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Pilot Shortage Could Mean Fewer, More Expensive Flights

Extra training and lower pay are discouraging people from becoming pilots which could have a major impact on airports and passengers across the country.
By Ashley Hinson

LUBBOCK, TX-- When Louis Hilliard became a flight instructor in 2002, his daily schedule was booked with flying lessons.  Now he spends his Tuesdays on the ground.  

"I hate to see our industry as a whole kind of shrink," said Hilliard.

Hilliard said fewer people are choosing aviation careers thanks to the cost and time it now takes to become a pilot.

"It changes our customer segment completely," said Hilliard  "Where the majority of our training comes from now is just people who have an interest in aviation as a hobby."

A federal law that went into effect in August of 2013 requires 1500 hours of flight experience instead of just 250 and the extra training doesn't come cheap.

"The folks who want to be airline pilots have to spend anywhere from $60,000-$100,000 to get what is eventually going to become a $20,000-25,000  a year job and it just doesn't work out economically," Hilliard said.

That lack of interest is affecting more than just Hilliard's flight school it's hitting major airlines across the country.

Boeing predicts the need for pilots to nearly double in the next 20 years to 445,000 and to meet that need airlines are encouraging hiring.  
American Airlines in Fort Worth said they're looking to employ 1500 new pilots in the next 5 years, but Hilliard said the US loses many potential hires to other countries.  

"Demands for air travel is going up and pilots are disappearing because of mandatory retirements," said Hilliard.  "Because of the pay at the regionals a lot of these pilots end up going oversees and are able to find much better paying flying jobs in those parts of the world.  

Hilliard said this shortage will trickle down to airports across the nation.

"You'll see fewer flight choices, you'll see fuller flights, and you'll see higher fares," said Hilliard.  

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