Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A New Beginning

As ma­jor airlines hire for the first time in a decade, pilot demand heats up

The Rule
At its most basic, the new FAA law requires new airline First Officers to have amassed at least 1,500 hours of flying time and hold an ATP (Air Transport Pilot) certificate. Before, a first officer had only to have a commercial pilot certificate, which requires a minimum of 250 hours of flying. Minimum age for the ATP is now 23. There are concessions for military pilots and college degrees, but the increase in hours and certificate are the most dramatic.

Across the board, all the flight schools we talked to think it's a bad idea in terms of pilot supply. Richard Gabor, President of Eagle Jet International, told us, "These rules are not good for the industry because it's about quality of training, not total time." Gabor fears the impact the increased time requirements will have on candidates who have already invested large sums of money in training. "Politicians have out-priced students' careers," he added.

Kit Darby explains that the new rule hasn't given airlines enough time to adjust. "Major changes in time, cost, facilities, and equipment and flight experience, are required. Lead time for a professional pilot to get from commercial license (250 hours) to 1,500 hours and the ATP will be up to four years if employed full-time as a pilot; college education would take an additional four years."

A Time Of Opportunity
According to everybody we spoke with, the very fact that so many factors are converging to create this hiring boom is a phenomenon nobody planned on. "There is no way we can supply the number of pilots and technicians the Boeing report is calling for," notes Ryan Goertzen, Senior VP of Education at Spartan University, one of the country's legacy aviation institutions. "We know of places that are turning away customers. We can't find individuals with the talent for all these pilot and technician positions."
For a lucky few, a career in the air is a dream whose benefits far outweigh its detriments.
For prospective pilots, all of these factors result in untold opportunities. It's true that starting regional First Officer salaries are ridiculously low, and that benefit packages are changing, but for those who seek a job in the air, there's better opportunity right now than at any time in at least the past 20 years.

One intangible factor that none of the industry experts on either side of the shortage argument take into account is that for some, a life in the air has no question. For a lucky few, a career in the air is a dream whose benefits far outweigh its detriments. Call what's happening today a shortage, call it a hiring boom, call it an unexpected anomaly, this is still a great time to fly. As Kim Gale of Transpac Academy commented about all the turmoil in our industry, "This is just a super exciting time. Right now; this is when it's all happening."

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