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Pilot Shortage Affecting U.S. Regional Airlines

American mid-sized and regional airlines have been suffering from a pilot shortage so great that it could potentially affect the broader U.S. aviation industry, AFP reports. A few regional carriers have already cut about five percent of their flights, especially affecting smaller airports, such as Redding, California.

The staffing decrease could cause a chain reaction because it could also affect traffic for larger companies, such as Delta and American Airlines, that depend on these smaller carriers to serve rural areas and bring customers into their networks.

“It’s becoming a crisis at some carriers, resulting in the cancellation of flights and other serious disruptions,” said Patrick Smith, a pilot who runs the aviation blog Ask the Pilot.

Aviation industry experts mention a number of factors for the pilot shortage: longer working hours, stressful relationship with management, fewer job protections and industry turnover with the expected retirement of some 18,000 pilots through 2022. But the main reason for such a dearth of pilots in mid-sized and regional airlines seem to be compensation. While a pilot makes an annual average of $103,390 at a larger carrier, smaller companies offer only $27,350 per year, according to ALPA Resource Coordinator, Paul Ryder. He also says that aspiring pilots must pay between $150,000 to $200,000 to obtain their license.

“Fewer pilots are willing to commit hundreds of thousands of dollars into their training and education for a career with such a limited return on investment, in what has historically been a very unstable industry,” Smith says.

Industry consultant Kit Darby says that, in order to counter that, some regional carriers are taking steps to boost compensation, such as offering a bonus to qualified pilots of $80,000 spread out over four years.

ALPA Resource Coordinator, Paul Ryder says that an airline that wants to be able to recruit new pilots and to retain its current pilots needs to offer reasonable compensation, fair work-life balance and some career path with stability.

“An airline that does not offer that typically has seen challenges in attracting employees,” he concludes.

[Photo: Getty Images]

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zihiah March 10, 2016

When I trained for my private license about 20 years ago, my instructor landed a job at American Eagle (a regional airline). They paid him $13,500 a year and made him buy his own uniform! That said, he was happy to have the job. I always chuckle when i hear the term "shortage" in the labor market. They say there's a "shortage" of computer programmers too, but pay them what they're worth, and you have supply. Just like theres a "shortage" of $10,000 Ferraris, but when you pay 300k, you can have all the Ferraris you want. The regional airlines should increase the wage, and they'll have the pilots. Spiraling costs for General Aviation training is another problem, we have the aviation lawyers to blame for that.

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brocklee9000 March 9, 2016

They don't just need reasonable compensation, they need a realistic entry into the market. Right now I'm looking at the daunting feat of having to go from 200 hours (from my training) to the 1,000 I need for a restricted ATP. They guys who need 1500 have it even worse off. Had the ATP requirement been applied to just the left seat, still allowing qualified and competent pilots with lower time to be in the right seat, there really wouldn't be an issue today. Plain and simple.