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Pilot Shortage ‘Isn’t Real,’ ALPA Says

The union claims that there's a surplus of airline pilots.

A Horizon Air Embraer E175 at Seattle’s Paine Field. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Zera)

Following several years of record pilot hiring at U.S. airlines, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is saying that there is a surplus of commercial aviators and that the pilot shortage “isn’t real.” In a recent Tweet, the world’s largest pilots union – which represents over 77,000 pilots at mainline and regional carriers – pushed back against ongoing legislative efforts to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67.

“The pilot shortage isn’t real. In fact, there’s a surplus of airline pilots. Yet Congress is considering raising the pilot retirement age to 67, which will hurt air travel,” the Thursday post said. The union has strongly opposed proposals to raise the mandatory retirement age, citing a slew of potential operational and training issues.

In February, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 14-13 to reject a proposal raising the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots. Both ALPA and the Allied Pilots Association (APA) – which represents American Airlines pilots – say that similar proposals are still on the table in Congress.

“The argument hinges on a false claim that there’s a pilot shortage, even though there are more than enough pilots to meet current demand, with plenty more in the training pipeline,” ALPA said in a recent Politico article. “Raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 to address this fake pilot shortage is nothing more than an ill-conceived plan to a fake problem.”

Despite ALPA’s claims, consultancy firm Oliver Wyman expects the gap between pilot supply and demand to be around 13,300 by 2032, which is a 23% improvement from the group’s 2022 projections. In 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also issued a record number of Airline Transport Pilots (ATP) certifications.

Regional Airlines Still Struggling

Regional carriers continue to be some of the hardest hit by a shortage of pilots. In a recent presentation, the Regional Airline Association (RAA) – a trade group – said, “We can’t believe we have to say this, but an abrupt, temporary hiring disruption — driven entirely by an abrupt aircraft delivery disruption — is not the same thing as fixing the pilot shortage.”

The RAA claims that an aging pilot workforce coupled with aircraft delivery woes at mainline carriers is only temporarily moderating the pilot shortage. Several regional airlines continue to shell out lucrative sign-on bonuses, especially for captains as they look to retain pilots in the left seat.

On Thursday, regional carrier GoJet announced a new bonus structure for direct-entry captains with up to $200,000 “paid out within the first 12 months without any contractual obligations or strings attached.” The company says that captains will have the ability to earn over $400,000 during their first year of employment. ALPA represents GoJet pilots along with aviators at several other regional operators in the U.S. and Canada.

“We can hire first officers. I think almost every regional airline right now has a stack of first officers,” said CommuteAir CEO Rick Hoefling during an October 2023 interview with AirlineGeeks. “The problem is building their time at the same time you’re attriting out captains at a pretty high rate in the industry. We went from a pilot shortage to a captain shortage now in the industry. So the pendulum is starting to move.”

Major airlines – including Southwest, Delta, and United – have slowed or completely halted pilot hiring in 2024.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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