Future airline pilots may be less experienced, less ethical, in short supply, NTSB told

By Joan Lowy, AP
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Future pilots may not be up to snuff, NTSB warned

WASHINGTON — There are signs that future airline pilots will be less experienced, less ethical and in short supply, a panel of experts told an aviation safety forum on Tuesday.

While there are more pilots than there are airline jobs today, the reverse is likely to be true as airlines recover from the economic recession and begin hiring again, experts on pilot hiring and screening told the National Transportation Safety Board. The coming shortage may likely fall heaviest on regional airlines, who generally employ less-experienced pilots at lower salaries, they said.

There are about 54,000 pilots working for major airlines, nearly 19,000 regional airline pilots and about 2,500 qualified pilots available for hire in the U.S. today, said aviation consultant Judy Tarver, a former pilot recruiter for American Airlines. She estimated that airlines will need to hire about 42,090 pilots over the next decade, due to retirements and anticipated industry growth.

Panel members said there are far fewer military pilots leaving for jobs with airlines. Fewer college students say they want careers in aviation because they see it as an economic dead end, and airlines are increasingly having to compete with corporations for pilots.

The comments came as the safety board began a three-day forum on how to get more pilots and air traffic controllers to consistently strive for a high-level of professionalism. The impetus for the forum is a series of high-profile incidents over the past year in which the conduct and judgment of pilots and controllers have been called into question, including the crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 50 people.

The safety board said the crash occurred after the plane stalled because the pilot pulled back, instead of pushing forward, on a key piece of safety equipment. But they also cited a series of errors and unprofessional conduct by the pilot and first officer leading up to the accident.

Paul Rice, a pilot and spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said he was skeptical that a willingness to break rules and flout authority among younger pilots is any different than past generations of young pilots.

However, he said he shared the panel’s concern that there will be a shortage of experienced pilots at regional airlines, which account for half of all domestic flights and are the only scheduled air service to about 400 communities.

Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, said any pilot shortage won’t affect safety because pilots are trained, certified and tested.

Airline travel today is safer than ever before, but the Buffalo crash and other incidents are warning signs that safety may be eroding because of an attitude of “casual compliance” by a minority of pilots, said Tony Kern, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel and author of five books on pilot performance.



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