Obviously the news that everybody is talking about is the Covid-19 infection and its spread around the world. The airlines have of course been hit particularly hard by this as several countries have enacted travel bans and many people are choosing to simply stay home. All of the major airlines have announced cuts to their schedules and there is a great amount of uncertainty in the industry.
So what does all of this mean to you, the prospective pilot who is considering spending a large amount of money to pursue flight training and a career at the airlines? Will we go from a pilot shortage to a pilot surplus? Should you postpone your training until the situation improves? The following is simply my opinion, but it is based on my fifteen years in the airline industry, combined with my family’s continuous eighty (80) years of flying airliners.
The recent pilot shortage is something new. Sixteen years ago when Adam and I began our training, there were very few (if any) major airlines that were hiring. The regionals were hiring, but it was not the pilot free-for-all that it is now. Pilots would apply to several airlines and whichever one called you for an interview was likely the one you were going to go to. Interviews were much tougher and people actually got turned down for jobs. I was turned down at my first airline interview (which turned out to be the best thing that could have possibly happened to my career). Even though it was much more competitive, every pilot that I know was able to secure an airline job. We got hired at the regionals and started building our time for the majors. When the majors did start hiring, we were well positioned to apply for those jobs and almost everybody I know is now at a major airline (except a few that chose to stay at the regionals). Bottom line, we began training when the outlook was not so great and US Air, American, Continental and United had pilots on furlough. But the industry came back and did so in a big way, just like it always has. I know some people that chose to delay their training until the industry picked up again. They are now many years behind those of us who took that leap of faith and started in the aftermath of September 11.
Beyond just taking a leap of faith, there are numbers to back up the decision to begin flight training now. Airline pilots are absolutely required to retire before reaching the age of 65, no exceptions can be made. According to the Future and Active Airline Pilot Advisors, over 2,000 airline pilots will retire in the year 2020, with that number increasing to 3,100 in the year 2025. https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2019/november/08/seasoned-and-new-pilots-in-demand This is a huge amount when one considers that there are only 124,300 airline pilots in the US. Covid-19 or not, those retirements will continue like the ticking of a clock and new pilots will be needed to replace them. The industry will likely return to a time where pilot hiring is more competitive, but that is a good thing.
When the airlines start hiring again, and I bet they will sooner than we think, those that have already trained and built their hours will be the first to be able to take advantage of the hiring wave. Do not base your career, a lifetime decision, off of very short term events. All industries have ups and downs, but over a career it levels off and those pilots that position themselves well will benefit greatly when all of this short-term craziness settles down.