Pilot Shortage

Small- and medium-sized communities are continuing to experience commercial air service reductions, in part, because carriers say that there are not enough qualified pilots to operate their flights.  Numerous studies and news reports have documented the adverse impacts of the pilot shortage.  Unfortunately, more and more communities in rural and less populated areas will continue to lose commercial flights unless Congress, the administration, and aviation stakeholders take action.

While there are a number of factors that have contributed to the lack of available qualified pilots in the U.S., a 2013 Federal Aviation Administration rule that requires first officers to accumulate 1,500 hours of flight time to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate has created significant challenges.  The 1,500 hours of required flight time is up from the 250 hours previously required.  As part of the 2013 rule, the agency allowed pilots to receive a restricted ATP with fewer hours including military pilots with 750 hours, graduates holding a bachelor’s degree in aviation with 1,000 hours, and graduates holding an associate’s degree in aviation with 1,200 hours.

The FAA pointed out that the regulations “stem in part from the tragic crash of Colgan Air 3407 in February 2009, and address a Congressional mandate in the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 to ensure that both pilots and co-pilots receive the ATP certification.”  


FY20 Appropriations:  Before Congress adjourned at the end of 2019, lawmakers passed two packages of must-pass appropriations bills including one that contained funding for DOT, FAA and other federal agencies.  The measure included a total of $10 million for two aviation workforce programs in fiscal year 2020 that Congress had previously authorized.

The FAA reauthorization bill, which Congress passed in 2018, required DOT to establish a program to support the education of future aircraft pilots.”  It also required DOT to establish a program to support “the education and recruitment of aviation maintenance technical workers.”   The bill authorized $5 million for each program annually through FY23. 
FAA Reauthorization:  The multi-year FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 302) that Congress passed in late 2018 did not include a proposal from then-Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) that would have allowed airlines to provide training to help first officers meet the 1,500-hour flight time requirement.  

AAAE supported Senator Thune’s plan because it would have opened the door for airlines to provide structured and disciplined training courses if the FAA determined that the training would enhance aviation safety.  We argued that the modest approach would have kept the 1,500-hour rule intact, improved pilot training, and enhanced aviation safety by focusing on quality of flight hours rather than the quantity of flight hours.

Although Thune’s proposal didn’t make into the final bill, the legislation included some provisions that may help shine a light on aviation workforce challenges.  For instance, the measure requires the Department of Transportation to “establish a program to support the education of future aircraft pilots and the development of the aircraft pilot workforce.”  

The FAA bill also calls on Government Accountability Office to “evaluate the current and future supply of individuals in the aviation and aerospace workforce” and to identify methods to increase the numbers of those individuals.

Aviation Workforce Symposium and Congressional Hearing:  There finally seems to be wider acknowledgement within the administration and on Capitol Hill that there is a shortage of pilots, flight instructors, and other aviation workers.  On September 13, 2018, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell hosted a day-long Aviation Workforce Symposium to examine the issue and to share ideas on ways to attract more young people to the aviation industry. 

Two weeks later, a House Small Business Subcommittee held a hearing on how the aviation workforce shortage is impacting small businesses.  Marty Lenss, the Eastern Iowa Airport Director and Vice Chair of AAAE’s Air Service Committee, participated in both events. 

AAAE Views

AAAE is continuing to urge Congress, the administration, and aviation stakeholders to take action to address the pilot shortage and other aviation workforce challenges.  For the past several years, AAAE has been highlighting how the shortage of commercial airline pilots has led to the reduction or elimination of commercial air service to a number of small communities across the country.  

Related Information

  • On March 5, 2018, more than 75 airport and local officials signed a letter to key lawmakers that urges them to address the pilot shortage by adopting a Senate proposal to help aspiring pilots meet their training requirements.
  • The Flight Safety Foundation in March 2018 released a position paper calling for “training programs that are competency- or evidenced-based and not solely hours-based.”
  • On February 27, 2018 AAAE, the Regional Airline Association, the Cargo Airline Association, and other aviation stakeholders also urged lawmakers to adopt the Thune proposal. A copy of their letter may be viewed here .
  • AAAE created a separate website dedicated specifically to the pilot shortage.


Brad Van Dam
Senior Vice President, Government Affairs