Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pilots Know More Than Just How to Fly Planes

It sure looks like the Airline Pilots Association understands the importance of government regulation to create benefits for a  small group and the value of limiting supply.

According to WSJ,  new regulations require newly hired pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of prior flight experience. That number is that is six times the current requirement. At the same time a large number of pilots are going to be forced to retire because they are bumping up against the current mandatory retirement age of 65.

Mike Sykuta writes:
The coincidence of such a staggering increase in training requirements for new pilots and the impending mandatory retirement of a large percentage of current pilots suggests that perhaps other forces were at work behind the scenes when Congress passed the rules in 2010. Legislative proposals are often written by special interests just waiting in the wings (no pun intended) for an opportune moment. Given the downsizing and cost-reduction focus of the US airline industry over the past many years, no group has been more disadvantaged and no group stands more to gain from the new rules than current pilots and the pilots unions.


  1. Who is being forced to retire at an earlier age? The article states the mandatory retirement age for pilots was recently increased from age 60 to 65.

    1. It wasn't raised recently. It was raised in 2007, which is why you are getting the problem now, exactly 5 years later, when those same pilots are bumping up against mandatory retirement.

      I have corrected my post to make my point clearer. It's not an earlier mandatory retirement its the current mandatory retirement.

  2. The Fly-By-Wire concept floated many years ago is the next step and will happen very fast now, where one pilot will sit up front 'just in case.' All the flying will be done by computers and a little man in a room somewhere.

    This is airline flight 52. Your drone is now waiting for you to board......

  3. Robert, with the costs of to become a pilot and lack of financing for it the result is a severe lack of skilled human capital. If 'user fees' get implemented like the Obama administration floated, but were quickly swatted down, then it could really hamper the flight training industry. This will accelerate as the baby boomers retire. Pilotage is like so many other industries where the baby boomers have not passed on their human capital to the next generation. The financial result will likely be much higher wages for pilots who are currently paid a pittance since the industry preys on aviation passion. Overall, I think there are going to be rising prices in the airline industry for the next decade. And waiting to get gate-raped is just one of the price increases.

    Fortunately, it looks like the ATC system is still in relatively decent shape. At least the US does not have controllers putting airliners on collision courses like Brazil.

    Peter, Fedex already does that. The first officer has been replaced by computer. I doubt the passenger airlines will transition to that though. Passengers seem to want to know the captain has skin in the game.

  4. The truth is that, while the old requirement was 250 hours, no one was offered a job that involved flying passengers with less than 1,200 hours. There are too many pilots chasing too few jobs. The military guys are plentiful and have flown in the most adverse of conditions which gives them an edge with the majors. And the rest will frequently work for minimum wage just to build hours. At one point I thought it might be fun to fly for a living but soon realized that the decline in lifestyle just wasn't realistic.

  5. Reading these comments reminds me of the great quote by Murray Rothbard, "It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance." Aviation is one of those things where every expert paraded on TV or in the press is the equivalent of a Paul Krugman.

    I've been a commercial airline pilot for over 15 years and I'm constantly amazed at the ignorance of the press which is also trumped by the comments here. First of all, FedEx has not replaced the first officer with a computer. A FedEx 757 is flown no differently than a Delta or United 757. Back during the last hiring boom of 2005-2007, there were indeed First Officers hired with around 250 hours. Now that hiring is much slower, the minimums are significantly hired. The problem the FAA has is they try to paint all pilots with the same brush. There are some pilots who have good training and are naturally good pilots who are perfectly capable of airline flying with a few hundred hours. On the other hand, there are plenty of pilots with several thousand hours who just don't "get it" and have no business in an airline cockpit.

    The age 65 issue is a touchy subject and is similar to the hiring standards. The vast majority of pilots were furious about the age change since it stopped retirements (thus slowing advancement) for 5 years and it's also a legitimate safety issue. Just like some pilots are ready to fly for the airlines, many are not. Likewise, many pilots are perfectly capable of flying well past 65 while others have clearly lost a step. Unfortunately, the FAA assumes all is well as long as no one is crashing...so unless one of these guys crashes an airplane, they assume everything is fine.

    While I favor the free market, I do struggle with how to apply it to aviation safety. Unfortunately, the only market signals given in this area are crashes. The FAA is as inept as any other government agency, but I would shudder to think how the airlines would operate without some oversight. I know the free market argument would say that the airlines don't want a crash since it's bad for business, but without some protections from FAA regulations we would not have the safety record we do in this country.