United States Faces Pilot Shortage
In January of 2009, Colgan Airlines Flight 3407 scheduled from New York to Buffalo crashed en route during its final descent at Buffalo airport killing everyone aboard and people on the ground. This crash has had probably more effect on operations throughout the United States than any single aviation disaster in the history of US aviation.
What makes this Buffalo crash so important is that it took place in the home state of US Senator Charles Schumer. Senator Schumer is arguably the most powerful Democrat in the country and the relatives of this crash aggressively lobbied Mr. Schumer for significant reform among pilot qualifications. As reelection for Mr. Schumer is of great concern, the Senator pushed through a Federal Aviation Administration bill in 2013 that changed the qualifications for pilots from 250 hours to 1500 hours. At $120 an hour it went from a $30,000 cost for qualification up to nearly $200,000 in total cost. This has resulted in new pilot starts at 1/60th the prior level before this bill was enacted in 2013. Unfortunately, this is another case of government overreach and poor bureaucratic control for both the pilots in the Colgan Airlines crash had, in fact met the new requirements and would have been allowed to fly. Colgan Airlines was considered the slum lord of the skies by the other members of the aviation community and in fact the pilot of the Colgan Airlines flight in 2009 had two safety infractions. At almost any other airline, just one safety infraction will get any employee barred from active duty. But Colgan, looking to save a dollar whenever and wherever possible would hire the that they could pay the least.
With the initial cost certification so high, how will the United States deal with our impending pilot shortage? Delta Airlines alone is forecasting that nearly half of their pilots will retire in the next five years! The military has raised their pilot salaries and offered inducements for retired pilots to come back into service. The major airlines have raised their salaries and created flight schools to act as hatcheries for new pilots. However these actions have so far been futile and in fact raising the retirement age has been the most effective short term solution to this problem. The market prices of used airplanes has dropped substantially over the last few years. Smaller regional airlines cannot afford to staff pilots and corporate charter services and private aviation are finding it more expensive to hire pilots away from commercial aviation. With less desire for planes, in turn the prices have fallen. The government must act to lower the number of required hours to become a pilot so that our aviation industry is not brought to its knees by a lack of pilots. A number of industries in the US are already seeing a substantial shortage of personnel from healthcare to trucking, aviation will join that list sadly.
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