Pilot school may be ticket to career, despite slump
Major U.S. airlines last year hired just 30 pilots, not enough to fill a standard school bus, according to a firm that tracks pilot hiring.
"It was the lowest total in airline history," said Louis Smith, president of Atlanta-based FltOps.com.
Government statistics don't paint a pretty picture for working or aspiring pilots, either. Department of Transportation data show passenger airlines employed 6.4 percent fewer pilots last year than in 2008.
Yet, industry experts say, this is the perfect time to get into a flight school and pursue a career in the cockpit.
"This business is always up and down, like shark's teeth," said airline consultant Kit Darby, based in Peachtree City, Ga.
It's good to start training during a downturn, he said.
"Job training and building the experience necessary to get a job takes time," Darby said. "If you start (training when the industry is) in the valley, you're going to be ready in the peak."
Airlines slashed pilot salaries, pensions and other benefits during the past decade, one of the most turbulent periods in the industry's history, and it remains unclear what impact airline mergers might have on employment. But experts think pilot hiring will increase in coming years as economic conditions improve and drive up passenger demand, and baby-boomer commercial pilots retire by the government-mandated age of 65.
JetBlue Airways hired 30 pilots last year, the only major domestic airline to hire any pilots in 2009, FltOps.com said. The website said AirTran Airways hired 66 pilots in the first five months of this year, the only major carrier to do so.
Smith predicts major airlines will hire more than 500 pilots by the end of the year, noting AirTran, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines are accepting applications. Starting annual salaries at the carriers range from $26,000 to $53,000, FltOps.com said.
Among the 18 regional carriers the website tracks, half are accepting applications. They offer starting annual salaries between $17,000 and $26,000.
Smith anticipates the nation's 13 major airlines will hire 42,000 pilots during the next 12 years, about 70 percent of them to replace retiring pilots. Predicted airline expansions would create 11,000 positions, Smith said.
"In the next few years, you're going to see the longest and largest expansion in hiring that we've seen," Smith said.
Almost all of the pilots will move up from regional and other smaller airlines, forcing those carriers to hire an identical number of pilots as the majors or more if they want to grow, Darby added. He estimated 8,000 to 10,000 pilots will be hired annually to meet the industry's needs.
That should bode well for pilots pursuing commercial licenses.
"This is a great time to start because, when you're done, you're going to have some opportunities waiting for you," said Mike Kramer, general manager of the Pittsburgh Flight Training Center, based at Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin.
Kramer said it takes five years, on average, for students with no flying experience to complete educational and licensing requirements and build up enough flight time — usually, 1,000 hours or more — to land entry-level jobs with regional carriers. Flight-school graduates typically become flight instructors to build up time.
That's Brad Kosko's game plan.
Kosko, 20, of Greensburg is working his way toward a commercial pilot's license at the Pittsburgh center. He hopes to become an instructor and wants to get 1,000 to 1,500 hours of flight time under his belt before pursuing a commercial job. He has 180 hours.
"To be honest, I'm quite optimistic," Kosko said. "Within the next five years, I think things are really going to start opening up. I'm planning on it working out pretty well for me."
But turbulent career conditions drove away Justin Snyder, 24, of Beaver Falls, who earned a pilot's license and served as a flight instructor at the Community College of Beaver County before deciding to pursue a career as an air traffic controller.
"I thought there would be more stability in air traffic control, and I knew I'd be able to go home every night and not be on the road all the time," he said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- MLB notebook: Tigers fire GM Dombrowski
- Catching on: Jeannette grad Pryor making progress with transition to receiver
- Steelers notebook: Spaeth on baby watch
- Steelers defensive end Tuitt shifts into high gear
- Delphi buys CMU spinoff that makes self-driving car software
- One man dead in McKees Rocks shooting
- Elsie Hillman, philanthropist and one-time GOP powerhouse, dies at 89
- N. Korean ship sought to pay judgement in lawsuit
- NFL Notebook: Texans RB Foster to have groin surgery
- Rossi: Pirates foolish to bet on Burnett return
- Gameday: Pirates vs. Cubs Aug. 5, 2015