Aviators' Thoughts

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Response to AOPA article on looming “Pilot Shortage”

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This is a response to an article that appeared on AOPA Online a few days ago. If you would like to read the article first, go to: http://www.aopa.org/training/articles/2009/091007delta.html
Mr. Ian Twombly
AOPA
 
Dear Ian,
 
I recently read your article about the looming pilot “shortage” at the flight school meeting in Sanford, FL. While I thought your article was well laid out, I think it ignored some important points about the current state of both pilot training and the current employment situation.
 
First of all, as of right now there is currently absolutely NO pilot shortage. For every job there are hundreds of resumes. I myself have been without employment for nearly 9 months, sent out hundreds of applications and am all over the web. Still my phone doesn’t ring (even for contract)  I have a friend who is a quality flight instructor who has literally driven around FL and so far found NOTHING. I have had several extensive conversations with him to keep his spirits up, to tell him to not abandon his flight career. The pool of highly-qualified pilots will take a considerable amount of time to be reduced, and while I think the worst is over, it is by no means back to normal. In addition, there are other issues this meeting needs to address immediately which I did not see covered in the article. I think that conclusions can be reached easily.
 
1.) On the training side, the number one issue that was barely addressed was financing. I find it hard to believe that the meeting did not more extensively talk about this primal issue. Those who want to get flight training cant get money (I believe the number is as high as 30 percent). Sallie mae has cut off ALL funding for flight training as has the GI bill. This is why if you walked around DCA you would find most of the pilots to be foreign nationals and NOT domestic students. Unless and Until the financing issue is addressed flight schools will continue to suffer and more pilots will be out of work.Those that would normally turn to flight instructing, cannot due to lack of students. Just here in FL alone, five flight schools have closed down due to funding and financing issues, I have been a victim of one such closure.
 
2.) The pay issue. With the new generation of pilots being minted, we are asking them for sacrifices that are simply unacceptable. While every pilot needs to “pay their dues”. Having pilots flying multi-million dollar aircraft for 18K a year is simply a travesty. Teachers and toll takers on the parkway make a higher starting salary. Yet we find it acceptable to pay substandard wages to professional pilots with 100s of lives in our hands. Pay MUST be increased on all pilot segments (from training up). Many of these flight schools that are complaining about shortages are the same that have cut instructor wages by as much as 50 percent,eliminated benefits, or forced their instructors to accept part-time work. From the instructor to the 747 Captain, we are professionals and should be at least paid a living wage. I do not think the current generation is going to accept the current rate of pay and lack of benefits when much higher starting salaries beckon for less intensive industries.
 
The meeting should also address the incredibly strict standards that many private companies are currently demanding. Since there is no shortage of pilots at this time, many companies will not pay for type ratings, recurrent or want you ALREADY current (both 91 and 135). How are the thousands of pilots out of work for months going to get this currency, especially at the wages they were being paid. I have the same issue. Caught in a catch 22 were my currency is running out, but I do not have the money to get training. This could also go back to the financing questions since many of us have found our credit lines cut while still trying to make rent and mortgages. We often talk about safety, about training, but many companies are not willing to put up the funds needed at this time to keep their best pilots trained and current.
 
4.) I believe the article should have addressed the POSSIBLE ‘long-term” shortage of pilots in the future. The lack of funding, low wages and increasing regulation are turning off many from the industry. No one would argue that the “glory days” are over. This sets up a scenario of what I call “dry up from below”. The regional’s and flight schools will no longer see the supply of eager (and cheap) pilots, for a while and it will take considerable time given the current state of affairs. On the flip side, many are hoping the “age 65” rule will force many of the older pilots out of the airlines and free up the movement for other pilots to enter the workforce. This assumption is based on a forecast rate of growth (highly speculative) and that many of these men and women might leave early. Keep in mind that a lot of the older pilots are working to 65 because their pensions and 401ks have ben decimated by the economy. Many of these pilots will only leave at the last second and it will be at least 2 more years before this happens. There is also the danger of airlines simply “out sourcing” pilots to fly their aircraft ( a good example would be the United/Air Lingus partnership where 3rd party crews are going to fly the Air Lingus planes). This is done, not because of a “shortage” but because those 3rd party crews ARE CHEAPER. We run the risk of making the pilot profession one of the most regulated, labor intensive and most poorly paid profession in the United States.
 
I am not trying to paint a “gloom and doom” picture here. While I throw great support behind AOPA and NBAA in advocating business and general aviation,talk is simply not enough. It is time for REAL ACTION. It is time that we talked to the general public and not just the aviation industry about what makes GA great. It is time to stop being afraid of our business, hiding in the shadows because GA and business aviation is not currently socially acceptable. It is time we showed the world real examples of how the crisis in general aviation is hurting real people like myself. I believe there will be a “pilot shortage” eventually, but it will may be because of our own inaction.
 
It is time we lead by our deeds and not our words.
 
Sincerely,
 
Clint A. White
tdwnds1@aol.com
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Written by tdwnds1

October 9, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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