For people looking for an industry with exciting jobs, high salaries and attractive benefits packages, not to mention numerous quality-of-life perks, there probably aren’t a lot of options. But there are a few, if you’ve got the right stuff and get the right training. And aviation is one such industry, and there are a lot of aviation jobs just waiting to be filled.
According to studies by Boeing, Airbus and others, the need for skilled workers is immense and will continue to be so. The number of pilots the industry needs to hire over the next 20 years is a staggering figure, nearly a million, and the growth will likely be linear, without a lot of the burn and churn from previous employment spikes. Bottom line: The world’s airlines and charter providers and corporate flight departments and emergency medical transport companies and…well, everybody who employs pilots needs pilots, and they need them now.
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It’s not just pilots, either. There’s a pressing need for other aviation workers, too, lots of them, and to be honest, these companies and government and non-governmental organizations need more non-pilots than pilots. Pilots are the biggest category, and it’s a great job, but there are numerous other job categories where demand for labor is off the charts. So even if the cockpit is not your office of choice, there are still aviation jobs that might speak to you.
How hot is the pilot market, specifically? By some metrics, it’s the most vibrant market in the world of any large-scale profession, and without a doubt it’s the most applicant-friendly market in the history of aviation. In its 2018 Pilot and Technician Outlook, Boeing forecasted that between now and 2038, companies that need pilots will need a lot of them, 790,000 of them, as a matter of fact.
Here’s why. For the past several years, there’s been a demand for pilots, but several short-term strategies by the airlines, charter companies and corporate employers (among others) have worked to temper that shortfall.
For one, salaries have risen, at first just in dribs or drabs but in the last 18 months or so, precipitously. That increase hasn’t created new pilots but, rather, just shifted the supply lines around a bit. Regionals, which a few years could get enough pilots at $20,000 a year, are now offering bonuses, training stipends, three times the pay or better, and additional perks to get new pilots to sign on the dotted line.
And none of this does a thing for the base problem, which is that there aren’t enough pilots in the pipeline, and that part is only getting more complicated because of a law that Congress passed several years ago that mandated that airline pilots have more time, a lot more time, before they can take the controls, even as a co-pilot, or “first officer,” the term that is used in today’s professional pilot world.
In an article in Plane & Pilot magazine, pilot and FAA dispatcher Kathleen O’Connor discussed at length the desperate straits that flight schools find themselves in to keep instructors around. The problem is that as soon as a pilot gets the requisite amount of total flying time to go to the airlines, they’re snapped up. They can literally in many cases get a gig on day one of their job search. So flight schools have to fill that position, which is often done by hiring pilots who’ve just completed their training with that exact school. In fact, the business plan of many schools is set up to rely on that steady stream of pilot graduates to become flight instructors the day that get the FAA equivalent of their diploma.
And once those instructors build up sufficient time to jump to the airlines, they’re off to the airlines. It’s not even the kind of thing anyone disguises anymore. Everyone knows the way the game is played, and there are no hard feelings about pilots coming and going.
What is driving the demand? Several key factors are at play here. One, people are flying in unprecedented numbers, thanks to competitive costs. There are more flights at more airports, and every segment from regional to domestic to international flying is expanding. People want to go places, and the way they go is by air. That’s not changing soon. The other factor is that as the business world increasingly becomes a more global web of interdependent organizations and supporting networks, the need for travel has increased geometrically. Again, we see no quick end in sight for that trend.
So, the growth in air travel is here to stay, as is the need to find new pilots to not only replace the older pilots who are retiring (at age 65 in most places) but also to fill seats opened up by expansion.
But it’s not just pilots. Think about the math for a moment. Let’s add one airplane. You’ll need two pilots, right? Wrong, actually. Although an exact figure is hard to come by, the number is much higher than that. For starters, of course, each plane needs at least two or three pilots on each flight, but then you factor in duty time limitations (the length of day and number of cumulative hours is carefully regulated by law) and highly efficient plane utilization, and each new plane added to a fleet needs on the order of 10 or 15 additional pilots. So the expansion of global airline flying means an even broader expansion of pilot hiring.
But Boeing didn’t name its forecast the “Pilot and Technician Outlook” for fun. Again, just think about the math. For every airplane an airline owns, there needs to be a lot of mechanics. And aviation technicians are already in short supply, like pilots, and by Boeing’s figures, for every pilot we need to add, we need to also add approximately one more mechanic (whose days and weeks are longer than pilots’ are, which is why the math works differently). As I pointed out in a previous article on the subject, the industry needs technicians who can work on airframe inspection and repair, engine maintenance, repair and overhaul, software, electronics, and refurbishment. All are desperately needed. Boeing estimates that the industry needs to add 639,000 technicians over the next 20 years.
And it’s more than that, as well. Much, much more. The industry needs workers of every description, air traffic controllers, business professionals, engineers expert in several different sub-specialties, marketers, communicators, support staff and managers.
So for young people looking for a surefire field to go into, one with good pay, competitive benefits, fascinating intellectual challenges and even, in many cases, great travel opportunities, well, it’s hard, perhaps impossible, to find a better route than an aviation pathway.