Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Flying The Friendly Skies: No Better Time!

This may be the perfect time to achieve your aviation dream

Where Aviation Is Going
There’s actually great comfort in hitting bottom—there’s nowhere to go but up, and such is the case with aviation. Any good investment counselor will tell you that millionaires are made in times of economic depression. “Buy low, sell high” is the investor’s mantra, and the parallel extends beautifully to aviation. This is actually a fantastic time to begin training to become a professional pilot, and by examining the reasons, we can see the brighter years ahead.

Louis Smith is chairman and president of FltOps (, a company that organizes and provides information to prospective professional pilots. Information is Smith’s business, and he has his hand squarely on the pulse of aviation. Smith is the founder of Future Aviation Professionals of America (FAPA) and is a retired Northwest Airlines captain and U.S. Air Force pilot. He’s an industry expert on aviation careers and regularly provides aviation hiring statistics and projections to everyone from career pilots to CNN and NPR.

“These cycles will drive you crazy,” he says, “but the fact remains that we’re in a time of transition—a historic low. Hiring for professional pilots will increase, and there are several reasons.” Smith talks specifically about several areas that may be misunderstood by the general public: “Remember that the ‘age 65 rule’ squeezed out some younger pilots from getting hired, but most of those older pilots won’t stay until they’re 65. We’re seeing that most don’t stay beyond about 62. That five-year window is closing fast.”

In addition to a large pool of soon-to-retire pilots, global growth will increase pilot demand. According to the FAA, domestic airlines now move about 750 million passengers yearly. It projects that by 2015, this number will grow to one billion yearly. Worldwide airline travel is predicted to grow about 7% yearly, with cargo operations growing by 4% to 6% per year. By 2020, Asia is projected to become the dominant air cargo market. The recent industry-wide transition away from 50-passenger regional jets (due to their inefficiency) means new airplanes and more pilots. Overall, according to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), worldwide air traffic is expected to triple in the next 25 to 30 years.

“Growth in the airline industry won’t happen overnight,” says Smith, “but long-term, it will grow.” The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a respected source for air travel statistics and projects, says that even in light of world economic turmoil, transpacific air traffic will likely increase at a rate of nearly 6% yearly through 2015. China has several large airliners on order, with even more forecast. The prospect of tremendous growth in the Asian markets opens a world of opportunities for pilots willing to live in countries served by Asian airlines.

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