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Myth vs. Fact

Sifting through the misinformation surrounding the pilot shortage.


MYTH:   There is no pilot shortage, just a pay shortage. If airlines are having trouble recruiting pilots, it is because they are not paying enough or offering a career path.

FACT:    First year pilot pay has increased dramatically in the past five years. In some cases, it has doubled to more than $60,000 plus bonuses. But airlines continue to struggle to recruit new pilots. There simply are not enough pilots to meet the industry’s growing demand. A bag of money cannot fly an airplane.

MYTH:   The market will solve this problem.

FACT:    In “solving” this problem, the market will create many more problems. Without more pilots, airlines will need to cut much more service. That means many more jobs will be lost, economic activity will be curtailed, airports will be stranded, and entire communities including their economic drivers will be forced to relocate or shrink substantially.

MYTH:   Efforts to address a pilot shortage jeopardize air safety.

FACT:    Safety is the top priority of every stakeholder in the aviation industry, including the AWA. Increasing the supply of pilots can and must be done safely. In fact, AWA’s proposed solutions will improve safety by incorporating best available technology and most recent research in pilot training and time building.

MYTH:   Air service to small communities is impacted by economics, not pilot supply. Access to many small communities has increased since 2012. Newer and larger aircraft have increased the number of seats available to many small communities.

FACT:    Many airports have been cut off completely from commercial air service since 2013. Cities including Telluride, Colo., Cheyenne, Wyo., and Salinas, Kan. are now completely disconnected due to a lack of pilots.

MYTH:   Air service to small communities can be secured with government subsidies like the Essential Air Service program.

FACT:    EAS can solve an economic shortfall, but not a pilot shortage. Two airlines who relied almost exclusively on government subsidies have already closed down due to a lack of qualified pilots. Despite the fact that their revenue was guaranteed by EAS, Great Lakes Airlines closed down in 2018 because the carrier did not have enough pilots to operate.

MYTH:   Since the passage of the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010, which strengthened pilot rest and experience requirements, there hasn’t been a single US airline passenger fatality.

FACT:    There have been four fatal accidents involving US air carriers since the 2010 law:

– a cargo fire on UPS flight 6 caused a crash near Dubai International Airport, killing the captain and first officer,

– in 2013, UPS flight 1354 crashed on approach to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in 2013, also killing the flight crew of two,

– National Airlines flight 102 crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, killing all seven on board, and

– Southwest Airlines flight 1380 experienced a fatal accident following an uncontained engine failure, one passenger was killed.

MYTH:  In the 20 years prior to congressional action to increase pilot training requirements, more than 1100 passengers died in airline accidents.

FACT:    Over 97 percent of US airline fatalities since 1990 were attributed to catastrophic failure or terrorism, not pilot error. No amount of pilot training could have prevented the vast majority of airline fatalities over the past several decades:

– American flight 587 crashed in New York City in 2001 due to an equipment failure, killing all 260 on board and another five on the ground,

– Alaska Airlines flight 261 crashed off the California coast in 2000 due to an equipment failure, killing all 88 on board,

– United flight 826 experienced severe clear-air turbulence en route from Tokyo to Honolulu in 1997, killing one passenger and injuring many others,

– TWA flight 800 crashed off of Long Island, NY in 1996 due to an equipment failure, killing all 230 passengers and crew,

– ValuJet flight 592 crashed in the Florida Everglades in 1996 due to an equipment failure, killing all 110 passengers and crew,

– USAir flight 427 crashed on approach to Pittsburgh International Airport in 1994 due to an equipment failure, killing all 132 on board,

– United flight 585 crashed on approach to Colorado Springs Municipal Airport in 1991 due to an equipment failure, killing all 30 on board.

MYTH:   Air travel in North America today is the safest mode of transportation in the world, due in no small measure to the pilot training and experience required in the 2010 legislation.

FACT:    Over 90 percent of American pilots flying today were trained prior to the requirements in the 2010 legislation. No other countries have matching requirements yet air travel around the world is the safest it has ever been. This trend is thanks to advancements in aircraft technology and the quality – not quantity – of pilot training. Finally, when airports lose service, passengers are left with no option but to drive to a larger airport, which is considerably more dangerous than air travel.

MYTH:   Once pilots obtain a commercial pilot license, they are usually hired for entry-level commercial flying, including certified flight instruction, air taxi, charter, and Part 135 operations. This is where they practice their skills before becoming an airline pilot.

FACT:    Entry-level commercial flying is predominantly flight instruction, which pays an average of $20 per hour. The vast majority of new pilots accumulate their required hours as Certified Flight Instructors (CFI), teaching the basics to cadets with even less experience than they have. It typically takes years as a CFI to accumulate the requisite hours, and very little of that flying time is challenging or representative of the rigors of airline piloting.

MYTH:   There is no substitute for real-world experience when it comes to pilot training.

FACT:    The vast majority of new pilots accumulate hours as flight instructors, meaning they only fly in optimal conditions, in airspace with very little traffic, and without complicated maneuvers or flight plans. For the most part, the requisite 1500 hours are acquired by flying in circles while showing a novice pilot the ropes.

MYTH:   There can’t be a pilot shortage because the FAA issued more ATPs than available pilot jobs.

FACT:    In 2017, the FAA actually issued far fewer ATPs than needed to meet carriers’ demand for new pilots. More importantly, airlines are self-reporting an inability to recruit qualified pilots. No statistic taken out of context can refute the realities of pilot recruitment at American carriers.