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Pilot shortage puts pressure on airline operations

A pilot shortage is putting pressure on airlines to meet traveler demand. In response, carriers have been in a hiring frenzy — in part to replace pilots who reach the federal mandatory retirement age of 65.

Airlines were hurting for pilots pre-COVID, but they made it worse by encouraging early retirements when air travel collapsed in 2020. 

The federal government estimates there will be about 18,000 openings for airline and commercial pilots per year this decade. But how will they fill those spots?

Tim Holt says the interest is there. He is Dean of the College of Aviation at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott.

“Everybody is seeing that same effect where in collegiate aviation programs such as ours, tremendous growth,”  Holt said. 

But getting the right license from the Federal Aviation Administration takes a lot of time, money and training. 

Chris Nugent is with the Arizona Pilots Association.

“The congressional legislation in 2013 increased the number of hours you have to have to get an airline transport rating to 1,500 hours. This is after the Colgan Air crash in 2009,” Nugent said.

The nonprofit offers scholarships to high school and college students who want to pursue aviation careers, and they have seen a dramatic increase in applications. 

Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.