IRON STATION, NC – The US airline industry is facing a severe shortage of pilots. This is forcing airlines to cut hundreds of flights as North Carolinians prepare to go on summer vacation.
What do you want to know
- About half of American pilots are expected to retire in the next 15 years, according to the Regional Airline Association
- Becoming an airline pilot requires at least 1,500 flight hours with no prior experience
- Lincolnton-Lincoln County Regional Airport Manager Joe Tate says their flight school, Premier Air, is seeing a “steady increase in student numbers”
About half of American pilots are expected to retire within the next 15 years, according to the Regional Airline Association.
Mike Schilling is following in his father’s footsteps by pursuing a career as an airline pilot.
“[My dad] just had a really good lifestyle [as an airline pilot]“, said Schilling.
Schilling put his love for aviation on the back burner for eight years to work as an accountant in New York.
“I said, ‘I can’t do this desk job anymore,'” Schilling said. “I’m going back to fly, and it feels good.”
Schilling is set to apply for a job at a time when the airline industry may be short of tens of thousands of pilots. But passenger demand is at an all-time high.
“It’s the perfect time to be a pilot,” Schilling said. “Airlines are responding to this demand with good pay raises and signing bonuses.”
Becoming an airline pilot requires at least 1,500 flight hours with no prior experience. Schilling, who has a bachelor’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, says he needs 1,000 hours under his belt.
So far, Schilling has logged around 860 hours.
“I could probably get 100 overtime hours at 960 and get hired, then get the remaining hours in a simulator,” Schilling said.
Schilling bought a Cessna 150 aircraft named “Our Lady” a few years ago to help him achieve his goal quickly.
“That plane was really my golden ticket to getting my flying hours,” Schilling said.
Schilling logs his hours several times a week flying in and out of Lincolnton-Lincoln County Regional Airport.
“The freedom to fly is amazing,” Schilling said. “Rise [in the air] and being able to fly just about anywhere you want is very liberating.”
Each year, the airline industry needs to hire at least 1,400 new commercial pilots to fill projected openings through 2030, according to federal labor statistics.
Schilling hopes to land soon with a new pilot job for a regional airliner before demand slows.
“Time is running out,” Schilling said. “And the demand won’t always be there, so it has to be now.”
Lincolnton-Lincoln County Regional Airport Manager Joe Tate said the pilot shortage has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tate says senior pilots, who were just a few years away from retirement, were offered incentives to leave early at the height of the pandemic.
Tate expects airlines, like United and American, to hire about 15,000 new pilots over the next five years. But, he says, commercial airliners aren’t the only ones that need help.
“What makes the demand even greater is that all these freight guys, FedEx, UPS, Amazon, all need hundreds of new pilots,” Tate said. “And their total complement of pilots exceeds the thousands each, which only adds to the complexity of the situation.”
Tate says their flight school, Premier Air, is seeing a “steady increase in student numbers.”
Tate says flight training can take years and can cost up to $100,000. However, Tate says pilots can earn up to $200,000 a year by their fifth year with the company.