We could be looking at a nationwide problem. A lack of airline pilots. Small airports such as the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport could begin to really feel the impact of the pilot shortage, especially over the next 10 years. Small airports such as ours could begin to see reductions in flights. Another 144 small airports nationwide, 11 of which are in Colorado, could also be impacted.
This shortage of pilots comes from not only the mandatory retirement for pilots at the age of 65 but also changes to the recruiting and training of new pilots. According to research from the University of North Dakota School of Aerospace Sciences, we need approximately 50,000 new pilots before 2026 in order to thwart this national shortage. That's a fairly unrealistic number unless something drastic changes.
Students can expect it to take another three to seven years after completing their college education to become a pilot. The starting wage in the U.S. is only about $50,000 and there is nothing stopping a student from pursuing international employment where the pay is often more for a lighter workload.
When the industry has an abundant supply of pilots, new pilots often start with regional airlines where they gain experience and hours as co-pilots. After a few years, they then move up to captaining their own regional planes before moving on to co-piloting the large jumbo jets for the bigger, major airlines. This can often take a pilot 10 years or more to accomplish.
“If this shortage does happen it could create a situation where the money to pay for the flights is there but we can’t get the flights because of the lack of pilots,” said RTA executive director Scott Truex. “It will be a new paradigm.” Regardless of what shapes up over the next 10 years or so, the RTA is committed to working hard to see that the air service continues to the Gunnison Valley. Click here to read more on the National Pilot Shortage in the Crested Butte News.