How pilot shortage could affect service at airports including Manistee Blacker

MANISTEE – Much of the world is facing an ongoing airplane pilot shortage, and Manistee is no exception.

According to a recent report by director Barry Lind at July’s Manistee Blacker Airport Authority meeting, 46% of flights in July were canceled.

However, Lind noted that this is not a unique issue and that the airline industry has been dealing with this for quite some time.

Reasons for the shortage

The issue is multi-faceted and has been years in the making, according to Lind,

It starts with congressional regulations, has to do with the price of education, and many consequences flow to create a perfect storm that is causing problems worldwide.


According to Lind, about 13,000 pilots are needed each year to replace those who age out of the system.

However, only around 6,500 certificates to fly commercial airplanes have been issued each year for the last decade, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Current regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration require captains of major airlines to retire at age 65.

Lind noted that the discrepancy in how many pilot certificates are issued every year has made the problem worse each year that passes. In addition, Lind said it costs anywhere between $ 100,000 and $ 250,000 to attend flight school to become a pilot for a commercial airline – which is always on the student to bear – through loans and or other means.

In addition, many of the larger airlines during the beginning of the pandemic offered incentive packages for pilots to retire before age 65, and when travel began to ramp up again in the summer of 2021, the larger airlines started to staff their flights with pilots from smaller regional airlines, which then created shortages down the chain.

Small airlines feeling the pinch

Cape Air, a small airline based out of Hyannis, Massachusetts, services Manistee Blacker Airport. In order to make its flights, the airline has employed three strategies to try to keep pilots, according to Andrew Bonney, senior vice president of planning for Cape Air.

First, Cape Air is paying for the training of pilots – who are then supposed to stay on for a year to fly their airplanes. Second, the company is looking into helping pay for homes in areas like Manistee to keep the pilots in the community.

Third, Cape Air is a small enough airline that it can recruit pilots age 65 and up from other larger airlines for those who do not want to retire, according to Bonney. These experienced pilots can become mentors to younger pilots, he said.

Cape Air is also partnering with Republic Airways’ LIFT Academy to help train students for a lower price by Republic Airlines paying about $ 15,000 to help subsidize the cost.

However, Bonney said despite, what they offer “some pilots are breaking their contracts” and a lot of it has to do with the expense to become a pilot and rules that were enacted over a decade ago.

The 1,500-hour rule

Bonney said overall the pipeline “is broken.” He said that is due to a regulation that the FAA instituted in 2010, which requires 1,500 hours of flight time to earn an Air Transport Pilot license. Before, the rule changed, in order to get an ATP license, pilots only needed 250 hours, plus any additional training specific to a particular airline.

Bonney said that in practice, pilots received 500 hours of flight before getting their ATP licenses. That license allows for the pilot to be a first officer or co-pilot, with a more experienced pilot as the captain.

The 1,500-hour rule came as a result of an incident that occurred in 2009. Colgan Air flight 3407 crashed just outside of Buffalo, New York. The crash killed 50 people. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board found that pilot fatigue was a contributing factor to the crash.

However, Bonney said that the pilot had over 2,200 hours of flight time and that the issue is not related to safety.

He said that this is because there is no regulation as to the type of plane or aircraft that one flies to receive those hours. He notes that pilots are flying unsupervised in single-engine planes or even a hot-air balloon simply to receive the 1,500 hours needed.

He notes that previously 250 hours could be obtained in a more structured environment like a flight school. Bonney said that Canada has the same pre-2010 requirements that the United States previously had for its pilots: 250 hours and airline-specific training. Pilots trained in the European Union are only required 230 hours of flight time.

He said that “the bottom line is that the cost” makes it nearly impossible to compete with larger airlines, particularly with students going into debt and wanting to make the median salary immediately.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers was $ 202,180 in May 2021.”

Bonney notes that makes airline pilots the second highest paying profession in the United States, just making a little less than the median salary for medical doctors.

As such, there is not all that much room to grow in salary, particularly for smaller airlines to be able to make the business model work.

Possible solutions

Both Lind and Bonney say the best solution would be for Congress to repeal the so-called 1,500-hour rule and return to pre-2010 regulations that were in place. In addition, Bonney and officials at other smaller airlines like Republic Airways are asking for exemptions to the 1,500-hour rule but only for first officers and co-pilots.

Those officials are asking to halve the number of required training hours for first officers to 750 flight hours.

Bonney said while that’s not perfect, it is much more achievable for a pilot in training or beginning pilot to achieve those hours, while still in flight school and at a much lower cost.

Bonney said the US Transportation Secretary has the power to grant that exception.

However, short of those actions, both Lind and Bonney said there is not much else that can be done to solve the problem that makes any economic sense for small airlines.

Lind said in the meantime, airline passengers need to be prepared and understand that travel has changed.

“I would say, regardless of whether it’s Manistee or any other airport, travel is less reliable, and flights have been canceled and you may not get to your destination,” Lind said.

“The airport can’t do much about that,” he added.

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