What’s Causing the Pilot Shortage and How to Solve It

pilot flying plane

It’s no secret that the current pilot shortage is affecting far more than just airlines. 

The shortage doesn't have any singular cause, but many contributing factors that come together to create the perfect storm. From retirement numbers to plane manufacturers, this is an issue with many moving parts. 

Below, we'll cover some of the top reasons why the shortage is happening, and how employee surveys can help.

What’s Causing the Shortage? 

So, why is there a pilot shortage?

While some flights have been canceled due simply to weather or technical issues, there's a far more pressing reason at hand.

Most of them have been canceled by a lack of staff, particularly by not having enough available pilots. The industry is experiencing a severe shortage of qualified pilots.

As we mentioned earlier, there are many factors contributing to the shortage. 

First and foremost, the largest age group of pilots are those aged 55+, which means many have retired--or are set to retire within a few years. 

In fact, the average age of commercial pilots has risen from 44 in 2011 to nearly 46 as of last year, according to the FAA. Training is also very expensive and can cost up to $200,000 in some cases to get all the endorsements needed to fly commercially. 

This problem is also getting worse, as tuition and training costs are increasing, partly due to rising aviation fuel costs. 

As such, this hardship has impacted the industry as fewer younger pilots can break into the industry.

The pandemic has also thrown a wrench into the industry, as enrollment at flight academies and schools across the globe dropped by as much as 80% in 2020

💡 The Key Takeaway: A huge contributor to the commercial pilot shortage is large retirement numbers. Other contributing factors include training costs and COVID-19. 

Is it Just Airlines That Are Affected By the Airline Pilot Shortage? 

The short answer: no. 

In fact, the number of licensed helicopter pilots is getting to a critical level. 

According to the FAA, the current number of rotorcraft pilots is approximately 27,500, which is down nearly 4,000 pilots from a decade ago. Helicopter pilots play a crucial role in the industry, as hospitals, corporations, and even the forestry service are experiencing shortages. 

In addition, aircraft manufacturers and parts suppliers have also been impacted by supply chain disruptions - which ultimately means fewer flyable aircraft are available. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: The pilot shortage doesn't just affect commercial airlines--a shortage of helicopter pilots is also a burgeoning problem. 

What Are the Other Areas Impacted? 

The impacts are, and will be, far-reaching and could be devastating. 

Fewer pilots mean fewer planes in the air. This not only impacts the airlines but cargo and freight carriers as well. 

There are also fewer Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs). Students are required to log certain amounts of hours with CFIs in order to achieve different levels of endorsements needed to progress through their careers. 

Flight schools and aviation academies will also struggle with enrollment as costs continue to rise. The key takeaway is the shortage has been and will continue to harm the aviation, logistical, education, and tourism sectors. 

💡 The Key Takeaway: There's no beating around the bush--the commercial pilot shortage has many ramifications. Every aspect of the industry from training to the number of flight instructors has been hit hard. 

How Employee Surveys Can Help

It's important to work with a third-party research firm to run these surveys. While, technically, companies can do this internally, it's best to have the experts handle the research end of things.

Believe us, the insights that (quality) market research can yield are worth the cost of outsourcing an employee survey.

Drive Research can execute both customizable and turnkey employee surveys, depending on the client’s specific needs. 

These surveys can work for: 

  • Airlines
  • Educational institutions 
  • Staffing agencies

Such surveys are a useful tool that can uncover employee sentiment and engagement, thus helping to correct the pilot shortage

Insights gained from the surveys can measure employee sentiment, and the findings will help these companies recruit and retain employees. 

In the next section, we'll cover some other important ways market research can help with the shortage. 

Curious about the benefits of employee surveys? Watch this quick video of ours: 

💡 The Key Takeaway: Employee surveys are essential for airline and aviation companies now, more than ever. Even though the aviation industry is facing a severe pilot shortage, there’s still reason to have hope. 

Recommended Reading: Using a Third Party for Employee Surveys

Other Solutions to Solve the Pilot Shortage

Drive Research can also test advertising and creative concepts with ad concept testing surveys, which will ensure messaging is optimized to reach targeted audiences.

The industry data and statistics we gather from our research will help key stakeholders make informed decisions. 

Pain points discovered in our results can also help airlines address issues at hand in order to address challenges with pilot recruiting, retention, and satisfaction.

💡 The Key Takeaway: Market research can offer more than employee surveys for the industry. Ad concept is also ideal for aviation companies that want to test their messaging strategies. 

Recommended Reading: 6 Unique Benefits of Ad Concept Testing with Surveys

Contact Our Travel Market Research Company

While the pilot shortage is a complicated issue that may take a while to fully rectify, market research can help to attract and retain current pilots and other airline employees. 

Drive Research is a market research company located in Syracuse, NY. Our team has years of combined experience in employee satisfaction and can work with airlines to create a solid pilot retention strategy. 

Curious about the rest of our market research services? Talk to us through any of the ways below.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

Bryan Champ

Bryan is the Senior Research Manager at Drive Research. He has more than 15 years of experience working hard to provide actionable insights that help his stakeholders make informed decisions.

Learn more about Bryan, here.

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