Attrition: Where Have All The Fighter Pilots Gone


July 24, 2007: Air forces the world over are trying to deal with sustained pressure from desperate airlines looking for pilots. There are nearly 150,000 airline pilots worldwide, about half of them American, but fewer than 20,000 military pilots in the United States. The military has long been a primary source for airliner pilots. The military hangs on to its pilots by demanding that pilot candidates serve more years (ten or more), than in the past, in return for flight training. During that ten years, pilots can usually get the needed 1,500 hours of flight time to qualify them for an air line job. Although they take a pay cut (often up to fifty percent) when they go from the military to entry level commercial flying, within five years they are usually back to their military level of pay, and soon exceed it. A decade ago, in the United States, some 80 percent of airline pilots began in the military. That's now down to less than 40 percent and falling. The Department of Defense simply accepts the constant loss of military pilots as a cost of doing business. But for many other air forces, the expense of constantly replacing pilots makes maintaining an air force more costly, and requires cuts elsewhere (aircraft, flying time, readiness).

There are currently nearly 17,000 airliners in operation, and even more multi-engine corporate jets. The number of aircraft is expected to double in the next 10-15 years. All need pilots with at least 1,500 hours of flying time. The growing demand for commercial airline pilots has been going on for a decade now. The pilot shortage has already forced most nations to allow pilots to keep flying after age 60, and to allow new pilots to get into the co-pilots seat with only a few hundred hours of flying time. Some airlines outside North America and Europe are doing that.


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