The aviation industry is currently experiencing an unprecedented period of change, with one particular aspect standing out prominently: pilot hiring. In 2022, U.S. airlines achieved a significant milestone by hiring over 13,000 pilots, nearly tripling the previous year’s record of just over 5,000 in 2021.
While the aviation sector has witnessed fluctuations over the years, the current trend in pilot hiring is reaching unprecedented levels, with forecasts indicating that 2023 will surpass the hiring figures of 2022. According to Boeing, a leading aircraft manufacturer, the global demand for new pilots over the next two decades is estimated at 649,000. This demand is particularly high in North America, where 129,000 pilots will be needed, and even more in regions like China and Eurasia.
Future and Active Pilot Advisors (FAPA), an organization tracking pilot hiring trends among major carriers since the 1990s, expects this hiring trend to continue in the coming year, setting new records. The major carriers in focus include Alaska, Allegiant, American, Atlas, Delta, FedEx, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United, and UPS, excluding regional carriers and corporate operators.
In 2021, major carriers hired 5,426 pilots, with United Airlines leading the way by hiring 1,280 pilots, marking a record at the time. However, 2022 brought astonishing numbers, with 13,128 pilots hired by the major carriers, representing a staggering 142% increase in just one year. As of 2023, the major carriers appear poised to break yet another record, with FAPA projecting over 13,000 pilot hires. Through August, 8,920 pilots have already been hired, with four more months left in the year for additional growth.
However, it’s worth noting that not all sectors of the industry are experiencing the same growth. Cargo giants FedEx and UPS are currently navigating a post-COVID decline in operations, leading to a reduction in pilot hiring. On the other hand, passenger carriers are hiring at unprecedented rates, with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines leading the way.
In the past, hiring droughts in the aviation industry have often coincided with major world events and a decline in air travel. The post-9/11 period saw carriers furloughing pilots for years before hiring resumed, with some airlines waiting longer than others to bring back their pilots.
Looking ahead, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts around 16,800 openings for airline and commercial pilots each year between 2022 and 2032, accounting for retirements and attrition. United Airlines, for example, expects to add 10,000 pilots over the decade. Major carriers are also taking steps to reduce barriers to entry, partnering with flight schools and offering financial assistance to individuals without prior aviation experience.
In conclusion, while the future remains uncertain, one thing is clear: the aviation industry is in need of pilots to meet growing demand. Airlines are taking various measures to address this need and ensure a steady supply of skilled aviators for the future.