Have hope. Airline pilot hiring will resume – because it must!
Theologian Thomas Fuller wrote this in 1650 intending that hope exists regardless of unfortunate circumstances. Given the state of the airlines and economy in the past six months due to the coronavirus – few could have forecast the negative impact to the aviation industry. U.S. regional airlines like Compass and Trans States stopped operations.
Most major passenger airlines have decreased passenger capacity 85% or more and participated in the grant/loan program offered by Congress. The likelihood that some airlines may furlough employees on October 1st exists considering the current passenger count of 441,255 constitutes only 16.5% of the 2.6 million passengers from a year ago. However, as the economy recovers and passengers resume traveling, due to the Age 65 mandatory retirement for currently employed airline pilots – the hiring WILL resume, and most likely to the aggressive pace before.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts an annual average global passenger growth rate of 3.7% over the next 20 years . The largest U.S. airline pilot employers (Delta-14,500+, American-15,000+, United-13,300+, FedEx-5000+, Southwest-9,800+, UPS-2,900+) employ almost 61,000 pilots currently. Of those, 67% will reach mandatory retirement age 65 by 2033 according to airlinepilotcentral.com. The rough total number of all Regional (22,000), National (19,000), Cargo (13,000), and Legacy (43,000) pilots sums to just over 101,000. The six aforementioned airlines constitute over 60% of all commercial pilots in the U.S. and will be the genesis for any future hiring.
The following chart depicts these six individual airlines and their Age 65 retirement forecast from 2020 through 2033.
Note that some airlines peak at different times and some have a more level retirement number. By adding each airline together by year, we can get an aggregate amount of retirements over the same time period.
In 2025 – nearly 3,000 current pilots will retire that year and serves as the peak of forecasted Age 65 retirements. The last chart indicates the retirement projection for those currently flying in those six airlines.
As the chart indicates, by 2033, these six companies could absorb nearly all the regional, national, and cargo pilots that are flying today. With the IATA’s forecast of 3.7% annual passenger growth, these charts do not indicate any growth of carriers. However, applying just a 1% growth in hiring would result in an additional 9,000 pilots to these companies over the same time period. Hopefully, the new dawn of hiring overtakes whatever darkness may occur in the next year.