ATP Grads at Airlines

Pilot School May Be Ticket to Airline Career, Despite Past Hiring Slump

Published Jun 14, 2010 on Pilot Jobs

FREE Airline Pilot Career Guide. — Requirements, Pay, Steps and More. Download Now »

Major U.S. airlines last year hired just 30 pilots, not enough to fill a standard school bus, according to a firm that tracks pilot hiring.


"It was the lowest total in airline history," said Louis Smith, president of Atlanta-based

Yet, industry experts say, this is the perfect time to get into a flight school and pursue a career in the cockpit.

"This business is always up and down, like shark's teeth," said airline consultant Kit Darby, based in Peachtree City, Ga.

It's good to start training during a downturn, he said.

"Job training and building the experience necessary to get a job takes time," Darby said. "If you start (training when the industry is) in the valley, you're going to be ready in the peak."

Experts think pilot hiring will increase in coming years as economic conditions improve and drive up passenger demand, and baby-boomer commercial pilots retire by the government-mandated age of 65.

JetBlue Airways hired 30 pilots last year, the only major domestic airline to hire any pilots in 2009, said. The website said AirTran Airways hired 66 pilots in the first five months of this year, the only major carrier to do so.

Smith predicts major airlines will hire more than 500 pilots by the end of the year, noting AirTran, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines are accepting applications. Starting annual salaries at the carriers range from $26,000 to $53,000, said. Among the 18 regional carriers the website tracks, half are accepting applications.

Smith anticipates the nation's 13 major airlines will hire 42,000 pilots during the next 12 years, about 70 percent of them to replace retiring pilots. Predicted airline expansions would create 11,000 positions, Smith said.

"In the next few years, you're going to see the longest and largest expansion in hiring that we've seen," Smith said.

Almost all of the pilots will move up from regional and other smaller airlines, forcing those carriers to hire an identical number of pilots as the majors or more if they want to grow, Darby added. He estimated 8,000 to 10,000 pilots will be hired annually to meet the industry's needs.

That should bode well for pilots pursuing commercial licenses.

"This is a great time to start because, when you're done, you're going to have some opportunities waiting for you,"

That's Brad Kosko's game plan.

Kosko, 20, of Greensburg is working his way toward a commercial pilot's license. He hopes to become an instructor and wants to get 1,000 to 1,500 hours of flight time under his belt before pursuing a commercial job. He has 180 hours.

"To be honest, I'm quite optimistic," Kosko said. "Within the next five years, I think things are really going to start opening up. I'm planning on it working out pretty well for me."

Get Your Free Airline Pilot Career Guide Download Yours Now — No Obligation

Airline Pilot Career Guide PDF

Free Airline Pilot Career Guide

Get your complete guide on how to become a pilot — Requirements, Pay, Steps and More.

Download Now »