Pilots Union Goal: Make Sure There’s A Pilot Shortage, Keep People From Becoming Pilots

The government makes it difficult to become a pilot. And the government pushes pilots out while they’re still able to work. This is done in the name of safety, but has little to do with safety.

Instead it is rent-seeking by pilots unions who want to limit the number of pilots. And they want to limit the ability of airlines to fill pilot jobs quickly. Both of those give them tremendous leverage in contract negotiations with airlines. When there aren’t enough pilots, pilots earn more money.

One pilot, under the guise of anonymity, is saying the quiet part out loud.

[L]imiting supply is key to maintaining job security and high pay. Look what happened to lawyers and dentists – every law school and dental school started pumping them out and now their pay isn’t what it used be.

So whatever bottleneck is creating this shortage for the pilots (the 1500hr rule & high cost of entrance…etc) we need to KEEP IT. Actually, go further do our best to make the entrance even HIGHER is what they recommend. You do not want fresh new labor flooding the market easily by lowering standards.

I understand that unions are well aware of this and they are against lowering the barrier.

When there are fewer pilots, there are fewer flight. It means less service to small cities, and it means higher fares. It also means that it’s harder to start a new airline – especially one with a new business model. So we get stasis in the airline industry. I love that my pilot friends make more money, but it’s far from socially optimal.

To be clear, barriers to becoming a pilot aren’t needed, and aren’t about safety.

  • There is absolutely no relationship between safety and the 1500 hour rule – a rule that no other nation has adopted. The U.S. allows pilots from nations without such a rule to fly here and depart from U.S. airports. And U.S. airline pilots are allowed to fly through foreign airspace, and land in foreign airports, where no such rule exists. Everyone knows that the 1500 hour rule isn’t meant to promote safety, it was a ‘do something’ move after the Colgan Air crash (both of those pilots had over 1500 hours!) and the major airline pilots union was ready with a suggestion and used the opportunity to push it through.

  • And there’s no reason to have a mandatory retirement age when pilots undergo health checks. We need to update those checkups, perhaps, but retirement should be about the ability of the pilot not age per se.

    We should lift the 1500 hour rule and ensure there’s focused training standards instead. Other countries are fine with 250 hours. It’s not spending time in the cockpit, where pilots in search of hours often pick up bad habits. It’s what they’re doing and learning and how well they do during their flight time that should matter.

    And we should focus on pilot health checks, which mean there’s no reason for a specific mandatory retirement age. Many pilots, flying 80 hours a month and building a side business along he way, would still choose to retire. Others would keep flying – especially if offered enough money to make it worth their while. Remember that under union contracts the last years of a career are the best earning ones.

    (HT: @crucker)

  • About Gary Leff

    Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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    1. So in reviewing this blog entry, as well as all the comments above, nobody has been able to state exactly how they arrived at 1,500 hours as the threshold. And what do you really do at cruise on a time/unit basis; *cycles* should be what matters, not hours, no?

      And it amusing to see comments that are pointing to accidents that had nothing to do with flight hours, but rather were the result of lacking airline policies, basic CRM failures, or pilot fatigue.

      And nobody has discussed the actual merit of Republic’s proposal, though as far as I can tell, they provided a constructive plan that deserved consideration of credit rather than a binary yes/no dismissal. Would that warrant the hours to be reduced to 750 ? I don’t know, but clearly it deserved more than just a “no, you have to still adhere to the [arbitrary] 1,500 no matter what”.

      I’m siding squarely with Gary on this one.

    2. Just because there are 650 billion blog writers who think they have the ability communicate doesn’t mean there should be 650 billion pilots who can fly. Leff, your hatred for workers shines through with every “article” you write.

    3. This whole article is just idiotic. No, pilots don’t want unnecessary barriers to entry, and don’t want a pilot shortage. US pilots have been flying record numbers of hours to the point of fatigue.

      Do your homework and include what had happened with regards to airline accidents and fatalities since the change in regulations.

    4. There have been pilot shortages around the world in recent times: China; India; Russia; Middle-East; and briefly Australia. In each, pilot pay shot up at regional and biz-av, but not at major airlines, just as we are seeing here and now. And it went back down. Career pilots did not benefit from a pilot shortage in pay or conditions or stability. At majors, expats did see briefly high pay, before being fired when the shortage was over. Gary, it just doesn’t work the way you think.

      Major airlines have a lock on the pilot market, and legal protection from labor actions, and they wield these mercilessly in an industrial-revolution-era way. Pilot career pay and conditions stopped attracting the numbers the industry needed, over a decade ago. Military and civilian pilot training academies are a fraction of what they were decades ago, and most of the civilian students are foreign, about 90% right now. Young American kids don’t want to be pilots, and for many good reasons. I steered my kids away and will steer my grandkids away. If they had a deep passion for it I say “go for your passion”, but they wanted good careers, and this definitely isn’t and won’t be. If suddenly kids wanted to be airline pilots again, we need more U.S. pilots than all the civilian academies can train, the wheels are already off this wagon.

      As far as the 1,500-hour rule, it keeps instructors at schools and academies, barely. India lost all their flight schools when their instructor pilots all left during their shortage, they used military instructors to get some schools running, but it never recovered. The U.S. took note, and this rule isn’t what you think. Students graduate and instruct for less than a year at major schools, giving schools about 40% of the instructors they say they need, currently. Any less, and we start shutting down schools, the 1,500-hour rule will stay.

      I’ve been involved in military and commercial flying for over 50 years. For years, many of us in the industry warned this crisis would come, but cautiously. The major airlines are benefitting from pilot shortages at the LCC and ULCC, they wanted this crisis, we don’t step on the wrong toes.

      This industry and the world economy will be harmed by this shortage, and a few major airlines will reap benefits. Both financially, and in favorable rules changes. Pilots will be worked harder for longer hours, pay will go up but not much. Automation will change dramatically, suddenly, and in unexpected ways. The mechanisms have already been developed and tested, pilots will not be happy about what is coming.

    5. Nah you’re confusing the 1500 rule with an ATP certificate. It used to be that only the captain needed an ATP and the FO just a commercial. One of the conclusions made post colgan is that regional new hire pilots had 0 prior professional experience, and it was deemed inappropriate for inexperienced professionals to be flying part 121.

      Even if it had nothing to do with the colgan crash, we should keep this rule as 1500 hrs in a Cessna with good training is a lot better than good training alone. The two are not mutually exclusive.

      If you’re gonna go down the path of watering down legal requirements why not remove ATP requirements for both captains and first officers? Maybe not require any certification and just depend on airline in house an initio training.

    6. Good Lord. Who wrote this article? Three high-school friends have “half-ass intelligent discussions” about the aviation industry and somehow became inspiration for this post. I’m sorry… That’s just not good journalism, friends. Too much nonsense. No, we should not lower the 1,500 standards. Stop pushing this nonsense. European countries hire young pilots because they are sharp and trainable. But I’ve seen some of these Airbus pilots flying on YouTube. One first officer literally jumped out of her seat and gasped for air when the TCAS screamed “TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC!”. That’s just an automated traffic alert that most jets use to let you know there’s a possible conflict with another aircraft near you. I would not want to be flying an Airbus with someone green like that. By the way, the captain didn’t even flinch. He just sat there quietly and continued flying the airplane out of New York back to Europe.
      I’ve been flying airplanes for over 24 years now, before I even had a driver’s license.
      The problem with the industry is that it is a rigged system. The entry fee, especially at the legacy airlines, that happen to pay pilots the most throughout their career, they do not not care about your total flight experience alone. They want to see if you have studied at Embry Riddle aeronautical university, even though they don’t even require a college degree anymore, they want to see your career progression, working your way up, from small piston airplanes, to twin engine piston, to turbo props, to small jets, to becoming a captain and flying as regional jet captain for years, before they’d even consider you for a job interview. And if you have not served in the military, your chances of getting hired at legacies decrease significantly. I’ve had a highly experienced regional captain friend of mine be turned down by Delta because his degree was from Australia and not related to aviation. I mean, come on… Aren’t you desperate for pilots? What a joke. To make matters worse, it’s all about playing the game. What game? I’m glad you asked. You’ll have to become a member of non-profit organizations, become a volunteer at different organizations, participate in job fairs with the specific airlines you’re seeking employment with, and most importantly, you have to know someone on the inside to push your resume through. Wait, there’s more! Not only you’ll have spent thousands throughout your entire pilot / flying career, but you’ll also have to “invest” up to thousands more in interview prep services, job application reviewing services, and other services that will help you with personality / psychosometric test prepping, before you can even apply for a job. Fun ain’t it?
      It’s also a rigged system because it doesn’t reward experience they way most people think. It’s all seniority based. They expect you to be highly experienced to hire you, but once hired, you’ll be making a lot less money than you did at your previous job, you’ll have to sit on reserve for months or years before you can choose your monthly trips and schedule, and if like me, you happen to commute to and from work by airplane every trip, you may not be able to get a domicile that is closer to your home for many more months or even years. If you are assigned one type of airplane and decide to switch to another fleet of aircraft, you’ll also be seat locked for many years. It’s an unforgiving profession. Why? Not only you have to prove yourself before you get through the doors, but you’ll be sent to simulator training every 6 months to a year in most companies. You’ll have to get yourself a medical exam from 6 months to a year as well, which adds up quickly, some places do not reimburse you for those expenses. It’s a lot of grief for very little return of investment. If I were a high school student I’d steer clear of this profession.
      Can you imagine a doctor, an experienced surgeon that has his own practice or works for the same hospital for decades, he makes well over 6 figures, but decides to move his practice elsewhere or work for another hospital, and is now forced to go back to being an intern making 90k a year and demonstrate he can practice medicine every 6 months to a year? That’s pretty much what most pilots have to go through as they advance in their careers. That’s exactly what happens every time you switch jobs as a pilot. It’s definitely messed up but no one intervenes. I’ve yet to find such a divided group of professionals. Pilot unions don’t do much. Unlike train workers last week, pilots don’t unite forces in strike, demanding better wages and improvements to quality of life amongst others pressing issues. They go out picketing in their pretty uniforms, wearing sunglasses and pilot hats. It does nothing to help their case. No one cares. Nothing changes.
      Let’s talk about pay… Most people have no idea that airline pilots don’t get paid for walking around in airport terminals between flights, swapping aircraft on a normal work day, or when they’re inspecting the airplane before and after flights, or when they’re at the gate boarding passengers and preparing the airplane for departure. Airlines only pay pilots and flight attendants after all doors are closed and the airplane starts the pushback out of the gate. Pay stops then parking brake is set and doors open again at your destination. Sounds fair, doesn’t it?
      Pay has been intentionally kept low for decades. It’s pure corporate greed, no nicer way to describe it. This “sudden” 100%+ pay increase at the regionals is something that should have happened well over 10 years ago. Regional pilots do the same exact thing their mainline friends do. Why do it for so much less? Because regionals have gotten away with it for decades. Now that they’re bleeding pilots, regionals started throwing money at the problem without any meaningful improvement in quality of life issues.
      I flew for the regionals myself for years, today I fly corporate jets for a fractional. We’ve lost over 300 pilots this year. My class of 10 pilots is down to 3 remaining pilots in just 12 months. Half of my class was gone within 6 months after we were hired. They left because of low wages, high expectations, abuse on number of duty hours, abusive schedules, inadequate pilot support when you’re out on the line, terrible crew meals, and overall poor / inadequate periodic training. Ultimately, my employer demands a lot more from pilots than what they’re willing to compensate us for. Pilots will naturally leave for greener pastures. Most of them end up at Southwest, United or some cargo operators. Which is exactly what I’m trying to do.
      I’m almost in my 50’s. I absolutely love flying airplanes for a living. I take my job seriously and I fly with pride, with my passengers safety and comfort in mind. I am a highly skilled pilot without any blemishes in my flying career. No PRIA / PRD events. Never been fired from previous employers. No problems with the law. No tickets or violations. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I wanted to be a pilot since I could speak. No, I’m not jaded. But I’ve have had a very rough career for reasons well outside my control, several recessions in two different continents. I’ve done the best I could to keep my dream of flying alive, whilst propelling my career forward at the same time. I’m a happy, friendly person with an optimistic attitude, but I’m also a realist. If I could do it all over again, I’d definitely have chosen to invest in a different career path, a career in which employers value and reward experience from year one, just like every other profession.
      Kids interested in becoming a pilot today are living the best possible scenario without any shadow of a doubt. But they have to keep in mind were in a recession that is about to get worse very soon. This won’t last long.
      My 2¢.

    7. Your “source” is a Reddit post.

      What a complete and total joke your article and you are.

      If you don’t know what you are talking about then please just don’t say anything. Remember better to remain quiet and thought a fool rather than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

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