The U.S. government imposes numerous rules to keep commercial airline pilots scarce. This is done under the guise of safety, but the rules don’t actually have anything to do with safety. They’re pushing by pilots unions to keep people out of the profession. That increases their bargaining power. It makes then difficult to replace.
For instance most U.S. commercial pilots need 1500 flight hours to get hired.
These aren’t focused hours, and some carriers report they need to train the bad habits new pilots pick up in search of those hours out of them. Europe, which is just as safe, doesn’t require this. But it was a ‘do something’ requirement after the Colgan Air crash in 2009 – a flight piloted by crew with more than 1500 hours each.
Another rule that limits the number of pilots who can fly is a mandatory retirement age of 65 even though pilots have to be individually health-certified to fly.
The largest airline pilots union, ALPA, opposes raising the retirement age. They face several contrary incentives.
- It means more pilots, when a pilot shortage means more leverage for unions.
- At the same time, a higher retirement age means more union members for longer. And those union members actually benefit by not being forced into retirement!
- Yet younger pilots want older pilots out! Since union contracts determine who flies which aircraft, which routes, and which schedules – and therefore how much a pilot gets paid – largely based on seniority, a higher retirement age while good for older union members is bad for younger ones.
With union opposition, the administration is opposed to the idea. Secretary of Being On TV Pete Buttigieg mocks the idea as relying on the boomer generation indefinitely, and suggests it compromises safety. Critics retorted that the President is 80.
Though it has no shot of becoming law with Republicans in the minority, Republican Senators are proposing raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 noting that “14,000 pilots would be forced to retire over the next four years” at age 65.
Secretary Buttigieg calls this a temporary fix though it would permanently expand the pool of pilots (perhaps by 5%). But unless he shifts his position on other barriers to entry into the profession (or supports standard for fewer pilots in the cockpit as technology advances), we aren’t going to see permanent fixes.