Now is a good time to be an airline pilot. Unique from any other time in the history of aviation factors are culminating to create a pilot shortage. Despite this there are actions being taken by the airlines already that will inevitably alleviate at least some of the burden. In addition it is conceivable that the regulatory bodies will change some proposed legislation if the shortage becomes an epidemic.
Factors that contribute heavily toward the impending shortage include age 65 pilots retiring, new Airline Transport Pilot requirements for first officers, stricter rest requirements, and an improving economy. We are already witnessing regional airlines offering sign-on bonuses in conjunction with the inability to fill new hire classes. Keep in mind the new rest rules and Airline Transport Pilot requirements have not even been put into effect yet so perhaps this is simply “the writing on the wall.” Re-absorption of flying from the regional airlines to the major airlines which is already occurring will reduce somewhat the amount of pilots required, however this is also beneficial for all pilots due to increased pay and quality of life as well as movement within the regional airlines. If current proposed legislation concerning Airline Transport Pilot requirements and rest rules holds, I predict a firestorm of canceled and delayed flights due to lack of air crews. After viewing the effects of sequestration on air traffic controllers do you trust law makers to have the necessary knowledge and foresight to avoid such a pilot shortage? If the implementation of the age 65 rule, fuel prices, and a bad economy created stagnation, then pilots this time will be in the driver’s seat.
It is possible that as in any career there is no such thing as a shortage, however rather simply lack of incentive to join that career field. If aircraft seats are not able to be quickly filled it is possible that the starting pay for airline pilots may have to be increased. In association with this it is likely that the price of airline tickets would also go up slightly to help off set the price. Airlines have historically typically not been especially profitable, however have had an over supply of pilots which have drastically lowered the starting wages. This is now a new test for the industry to maintain the same level of safety, while maintaining profitability and a cheap pilot labor force. If the airlines are not able maintain safety with cheap sub standard pilots then there will be no choice, but to increase wages which will increase ticket prices.