American Airlines Pauses Pilot Hiring


This week, in a memo to pilots with conditional job offers, American Airlines said it would be pausing all pilot hiring through the remainder of the year.

American cited the need to reassess its commercial and talent requirements as the reason for pausing hiring and delaying training classes for the remainder of 2024.

American now joins several other major carriers in slowing down recruitment, including Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, while Southwest has stopped hiring altogether. According to data from, American has hired approximately 749 pilots this year, compared to 690 at Delta and 812 at United.

The airline is also facing challenges in adding capacity due to delayed aircraft deliveries from Boeing. Last month, the airline announced it would reduce capacity growth to 3.5% in the second half of the year, down from 8% in the first half, due to an inaccurate demand forecast.

American says pilots will retain their conditional job offers, and the airline expects to finalize decisions about pilot class dates for 2025 later this year.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.


  1. Sounds like the “Great pilot shortage” dooming commercial aviation for the next several years is over. That was a short lived crisis.

  2. IMO, airlines overshot on pilot hiring. They panicked over shortage forecasts, but now with delays in new planes and maybe fewer passengers than expected, they’re hitting pause to re-evaluate their needs. The ATP shortage is still a worry, but airlines are taking a more measured approach. Delta, United, and even Southwest are joining the trend, suggesting a broader industry shift. 🤔

    • Then there is this: :”The airline (AA) faces mandatory retirement of more than 1250 pilots over the next year and a half, due to the age 65 cap that pilot unions lobby for as part of limiting supply of available pilots in order to drive up wages. “AA has 424 mandatory pilot retirements left in 2024 (reaching age 65) and 843 retirements in 2025.” View from the Wing.

    • IMO, I could not care less about airlines and their business screw-ups.
      This is not “news” and thank God that I’m a pilot with my own plane and don’t have to rely on these endless miscalculations in this industry.

          • Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

          • So, how apt are you? Please forward a post from a year ago where you predict the door flying off of an Alaska 737-900 and the ensuing FAA crackdown that has cut Boeings deliveries by up to 40%. The airlines didn’t mis-read anything except perhaps tea leaves. This is a minor blip in pilot demand and things will be back to normal (I hope) in a year or so.

    • You can’t even spell “DEI” correctly, much less articulate why it’s (your unfounded knee-jerk reaction) a contributing factor to slowing pilot hiring. Besides, if DEI programs WERE a factor, there’d be MORE pilot slots opening up, thereby INCREASING the need for more pilots, not decreasing it.


      • Good morning to you, as well. I suppose it is inconceivable that a company might stop hiring disasters while it does exactly what it says, take time to decide what proper hiring criteria might be. I suppose it’s equally inconceivable that I know exactly what I’m spelling.

        • Pure speculation – “I suppose” (twice) – “might” – based on an ideological bias, unsupported by any logic, reason, or verifiable facts.

          • If a person is hired solely based upon some physical characteristic how is that different from denying that same person a job based upon the same physical characteristic?

      • niio’s “misspelling” of DEI is, I’m sure, intentional. It’s been used many times to emphasize the final outcome of those ridiculous DEI programs.
        And eventually, yes, there will be additional hires, IF they ever get the nerve to admit they were wrong.
        In the meantime, it’s a totally reasonable conjecture that the current/recent pauses in hiring might be at least somewhat caused by management seeing their own internal, so far non-fatal, metrics showing that the programs are indeed a disaster, as they always end up being.
        DEI = Discrimination on the basis of something besides competency.
        All discrimination, on ANY other basis, is wrong, and completely unsupportable by reasonable people.

    • I mourn the innocent electrons that gave their lives in such a zero-information-content posting. niio is now obligated to post something of actual value to this forum, so their sacrifice was not in vain.

    • Here we go with another bullshit dogwhistle mention. Unqualified people don’t make it to the cockpit, and hiring based on DEI is off the radar for that reason. Save your prejudices for someone who is willing to listen.

      • Unqualified people don’t make it to the cockpit? Maybe research Colgan Air Flight 3407 and tell me how qualified that fight crew was, and while you are at it, crawl out of your bubble boy world you live in void of reality.

      • You obviously have zero experience in the industry if you truly believe that unqualified people don’t make it to the cockpit. It’s a totally fallacious statement.

        If you DO know better and say that anyway, you’re just being untruthful.

  3. The specific pilot retirement estimates through 2025 for the major carriers are:

    Delta Air Lines: 1,800 pilots in 2024 and 1,200 pilots in 2025.
    United Airlines: 1,500 pilots in 2024 and 1,300 pilots in 2025.
    American Airlines: 1,000 pilots each year in 2024 and 2025.
    JetBlue Airways: 300 pilots in 2024 and 250 pilots in 2025.

  4. More to chew on:
    The latest numbers for pilots at the largest U.S. airlines are:

    Delta Air Lines: Approximately 15,000 pilots​ (Delta News Hub)​.
    United Airlines: Around 17,000 pilots​ ( |)​.
    American Airlines: About 15,176 pilots​ (Delta News Hub)​.
    JetBlue Airways: Roughly 4,750 pilots​ (Delta News Hub)​.
    These figures indicate a slight discrepancy with your initial numbers for Delta and United Airlines, where Delta’s actual number is lower and United’s is accurate.

  5. So…

    The Critical Importance of Maintaining a Robust Pilot Hiring Program
    The aviation industry is facing a significant challenge with the impending wave of pilot retirements. For the largest U.S. carriers—Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines, and JetBlue Airways—this issue is particularly pressing. It is estimated that a total of 8,350 pilots will retire across these airlines by the end of 2025, with 4,600 retiring in 2024 and 3,750 in 2025. Given these figures, it is critical for these carriers to maintain a robust hiring program rather than suspending hiring until the end of 2024. This essay will explore the reasons why continuous hiring is essential, including the impact on operations, competitive market dynamics, financial implications, and strategic planning.

    Impact on Operations
    The loss of 8,350 pilots over two years could severely impact the airlines’ ability to maintain their current capacity and meet passenger demand. The training and integration of new pilots into the operational framework is a lengthy process, often taking up to 18 months from hiring to full operational readiness. Delaying hiring would create bottlenecks, exacerbating the pilot shortage and potentially leading to significant disruptions in flight schedules. Moreover, operational safety is paramount; an adequately staffed and experienced cockpit crew is crucial for maintaining high safety standards. Delaying hiring could lead to a lack of experienced pilots, jeopardizing overall safety.

    Competitive Market Dynamics
    The aviation industry is highly competitive, and the pilot shortage is a well-known issue. All major airlines are vying for a limited pool of qualified candidates. By maintaining a steady hiring program, airlines can ensure they do not lose potential candidates to competitors who continue their recruitment efforts. Furthermore, airlines need to plan for future growth and expansion. By having a pipeline of trained pilots ready, they can quickly respond to increasing demand and capitalize on new market opportunities. Suspending hiring would put them at a competitive disadvantage, limiting their ability to scale operations efficiently.

    Financial Implications
    Delaying hiring can lead to increased costs in the long term. Emergency hiring to fill critical gaps often comes with higher recruitment and training costs. Additionally, operational disruptions caused by pilot shortages, such as flight cancellations and delays, can significantly impact customer satisfaction and damage the airline’s reputation. This, in turn, affects revenue as dissatisfied customers may choose competitors for future travel. Continuous hiring helps avoid these scenarios, ensuring a stable workforce that can meet operational demands and maintain high levels of customer service.

    Strategic Planning
    A steady hiring program allows for effective succession planning, ensuring that experienced pilots can mentor and train new recruits. This is vital for maintaining operational excellence and continuity. Experienced pilots provide valuable insights and knowledge transfer, helping new pilots acclimate to the airline’s culture and operational standards. Moreover, regulatory compliance is easier to achieve with a sufficient number of pilots. Adhering to regulations regarding rest periods, duty hours, and training schedules is essential, and a well-staffed cockpit crew helps ensure compliance, avoiding penalties and maintaining operational integrity.

    The anticipated retirement of 8,350 pilots by the end of 2025 presents a significant challenge for the largest U.S. carriers. Maintaining a robust hiring program is critical to navigate this challenge successfully. Continuous hiring ensures operational continuity, safety, and competitiveness in a tight labor market. It also positions airlines for future growth, compliance with regulatory requirements, and financial stability. In an industry where safety and reliability are paramount, airlines must prioritize sustained recruitment efforts to mitigate the impact of pilot retirements and secure their long-term success. By doing so, they can maintain their status as leaders in the aviation industry and continue to provide high-quality service to their passengers.

    The specific pilot retirement estimates through 2025 for the major carriers are:

    Delta Air Lines: 1,800 pilots in 2024 and 1,200 pilots in 2025.
    United Airlines: 1,500 pilots in 2024 and 1,300 pilots in 2025.
    American Airlines: 1,000 pilots each year in 2024 and 2025.
    JetBlue Airways: 300 pilots in 2024 and 250 pilots in 2025.
    These figures underscore the urgency for these airlines to maintain a continuous hiring strategy to effectively manage and mitigate the significant impact of these retirements.

      • Just presenting current pilot recruitment challenges to add substance to the topic. I have been interested in this for decades, which is why I worked on promoting new-starts via youth aviation education programs as a way to address the pilot shortage.

        • Bad logic. There is NOT a pilot shortage!
          The last 10 years has not changed as far as new pilots.
          Obviously youth education does not address why airlines have a “recruitment” problem.

    • “Moreover, operational safety is paramount…”

      If it were ACTUALLY so, there would BE no such thing as a DEI hiring practice. THAT is now “paramount,” not operational safety.

      I say this as a 36 year veteran of safety programs at one of the oft-mentioned airlines NOW substituting DEI programs for the formerly “paramount” safety goals. I have indeed personally seen the results of earlier such programs, stretching back to the late 1960’s.

  6. Unless the B.M.I. is above 27 keep these “Silver hair” Masters of the skies just where they are and provide good benefits when THEY decide to turn in their headsets.

  7. Conclusion
    While a hiring freeze offers immediate cost savings and might seem like a prudent decision in times of economic uncertainty, it poses significant risks for American Airlines. The impending wave of pilot retirements, the lengthy training process for new pilots, and the need to remain competitive and compliant underscore the importance of continuous recruitment. Halting hiring could lead to operational disruptions, a decline in service quality, and long-term financial repercussions. Therefore, maintaining a robust hiring program is critical to navigate these challenges effectively and secure the airline’s future success.

    • All the major airlines have seemingly forever been “behind the curve” on hiring. It’s always the “slinky effect”. They hire too many, despair at the cost of carrying them, stop hiring (or even start furloughing), and then wait too long to start up again.
      As you, and others, have alluded to, there is a problem many don’t see: When new hires arrive, some crewmembers must be removed from the line to become trainers and evaluators. This exacerbates the shortage at exactly the time (too late) the managers finally decide they are short pilots.

  8. Notice the only airlines complaining about a “pilot shortage” are the bottom feeder regionals. With all the big flight schools working to put out more pilots, I doubt there will be a problem for the big airlines to find new pilots. They just don’t want this so called pilot training “pipeline” to cost them (the airlines) any money. This pilot shortage nonsense is the same b@##$&* I have heard for the past 35 years I have been flying.

    • That isn’t true at all. ALL the majors were talking about it recently. There is, as Raf has pointed out, a big problem that didn’t just start recently. Many of the pilots who were hired during the last big surges are reaching mandatory retirement age, and the airlines have no bench from which to promote their replacements.

      The problem at the “bottom feeder” airlines you mention (regional carriers, no doubt) is that the majors are constantly poaching their senior/experienced pilots to become new-hires at their own airlines, and then the regionals can’t fly without the top end of their own lists. You can’t staff an airline with all copilots.

  9. The biggest reason for the airlines to pause hiring is that their own training departments do not currently have the capacity to handle immediate needs. This pause gives them time to catch up on the current backlog. Lack of new airplane deliveries doesn’t help either.

  10. It ain’t that easy.

    Pilot recruitment faces several challenges, in order to maintain a robust and efficient workforce. Here are some of the top challenges:

    High Training Costs: The significant expense of flight training, often exceeding $100,000, is a major barrier for many aspiring pilots​ ( |)​.

    Lengthy Training Process: The extensive time required to accumulate flight hours and meet regulatory requirements can deter potential candidates​ (Bureau of Labor Statistics)​.

    Work-Life Balance: Irregular schedules and extended periods away from home make it difficult to attract and retain pilots​ (FAA)​.

    Aging Workforce: A large portion of the pilot workforce is nearing retirement, necessitating a continuous influx of new pilots​ ( |)​.

    Attracting Younger Talent: Competing with other industries and addressing the perception of high costs and risks associated with piloting careers is challenging​ (FAA)​​ (Bureau of Labor Statistics)​.

    Wait…Diversity and Inclusion: There is an underrepresentation of women and minorities, requiring targeted efforts to promote a more diverse workforce​ (Bureau of Labor Statistics)​.

    Regulatory Compliance: Navigating complex regulatory requirements while maintaining high safety standards adds to the recruitment challenges​ ( |)​.

    Addressing these challenges involves enhancing financial support, streamlining training processes, improving work conditions, and promoting diversity and inclusion in the aviation industry.

    • In today’s business environment you have to respond quickly to change, or, you will go out of business quickly. Very few companies have the luxury of having enough reserve profit to spend on maintaining a work force greater than the demand requires. There is not a company out there anywhere, big or small that can foresee the future even though many try.

      The cost benefit of maintaining a work force when demand is not there is just plain dumb. You are essentially playing the lottery in the hope you hit and can keep playing if you hit. It is not based on anything factual, only hope and a prayer. You’re spending money faster than you are bringing it in. As I have said before and I will say again, it is so easy to spend other peoples (share holder’s) money. Put your own money on the line and I’m betting your analysis and actions change quite dramatically. Either that, or, you are guaranteed to go out of business quickly.

      What you espouse Raf is the same garbage Ivy League business schools have been pumping out for decades. Mindless brain dead youth who graduate with no experience and a piece of paper they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for (or they’re parents did) demanding a six figure salary and getting it in most cases from companies that buy the bullshit theories that are taught at these institutions of alleged higher learning.

      This is exactly what happened in the 80’s. Guess who were the first to be let go when recession rolled around. Think about it. A person forgoes years of active employment and on the job training while at the same time spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hope of selling themselves with absolutely no experience, demanding a six digit salary. Who, or, what company would hire someone who clearly has an established track record of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with absolutely no return. It’s ludicrous. It’s mind boggling. Yet, it’s done all of the time. Why, because people who hire these people and believe in the what they are selling are spending money that is not theirs.

      When demand subsides a smart company quickly consolidates as necessary and assesses the current economic climate on an ongoing basis making adjustments on the fly as changing circumstances dictate. What you don’t do is pay someone for the privilege of being employed by you for doing nothing.

      Today’s economic climate not just in the US, but, worldwide is the most unstable I have ever seen in over fifty years of being in business especially when you consider the current political leadership. They are a prime example of people who love to spend your money with absolutely no ramifications for them what so ever. It is nothing short of pure insanity. But, they have that flag of higher education they wave around as if they accomplished anything. Insanity, pure insanity.

    • Raf, with respect the only things that have changed over the years with the subjects you bring up are cost of training and Diversity and Inclusion. All the other items you bring up have existed in the aviation business since the Wright brothers days. The ATP requirement everyone complains about is not a factor for the mainline airlines. Length of training and experience has changed very little, only the check hauling business going away. My company has hired and now upgraded several women and they are just as qualified as their male counterparts. Bringing in other racial persons seems to be more difficult, this issue should fade away over time as more qualified candidates become available. As I approach retirement myself, I am amazed how much the actual cost of flying and buying a small plane has become. Due to that expense I doubt I will be able to continue flying after retirement. As much of a barrier for individuals cost may be to starting a flying career, the airlines don’t want to pay for that cost themselves. As long as they don’t have to they won’t. This so call ab-initio training scheme where the student ends up paying for over time won’t solve any alleged shortage. Until the day comes that the airlines have to actually pay themselves for pilot training from the student pilot level, I will never believe there is a pilot shortage in this country.

      • DEI programs may be new in name, but not in function.
        I worked at a major carrier that has been under one form or another of “consent decree” as regards hiring practices since the 70’s.
        The initial causes may indeed have been their truly discriminatory hiring practices. But the unequal application of the judicial “solutions” caused a ridiculous situation where other airlines were continuously getting along just fine using the same discriminatory practices for years, while the few under such orders were unfairly (and unsafely) told they had to “fix it!”
        I was told during several training/checking events in a crew of one or more beneficiaries of such programs to keep my mouth shut and get along, because management had made it clear to the instructors/evaluators that “this pilot WILL pass their checkride.”

        Hence they did. No one wanted to risk their job to put their foot down and say, “NO!”, although a few quit as instructor/evaluators over time.

        Many of those who could not hack it without the crutches in the long haul left, but many just hung on, being carried by their fellow crewmembers, fortunately reaching the end of their careers before they were ended by their own incompetence with a “smoking black hole” somewhere.

        • One reason I never tried to be a check airman. Being accountable to two masters made that not worth the headache.

  11. Y’all: A decrease in new-starts in aviation would have significant and far-reaching consequences for the U.S. airline industry. It would exacerbate the QUALIFIED pilot shortage, increase operational costs, reduce service and connectivity, and create long-term challenges for the sustainability and growth of the industry. Addressing this issue requires comprehensive strategies, including promoting aviation careers, supporting training institutions, and improving working conditions to attract and retain new talent. Thus, the importance of the various youth aviation education programs promoting careers in aviation.

    Oliver Wyman Analysis
    Regional Airline Association
    Las Vegas Sun News
    Wayman Aviation

    • ” A decrease in new-starts in aviation would have”

      It did NOT happen; new pilot starts have been remarkably stable over the last 10 years.
      All this talk of “pilot shortages” is pure bullshyte.
      We do not have a shortage of pilots or people wanting to become pilots.

  12. Arthur J Foyt, it’s not me, it’s them!

    Sources: (March 15, 2024):
    “The pilot shortage in the U.S. has led to reduced flight schedules, especially in regional markets, affecting connectivity and service levels. Airlines are increasingly facing operational challenges and higher costs due to the need to attract and retain qualified pilots.”

    Oliver Wyman Analysis (February 20, 2024):
    “The current shortage of new pilot entrants is creating a ripple effect across the industry, leading to increased training costs and operational disruptions. Without a concerted effort to address these issues, the sustainability and growth of the airline industry are at risk.”

    Regional Airline Association (April 10, 2024):
    “The reduction in new pilot starts is a critical issue for regional airlines, which are often the most affected by pilot shortages. This has resulted in route reductions and decreased service to smaller communities, impacting regional connectivity.”

    Las Vegas Sun News (May 5, 2024):
    “Industry experts warn that the ongoing pilot shortage could have severe long-term impacts on the U.S. airline industry. Comprehensive strategies, including support for aviation training programs and improved working conditions, are essential to mitigate these challenges.”

    Wayman Aviation (June 1, 2024):
    “Encouraging youth to pursue careers in aviation through education programs is vital for addressing the pilot shortage. By promoting aviation careers and supporting training institutions, the industry can attract and retain the necessary talent to ensure its future growth.”

  13. “Them” have been wrong for the last 10 year based on actual numbers.
    There is no “shortage” of pilots.
    There is only a shortage of pilots willing to fly for airlines.

    • Now you are making sense – anecdotally, I have lots of pilot friends who are qualified and have the requisite hours that have no interest in flying for the airlines – for all the reasons some of the comments above present.

  14. Truism: Airlines must make a profit acceptable to them in order to provide a given service. Airline pilots must be provided with an economic package acceptable to them if you want them to even begin to consider working for an airline. Anything short of those two simple facts is a non-starter. Really not that difficult to figure out.

    • Well, reason enough for Youn people NOT to invest 1/2 million in training and education and 10 years of their life to be an airline pilot that will loose everything at the whim of airline management. Young people need to know that going in, not platitudes and sunshine up their backside.

      • Exactly. It’s time to quit lying to these pilots and start compensating them for what they are worth. Eventually we’re probably not going to need pilots, or, not in the way we currently understand what a pilot is. However, in the mean time, you get what you pay for. If you want cheap, you will get cheap. If you want to fly safely, you will pay for it. There are no short cuts.

        • Yep. Good judgement, good attitude, and high intelligent pilots are not some commodity. You want the best people, hire and maintain the best people and don’t treat them as “a resource”.

  15. If airlines don’t get the pilots they need and don’t manage to lobby the next administration to reduce ATP criteria they’ll either jump on the “pilotless flight” bandwagon or they’ll increase salaries or they’ll start their own training programmes, just like European airlines did and do when they can’t hire enough qualified pilots from the free market.

  16. Prediction: UAV pilots will be in high demand in the coming years. Airline pilots will log in at work, connect to their assigned flight, and conduct the flight from the ground. Then they’ll log out and drive home. Increased automation with AI augmentation will lower training requirements for these “pilots”, aircraft operators is what I’d call them. And the airline execs will jump all over this. It’s NOT a good idea, but it’s where they want us to go.

    • There are some serious challenges involved in the “conduct the flight from the ground”, aside from the willingness of pax to accept an empty cockpit. Primarily, the maintenance of a reliable bi-directional signal from ground operator to airliner. Not insurmountable, but Six Sigma level.

    • Paused. Their future pilots are still in the pipeline, they just won’t start coming on line untill 2025.

  17. If you want to see what commercial airline pilots will be doing in 20 years, look up Grade-of-Automation-4 subway lines running now in various countries. Sure, there are still some pesky “third dimension” challenges (primarily wx) yet to be solved, but that’s only a matter of time&money&AI. Silver-haired steely-eyed senior pilots will become systems monitors in the reclined left seat with a video-game controller in their lap. Whether or not the occupant of the right seat will be a dog is yet to be determined.

    In my early teens, I was precociously talented with the nascent discrete-transistor computers (there was a lot less to know back then) but I LOVED flying. Some preternatural wisdom told me that I shouldn’t try to make a living out of something I loved. So I took the less attractive path to a successful career in computing, and never got that ATP. I barely tolerate today’s computing environment, but I still love flying.

  18. The pilot shortage crisis is a classic case of short-termism boomeranging into a long-term headache. Airlines, blinded by the initial boom in travel demand, neglected to nurture the pilot supply pipeline. It’s like a farmer celebrating a bountiful harvest while neglecting to plant new seeds – eventually, the barn will be empty.

    ALPA’s Perspective: ALPA denies a pilot shortage. They claim that airlines use the shortage argument to weaken training and safety standards and cut costs. They also argue for maintaining safety and training standards and incentivizing the next generation to join the industry.

    RAA’s Perspective: Regional airlines have raised alarms about a pilot shortage for years. They claim that the higher minimum hour requirements for ATP certification, among other factors, have shrunk the pool of eligible pilot candidates. They often advocate for alternative pathways to ensure a steady supply of pilots.

    Misrepresentation Accusations: Given the different stakes, the RAA accuses ALPA of misrepresenting the pilot shortage to further their interests. Conversely, ALPA argues that the RAA and other entities are lying about a pilot shortage to push for regulatory changes motivated by profit.

    1500-Hour Rule: A significant point of contention is the ‘1500-hour rule’, which requires first officers (co-pilots) to have at least 1500 hours of flight experience (or less in some cases) to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate (or a restricted ‘R-ATP’).

    The rule was born from the tragic Colgan Air accident in 2009 and was implemented in 2013. Before the ruling, you could get an ATP with as little as 250 hours. While the rule aims to enhance safety by ensuring pilots have more experience, critics argue it has exacerbated the pilot shortage, especially for regional airlines.

    What’s interesting is the narrative surrounding the 1500-hour rule. Following the Colgan Air crash in 2009, there was a noticeable increase in ATP certificates issued. This likely corresponds with anticipating the 1500-hour ruling and an eagerness to secure ATP certificates before the rule’s implementation.

    After the 1500-hour rule took effect, there was a dip in the number of ATP certificates issued. This decline suggests that once the regulation came into play, the barrier to entry for ATP became more substantial and costly. Fewer pilots pursued or attained ATP certification, which creates a potential pilot shortage problem.

    The notable spike in 2016 might be a ripple effect from the regulatory change. Pilots who missed the 250-hour window were essentially ‘caught in the crossfire.’ Already fully committed to their flight training when the rules shifted, they would likely need an additional two to three years to amass the necessary flight hours. This bubble could represent the last pilots who began training before the rule change.

    ATP Issuances
    Some sources attribute the spike in ATP certifications post-2020 to a backlog during the pandemic. Disruptions included halted training, temporary closures of training centers, and deferred exams. Once restrictions were lifted, there was a rush to catch up.

    Suppose the post-pandemic spike in ATP certificates is indeed due to backlog. In that case, the number of new entrants into the industry may be artificially inflated, meaning the pilot shortage problem could be even more pronounced than the numbers suggest.

    ATP Issuances (Supply)

    Fewer ATP certificates were being issued while the demand for pilots in major carriers continued to rise. The continuous hiring increase by major carriers, combined with the decline in ATP issuances will strain the industry, particularly as older pilots retire, and fewer new pilots arrive to fill their roles.

    Although there was a mild squeeze after the 2008 financial crisis, the supply of ATPs gradually recovered. A healthy growing buffer can be observed, until the 1500-hour rule in 2013.

    Since then, the buffer between supply and demand has been steadily eroding until, most recently, demand is exceeding supply, even with the potentially inflated numbers of ATP issuances in 2022.


    So, which is the stronger argument? Based on the data examined, it’s challenging to deny the existence of a pilot shortage. How else can you interpret the figures? Well– By looking at the cumulative data.

    You might glance at the cumulative data and feel reassured seeing an ever-growing number of ATPs. When examining the cumulative data alone, the ratio between ATPs and hires looks almost 2:1. But it only tells part of the story.

    Those who oppose the pilot shortage often cite cumulative data to argue that plenty of ATPs are available to meet demand. Let’s use more straightforward numbers to demonstrate how cumulative data from the past might mask the issues we face today.


    The hiring pool ignores some significant factors about how many people are actually employable. It assumes that every ATP in the hiring pool:

    Is willing or interested in working for an airline at all.

    Is available to work for an airline due to career change, family commitments, etc.

    Can relocate for the job.

    Can obtain a 1st class medical certification.

    Will successfully pass an airline interview.

    Will make it through airline training.

    Is under the mandatory retirement age of 65.

    Doesn’t have a criminal conviction or accident history that could affect employability.

    These are just a few of the possibilities that shrink the hiring pool.

    These are just a few of the possibilities that shrink the hiring pool.

    To make matters worse, it doesn’t account for the fact that pilots who lose their jobs for whatever reason (furloughed, retirement, early retirement, terminated, career change, etc.) might not return to the hiring pool. These numbers don’t address the career exit rate versus new hires.

    As of now {2020+], three things have happened:

    Demand for pilots has skyrocketed to insane levels: Travel demand has surged after long periods of Covid lockdowns.

    ATP issuances have fallen behind demand: There is also the likelihood of inflated numbers due to backlogs resulting from the pandemic.

    The hiring pool is now shrinking at an alarming rate: The hiring pool rate depicted is also inflated. It can’t account for all the issues mentioned earlier.

    When major airlines pull pilots from regionals, they’re not adding fresh talent to the aviation ecosystem. Instead, they’re merely redistributing the existing pool of ATPs.

    This migration exerts pressure on regional airlines, making them the front-liners in the pilot shortage phenomenon, not the major carriers. Regionals will scramble as their experienced pilots get lured away by major airlines.

    While major carriers might enjoy a period of abundant choice in their hiring practices, this is a zero-sum game. Every pilot hired by a major airline, from a regional, is a pilot that needs to be replaced. This vacuum means regional airlines are searching for new pilots in a pipeline that’s dwindling.

    • Frank, my understanding of your well-presented argument is that you interpret the data and industry trends to assert that the pilot shortage is a real and growing problem, particularly for regional airlines, despite opposing claims from different industry stakeholders and some individuals. I agree with you.

    • Couple of errors in this argument. Hours required for an ATP have always been 1500hr minimum. It only takes a minimum of 250 hrs to qualify for a Commercial certificate. There are lower amounts now allowed with alternative FAA approved education. The Colgan accident resulted in an ATP requirement for pt121 first officers, not 1500hrs. The resulting lower amount of ATP certificates issued can be attributed to the changes in training requirements for the multi engine ATP, making it almost impossible for those who desire it to pay for the ATP themselves. Not a big deal for the mainline pt121 airlines, but a definite expense for smaller companies especially pt135 companies. If there is such a big shortage how come none of the airlines are paying for training at the student level in this country? Because the airlines don’t want to have to pay for that training themselves. That is why you don’t see them “nurturing” the pilot training pipeline. The way aviation works in this country, there is still many persons who dream of becoming an airline pilot and are willing to do anything to get to that dream job. And the airlines know this and take advantage of this in the US. The regionals have a tougher time recruiting probably due to lower pay and lousy work rules. That is their fault. As I have said before, all of these articles quoted have said the same bs for the past 35 years I have been a pilot. Until either I start getting recruitment letters from the airlines, or the airlines start paying for student pilot level training and up, I will never believe there is a real pilot shortage in this country. Just experienced pilots who are willing to fly for nothing. And BTW, I am not a member of ALPA or any other union.

    • As Matt W said, the ATP has always been a 1500 hour requirement, there has never been an option to get an ATP at 250 hours. You can get a Commercial license at 250 hours and this was the only requirement to occupy the right seat as a first officer at any Part 121 airline. After the Colgan crash that changed requiring the right seat first officers to have an ATP. Part 135 airlines can still have 250 hour FO’s and also Captains well past the age of 65.

  20. The sad part is that a lot of “unhired” pilots are going to be saddled with $100K student debt loans!

    • To the contrary, he does a nice job of summarizing viewpoints from differing perspectives and offers some good comments, with some good additional comments from Matt W. “Riddled with errors?” Care to elaborate?

  21. More to chew on:

    Despite the significant increase in the U.S. population from 220 million in 1980 to 330 million in 2020 (a 50% increase), the total number of pilots actually decreased from 800,000 to 630,000. This decline means that the number of pilots per capita has significantly dropped, from 3,636 pilots per million people in 1980 to 1,909 pilots per million people in 2020. This disparity further exacerbates the challenges related to pilot shortages and industry capacity.