Help Wanted: Can You Fly A Plane?

The pilot shortage began before Covid.

The average age of a commercial pilot is a little over 45, and the industry has known that a wave of retirements will inevitably shrink their ranks. But they didn’t know that a deadly pandemic would sweep the globe and stop millions of people from flying for a prolonged period, forcing many airlines to push their greying pilots into early retirement.

Then everyone started flying again, and the airlines are scrambling to find enough pilots to keep planes flying their routes, in addition to recruiting for the mass of retirements on the horizon.

Daniel Stratman was a pilot and says it’s not the type of profession you just pick up on a whim or fall into. Most pilots, and he includes himself, grew up with dreams of flying planes, and plotted his career path. “You do have to have a college degree, and there are two avenues to finally get to the point where you have enough flight experience to be hired by a major airline,” he suggests. He went the military route, which takes years. Or you can go the civilian route, he advises, which also takes years, and money.

The goal for most is to get to a major airline, where the salary is comfortably six digits and retirement is union ensured. Most, though, begin with lower paying regional airlines. That’s why United is hurting now. Though a major international carrier, they also run a lot of small, regional routes with low pay. Delta is okay, and Southwest is optimistic. But the push is going to continue to entice those with dreams of soaring above the clouds to commit to the years it takes to get there. Stratman reminds those dreamers that only the most responsible will make it to a major commercial airliner level because lives are in their hands.

photo: Getty Images

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