If You Think Drones Will Replace Pilots, You’re Wrong

If you think that automated controls will take over the airlines, you’re wrong. The pilot shortage has been affecting travelers all around the world, and new student pilots face numerous obstacles in the path to work for the airlines. But what is the future like for the aviation industry, student pilots, and travelers?


Contrary to the popular belief that the pilot shortage was a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, David Koenig from AP News says that it has been predicted since 2013, when the Federal Aviation Administration mandated a total of 1,500 flight hours to become a commercial pilot. 


But why is there a shortage of pilots?


“The difficulty comes in the cost,” says Mr. Burtness, AP Physics teacher and private pilot at Hall. “Over 50 hours of airplane rental with an instructor plus a third more for instructor time is a large financial commitment to learn how to just get a private pilot’s license.” 


To take the process a step further and pursue a commercial pilot’s license, the cost is roughly $100,000, according to The Pilot Institute.

A student pilot opens the hangar to a Cessna Skyhawk, continuing her training to get her private pilot’s license. (Mollie Reynolds)

Although Mr. Burtness is not training for a commercial license, the cost for flying still continues. “In 32 years of flying, I have over 900 hours of flight time, though I fly less now than I used to due to the high cost of aviation fuel and plane rental,” he says.


In 2007, the FAA raised the pilot retirement age from 60 to 65 in an attempt to control the shortage, however its impacts were very brief. Now, more and more military trained pilots are forced into retirement. “The supply of new pilots will grow, but not enough to offset a continuing wave of retirements,” Oliver Wyman says, from an interview with AP News.


Furthermore, due to safety concerns, the FAA denied a recent bid by Republic Airways in an attempt to lower the number of flight hours needed to become a commercial pilot. This bid would allow commercial pilots to be hired at 750 flight hours instead of 1,500. Although military pilots are hired when they reach 750 flight hours, the FAA believes that this number would be a safety concern.


Yet safety comes with a cost. The Regional Airline Association, an airline management company that represents 17 airlines based in New England, raises the concern that over 300 airports have suffered from lack of available service, and due to this as well as the pilot shortage, 400 planes have been grounded. 


“One time, not even two weeks ago, I was coming back from a band trip and the airport lost our instruments,” says senior Lauren Fluckiger. This hasn’t been the first time that $35,000 worth of items have been lost by airlines. “My band teacher definitely did not approve of the airport management’s poor organization skills.”


Moreover, in an ever-changing world, the demographic of pilots in America has been brought to the FAA’s attention, as a secondary result of the high costs of flying. This demographic often results in the image of an American pilot being a white man. 

Percentages of different ethnicities of pilots. (Mollie Reynolds)

“The last [pilots] I met, I don’t think I met any other than white men,” says senior Sofia Mendoza Barcelona. 

Percentages of different genders of pilots. (Mollie Reynolds)

However, the FAA and numerous other programs are working on making the process of becoming a pilot more achievable. According to the FAA, many flight schools have available scholarships and discounted training offered, hoping to diversify the field and give opportunities to more prospective pilots.


“Flying to me puts the world in a different perspective that you can’t get anywhere else,” says sophomore Andrew Lurie, a prospective student pilot. Andrew has flown a discovery flight at a local airport, and hopes to continue. “When I tell people I want to pursue aviation, people are always like, ‘that’s so cool!’ or ‘you’re so brave!’”