Who Pays to Train Pilots?

A recent Buffalo News article discusses how the airlines are lobbying to rescind a new provision requiring commercial pilots to obtain 1,500 hours of flight time before they are certified (a Congressional response to last year’s fatal crash in Buffalo). The companies believe that this will cause pilots’ wages to rise (to pay for the increased training costs the pilots must incur), causing average total costs to increase, increasing industry prices and reducing output and profits.

But there are winners: flight schools would see an increase in demand (as pilot trainees stay enrolled longer); and, most important, the consumer who values safety a lot would be safer, at the cost of higher-priced air tickets. No doubt the airlines would welcome a return to the good old days, when almost all pilots were former military men whose training costs were paid by taxpayers, which represented a huge indirect subsidy to the airlines.

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  1. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    Unlike bicycles, taxis, buses, trolleys, trucks and other motorized vehicles, flying a plane can be done by autopilot or robotic technology.

    The new generation and possible all future Air Force planes like the Predator, taxi, takeoff, fly themselves, and even launch missiles. The human link is the transitory control demanded by Air Force Command.

    But planes can take off and land safely with no pilot. And 90% of most flight time, except for the take off and landing, is performed by the autopilot. The pilot just sits there ‘in case,’ or surf their internet computers or debate arguments, while they overfly Minneapolis.

    If pilots get too expensive, commercial flights will shift to automatic auto pilots. The most dangerous missions in Afganistan have already shifted. And every year millions of hours of flight time are accumulated by robot pilots. Yes they are non-union.

    Pilots will go the way of the Elevator Operator.

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  2. luigi remus says:


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  3. NSK says:

    Congress (or, less euphemistically, those weak spined bribe takers) should mandate longer training as well as that any airline CEO found negligent (or napping at the wheels when his airline is negligent) of maintenance short cuts that lead to losses (any loss) should forfeit all his/her earnings at the airline (including prior to the incidents in question) and not be eligible to be a CEO anywhere else.

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  4. Bill says:

    Why do you assume more training leads to more safety? I would think there are diminishing returns on training hours and increased safety.

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  5. Geoff says:

    I think you have mis-read this. The bill does not require any additional flight training, it requires additional flight experience. This may still be of benefit to flight schools, not because of increased training spend, but because flight instructors (the typical job of a pilot PRIOR to joining an airline) will stay around longer.

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  6. Pat McGee says:

    Please note: the bill requires 1,500 hours of flight time, not 1,500 hours of flight _training_.

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  7. Jim C says:

    As Geoff and Pat pointed out, this will decrease the cost of flight training as more potential airline pilots look to “build time” by giving cheap flight instruction. Flight schools will see an increase in supply, not demand.

    It’s a sad fact that many flight instructors/potential airline pilots could make more per hour working a full day at McDonald’s than they do in a day giving instruction.

    The net result is that fewer commercial pilots will make it through the ranks as fewer of them will be able to afford the years of reduced pay to become ATP rated.

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  8. Micah says:

    As a pilot (non-practicing) maybe I can offer some helpful comments here:

    1. Who pays for training? The pilot.

    2. What does 1,500 hours mean? More pilot cost. There are only so many “entry level” jobs available. That is in part why regional airlines exist as they currently do. They offer lower prices to customers in part because they hire cheaper and less experienced pilots. A fully-qualified pilot with 500 hours experience will take a job with a regional airline enroute to a “good job” that can be had later with the requisite experience.

    3. What does higher pilot cost mean? Fewer pilots. 1,500 hours is roughly the number of hours it takes for a competitive first officer candidate to get hired now. 3x cost is an overestimate, but even if you double the cost to the pilot (direct: training, indirect: lost earnings) you cause a significant shift in the supply of pilots.

    4. Fewer pilots means fewer qualified applicants, higher wages, fewer companies, more movement from armed forces to the airlines (and higher taxpayer cost in training new pilots for the armed forces), and finally fewer flights and higher ticket prices.

    Regarding comment #1, this is nonsense. if you don’t trust a robot to power your bicycle or truck then you won’t trust an airplane to have no operators. Even train transport has onboard operators.

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