BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — A world-wide shortage of commercial airline pilots is looming on the horizon. Some small regional carriers have already been forced to cancel flights and keep planes on the ground.
It’s estimated that 20,000 pilots will be needed worldwide in the coming years.
Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation, one of the largest aviation programs in the nation, is turning out about 150 pilots per year. Those graduates and every other aviation program in the U.S. combined are not going to be nearly enough.
The vast majority of the world’s commercial pilots are trained in the U.S. but since deregulation in the 1970s students have faced a turbulent career path.
“For about the number of pilots being produced that actually want to go into this profession has slowed down significantly mainly because the pay is so bad,” said Dave Powell, Dean of WMU’s College of Aviation.
At WMU, students will pay close to $100,000 before they have will have the skills to fly commercially.
“And then when you graduate, you go out and get a job paying as little as $20,000 a year,” Powell said.
Now increasing demand for pilots globally is out pacing supply and increasing salaries have brought in some more students.
On WMU’s website, there are many job postings for students to hopefully land a job in the aviation industry after graduation. The College of Aviation has seen an 11 percent rise in students in the last three years.
Powell says universities and the industry currently can’t meet the demand for pilots.
“In fact there are airplanes being parked inside the U.S. and some of the regional carriers have curtailed their flying because they do not have enough pilots,” Powell said.
The dean says the story is likely to get worse before it gets better.
“There are probably ten or fifteen very large programs like ours in the country and if all of us produce as many pilots as we can we will produce maybe 2,200 to 2,3000 (pilots) per year. The problem is the industry needs about 5,000 (pilots) a year and you are just not going to get it,” Powell said.
According to Powell, the military is only turning out around 1,500 pilots per year and half of those are now flying drones.