Friday, May 15, 2015

St. Louis Area Groups Provide Forum to Address Pilot Shortage, Provide Opportunities for Aviation Careers

By Carmelo Turdo
(GSLFIA graphic)
Local St. Louis area aviation industry organizations held a public forum Thursday evening to provide information on employment opportunities available to pilots flying for the commercial airlines.  Titled "From Student to Aviation Career," the event was sponsored by the Greater St. Louis Flight Instructors Association (GSLFIA) and was conducted in the Air Associates of Missouri flight simulation facility at Spirit of St. Louis Airport.  Representatives from GSLFIA, Air Associates of Missouri, Trans States Airlines, GoJet Airlines, Southwestern Illinois College and Ideal Aviation gave presentations on their programs and services, ranging from initial flight training to employment by a commercial airline, and discussed practical career path options with individual attendees.  The first in a series of aviation industry forums planned for the remainder of the year, this event focused on the current and future shortage of air transport pilots (ATPs) that, if not addressed soon, will cause serious strains on commercial airline service providers.

The commercial airline pilot shortage has been identified in several studies, with varying conclusions.  A General Accounting Office (GAO) report, GAO-14-232 - Aviation Workforce: Current and Future Availability of Airline Pilots, published in February 2014, cites four industry studies that forecast the need for 2,000-4,500 new U.S. airline pilots per year over the next decade - the lower projections due to growth and the larger ones include attrition.  The study also reveals a statistic that should be noted: "While there were over 72,000 airline pilots employed in 2012, FAA data show a total of 137,658 active pilots under the age of 65 who held ATP certificates, as of January 6, 2014."  (p.19 GAO-14-232 Aviation Workforce).  Why aren't the additional ATPs making themselves available for the demand seen in the studies?  Also, there is a large pool of commercial and instrument rated pilots not progressing to ATP ratings, and the growth of Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs) has remained flat.  According to the GAO's analysis, the rate of growth in CFIs has positive association to the growth of ATPs, while there is a negative association to the cost of flight training. (p.27 GAO-14-232 Aviation Workforce).  Also, due in part to cost, enrollment in aviation degree-programs is in decline nationally.  A reasonable conclusion may be that the difficulty in filling ATP positions within the commercial airlines is affected by the lack of current growth in CFI pool as a pathway to ATP, the high cost of pilot training and aviation degree programs and the lack of incentive for current ATPs to take commercial airline crew positions.  Other obstacles include the requirement that the ATP pilots have a bachelor's degree, as stipulated by most commercial airlines, and the cost of acquiring the nearly 1,000 flying hours requirement.  The GAO report is worth a review by anyone interested in the commercial airline pilot staffing issues now and through the next decade.

GoJet Chief Pilot Randy Bratcher
The GSLFIA forum was designed to provide information from the St. Louis/Metro East IL area aviation service providers that may spur progress on meeting the challenge of developing ATPs for the commercial airlines.  Representatives from St. Louis-based regional carriers Trans States Airlines and GoJet Airlines were available to give presentations on the benefits of becoming ATPs with their companies.  Patrick Russell from Air Associates of Missouri and Bill Macon from Ideal Aviation were also available to discuss their flight training services, ranging from Private Pilot to ATP ratings.  Keith Mueller from Southwestern Illinois College discussed the Associate in Applied Science Degree that includes flight training to the Commercial Pilot rating, which qualifies the student to enter the Southern Illinois University Carbondale bachelor's program in Aviation Management.         

Trans States Dir. of Flight Operations Keith Stamper
The options discussed at the forum included practical steps toward addressing the shortage of ATPs in the commercial airline industry.  Air Associates of Missouri and Ideal Aviation provide flight training and aircraft rental at a reasonable cost for obtaining the pilot certificates needed to progress to the ATP rating.  Southwestern Illinois College and Southern Illinois University Carbondale offer the combined flight training and degree programs necessary for current commercial airline pilot job openings.  Trans States Airlines and GoJet Airlines provide locally-based resources for new ATPs to transition into the regional airline jets with incentives to attract new First Officers.  A systematic training and promotion schedule to Captain, and preparation for growth opportunities to larger airlines, are also part of the regional airline flying experience. 

The Greater St. Louis Flight Instructors Association (GSLFIA) is an important member of the local aviation community.  GSLFIA promotes aviation safety through FAA-sponsored programs and cooperative efforts with local aviation groups.  The Annual Flight Instructor Revalidation Clinic, Midwest Aviation Conference and Trade Show and Aviation Awards Banquet are significant events that area pilots consistently attend.  The Aero Experience thanks the GSLFIA, Air Associates of Missouri and all participants for contributing solutions to the potential commercial airline pilot shortage in the decade to come.

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