U.S. active certificated pilots - number 1990-2019

It is widely held that there is a pilot shortage in the United States – a view seemingly supported by the figures: by 2016 there were only around 584,000 pilots in the U.S. from over 700,000 in 1990. This figure has climbed slightly in recent years though, reaching 666,565 in 2019.

U.S. pilot certification types

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot certifications can be broadly divided into three categories: students (who are not included in the above figures); private use (generally) without compensation, which includes several license types covering sport, recreation and personal business; and licenses which allow pilots to transport passengers commercially, either with some restrictions (‘Commercial Pilot’) or without (‘Airline Transport Pilot’). Military pilots are not included, but can apply to the FAA to have their military qualifications recognized.

Reasons for the shortage

One common reason cited for the shortage in pilots is the decline in wages following deregulation of the industry from the late 1970’s. This has led to fewer recruits, with the number of student pilots falling sharply between 1990 and 2009. Although student numbers have started increasing again in recent years, there is a question over whether this will be sufficient. In 2018, the number of pilots aged over 45 was around 50 percent higher than the number of pilots aged below 45, while the demand for air travel has been growing strongly and consistently over the last decade. In total, it is estimated that around 110,000 additional pilots will be needed across the Americas between 2018 and 2028.

Number of pilots in the United States from 1990 to 2019

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Release date

February 2020


United States

Survey time period

1990 to 2019

Supplementary notes

The figures have been rounded.

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Statistics on "Employment in the U.S. aviation industry"

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