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What Does America’s Pilot Shortage Reveal About Higher Education?

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A commercial airliner flies across the sky.

Google the phrase “pilot shortage” and you’ll find a barrage of headlines, even from this past year alone, that augur doom for the United States’ airline workforce. “Facing a Critical Pilot Shortage, Airlines Scramble to Hire New Pilots,” the Wall Street Journal said in August 2018. “Airlines are ‘desperate’ for new pilots, and the shortage is contributing to canceled routes,” Business Insider wrote in September of the same year. And, just in January, ABC News reported, “Pilots worry national shortage putting airline passengers in danger.”

Many observers declare that this is because flight school is too expensive for a career that doesn’t promise much pay without working for a major airline—which you can’t do without accepting low pay and long hours from a regional airline first. And because of the pilot shortage, regional pilots have historically suffered the heavy workload, assuming too many hours and wobbly work-life balance. This makes the approximately $75,000 necessary to obtain a pilot license seem largely out of reach for people with dreams of flying.

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