Calling All Future Flight Instructors!

By Rebecca McCracking
Instructor and Testing Center Supervisor, Commercial Aviation
Delta State University

We are in an age of a thriving industry, marketable pilots and enthusiastic students. Airlines have been busy filling up flight crew positions with young and experienced pilots. I routinely receive invitations to interviews that promise high salaries and sign-on bonuses. The need for professional pilots is a common talking point in the business. The “pilot shortage” has stirred up pilot hiring including standby positions.

Many aviation regulations and standards have changed in the past decade. In 2007, President Bush raised the retirement limit for airline captains in the United States to 65 years of age. Previously, the mandatory retirement age was 60. In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations required that all airline pilots (captain and co-pilot) must have an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) or a Restricted Airline Transport Pilot (RATP) license. To achieve an ATP certificate, a commercially rated pilot must pass an FAA ATP certification training program, a written exam and a practical test. Also, the ATP candidate must have flown a total of 1,500 hours. An RATP can be acquired through a Part 141 Flight School that has an FAA approved accreditation with an institute of higher learning, for example Delta State University. The RATP is for commercial pilots who have a total time of 1,000 hours but also have a bachelor’s degree in aviation.

These regulations, in addition to the low passenger count since 9/11, initially created furloughs in the airline industry. Today, airlines are competitive in salaries, schedules and upgrade time to captain. Working at Delta State University, I see recruiters from various airlines visit the training pilots multiple times a year. The booming industry has reawakened the yearning to fly.

While this story sounds like a great one, we have to remember where students begin. The “pilot shortage” has created a flight instructor shortage. On average, a flight instructor may work as a flight instructor for one year to build flight time for the airlines. I have spoken with other flight schools, and we all have the same problem: “How do we get or keep more flight instructors?”

The good news is that professional pilots are taking their pick of career paths. The bad news is the next generations of pilots are hurting. Although it is difficult now, it is making flight instructor pay increase significantly. At Delta State University we have increased pay, introduced benefits and are currently looking into lodging the instructors for low costs. I believe that the overall solution will take time for the current abundance of student pilots to earn their licenses and degrees. The next generation’s increase in students should be the answer we’re all looking for now. There may be a time period when it can be difficult to wait for your dreams, but I can promise it is worth the wait!