Pilot shortage: 'When there is demand for pilots, that demand can’t get filled instantly'

Aviation experts all agree, that there’s currently a pilot shortage.

Adam Kephart of Galvin Flying said the shortage isn’t for a lack of interest. 

The full-service flight school reports the number of students jumped from 300 to more than 400 in the last few years, but usually, only about 10 percent of students plan to become a career pilot.

Kephart is currently a Front Office Administrator and plans on teaching full-time as a flight instructor these next two years to fulfill the federal government’s mandated flight hours.

To fly for an airline, usually, a minimum of 1,500 hours are required. It’s also not unreasonable to see total costs soar up to $100,000 to $200,000 to pay for all the required certificates and ratings.

"You have to be very careful because it cost a lot of money, and it takes a lot of time to become an airline pilot," said Kephart. "When folks are trying to make that decision, they’re weighing how much does it cost, how much time will it take me and still trying to figure out--even if they think there’s a big demand for pilots right now--is it worth it for me to go down that route."

Alaska Airlines said more than 10,000 pilots left the industry during the pandemic.

Alaska Airlines continues to see 'significant' flight cancellations as pilots picket

Dozens of Alaska Airlines flights at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were canceled Friday and Saturday. Officials said they are connected to the shortage of pilots.

In recent days, Alaska canceled dozens of flights which impacted thousands of passengers. The company issued an apology on Thursday.

In its release, the airline said it had 63 fewer pilots prepared to fly in April, citing training delays due to the Omicron surge earlier this year:

"To bring new pilots into our ranks, we launched a new pilot academy, founded a program to develop and support BIPOC pilots and continue to support the careers of pilots that want to move from our regional carrier Horizon Air to a job at Alaska."

"When there is demand for pilots, that demand can’t get filled instantly," said Jimmy Anderson, an aviation attorney. "We need to make it easier for people to get their pilots licenses and get through the process so that it’s not so expensive and time-consuming."

Anderson went to flight school in Eastern Washington and graduated from Central Washington University as a pilot before going on to study aviation law.

He explains in the past, there were events that made it easier for airlines to pick up the demand for pilots, which we haven’t seen in more recent years.

"We’ve had World War II and the Vietnam War, which created a lot of pilots that didn’t stay in the military after they were done with their flying education and their military schools. After both of those events, we had a whole history of going from three-person crew of an aircraft to two-person crew of an aircraft that created an extra load of pilots that were on the market," said Anderson, "and then most recently, the age for mandatory retirement for airline pilots went from 60 to 65 and again that created a whole bunch of extra pilots."

As for Kephart, he’s currently enrolled in the Horizon Pilot Development program, which he said will help defray some costs. 

"The airlines are definitely starting to recognize that with incentives like that, they’re able to get a few more people in the pipeline," said Kephart. "At some point, I’ll hopefully make it the first step Horizon and then work my way through on up to Alaska."

In the meantime, Anderson doesn’t believe flight disruptions will continue to be an issue in the long-term. He said airlines will reduce the number of flights, which Alaska said it plans to do in the short-term through June as a temporary solution.

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