by Brian Carhide
In 2012, the Mayan calendar will not be the only thing ending. In December, the U.S. airline industry will again be faced with attrition as a result of pilots forced to retire, at the age of 65 (formerly age 60). The FAA rule change in December of 2007 has created five years of stagnation in pilot retiring/hiring, along with the declining economy. In the last five years, pilots have been retiring solely based on their own decisions and not on a federal regulation.
Recently, the airline industry has slightly rebounded, and the last year and a half has provided steady hiring at the regional level; hiring appears to be remaining steady through 2012. There has been speculation and anticipation building in the industry about what will happen come December 2012. There has been a significant amount of chatter of a looming pilot shortage. There is some truth to a pilot shortage; however, that shortage will have a greater impact in the Asian aviation markets as Asian airlines continue to grow and purchase airplanes. I think we will see a slight increase in hiring after December in the U.S., at all levels from CFIs to the major airlines.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to attend two pilot job fairs and mingle with pilot hiring managers from American Eagle to United Airlines, all which exhibited a nervous tone when discussing the future need for pilots within their company. American Eagle has been the regional airline of 2011 for hiring ERAU pilots, based on the current bridge agreement with American Eagle. However, recently American Eagle’s parent company, American Airlines, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, in case you haven’t heard. Obviously the hiring surge from AE has ended for 2012. American Eagle hiring managers are confident hiring will resume in the near future.
Although AE, a viable choice for low time pilots, has ceased hiring for 2012, there continues to be alternate opportunities. A recent trend in the industry is partnerships such as the Cape Air/jetBlue University Gateway Program and the newly released ExpressJet/Delta Air Lines Pilot Pathway Program. These programs are similar in that they provide aspiring pilots a guided path beginning as early as their sophomore year, through to becoming a major airline pilot. Although nothing is guaranteed, especially in the airline industry, the programs can provide pilots the foresight into a more secure career path.
The question students ask me the most: how do I build flight time? Obtain a CFI and flight instruct, albeit many pilots strive to find another way to accomplish the time building phase of a pilot’s career; in the end it proves advantageous. No matter which way you look at it, flight instructing will place you in another league! (Believe me; hiring managers are aware of this fact). In 2011, flight instructor positions were in abundance, and I have little doubt it will continue in 2012. Honestly, there is probably not a state in this country which does not have available CFI jobs, not even Alaska!
As many of us know, the aviation industry is unpredictable and cyclical. Do everything you can to open doors – take advantage of internships, job fairs, and the Career Services Office. The 2012 year should prove to be a fortuitous year for pilots.
Brian Carhide has more than 20 years of professional aviation experience. He spent many years as a professional pilot, including experience as a charter and airline pilot. Recently, he has been a leader in guiding young aviators in higher education at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.