You have certainly heard of the so-called “pilot shortage” by now.
Well, there isn’t one.
If you don’t believe me, consider the following data from the FAA that shows the number of estimated active Commercial and ATP airmen certificates in 2020 (2020 data is used because it is the most recent available across the board):
(This data can be found here on the FAA’s website, within this file.)
We can see here that for the year 2020, there were a combined total of 268,100 active commercial and ATP-certificated pilots.
Compare this number with the following data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:
(This data can be found here on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website)
We see that in 2020, there were just under 114,000 pilot jobs in the United States.
Combining this data, we see that in 2020 there were 268,100 legally-eligible pilots but only 114,000 pilots jobs.
Make no mistake - there is NO pilot shortage. There are enough active commercial pilots and ATPs out there to handle TWICE the number of flying jobs available. If anything, these numbers might lead one to the conclusion that there is actually a job shortage - but that cannot be the case, because every regional and major airline in the US is hiring in droves, and job boards are filled with open pilot jobs. So what gives?
The pilot shortage is actually a shortage of pilots willing to work for what employers are willing to pay. That is what this is.
To help illustrate this, if all pilot employers - from drop zones to survey companies to charter to airlines - were to suddenly offer a one million dollar per year salary for each of their pilot positions, this so-called “pilot shortage” would cease to exist. This is because every last one of those 268,500 active pilots would fill the 114,000 pilot job positions.
In fact, there’d be a job shortage: over half the active pilots would be unable to find work! And while the one million dollar per year salary in this thought experiment is unrealistic, there are many pilot employers, currently suffering from staffing issues, who easily have the financial margins to increase pilot compensation, yet they do not.
Flight schools love to throw around the idea of a “pilot shortage” because it means that due to this “shortage of pilots,” pilots will be all but guaranteed work in the future, and the expensive and demanding process of flight training will be worthwhile. This marketing ploy draws in students, which is good for business.
But no - there is no shortage of pilots. There is just a shortage of pilots willing to work for the incentives - including salary, benefits, and quality of life - currently offered by employers. That is it. When employers offer the appropriate incentives, those jobs will be filled.
This is all a lead in to an important rule that is near and dear to any professional pilot’s heart; one which directly impacts each of us as a part and all of us as a whole, and one, which, if not abided, can land you blacklisted amongst fellow professional pilots. This rule is simple: Never work for free (continued in Section 5 of The Pilot's Guide To Low Time Flying Jobs)
(This is an excerpt from The Pilot's Guide To Low Time Flying Jobs - learn more here)