NTSB Forum Highlights Training, Flight Hours, Demand

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Experts told the NTSB's Safety Forum on Professionalism in Aviation, Tuesday, that future airline pilots will be in short supply and therefore less experienced, but also (according to The Associated Press) less ethical. On ethics, Paul Rice, a pilot and spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, was skeptical that the current generation of newly hired pilots was less likely than previous generations to flout authority or break rules. On numbers, Judy Tarver, a former recruiter for American Airlines, told the panel some 54,000 pilots are working for the majors, with some 19,000 at the regionals and roughly 2,500 qualified pilots ready for hire in the U.S. She told the forum that retirements and industry-wide growth will call for some 42,000 new pilots over the next decade and that industry, economic, military and social trends suggest that demand will be met with fewer qualified applicants. That could lead to siphoning of less qualified pilots from the regionals and a cascading effect leading to the promotion of less-experienced pilots to positions of greater responsibility. At the moment, it appears demand for commercial aircraft is at least on the rise.

Boeing announced Thursday that it is "effectively sold out" of commercial aircraft through 2012, that it may again boost production to meet demand, and expects 2011 deliveries to significantly increase. That "increase," however, should be considered relative to the slowdown caused when airlines began deferring deliveries due to the worldwide recession. As for the pilots who will fly those and similar aircraft, calls to increase training requirements for pilots have already resulted in changes for aspiring professional pilots. Meanwhile, industry representatives and legislators continue to debate the real-world implications of quantity of flight hours versus the quality of training and hours flown.