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Jobs Soar for Pilots

Opportunities for pilots should remain at a comfortable cruising altitude for many years to come.

"The job market in aviation is amazing right now," says Laura Gerhold. She is the aviation academic advisor at the Institute of Aviation at the University of Illinois. "The airlines are hiring pilots as fast as we can train them, and it is projected to continue like this for the next five to eight years."

Explaining the Cycles and Demand

To become a captain for a large commercial airline, pilots must have over 1,000 hours of flight experience. Students usually leave aviation schools with 250 to 300 hours of training in the air. So, most pilots start their careers at smaller regional airlines. There are also opportunities with charter and tour services, cargo and transport services, and flight instruction.

When the major airlines need new pilots, they look to smaller airlines and other air services to recruit experienced pilots. Then the smaller airlines look to training schools to fill the empty positions left by advancing pilots. Everybody moves up, so there is room at the bottom to move in.

There are a few reasons why pilots are in demand right now.

"At a time when airlines are hiring like crazy to replace retiring pilots, as well as provide crew for additional aircraft purchases, the number of young people training is declining. Therefore, there is a tremendous demand for the new pilots, and I think the demand will increase even more," says Cave.

Gordon Bush is the general manager of an airline that offers scheduled and charter flights. He says people want to travel further on vacation, and this adds to the demand for pilots.

Employment opportunities in the aviation field follow the ups and downs of the economy. During a recession, for example, air travel declines, and airlines need fewer pilots. However, in the long term, a growing population and economy is expected to boost the demand for air travel, along with the need for pilots.

Crunching Numbers

Never in the history of aviation have there been so many new aircraft. And with many more on the way, the industry is expecting a pilot shortage.

"By every estimate, the next 20 years will be a time of unparalleled growth for the airline industry," says Sherry Carbary. Carbary is the president of Alteon Training, a Boeing company. She is responsible for the company's aviation training programs.

"While Boeing and Airbus may not agree on some things, they do agree that over the next 20 years, the world's fleet will more than double," she says.

Boeing and Airbus expect the world's airlines to add 25,000 new planes to their fleets by 2025. Those new planes will require 360,000 new pilots worldwide. That's more than 18,000 new pilots every year through 2025. In the U.S. alone, 10,000 new pilots will be needed per year, says Carbary.

"In our last graduating class, 97 percent of our graduates had a job in aviation within three months," says Gerhold. "It is a great time to get into flying!"

Taking Advantage of Opportunities

It is possible to land a job without a formal diploma or degree. A pilot's ticket to a job is the commercial pilot's license. However, airlines will give preference to pilots with a degree or diploma.

While any undergraduate degree is evidence of the ability to learn, the aviation programs provide much more pilot-oriented knowledge than, say, a degree in computer science," says Cave.

He believes the chances of landing a job are greater when a pilot has an aviation diploma. They're greater still with an aviation degree.

"Even the smaller airlines will insist on graduation from a program such as ours when they are hiring during a period when there are plenty of pilots available to them," says Cave.

The flying school where Cave works and the local university work together. They offer a program in business administration and aviation. Programs split between educational institutions and flying schools are fairly common.

The Pilot Price Tag

Pilot training is one of the most expensive college programs. That's because students are required to spend a certain number of hours in the air. Students commonly need 250 to 300 hours of flying time to graduate. And a single flight can cost $550.

In addition to tuition and books, students also pay for fuel and medical tests. Also, pilots may need additional licenses to fly different types of aircraft. Costs add up quickly. It's not unusual for students to spend over $30,000 a year on flight training.

Even with a degree, airlines still want piloting experience. And starting pay is low compared to other professions, says Bush.

As new pilots gain seniority, their salaries increase accordingly, adds Bush. So new pilots must be patient and do their time at the bottom of the ladder.

"Some new pilots jump ship because they feel promotion is too slow. So they start again at the bottom of the seniority list with other companies, and have to wait longer to get ahead," says Bush.

"The market is mainly looking for qualified pilots with some hours on the type of aircraft they operate, or pilot in command time on single engine aircraft," says Bush.

Preparing for Take Off

"My advice to students who are interested in being a captain of an airliner is to work hard in high school, and get a good knowledge base in math, physics and English. Continue your education by attending a school that has a well developed aviation program so you earn the right credentials for that dream job of the future. Secondly, develop interests in other areas," says Cave.

A pilot's license is dependent on a medical certificate. So, it's a good idea to think about a second career -- just in case.

"You may never need to leave your career as a pilot, but if you are forced to due to a medical problem, it's nice to have a secondary career in mind," says Cave.

If you love airplanes and aviation, and you're prepared for a job that's not nine-to-five, a piloting career may be for you. "Aviation is no doubt an exciting career for the young and not so young," says Bush.


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