Pilot Shortage, Or Airline Hype?

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Some airline executives are saying a combination of retirements, airline expansion, and an imminent change in FAA rules that could set a minimum of 1,500 hours for first officers will create a pilot shortage, but CBS news analyst Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger said the airlines are employing "scare tactics." In a story in Sunday's Wall Street Journal, Dan Garton, CEO of American Eagle, said the impact of the FAA's proposed new first-officer rule "is going to become much more visible when regionals have to decrease their flying" for lack of pilots. The airline may have to eliminate service to some smaller cities, he said. Sullenberger said on CBS on Monday that airline executives are crying wolf, with the aim to pressure the FAA into reducing the first-officer requirements in the final version of the new rule.

"This [rule change] is not a surprise to anyone," Sullenberger said. He added that earlier this year, during a congressional hearing, a Regional Airline Association official said that out of 18,000 pilots flying on regional airlines, only 100 might not be compliant with the new rules, mainly because they weren't yet 23 years old, which is one of the proposed new requirements. "We've known these rules were coming for several years," Sullenberger said. JetBlue CEO Dave Barger said in an October speech, according to The Wall Street Journal, that the industry is "facing an exodus of talent in the next few years" and could "wake up one day and find we have no one to operate or maintain those planes." Sullenberger said the airlines have the means to solve their own problem: "When the airlines create working conditions and have wages that will attract qualified, experienced pilots, they will have enough applicants."