Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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Its a Great Time to Become a Pilot...

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Graph showing pilots are hardest hit by retirement of baby boomers

Aviation is perhaps the most dynamic and resilient industry in the world.  And whether you attribute the current hiring hiatus to cyclical downturn or September 11th, don't count on it lasting too long.  Industry experts agree that there's never been a better time to become a pilot.  According to AIR Inc., the Atlanta based career information service for airline pilots, hiring totaled over 19,000 pilots in 2000, and was on its way to 15,000 – 17,000 in 2001.  And while the interruption in airline travel post 9/11 caused a dramatic slowdown in pilot hiring, industry experts anticipate hiring levels to quickly reach earlier levels. 

One reason for this is that there's a mandatory retirement from airline flying at age 60.  With thousands of pilots from the Viet Nam-era and post deregulation hitting that age, opportunities for future pilots look promising.  But the majors are not the only place to fly for a living.  Today, airlines are shifting more service to smaller aircraft, requiring more pilots, despite recent schedule cuts.  Smaller planes that carry 50 passengers, or one-sixth of the 300-seat airliners, will obviously require six times as many pilots to carry the same number of people.  Such “regional jets” are increasingly used by commuter and regional carriers and offer attractive jet jobs earlier in a pilot's career.  Don't forget about charter and air taxi, either.  Many travelers prefer charter flights because they offer greater control and flexibility in travel arrangements.  Demand for these services boomed after 9/11, reports AIR Inc., and caused a shortage in some markets. 

Graph showing the US Air Force pilot shortage

One welcome side effect in the airlines’ hiring slowdown is that colleges & training programs have been able to retain flight instructors for longer periods before they are scooped up by the airlines, building a buffer of experience that had almost been exhausted before the downturn.  The lull will undoubtedly result in better qualified and more marketable pilots.

So, it seems that the future for aspiring pilots is considerably rosier than it originally seemed, with Aviation Careers Magazine predicting a full recovery in the next year or two.  If you’re thinking about a career in the cockpit, there's no time like the present. 

If you are 12 to 16 years of age, contact your local Civil Air Patrol to become involved.

If you are 14 to 16 years of age, consider getting your Private Pilot in Gliders.  The cost is lower and when you are ready to get your Airplane Pilot's certificate, you already have most of the work done.

If you are 16 years of age or older, see Eight Steps to an Airline Career for advice getting started.

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