don’t. They just keep coming back no matter how bad the service is. I mean that 5 hour flight is easily a 3 day drive right. The reason they don’t drive is because both mom and dad have to work now a days to make ends meet, and taking a three day drive both ways is out of the question. A 6 day drive leaves no time to see the Magic Kingdom and little time for mom and dad to make money, again it’s all about the money. It’s also about the money when CEO’s talk about “discipline.” A CEO will act according to how he is compensated, and that rarely has anything to do with pride or respect of any pilot group or any American worker. Oh, and yes, I said this money motivator also applies to you and your motivations, which it does. Let’s not overlook your catchy cute phrase of “CHICK IN THE COCKPIT” followed by your subtle pitch for your new upcoming book, complete with glossy pic of bleached blonde hair and a smile, all designed to chase the money carrot, or are you going to claim your really motivated to be the savior of aviation blight. A publisher seeing a niche opportunity for profits also gets in on the deal, you can bet nobody there cares about pilots either. I’m not surprised you were motivated to save the world and make your airline money when you first started, this is typical of any new pilot. New pilots in the industry have always been willing to do anything including work for free just to fly a jet, at least for the first few years. Then we all realize it’s hard work and want to get paid for it. Oh but wait there is another new pilot willing to work for free now that you are in the left seat, and that doesn’t help your compensation out any now does it. Well Erika, welcome to Capitalism and the American way. The industry has and always will exploit people chasing that money carrot. It’s not just the airline industry, it’s across all industries in America and it has resulted in nothing short of modern enslavement. Modern self enslavement is more accurate, motivated by our own self interest and wallets. This culture trend in America is the same thing that has us all shopping at Wal-Mart for the product that Americans can’t afford to make. You say that you quietly retaliate against your airline by flying low and slow, riding the brakes to get on the clock, or not waiting for passengers. Well, your not doing anything wrong your just acting in your own self interest in response to the way you are compensated, just like your CEO. It’s time you embraced your place in the capitalistic model. This is the nature of capitalistic motivations and where it all leads nobody knows. However, whining about pride and respect will not buy you anything. I’m really surprised you somehow feel your a rebel or something special by taxiing slow or running the APU. If you have not been doing that all along then your not making a vote for capitalism and how you are compensated, and certainly not helping out pilots. If your not compensated for saving fuel or being on time, then acting in contrary to your compensation and self interest is nothing short of insanity and ignorance. It’s something your CEO would never do. Look, either get onboard with greed and capitalistic motivations or take off your shoes and start bake some cookies. We don’t need whining and book sales to personally make you a cool million, we need all pilots to start acting according to their compensation package which is something you are classifying as retaliation, and a quiet quest. As a pilot are you paid for arriving quickly or flying slowly? Are you paid for assisting maintenance with troubleshooting your write-ups for hours with the main cabin door is open? Then why are you doing it? All of us pilots humping the line know the answer to this, your only paid when the door is closed. Why are you acting contrary to your compensation day in and day out? Taxiing slow on two engines drives up fuel cost and pilot compensation minutes, only when these cost indicators are observed by those counting the beans will your compensation package change and will you be compensated for taxiing fast and for saving fuel. Any attempt at taking “pride” in your work and acting differently only hurts all pilots, the industry, and America as a whole. Let the industry, the pursuit of money, and capitalism run its course, stop fighting it, only when we embrace the system and stop fighting it will it mature and either work or fail and then evolve. This is not an aviation industry issue this is an America issue across all industries. We all think we are powerless and enslaved, well here is a news flash for you, we all are! We are all enslaved but the only difference between us and those that built the pyramids is that those that are really in power today have figured out a way for us to voluntarily enslave ourselves without even being consciously aware that we are doing this to ourselves. Oh, and the reason pilots stick to anonymous chat boards is because we can’t say what we really want unless somebody else sees a monetary value in it. Case in point. My post here will never survive, you or your publisher will end up deleting it. Why, because it won’t promote the sale of your new book. Another case in point, just scroll up and down on this page, I’m sure your going to find endless ads for aviation supplies and flight schools eventually. Ask yourself why that is and why they are all attaching themselves to your glossy pic and your book. Do you think they care about pilot pride, or respect maybe? Have you figured it out yet? That’s right, your catching on, MONEY! Money will silence me and continue to enslave us all, just as it always has.

    • Fixed Sight Training says:

      “Any attempt at taking “pride” in your work and acting differently only hurts all pilots, the industry, and America as a whole”
      Swing and a miss there, Comrade

    • Dwight Sanders says:

      Well I bet you are just an absolute peach to fly with!

      Pride in what one does is not anti-American, in fact the opposite. And who shouldn’t feel prouder of what they do for a living than pilots?

      More to the point, if your pride as an aviator begins to decay, your professionalism and discipline are sure to follow. If this is the type of culture that sets in, where cynical, pseudo-Randian calculations like the ones you propose guide decision making as an effort to cause policy shift at the bean-counter level, accidents WILL start to happen. There is a reason that in military aviation, squadron Commanding Officers can get fired for “Poor Command Climate.” I think this is what the author is driving at….industry leaders need to foster pride in their pilots so that the services they provide continue to be done so safely and effectively. Eroding pride = less professionalism = more mishaps. There IS money in making sure that doesn’t happen.

      Also, I can’t help but ask how writing a book to make money DOESN’T fit into your old-man-yelling-at-cloud theories on capitalism? Wouldn’t this be an example of her ’embracing the greed’ or whatever as you suggested she should? She’s even milking the fact that she is a female pilot, as you so eloquently and without a hint of sexism pointed out…what’s more capitalistic than that?

    • Jim Pearce says:

      Geez, Chuck. Did you not learn anything about paragraphs in school or did you leave before the 8th grade?

    • Anti Scab says:

      I think you forgot the Caps Lock!

    • Jimbaba says:

      You could only WISH your post had been deleted by a moderator. Unfortunately for you, they left it up so we can all see what a complete boob you are. Pilots with such narrow and prejudiced minds make us all look bad, and are terrible company in the cockpit.

  • marian says:

    I didagree (only a bit) on why there are 210K fewer pilots now while the country’s population increased 100 million. All the new light planes now cost twice more than a house and the old cheap planes are dissapearing. Most of those pilots in the 70s/80s were private pilots flying for pleasure or light business. I’m an airline pilot and plane owner, so i know the real cost of GA ops. It’s sad to see most planes in hangars operated by retired men. All the flight schools have TA glass cockpit stuff that costs almost $200/hr without instructor and students can’t justify those costs for recreation. Mind you, we have the least expensive licensing system in the world! So, if you can’t get students to start, no planes are bought and operated… …chicken or the egg. My 2 cents.

  • Jon says:

    Great article!
    I’m a military pilot and currently they say we have a shortage of pilots in the military. Yet the group of 122 pilots they didn’t promote to lieutenant colonel this year is mostly being told that they need to get out. So the right hand isn’t talking to the left hand. We hear the middle eastern airlines along with China air is paying well. But not much else of the working conditions. Everyone in this thread is hinting to issues with the M. E. Airlines but nobody seems to be open about what is the problem. Can anyone elaborate.

  • Olivier says:

    I would mostly agree with Chuck as to the rundown or bad perspective on aviation. It is in sense hypocritical to work for an industry into which one does not believe it is worth to invest good values and that, in my opinin, would be to work for somebody else’s benefit. Anyone can work for their own benefit that’s a no brainer. Only those working for others are in fact working for us, since they are making the very sacrifice of their own comfort for somebody else’s benefit. Can’t say they’re doing anything wrong if they’re looking after you, can we? Dedication is often what is recognized among any work performed.

    If we bring aviation to it’s root or beginning, the wright brothers themselves had an outlook that was perhaps partly greedy. The first motivation any human being ever had to fly was to imitate birds, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Montgolfier, we humans had a desire to go beyond our earthly life’s. When the Wright brothers succeeded in building a powered flying machine, they succeeded in taking control of that elevation above earth that Montgolfier had managed to accomplish. They did not return to their bicycle shop, did they? They went around the world trying to sell their new piece of technology, even as far as to encourage humans to kill each other more efficiently, or defend themselves more efficiently to look at the lesser evil.

    In short, the initial motivation to fly was that feeling that came with the freedom of flight, the ability to control or partly control our faith and the view that one gets from above. Once airborn our senses become filled with this powerful motivation to return. This is what has any pilot motivated to pursue a career. We basically see more benefit in flying then in any other endeavor and thus because it appears, in the end, attainable. It gives us something to pursue.

    Aviation is chasing its own rundown, so is capitalism, as it promotes self embellishment. Aviation is not a bad industry per say, it does pollute the environment and does some other damages but in the end it does very good things as well, as Chuck points out, it enables people to connect with their families, to fly humanitarian supplies in a timely manner to countries devastated by natural disaster, which we have no control over. Or do we?

    One could very well ask, what is the very motivation of a pilot? There are millions of people on the surface of this planet who will not taste the joy of flying even once in their lifetime or perhaps do not need the so called “joy of flying” in their life’s because they manage to satisfy themselves without it. Proof is that the 210 000 people who made a different choice will never know what they missed, good or bad, by going down another path. Their lack of having a pilot license is not going to follow them in their grave and they know that very well.

    Point is, what motivates you is what really matters. Building your entire life in an industry that can abuse your need to fly is not healthy.

    So keep them single engine taxis coming, wait an extra minute for that APU, take the extra overnight for those connections, so that when you come home to those kids you have been working for all week, you can feel the joy it is that you made the right choices for their sake. Because like the people who chose something else then flying to look after their kids, dedication is all the little ones will see. Isn’t that what you wanted when you grew up, two dedicated parents? If not for your kids, do it for all the grown ups in the back.

    And when the airline comes up for negotiation, collectively we can say we did all we can and that they may have nothing to say against us, only their greed, if that is really motivating their high demands, is going to shine and that to me is like saying I want you to give me your piece of gold for the rock I found on the ground.

    We often forget that as airline pilots, the public looks up to us to protect them, ultimately sacrificing our own life for theirs. That big planet that you get the best seat in the house to admire every day you take that left seat, was meant to be shared not faught over. Take as little as you can so everybody may have a piece. We all know how good life is, let’s not kid ourselves.

  • Michael says:

    Great article. I left the airline industry 4 years ago. There would be more of a shortage of airline pilots and better work rules. If so many pilots didn’t have to eat sh!t from the company. I left for a similar issue with scheduling, but I told them “I didn’t have to do anything on my day off” and to “go f&@k yourself.” I haven’t looked back. Making more money an more time with my family. I wish more pilots could do that. I bet they would treat people better and pay more.

  • Jerry says:

    Wa Wa Wa. I have no sympathy. Pilots do this to themselves. Don’t want to take a job for less than minimum wage? No worries, there are 100 pilots lined up outside the door to HR that will. Want to actually make a living flight instructing? Sorry, some time building kid will work for free. On assigned vacation and they call you back? You should be able to say “shove it”, but you know they have 1000 pilots waiting to go back to work.

    You’re all prostitutes. Stop complaining and start flipping the bird.

  • Philippe says:

    My 23 years old son made over $200,000 last year trading currencies over the Internet without leaving his bedroom his mom asked him if he would want to be an airline pilot,he smiled and walked away. With the endless opportunities that bring the Internet only the kids who don’t know any better still want to be airline pilot.

  • James smith says:

    I’m a low houred ‘pilot’ in the UK, there are not many opportunities over here so iv decided to cut my losses & move on with life…

  • Dan says:

    When I was young flying on an airliner was relatively expensive and a rare treat for a family. Now it is commonplace and most kids have flown frequently by the time they leave High School. It’s as exciting for them as riding on the school bus. Kids are about as interested to learn to fly as they are to learn to drive that school bus. So the pilot population is collapsing,

    At least for now there are plenty of people willing to fly for peanuts which keeps salaries low. Supply and demand. It is amazing how little pilots are paid as their salary is barely a “rounding error: in the cost of operation of the aircraft. Things will change only when airlines have to park airplanes due to a lack of crew. This is happening now, but only to the bottom feeders like Great Lakes.

    Personally I have flown 5,000+ hours, own several aircraft, and continue to fly for fun. But I choose to work in another field to pay the bills as I much prefer non-repetitive work. YMMV

  • […] is an article I have seen circulating on social media about the pilot shortage and how airlines have largely brought it upon themselves […]

  • Daniel says:

    Dear All,

    Hello Captain ERIKA,

    This is a well put article and I can relate in many different ways during my limited time working in operations and dispatch.
    I am a pilot and have been on the job hunt for 28 months .
    A320 TR : BT
    around 300 Hrs TT

    The article is great but how do you propose I and many other pilots find a job ??

    • Opteryx says:

      Good question….I have 3600 hours, an ATP and 737 type rating, yet none of the majors have given me a call. I could probably get a job flying a regional for 24k a year, but I don’t love flying that much anymore……(and I have kids to put through college).

  • Charlie Owens says:

    We are the ones who will go the extra mile to make it work. How many times in your career has a fellow pilot said “I’ll do it” when his or her comrade has just refused to “do it”. Whether we’re answering to a crew sked call or a chief pilot request etc. you pilots all know what I’m talking about. Pilots are they’re own worst enemy, Airlines and small operators are experts at using our egos(which can be abnormally large) to help us shoot ourselves in the foot. Main line Pilots are convinced that regional pilots flying smaller airplanes are worth less than they are dollar wise. When your a Captain in charge of and responsible for multiple peoples lives, your experience and professionalism is what they’re paying you for. The only way out of this ridiculous situation that pilots now find themselves in is to be united and to work together. If pilots determined pilot wages as one group the airlines would have no choice but to charge for flights according to the actual cost of flying an airplane and paying pilots for what they are actually worth. You are only worth what you can get. It has nothing to do with how “good” you are . Airlines have been amazingly successful at making pilots work against each other. Only we can change this. It’s really up to us whether we want to continue to live this way.
    Charlie Owens

  • Opteryx says:

    Great article, Erika, but I think you left a few things out. One is that a big part of the problem is that passengers are addicted to low air fares. No one wants to pay what their travel is worth. Airfares are roughly the same as they were in the 70s, yet the dollar is a fourth the value it was then. Yet they constantly complain about poor service (much of it justified of course, and the over-compensation of executives is a whole ‘nother conversation). The other problem you fail to mention is the structure of the industry regarding pilot experience. When a pilot leaves one airline, (or the military or other aviation industry) for whatever reason, they must start at the absolute bottom of the new one, regardless of the experience level. This is unlike nearly any other industry where there is an incentive, a reward, to be hired with experience and wisdom already gained. This becomes a weight around a pilot’s neck – the higher they get, the greater their compensation, but the more they have to lose if they have to start over somewhere else. The company has them by the ….well, you know. So few pilots will speak out or try to correct wrongs. And there is little incentive for pilots with lots of experience, but with only a decade or two left in their lives that they can legally work as an airline pilot, to give up a high paying job with the government or some other industry, and start at the bottom with the airlines (at a poverty level, with kids to put through college), knowing they won’t come close to making what they are in their present job.

  • Rob Bullock says:

    Yikes. Snippets of Advice to anyone in this industry: treat it like a hobby that pays, have a fallback plan/spouse/business on the side. Get a real degree, not aviation (no offense). I got a 4 year Engineering degree I can always fall back on. Learn other skills, particularly anything you could do online or at the hotel overnights. If the bottom drops, or you’re between jobs or even have some spare time, use that to further yourself or your business. Live always like you don’t have any money. Be frugal but not cheap. Know your contract. Stay healthy.

    I’m an 8 year regional FO. Can’t upgrade, but pretty much write my own schedule at an increasingly better company with pretty good benefits.


  • Karl Walker says:

    Why did you answer the phone when crew scheduling called?

    • Toby C says:

      Bingo! I know her vacation story was just an illustration, but to answer the phone, not once, but twice, while on vacation means she put herself into her own predicament.

  • Tom says:

    Sorry, but the latest pilot shortage wasn’t a pilot shortage at all. It was a shortage of pilots willing to take a position that paid so little they’d need to subsidize that job. What self respecting person does that? The hoards that have been sold the idea of a career that started it’s decline with deregulation and is now in the toilet except for a lucky few…that may not be so lucky next week.

    “I should’ve gone to truck driving school.” Is the new catch phrase for the latest generation of pilots. It’s just too bad no one warned them before they were fleeced!

    Good article, thanks.

  • Dan W says:

    Good article. This is one of the big reasons I opted to go into aerospace engineering instead of professional piloting. Dirt pay (not nearly enough to pay for the schooling), bad hours, and a severely adversarial relationship with the employer. No thanks.

    I had to cringe at the vacation story. Any employer ever pulls that stunt with me, I tell them them no. Period. They fire me, it is easy enough to find another job. Not gonna let myself get run over like that. Thankfully, my current employer does not pull such stunts… they value their people enough to allow flexible schedules and flexible vacation time. The focus is on the work getting done and projects progressing apace.

    Engineering firms can have adversarial situations, but there really is a shortage of engineers, so finding another job is a cakewalk. In the peak of the downturn I lost one job (manager was so bad I breathed a sigh of relief when I walked out the door), and had another in less than 90 days. I even waited to find a job in my preferred geographic area with a preferred employer. Could have been back to work in 30 days or less, if I’d been willing to move to a less desirable location. Anyway, my current employer is great, I get paid an actual living wage, I was able to pay off my student loans early, I work on stuff I can take pride in, I don’t have to worry about keeping a roof over the head of my wife and child, and I can afford to think about buying a nice car. Oh yes… and I can still enjoy flying fun little airplanes on the side. It’s not a cheap hobby ($118/hr for a CubCrafters Sport Cub… that’s a whole other insanity), but it’s within reach.

    Decent pay. Decent benefits. Treating people like human beings, not chattel. That last one is probably the most important.

    There is a difference between managing and leadership. I see an awful lot of bean-counting MBAs… I see precious few actual *leaders*. Leaders respect, value, take pride in, and inspire their team.

    The airline management needs a wake-up call. A lot of intelligent, qualified people are turning up their noses at airline jobs because we can make more money and be treated with more respect elsewhere, and fly neat little airplanes as a hobby on the side.

  • Chris Cunningham says:

    There is no pilot shortage. There is however a shortage of airline managers who are prepared to recognize the skill and experience of pilots and pay for it accordingly. Most airline managers these days have no actual interest in aviation, they’re just trying the industry for a while to pad out their resumes and earn some quick bonuses. Executives are always justifying their multi-million dollar packages by “we have to pay that much to attract the tallent required to steer our airline through these globally competitive economic blah blah blah blah” yet they’re not prepared to pay the people that actually fly the jets. Perhaps a seniority system for managers so they have to earn their corner offices the same way we earn the left seat.

  • enrique says:

    I totally agree on everything. This is worldwide. I have had so far two jobs and crew scheduling is the same everywhere. They first ask you for your help n days off. Fine, but when you need help they suddenly can’t. Then they demand your services on days off or after your published duties have finished and threaten with a remark on your file if you say no. This harassment along with poor pay has taken respect and pride away to the profession. My 2 cents.

  • Chris says:

    Beautiful writing that brought tears into my eyes, really!.

    I am a 50 yr old Engineer that spent 30 years dreaming about becoming an Airline Pilot. Last year, due to the pilot shortage (I think) I got my chance. Begged my family to let me do this, left my job, got my ATP, got hired by one of the well known regionals, went through the toughest training I ever experienced in my life and all of the sudden there I was. I made it and I was the proudest person on this planet. I really enjoyed the work, being professional and helping my customers. All was well but, despite the extreme professionalism of my co-workers, I could sense certain level of disgruntlement. I couldn’t understand why. This is after all the dream job!

    But then reality hit and after six months I’m back home looking for a job in my former field of work. My head low and begging my family forgiveness for having embarked in such foolish quest.

    So what happened? Simply put, read Erika’s spot on article. It was exactly like that. I knew about the low pay and was willing to finance my way through it. I knew about the lifestyle sacrifices and even my family was willing to go through it all to support my long time dream. But working for people that treated its employees like this was beyond what I was willing to do.

    Thanks Erika for this article.

  • Mark Travis says:

    I ran across this article from a link from General Aviation News. It’s a great article, and reinforces the decision I made many years ago to drop my desire to fly professionally. I tried to get the Navy to pay for flight training, but politics kept everyone out except Naval Academy grads at the time I was of the right age bracket. I didn’t relish the idea of renting a 3 bedroom house with 9 other guys while I tried to build time on poverty wages on the civilian circuit. And the risk of having a carrier go bankrupt in the middle of my career and having to start over at the bottom of some other seniority ladder was just beyond belief.

    I chose a different career path, and I’ve been lucky to be an aircraft owner for at least half that career. I’ll take the carriers when risk management forces me to do that, but I’ve got a very capable airplane and keep myself IFR current. Most trips I can fly myself, and there is no TSA breathing down my neck and I have so many additional freedoms in my travel (and the responsibilities that go with it).

    I agree that the airlines need fixing in a drastic and fundamental way, but we also need those 210K pilots back to keep the GA community alive! Aviation wasn’t built to feed the pilot pipeline for carriers. It was built as a new level of personal freedom in travel. Back in the day, when Popular Mechanics was (wait for it…) popular, they used to feature planes you could build yourself. Mooney, Beechcraft and Cessna used to buy ads in several magazines showing the personal freedoms enjoyed by owning and flying you own plane. Nobody does that anymore outside of the aviation rags.

    There’s no easy answer, but there are fundamental changes needed on all fronts to rebuild our pilot population.

  • Franklin E. Fraitus says:

    The airline industry is one thing, Corporate and Business aviation is another. In many ways it’s no different here in the “NBAA” world. Owners of aircraft that depreciate by 3.3 to 4 million dollars per year are perfectly willing to pay crewmembers only the minimum necessary for retention. Often without any form of retirement, sometimes without any other benefits. Schedules are non existent, time home is often minimal and days worked, including mandatory office time, often exceed 330 days per year. Some of us do it for the joy of flying, others simply love flying the latest Gulfstream product. Few of us do it because it’s a great career choice. All of us understand we can and likely will be terminated on a whim. There are precious few who have truly good Corporate Jet jobs. Put another way, our company could fire the entire aviation staff and the savings would amount to 6% of the true annual budget. As mentioned above, something is truly wrong in the aviation world. It’s no surprise intelligent people make other career choices. They are, after all, not stupid.

    In my case, I can afford to make the payments on my 11 year old used Honda. I watch my similarly educated contemporaries succeed financially where I fall short.

  • Captain Ian says:

    Oh my god what a horrible life. But there is one problem. You are your own problem. As pilots, we are our own problem.
    ““Nope, Erika. That’s not how this is going to go. If you don’t come back and fly this trip, you’re fired. You are junior on the captain seniority list, and since you answered your phone, you have to comply.”, and you did comply. You should have quit on the spot. And anyone else should quit. The airlines do this because we allow them to and will continue to do so unless you people start thinking/acting like me. Example. When I was a CFI, I was making about $6k to $8k a month net. Any questions as to why I never worked for an airline? I later went on to fly business jets over seas. Today I find myself as a self employed contract captain flying Gulfstream business jets. I work when I want, where I want, and who I want to work for, and I set my rate. I personally think the whole airline and airline airport industry is a complete failure and it needs to fold and start over from scratch. THERE IS NO PILOT SHORTAGE! It is a farce created by the imagination of the airlines so they can gain sympathy and continue to pay airline pilots poverty wages. Anyone flying right or left seat for any scheduled air carrier should be making at least $60k a year.

  • Jim Driscoll says:

    Quote >”There are those who would curtail their reading on sight of such an error in the first paragraph

    Yes there are. Those people are assholes.”

    Or airline Management…………..

  • Steve Harpet says:

    I’ve had my commercial license since 1996. I’ve been flying jets internationally for 9 years now & like most I fly with I can’t believe the decline in the industry over the last 10 years. This is not a job I would tell anyone to “go for” anymore. The pay, the “conditions of service”, fatigue, family disruptions, stress, minimum rest rules, staff travel, simulators, roster disruptions, the food, the lack of excercise, lost sleep, addiction to sleeping pills & booze, schedule pressures flying all night in any weather fighting to keep each other awake – it’s not worth it, not even close anymore, I’m too far down the rabbit hole now, but for those thinking of taking this on as a career, think long, think hard & do your homework ! Ps you will miss the birth of your children, most of their birthdays, most christmas dinners, your wedding anniversary etc & it’s likley you won’t be home 22 days a month for all the other great & terrible things most people get to be a part of!

  • MikeN says:

    The root problem lies in the way the whole thing was originally structured, from the pilot’s point of view-which is basically irrelevant now, because it remains that way. When pilots began to organize they didn’t do the American Medical Assoc. style organization, where the doctor’s organization determined to police their own members, instead of a government entity. Pilots had a very self centered perspective–which, given safety and pay issues then, is understandable. And then, once airlines began to proliferate, pilots built the program on a strict seniority basis, so that, if skeds calls, demands you go, and you quit, you go to the absolute bottom of your next airline’s seniority list (if you can get a job with another one due to that reason for quitting), with more limitations than Erica had (she probably experienced these issues, too)–you’re a bottom feeding First Officer (years past: Flight Engineer) with so few options you have to ask permission to go to the lav (bathroom on a plane)-and I’m barely kidding. I just finished a 31 yr. career with a major. I was very fortunate in at least one way; I kept my Captain’s seat after 9/11, barely. In the years since that terrible day, our company went bankrupt twice within 4 yrs, we saw our pay and benefits–and our retirement– decimated (executives got huge payouts shortly before our retirements were confiscated in bankruptcy to ‘keep the airline alive’), and the distinction of our crews being the lowest paid in the industry while our executives were the HIGHEST paid in the entire major airline industry. I can count on one hand the number of pilots that quit us, to go to another airline (that I know of). Why put up with it you say? Those seniority issues, similar to the ‘golden handcuffs’ executives speak about. You can’t sustain an advancing–or conservative–lifestyle if you take a 50-70% pay cut going to another airline–check airline’s first year pay, then 2nd etc. We had 20+ yr. First Officers who couldn’t afford to bid bottom reserve Captain, at the least desirable base, on call 24/7 for who knows how many more years? Many had medical issues–higher than average for pilots, probably due to stress, and some ended their own lives in response to their circumstances. Good riddance to the mentally defective, you say? See your family torn apart, your company having cut your health care significantly, and if you retire–as you must according to your age–you have no further help to any degree for your invalid wife, or your stress induced issues, or such. We said long ago that we would Never recommend this job to anyone, anymore. I know the passion for flying, the dream job paradigm, the, I’ve made it since I just got hired, perspective. When I did get hired, it was with the best airline in the world, as judged by outside organizations weighing those things. It was near nirvana. Everyone loved it, pay was good, and even as a new hire, working conditions were as good as you could ask for. That soon ended with being forcefully taken over by a competing company, then 9/11, and the airlines continue to operate from a 9/11 perspective though making record, incredible profits; and it’s never been the same since, for thousands of employees. Our unions couldn’t / wouldn’t do hardly anything…so impotent, even with our paying them thousands of bucks; but you can’t ‘do’ without them, because you would be ‘violated’ (and I don’t mean by the FAA–though that too) on a regular basis.
    I haven’t said anything about the poor commuter crews. Some, those with seniority of course, may be doing ok, and are content. God bless them! But most…I can’t conceive of being responsible for so many lives, working so hard every day–not to mention those on reserve! You have to decide what it’s worth to you. Things have changed and will continue to. Don’t buy what some Wall Street multi-million$/yr. analyst/broker speculates will happen–it’s just speculation based on his income potential! He had no idea 9/11 would happen, either.
    Figure out what your level of frustration, abuse, humiliation and peace of mind is–irrespective of the airline–then double it, or half it, depending on your math-perspective, and do what you’re ‘called’ to do. Don’t look for the golden ring to come around. If it does, well…good for you! It won’t for most. Erica’s article is a small slice of reality. Consider the pressure of your debt load in the many, many years to come. As has been mentioned in the comments, you will Not make enough to pay your debt back for a long, long time, unless you have a side job–which many of us ‘had’ to get, at some point. As hard as it is to believe, some pilots are getting gov’t ‘assistance’. It’s a tough job weighing dreams and passions and vision against current and plausible reality. Just don’t blame shift if it turns out badly. If you ignore those who’ve gone before, you deserve your fate. Don’t blame us, or management–they’re rapacious. You will end up being the same, as Erica mentioned about changing her paradigm towards her company. I saw it, comprehensively, in every segment of our company, except the management, though they changed too–micro managing us to see if we taxied too fast, or too slow, and so many other minute restrictions that ate away at your pride, your professionalism, and your enthusiasm for your – former – passion. I hope it changes for those who make the commitment. It would be so encouraging to see that return to the industry, rather than getting one’s perspective from a commercial, or frequent flyer miles. Pilot shortage? True or not, who can blame them?

  • Casual Hero says:

    The industry has spent the last thirty years cutting the crews pay, benefits and pensions, while lining the pockets of the stockholders and now they’re scratching their heads trying to figure out why no one wants to fly their aircraft??!!

  • Buzz Elliott says:

    Today’s airline senior management are like any other corporate senior management or like any senior career Senator or Congressperson who has personally elevated their self-worth to unrealistic levels deserving of multi-million dollar salaries and benefits. Their collective fault? They have lost leadership perspective, or for us replaceable pilots, corporate situational awareness. They think balancing the financial books at the end of the fiscal year is what it’s all about. But as many of us have discovered, they have lost (or never developed) a good leadership style that focuses on employee respect which will spread to the customers.
    Frankly, I think they can’t wait to accept delivery of the Ultimate Airbus of the Future that will completely eliminate the requirement of a human operator. Then they only have to worry about pissing off the mechanics.

  • Davis says:


  • Jimbaba says:

    I think the folks this article is really aimed at are the people at ALPA. ALPA did a horrible job of managing post-deregulation changes in the airline industry. Instead of educating pilots about the need to broaden ALPA’s sphere of influence and make the union stronger and more inclusive of all pilots, ALPA was happy to back up the pilots of the biggest airlines as they strengthened their white-knuckle grip on what they had, making sure they wouldn’t lose any of it — even if it cost new pilots their dignity. It is a weak and cowardly labor union which encourages senior pilots moving forward in their careers by walking on the backs of junior pilots. I was ALPA from 1986 to 2005, and by the end I lost all respect for it. After 9/11, when the industry was in the toilet and many pilots were struggling to pay their mortgages, what did ALPA do for us? It armed us with guns. Yes, .40 caliber pistols which were never actually used against terrorists but have been used by some pilots to put themselves out of their misery. Brilliant.

  • Alex says:

    I can’t believe that when you are on holidays they can call you to go on duty! It’s unbelievable that crew schedule can force someone to do this kind of things!

  • Alex says:

    And, btw, I 100% agree with you of what you’ve said in this article!

  • […] you have already heard the complaints. The furloughs, stress, low pay, TSA, divorce, disrespect, life at the whims of schedulers etc., but when you close that cockpit door, you are a pilot. You […]

  • Jim Jones says:

    Great Article. Its now a couple years old but meh, it still applies.
    I think there is no shortage of pilots. There is however a serious shortage of pilot pay and pilot benefits.
    We figured out the math a couple years back and a fulltime worker at McDonald’s would have actually made more than a starting copilot at Skywest. I think its improved somewhat since then but the airline starting pay numbers are still at a level that is quite simply just a non-starter for me.
    Totally up for flying for an airline. Totally not going to accept that responsibility for anywhere near what they are paying now.
    Like many other pilots are doing I think, I am waiting for the mandatory retirement date to arrive. They kicked that can down the road a few years ago and its now coming back around to bite them in the rump. Once it does and they have to grouond literally thousands of pilots in a very short time span, I believe the numbers for starting wages is going to rise substantially. Right now they are doing the Bonus song and dance but in a couple years, when that didn’t work, they will have no choice but to raise pilot wages across the board. Either that or watch as they have to cancel flights. The demand for air travel is steadily rising while the number of pilots is steadily declining. Supply and Demand is heavily in the favor or the new airline ready pilot. All He/She needs do is wait for critical mass, which isn’t far off.

  • Roy Uchman says:

    I decided to “give up the dream” and left the industry 15 years ago. It’s sad that after all these years management and leadership in aviation is as shortsighted and unsophisticated as ever.

    I have many cring-worthy stories of my own, but the near universal lack of respect for myself as a pilot, and my colleagues, still cut the deepest. Despite the skill and the many personal sacrifices we were always treated as expendable, and we were reminded often.

    I’m very familiar with most of the complaints In the comments in this post, which reinforces my decision after all these years.

  • CJ Lewis says:

    Hmm…this sounds like every other industries problem. High entry cost, responsibility, neglect all with no pay and uncertainty. Does anyone see how this aligns up to economics of a country? If a country is in debt, like the US, do you really think capitalism will be fair from top to bottom? No industry prospers when a country isnt prosperious.

  • Joe says:

    I’ve been a commercial pilot for 12 years, have around 700 hours, still trying to find this pilot shortage they promised way back in flight school and everyone keeps talking about every couple years since!

  • Larry Vargo says:

    Somewhere towards the start of this post I noticed a few posts to the effect we “allowed this this to happen”. Seriously? When, then, did they ask for and receive our permission? We simply were forced to retreat before overwhelming power for the simple reason of survival. You could of course take a stand and be summarily fired, but the permanent effect will be as ripples in a pond. It goes deeper than this. Our country is becoming an oligarchy, unless we wake up and be more careful about who we elect. And these faults are true of most industries these days. Have any of you compared the price and wage levels of 40yr ago as opposed to now? The percentage of jobs you could support yourself on back then as opposed to living in your parents’ basement? The prideful feeling of self-esteem which makes you think you’re a “free agent” and face these guys down? Good luck with that and the notion that unions are for wimps. I have been watching the “Wal-Mart-isation” of this country over my 40+yr of employment and can only be glad I could retire when I did. God bless you in your ongoing struggle for what you seek. And good luck, you’re going to need it.

  • Don says:

    Thirty years on from the point I stopped training for that first ticket, because the rewards just were so far out and even then the respect just was not there in my view, I ended up staying in heavy equipment. It’s been a good ride, but now that I’m too far down the road to bother trying for a foot in the door (mandatory retirement is not far enough away) the regionals are recruiting rabidly to anyone in the program, one or two are pushing near six figures total compensation for the first year as a FO with all the bonuses, and a $10K per head finders fee above that if you recruit a warm body to come along behind you. The respect may or may not come back, but one could hope. The regionals are certainly learning painful lessons, as the majors suck away anything with a pulse, an ATP and enough hours. Hell of an about face from the pilot surplus they’ve enjoyed for decades.

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