Looming shortage of aviation labor force causing stress for airlines

Cole Hall

The aviation industry is facing a growing shortage of qualified pilots and mechanics, leaving gaps in the work force. The current labor force is aging, and few people are stepping up to take their place as they near retirement. “It’s pronounced enough that they are using the term ‘Graying of the workforce’,” says David Jones, an aircraft mechanic currently working out of Washington County airfield.

One factor for the shortage is the 1500-hour rule enacted in 2013. This rule requires a minimum number of flight hours experience for pilots, both captains and first officers, before they can fly for airlines.

While this rule was enacted with good intentions, the result is a large portion of the potential workforce being cut out. This, along with the rising cost to obtain the hours and training required, has placed more obstacles in the path of new and upcoming pilots.

The rule also puts further strain between airlines and smaller corporate and private jet sectors, forcing the two sectors to fight over a shrinking number of experienced pilots.

Mechanics are in a similar situation. As of last year, Boeing estimates 754,000 new mechanics will be required by 2028 to keep up with demand. Airbus offers a more conservative estimate of 630,000 mechanics within the same time span, though the number represents an increase of 80,000 from their previous predictions.

There is some debate as to why there are so few mechanics within the labor force currently, but factors include the closure of many schools, rising cost of education, as well at the general decline of trade professions among younger people; but the need for personnel in the aviation industry is only increasing. “We are short people because schools are closing and school are closing because lack of interest,” says Jones.

Aviation continues to grow overseas, and companies such as Amazon are continuously expanding their distribution, even as fewer people are entering the industry.

Steps are already being taken to combat this shortage. A handful of airlines, including United Airlines and other companies, are reaching out to schools in order to lower the current costs of training; unfortunately, the efforts haven’t borne much fruit. Other government-based programs are in the works to spur interest in aviation, but these programs require time and money.

The solutions to problems like this are not always clear. Aviation is facing problems on many fronts, and the labor force shortage is only one of them. Only time will tell whether this becomes a true crisis or simply a slow bump in the industry.