REPERCUSSIONS OF DEMAND
Airline hiring boom reverberates throughout the pilot community
By John Boyce, Contributing Editor
An unusual but not unprecedented jump in airline pilot hirings over the past few years has led to a situation which has many flight schools scrambling for flight instructors. At the same time, it may be having an effect on the quality of training received at the entry level.
airlines, enjoying a boom over the past three to five years, are hiring
some 5,000 pilots per year and don’t have a shortage. However, they
are getting many of those pilots from national and regional carriers,
who, in turn, get the bulk of their pilots from the ranks of Certified
Flight Instructors (CFI). To fill their pilot seats, the regional and
commuter carriers have been reducing their minimum flight hours, which
means the CFIs aren’t staying with flight schools as long as they
had to in the past to build up hours. Thus, a flight instructor shortage.
"I don’t think there’s any question," says David Kennedy at the National Air Transportation Association, "that the airlines are hiring a bunch of people and that is creating a downstream problem for flight schools."
Kit Darby, president and founder of AIR Inc. of Atlanta, which tracks aviation hiring trends, says, "All the regionals are having severe turnover problems. They averaged between 50 and 70 percent of their pilots hired last year and they’re extremely busy hiring and training new pilots. And they’re losing them to the major airlines almost as fast as they do that. That (regional airlines) is where the flight instructors find their first jobs. It’s sort of a top down problem, where we’re hiring a lot at the top and it pulls pilots through the whole system....
"There are (flight) schools out there that are unable to do business. They’re unable to expand or even maintain their current business due to the lack of flight instructors."
"Absolutely," says Sean Elliott, executive director of the National Associa-tion of Flight Instructors, when asked if airline hiring has created a vacuum at the bottom end of the pilot pipeline. "You look at the hiring minimums of the airlines and they have gone down and down consistently over the last three years. They have reduced the number of hours required, the type of equipment flown. What used to be a three-year process to get to the regional job is now a 12-month process....
"We’ve seen a lot of the instructor ranks move on to the higher paying jobs, which has done two things: It’s created a shortage; and, it has started an increase in the CFI pay scale, which is a really good thing."
Leslie Erb, who runs a flight school at his FBO in Centralia, IL, Airgo, Inc., says of the situation, "Normally, a beginning pilot comes to us with zero time and we instruct him up to flight instructor, which is about 250 hours. He would usually stay with us until about 1,500 hours, which is two years. Now, they (regionals) pick him up with 500 hours. It’s difficult for us to keep people here but it’s also difficult for charter operators, freight operators, and the airlines. Everybody is having the same problem."
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