Experts say the aviation industry is growing, and that means hundreds of thousands of openings for qualified job seekers.
Experts in the state known as the “birthplace of aviation” say now’s the time to launch efforts to fill those jobs.
Half a million pilots will be needed around the world in the next twenty years, according to aircraft manufacturer Boeing.
“And that’s just for the commercial airlines,” says Seth Young, director of Aviation Studies at Ohio State University.
“Far more pilots are needed for every other aspect of the aviation industry, as well as airport managers are needed, air traffic controllers, engineers – the gamut,” Young says.
He calls the pilot shortage the most visible in the industry – traceable to a growth in aviation around the world and cutbacks in the military, where many pilots in the past have gotten their training.
But to turn learning to fly in a small propeller plane into taking a jet into the skies isn’t easy or cheap.
There’s math and physics and engineering courses. And it can cost well over $100,000 for college level flight training, and most graduates only end up with around 250 hours of flight time – so they work as flight instructors to build up the time they need to get hired as commercial pilots.
But when that happens, the salary often starts around $20,000.
Seth Young sees it like a career in medicine.
“When you spend a lot of money going through college and medical school, you end up in a residency program where you’ll work hard, long hours, and don’t get paid that much. But at the end of the day you have a tremendously lucrative and successful career. Aviation is basically the same thing.”
And there are problems filling other aviation positions, such as air traffic controllers, who guide aircraft in the skies. Richard Mangrum is an associate professor of Aeronautics at Kent State, and he says the ATC shortage is already hitting, with as many as 13,000 controllers needed in the next few years.
And Mangrum says the impact of unfilled positions all across the industry are going to hit travelers soon – especially those who fly on the smaller, regional airlines.
“They’re going to start parking airplanes. That would probably trigger an increase in prices because of the lack of availability of route structure,” Mangrum says. “And if there’s not trained air traffic controllers, it doesn’t matter how many pilot there are – we’re going to have safety issues.”
And Mangrum says airports get revenue from airlines, so when there are fewer planes operating, there’s less money for airport maintenance. To try to handle the coming crisis, the aviation industry is working with flight departments at colleges and universities and with flight schools to encourage more kids to consider all sorts of career options in aviation.
And they’re working with programs such as Youth Aviation Adventure, which operates in 28 locations in 17 states, including at Ohio State’s Don Scott airport. Executive director Tim Beach runs a one-day program that brings in scouting and other youth groups.
“To show them that there are other career paths out there in aviation other than being pilots. Pilots are very important, but there are thousands of other jobs in aviation that they should know about.”
And there are potentially plenty of aviation jobs in Ohio. Young from Ohio State says Ohio industries are the number 1 and number 2 suppliers to aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus. There are 80 public use airports in Ohio.
The airspace overseen by air traffic controllers in Cleveland is among the busiest in the nation. And Ohio is home to several charter operators and two fractional jet companies, including the Warren Buffet owned NetJets in Columbus, which has the largest private jet fleet in the world.