Mixed Messages For Would-Be Pilots


CAE, the world’s leading simulator and training provider, has released a report that says out-of-work pilots who stick it out until the industry bounces back from the pandemic will have their pick of jobs, an optimistic view that stands out from the sour mood of those now living through it. The company says 260,000 pilots will be needed through the end of the decade and there’s going to be tens of thousands of openings and early as the end of 2021. CAE’s rosy predictions are contained in its regular 10-year forecast for pilot demand and it says the pandemic will actually improve pilot prospects if they can survive another year. A collision of circumstances, fueled only in part by the pandemic, are the basis for that forecast.

“Many [pilots] have pivoted to other professions and might not want to resume their pilot careers,” CAE said. “On the one hand, airlines and operators have reduced the pilot workforce to offset the financial impact of the pandemic. On the other hand, data indicates that the industry will face significant challenges in the upcoming years to meet the demand for pilots.” Compounding the economic attrition is the fact that thousands of pilots riding the retirement age extensions granted a few years ago will be hanging up their stripes for good in the next two years and others aren’t far behind. “The percentage of pilots over the age of 50 continues to increase versus the total civil aviation industry pilot pool,” CAE said. “Currently, this pilot population age represents a disproportionally high rate.”

Meanwhile some of those in the industry whose enlightened self-interest would normally make them cheerleaders for new pilots are apparently throwing in the towel. The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has taken the unprecedented step of warning would-be pilots to find something else to do. The union issued a statement last week saying that with 10,000 pilots grounded in Europe, anyone starting flight training now will likely end up $150,000 in debt and with no job prospects. The release was punctuated by British Airways announcing it expected more job losses and route cancellations in November after the U.K. government banned leisure travel to curb virus transmission.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. Why am I not surprised by the BALPA comment? I have been saying for years there is/was no such thing as a pilot shortage and now a pilot organization finally realizes that. A bit surprised to hear that from a European pilot organization. This current (Covid) situation is just another “down” cycle that may take 5-10 years to recover from. Even the CAE comment is not that encouraging to anyone who may be considering entering the profession.

  2. Remember key-punch operators? In the early 1970s, that was “the job of the future.” Of course, we were in fear of “the coming ice age,” too. Find a job that can’t be automated – if you can.

  3. According to some census information, there’s about 330,000,000 population in the United States. About 20 to 30 percent of the population are willing and able to fly. That means we should have 10 percent of the nations population holding a minimum of a Sport Pilot License. Until the pilot population in the U.S. reaches +30 million we have a shortage.

    Aviation in this country will never meet it’s potential as long as it’s considered to be an elitist hobby. Those who are obsessed with the airlines as the only demand… That’s just too bad and so sad for the Aviation Industry.

    Do you think the highway infrastructure we have today would exist if only 1 percent of the population had a drivers licenses? Everyday I look out at a world full of flying opportunities and no one there to fulfill them. 🙁

    • “About 20 to 30 percent of the [U.S.] population are willing and able to fly.”
      Where did you get that little gem of information?

      • I’ve done ground training before, and any adult who didn’t attend public school in Hawaii was capable of easily passing the ground exams.

        (One of the big advantages the US had over Japan in WW2 was that US young men were almost all acceptable airmen candidates, but Japan was still pre-industrial in terms of education and experience. After IJN lost virtually all of their air crews at Coral Sea and Midway, the war was already over.)

        However … it’s not looking good for the US smartphone generation. Little general knowledge, poor reading skills, poor focus – like Hawaii students were in 2000.

        • Note that it says “any adult who didn’t attend public school in Hawaii was capable of easily passing the ground exams.” In other words, the public was knowledgeable enough to be “trainable”. Compare that with the last sentence.

          We have BIG PROBLEMS coming up ahead (belay that, that lack of useful education has ALREADY manifested itself!) The common lament of most employers is the paucity of a trained (or even trainable) work force. High school students today have computer skills, but anybody that has reviewed 8th grade books from the 30s-50s will find that the skill of students in “basic life skills” (reading comprehension, social studies, history, math, geography, etc.) is woefully lower today than for that period. Moreover, nearly 40% of high school “graduates” require “remedial” classes when attempting to go on to basic colleges—required to learn things they SHOULD have learned in high school.

          In other words–many “graduates” today don’t know HOW TO LEARN! We see it in flight schools today–students come to learn to fly, but can’t read or understand textbooks. They get through the FAA requirements by watching test prep videos. What is MISSING is that they still haven’t learned HOW to learn–something most Human Resources departments also lament.

    • >About 20 to 30 percent of the population are willing and able to fly<
      I couldn't disagree more about that. As long a flying is as difficult a task as it is, and costs as much as it does, the number of pilots is going to remain very small.

      • Let me define ‘Willing and Able’. People who want to fly and meet the minimum requirements of the FARs. Financially able, is a different story.

        When Private Pilot Ground School as an elective is offered to students over 13 years old, usually half the eligible students will sign up. Many of the graduating seniors would have either soloed or be licensed. A number of high-schools in Alaska offered Private Pilot Ground School in the 60’s and 70’s. As the 1980’s came around the Private Pilot classes moved to the universities then just faded away. Many families would have an aircraft that they would contribute to the kids flight training. Lots of pilots where made that way.

  4. The reality is, in the US, this pandemic is the 3rd economic setback for the aviation industry in 20 years.. 4th setback in 30 years.. Anybody can quickly figure out the average years between any future setbacks and it’s financial impact to one’s career..

  5. Cockpit automation has advanced to the point we have two-human-pilot airline cockpits (navigators and flight engineers having been displaced long ago) and I firmly believe we are not far from the day of the highly-automated one-human-pilot airline cockpit. Couple that with the decrease in demand for airline travel due to pandemics and remote working and it is hard to see how the demand for human pilots will increase. So any rosy forecast from a company whose business is training airline pilots is suspect.

    • No question near-future technology is going to allow fully automated airline flight, whether backed by on-board human or not. Still, on the single-pilot thing I’m going to brashly predict that for the working lifetime of those maturing today, with the possible exception of 1-2 hour feeder runs the public isn’t going to accept airline flight without redundant human overseers on board. Automated alarms notwithstanding, I suspect they will demand the guarantee of an awake & alert human watching every second, not someone on-call while watching the in-flight movie or taking a nap or rest break.

  6. Covid 19 damage to aviation has been massive, but since flight was commercialised humanity strived to fly and the airline industry doubled every 15-20 years. It will bounce back!