As the size of aircraft fleets continues to increase worldwide, coupled with the increased annual growth rate of the global air traffic passenger demand, many airline carriers have been forced into a reduction in the number of flight schedules due to a shortage of pilots. This dearth in number of pilots leading to the capping of the amount of embarked upon flights also created a sudden surge in the number of flight cancellations.
In August 2017, Horizon Air, the Seattle-based affiliate of Alaska Airlines, was forced to reduce its busy summer schedule causing them to cancel more than 300 flights in June. Earlier in the year, Republic Airways had filed for bankruptcy protection blaming, in part, a lack of qualified pilots. In Europe, Ryanair, canceled more than 2,000 flights before its lighter winter timetable began, due to insufficiency in the amount of available pilots.
One of the reasons for the experienced shortage in airline pilots is due to the rigorously expensive application process for becoming an airline pilot; especially in the U.S. Prospective pilots are personally responsible for securing their own FAA credentials. Over a 100,000 dollars may be spent just for flight training and education thus discouraging others from pursuing a career in the aviation industry.
Another reason for the experienced pilot shortage in the U.S. was the implementation of stricter hiring standards by the FAA for entry-level pilots by the FAA, after a series of highly publicized airplane accidents. This led to mandating additional certification and higher flight time requirements for prospective pilots.
In the next few years, a very large proportion of current pilots will reach retirement age leaving a considerable gap of expertise. As of 2016, the average age of airline pilots worldwide was estimated to be about 45 years of age. Amidst the oncoming wave of aviation retirees, the major area for training and recruitment of major airline pilots — regional carriers and the military — are also struggling to find and keep aviators.
To help curtail the problem of pilot shortages, pilot unions are continuing to push for higher wages in order to increase the economic incentive to joining the profession. As of 2017, the Americas had the highest number of active pilots with a total of 105,000 pilots on active duty.