The first thought a passenger has when flying in an airplane is usually, “Who’s in the cockpit?” “Who’s flying the plane?” Because of a national pilot shortage, for some smaller airline flyers, the answer may soon be no one.
The Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash in 2009 that killed 49 people in Buffalo, New York upped the hours needed to become a pilot. The crash pushed legislation through that requires go from 250 to 1,500 hours of flight practice.
“It sounds great for safety reasons but I think some of the indirect results of that action are being felt today,” said Jerry Brienza, the president of the West Virginia Airport Managers Association. “In that, we can’t fill those seats that were going to be filled by pilots that had almost 500 hours that were ready to be pilots. Now, they’re having to basically triple the amount of time they’re in school.”
“They used a bad example to change this legislation to begin with. The Buffalo crash had a very weak captain, I think he had failed two or three of his check rides, had a very low time co-pilot, and put those two together and you had a disaster,” said Captain Steve Alford, a retired US Airways Pilot who is currently working as a pilot with Sun Air Express.
Pilots are also required to retire at the age of 65. Meaning pilots flying those small connector flights are being pulled up to fly the larger planes for the major airlines to fill retirees’ seats.
“The students coming out of school that are trying to get into these small aircraft to build up their time to get into the large aircraft, we’re experiencing a huge void of people that are missing that can not fill these seats on these smaller regional air craft. What airlines are doing to counter that is, they’re reducing their frequency into small airports like ours. We’re experiencing that today,” said Brienza. “A few more years, we’re going to be experiencing that there just are no pilots to fly these aircraft.”
Experts will show the major affects the pilot shortage can cause for not only the state, but the nation as a whole in the next segment.