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U.S. needs pilots but their education is too expensive

Staff Writer |
The Regional Airline Association (RAA) acknowledged the suspension of flight operations of long-time member, Great Lakes Aviation.

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Once serving numerous routes in many states and employing 1,600 individuals, the airline has been highly exposed to a growing pilot shortage that has forced even larger carriers to cancel service and reduce frequency in recent years.

Despite a constant pursuit of solutions to protect its employees and customers during this ever-increasing, industry-wide crisis, Great Lakes was forced to suspend all scheduled flight operations on March 26.

As a result, several communities and hundreds of passengers have been left without air service. This is the latest example of the pilot shortage and its damaging impact on American businesses and communities.

For the past forty years, Great Lakes Aviation stood as a committed partner to small communities, often providing a community’s only source of scheduled air service.

On March 26, Great Lakes supported 216 direct employees and fueled hundreds more indirect jobs. That number is expected to drop precipitously, even as Great Lakes takes every step to maintain some of its operations including its reservations and code share support for smaller carriers.

RAA President Faye Malarkey Black said the problem of pilot supply is not limited to Great Lakes but is endemic throughout the regional airline industry. “As unprecedented numbers of major airline pilots reach mandatory retirement age, those airlines are hiring regional airline pilots at a rate that outpaces the supply of new pilots entering the pipeline,” said Black.

At the same time, an element of the 2013 First Officer Qualification Rule, which emphasized high flight time for pilot qualification, elongated and narrowed the pilot career path, increased training costs for aspiring pilots and created a new barrier of entry - making it incredibly difficult for new pilots to obtain the training and experience needed to take flight.

Pilots may now spend as much as $200,000 for education and training and up to two years between graduation and hire accumulating flight time outside of the structured training environment.

Pilots do not receive additional training during this time and the emphasis on flight hours has translated into reduced proficiency among pilot candidates qualified for hire. In fact, airlines now fail out more pilot candidates than before the rule.

“A pilot’s lifetime earnings are higher than ever, and the ROI on training is excellent – better than doctors and lawyers. Unfortunately, most Americans lack the wealth or ability to secure private loans needed to access this career in the first place,” Black said.

Solutions to the pilot shortage are within reach. Pay increases and other market-based solutions have already been undertaken.

A pilot’s training costs, however, are extraordinarily high, and attempts to lower these costs and facilitate airline support for pilot training have been met with political resistance and cynical, false accusations of circumventing safety.

“Enough is enough. To resolve the pilot shortage, we must embrace safety-centered solutions that reduce the high barriers of entry to the pilot career, provide for more structured and qualitative training and lower the cost of training for aspiring pilots.” Black said.

“We applaud our long-time Board Member Doug Voss and his team at Great Lakes for their years of dedication to small community air service.

“We will support Great Lakes in any way we can while we continue to work with Washington policymakers to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Black added.

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