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For us travelers, we tend to overlook the folks who get us from point A to point B. Whether it be the cab driver, hotel receptionist, or flight attendant, these jobs are necessary to have a functioning hospitality industry. However, airplane pilots are hard to come by.
There were about 827,000 pilots in 1987. That number has decreased by 30% since then. To add to the dilemma, the International Air Transport Association says that air travel will double over the next 20 years.
In short, travelers and the airlines are in trouble.
The airline industry earns more than $1.5 trillion & creates more than 10 million jobs according to Airlines For America. And the pilots are the backbone. But, how did we get to this point? Let’s go back in time for a moment.
In the 1970s, becoming a pilot was considered a prestigious career. In that time, going into the military was a very popular route after high school. If a candidate was involved in military aviation and passed their training, they were nearly guaranteed a career with a major airline afterwards. And not just any job, but a job with a high salary and great benefits.
But now, fewer people are enlisting in the military, and training falls on the airline. To compound the issue, the cost of training new pilots has tripled since the 1990s!
Not only that, but the salaries and benefits are nowhere near as robust as they once were. Recently, Air France and Ryanair employees went on strike for better pay and work conditions. This left thousands of travelers stranded.
Another layer to this issue is the lack of diversity in pilots. Only about 7% of pilots are female, while nearly 80% of flight attendants are female.
So who is going to suffer the most from all of this? Well, everyone, including non-travelers. But especially, those who fly on commuter flights, or fly out of smaller airports on regional airlines. Because those will be the first cuts.
From my perspective, it’s simply not a career catered toward the new workforce. It often doesn’t pay as well as other jobs, like a software engineer. And there is distrust from the public towards the airlines. Plus, this job is a “lifestyle” rather than just a career because you’ll be working non-traditional hours.
Our labor needs in the US are for jobs that require a commitment to learning a specialized skill, such as car mechanics, airplane mechanics, and pilots. The new workforce is looking for jobs they can go to, and leave behind. Unfortunately, many are still sold on the idea that going to college is going to plop you into a successful career. Meanwhile, there are millions of jobs that sit empty.
While low unemployment is a good thing, unfortunately, it can halt our lives as consumers. The government and the airline companies need to work together on a solution that is good for all parties.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Hopefully, I’ll see one of you as my next pilot!