Skip to comments.Addressing the National Pilot Shortage
Posted on 06/06/2017 4:07:37 AM PDT by Kaslin
For the 115th Congress that began on January 2017, I became the Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. In this new position, I deal with a wide range of issue that impact our national security. One somewhat surprising issue the committee is currently confronting is a growing military pilot shortage. Right now, the U.S. Air Force alone is short more than 1,500 pilots and the short fall is increasing yearly.
In return for their flight training, most pilots sign an initial service commitment of about 12 years. When their obligated service ends, many, but not all, of these pilots are leaving to fly for commercial airlines. The airlines typically offer somewhat better pay and more significantly, a lifestyle that does not involve lengthy overseas deployments and regularly relocating their families.
A recent change in the laws regarding commercial pilots has aggravated the situation. This change increased the number of flight hours a pilot must have to qualify for an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. Congress mandated this change in the Federal Aviation Administration Extension (FAA) Act of 2010 after a fatal airline accident in New York in 2009 that killed 50 people. The change in the laws upped the flying hours required for an ATP license from 250 to 1,500 hours for most pilots, but has an exception that only requires military pilots to have 750 hours of flight time to receive an ATP. As a result of these changes, commercial airlines are heavily recruiting military pilots.
The cost to our nation when we lose these military pilots is staggering. According to testimony presented by U.S. Air Force General Gina Grosso, hearing on the Military Pilot Shortage, the estimated total cost to fully train a F-35 fighter pilot is approximately $11 million dollars. This is in addition to the impact these losses have to the readiness of our military for combat. As a nation, we simply cant afford to lose these experienced pilots. Currently, each branch of service is developing plans to retain its pilots with ideas that include everything from reducing nonflying collateral duties, to increasing the incentive pay for pilots to remain on active duty.
It is clear to me that the military cant simply buy its way out of this problem. I hear regularly from pilots that their decision to leave is not simply about the money. So to tackle this problem I propose we take a number of different steps.
First, on May 22, 2017 I sent a letter asking the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to review the increased flight hours requirement. The letter urges it to include a requirement in the Federal Aviation Authority Reauthorization Act, to have the FAA revisit the flight hour qualifications to see if they can be reduced without compromising safety.
Second, I am pushing the Air Force to take a look at placing more flying slots in the Air Force Reserve and in the Air National Guard. The Reserve and the Guard aircraft are largely flown by pilotswho have completed their initial active duty obligation and are fully trained. Pilots in the Guard and the Reserve typically are now pursuing a commercial aviation career but are also willing to stay current as a military pilot and are willing to be mobilized, as needed.
The accelerating pilot shortage impacts both military and commercial aviation and to solve it we must look at these ideas and more. Congress must make sure that the military has the additional tools to make longer active duty service more attractive, consider redistributing flying slots to the Guard and the Reserve, and take a closer look at the 1,500 hour rule that discourages talented young men and women from entering into the commercial airline industry and forces the airlines to recruit military pilots.
Solving this challenge will not only have a positive impact in our defense capabilities, but will also have an impact on our national economy-- as commerce and trade, both nationally and internationally, is enhanced when planes are taking off on time and safely with qualified pilots at the controls.
EAA and other Aviation organizations have been well aware of the present and future pilot shortage for at least ten years. I am quite sure some of the blame, if we are blaming, can be place squarely on the Obama administration for their shrinking of the military budget as well as the military itself.
It will take a long time to reverse the damage he has done. Can President Trump do it in eight years? Maybe, but I doubt it. It will most likely take much longer.
After the Colgan air accident in Buffalo NY the primary drivers of the rule change to require all airline new hires to possess an ATP rating were Senators Clinton and Schumer.
Another huge factor is the rapidly expanding airline industry in the developing world. Indian’s airline industry alone is expanding about 40% per year. India has virtually zero general aviation and literally zero flight schools. They, like the rest of the world, hire mostly western pilots.
As you know there are plenty of qualified pilots available to fly for the Regional carriers but not at low wages and poor work conditions.
Bring back the Flying Sergeants !
"It would be much better to offer citizenship to pilots from Yemen and Somalia than it would be to allow free-market forces to increase wages to American-born pilots."
— Our Elite Establishment.
I suspect that drones will be a big part of this solution. We’re heading for driverless cars and trucks. I think transport and passenger planes could manage with no one on board. That decision may not really be “smart” but The Powers That Be may decide that this decision “makes economic sense”.
“They, like the rest of the world, hire mostly western pilots.”
Well daa, otherwise their air traffic controllers wouldn’t be able to understand them.
I dont have time to post right now because I’ve got to go fly a trip. The pilot shortage is a storm brewing on the world’s horizon. America will be hit the hardest because of government mismanagement. Airlines in America will start going out of business because of it. Small cities all across this country will lose airline service forcing people to drive to airline hubs. This will result in a higher fatality rate. The net result will be the destruction of American Airline industry and more dead Americans.
Congress has no business addressing this “shortage”. The invisible hand of the market has and will always, fix this.
Congress has no business addressing this shortage.
...except for the fact that to some degree they caused it.
11 million to train a fighter pilot? Give the military pilots a $2 million bonus to reenlist.
Another huge factor is the rapidly expanding airline industry in the developing world. Indians airline industry alone is expanding about 40% per year. India has virtually zero general aviation and literally zero flight schools. They, like the rest of the world, hire mostly western pilots.
That’s a big factor and I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned in the article.
That is just it. When the market for commercial pilots makes it a very attractive choice to leave the military, then it makes sense to increase bonuses as part of retention.
“....with qualified pilots at the controls.”
Well, there you have the solution right there. Just change the definition of “qualified” until you have enough pilots to meet the demand.
Getting an ATP has always been required for left seat drivers of scheduled air carriers (even small one like Cape Air, which flies the 402C). The cost of getting the ATP has become so prohibitive ($60,000-$90,000) that the only sources are military training or civilian multi-engine instructing, the latter yielding perhaps $25,000/year wages, weather permitting. Obviously, military training is preferable to airlines. But you can find trailer dwellers at all larger airports, where six new co-pilots share a trailer and three beds as they cannot afford anything better.
In the final analysis, if you want a flying career you have to be ready to sacrifice a lot. Far fewer people these days are willing to.
The time for pilotless aircraft is at hand.