Where Will Airline Flying Jobs Come From?

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Approximately 46,259 pilots worked for major airlines in 1989. FAPA's predictions for future airline hiring are based on the following assumptions: an average of six crews per aircraft, two-man flight crews for twin-engine aircraft, three-man crews for three-engine aircraft, and a retirement age of 60.

The major and national airlines have represented more than 75 percent of all jet airline hiring since 1987. They will continue to grow and replace retiring pilots in increasing numbers. FAPA predicts that this airline group will account for the majority of new jobs in large jets through about 2005 A.D.

Most established major airlines will have a significant number of pilot retirements over the next several years. FAPA anticipates that the majors will have to replace 1,540 to 1,823 pilots per year due to attrition alone. If any of the variables change, the projection for new-hires will change; for example, if the retirement age is increased to 65, then the number of projected new-hires would decrease to a probable range of 1,143 to 1,427 pilots per year. Remember, however, that these figures do not reflect expansion. When considering future demand for pilots, FAPA includes a modest five percent growth rate. At this level, companies operating large jets would need to hire about 3,200 pilots per year in order to fill their cockpits.

The formula for pilot demand is based on two factors: the amount of equipment in service and the general public's desire to travel. Aircraft orders directly affect the capacity of the airlines; that is, the more airplanes in the fleet, the more passengers in the airline's traffic report. Further, you must not consider only the passenger transport industry; aircraft orders within the cargo transport industry are a factor as well. It was projected in 1988 that within the passenger airline industry, capacity would increase 66 percent from 1989 to 2001. In the cargo transport industry, the capacity was projected to increase 100 percent over the same time span. In order to handle this rate of growth among the passenger and cargo transport industries, FAPA calculated, the airlines would have to .n-crease their pilot ranks by 75 percent over the 10-year period.

More than ever, the traveling public has strongly influenced the need for airlines to buy more planes. There are two groups that the airlines have to accommodate: business travelers and recreational travelers.

The trend in business during the period of healthy economic growth in the 1980s was toward much more frequent travel than in earlier "boom times." The airlines themselves contributed to this trend by developing the hub-and-spoke system of service delivery. The effects of this system are much more far-reaching than is generally recognized. The hub-and-spoke system provided frequent, reliable air service to a great many communities that previously had been dependent on one or two subsidized stops a day by major or national carriers, which often took passengers hundreds of miles (and five to eight hours) out of their way to get them to their destinations. But the revolution in service did not stop there. The volume of passengers delivered to the hubs by feed carriers permitted the major and national airlines to initiate service between a large number of city-pairs which otherwise could never have had dedicated routes. The reason they could not receive dedicated service under the old system of mainly origin-and-destination routes was that one or both of the cities in question would have been unable to supply enough passengers to make flights profitable for the airlines. The hub-and-spoke system augments the supply of passengers from each of the paired cities, thus providing enough traffic to make these city pairings feasible.

The vastly increased air service to most parts of the United States was only one portion of a complex of forces creating a global business community that now reaches even into U.S. backwaters and ex-hinterlands. Another contribution by the airlines was their development of international destinations from their hub systems. Technologies growing out of the digital revolution have accounted for a very large measure of the move toward a global business community. Profound changes in banking and in investment practices have been among other forces pushing the world into a pan-continental network of interrelated business arenas.

While all of these changes were taking place in business, the U.S. baby boom generation was enlarging the base of individuals sufficiently affluent to become frequent air travelers. Individuals who fall into the frequent-traveler category are for the most part between the ages of 40 and 60. In time, however, the baby boom group probably will increase the amount of air travel by retirees past the age of 60.

Thirty percent of the current population consists of baby boomers, and this group represents over 50 percent of the flying public. These people grew up with air travel, and they love to fly. This group is heavily represented in both the business and recreational travel groups. In the late 1980s, the first baby boomer turned 40. Over the next 13 years, the baby boomers are expected to bring more frequent flyers into the prime air travel years and to require the capacity for the airline system in the United States to double by the turn of the century.

Some have predicted that only large airlines (and their feeders) would be able to compete and grow in the deregulated environment. These experts have predicted a decrease in the number of major airlines to five or six large profitable companies, increasing the stability of the industry and the pay and benefits offered to pilots.

However, the airline industry has continued to surprise the pundits: It was a surprise to many when Midway Airlines survived and flourished in the late 1980s; it was a surprise to many when Kimberly-Clark Corp. founded a jet airline, Midwest Express, in 1984, and nurtured it into an outstanding success story; it was a surprise to many when Fresno, Calif.-based WestAir grew in only two years from a tiny, struggling commuter to a jet carrier of national airline size (by DOT definition). The industry demonstrates a resilience that often confounds those who try to say what it is going to do next.
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