John Goglia FORBES
2014 Outlook for Aviation Careers Brightens with Looming Pilot and Mechanic Shortages
January 4, 2014
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  • If there’s a bright side to looming pilot and aviation mechanic shortages, it’s that young people with a dream to fly or fix airplanes can look to a brighter future in an exciting and challenging field.  For some time now, aviation professionals have worried privately that turbulence in the aviation industry – with layoffs, furloughs, wage and benefit cuts affecting wide-swaths of the industry – was going to result in too few men and women choosing to become pilots and mechanics.  Combined with a predicted global growth in aviation, the decrease in the numbers of trainees – both civilian and military – is creating what many see as a looming shortage of both pilots and mechanics.

    Well, in my opinion, that shortage may have arrived.  As I travel around the country speaking with aviation professionals seeking to fill jobs in all types of aviation – from general aviation to corporate to air taxi and airline – the fretting these days is real.  Almost everyone seeking to fill a pilot or mechanic opening has remarked on the difficulty of finding qualified applicants.  The reasons for the decrease are varied – for pilots, the change in the experience requirements enacted as a result of the Continental /Colgan crash outside Buffalo, New York in 2009, the global demand for pilots with some foreign airlines offering significantly higher pay to US pilots than US airlines, and the aging pilot population with many reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65.  The cost of pilot training is also a barrier to many would-be aviators; students seeking to fly frequently pay for flying lessons on top of already hefty college tuitions.

    For mechanics, the decrease in the number of students entering the aviation field is mostly due to the reduced pay and benefits offered to aviation mechanics – auto mechanics, for example, have on average earned significantly higher wages over the last decade.  Would-be aviation mechanics have also found brighter career prospects in computer repair.  And the cost of training for aviation mechanics is also high, with the decrease in the number of schools for mechanics increasing the costs of aircraft licenses.  Even after training and becoming certified as an aviation mechanic, the lure of higher-paying jobs in other industries has been difficult for many to resist.

    But I predict that these shortages combined with increased airline profits will begin to be reflected in the pilot and mechanic pay and benefits.  Young people with a passion for aviation can look to that field for their careers.  In addition to traditional piloting jobs, the expected growth in drones provides opportunities for a whole new batch of aviation-related jobs that people need to start training for now.  I believe 2014 will be the year that aviation careers begin to regain the luster they once had.