Pilot Shortage Causes Sky-High Demand For Industry

Published on Spectrum News 1 | Charlotte on April 18, 2023 — ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The demand for airline pilots is rising, and so are flights.

Federal regulations require commercial airline pilots to retire at the age of 65, meaning more than 13% of pilots must retire in the next five years.

Timothy McBride, soon to be a pilot, is just getting into the business.

What You Need To Know

  • The demand for airline pilots is rising
  • According to the Bureau of Transportation statistics, flights in January were up 6.59% from last year
  • Federal regulations require commercial airline pilots to retire at the age of 65 – meaning more than 13% of pilots must retire in the next five years

“This is going to show us our route of flight here,” McBride said as he prepped for flight. “What we’re trying to figure out is, how much does what we’re bringing on to the aircraft weigh, versus what our air craft weighs?"

The former personal trainer made the transition to aviation after he was forced to shut down his gym during the pandemic.

“A lot of our clients were older, and this was a safe space for them to come and see their friends, and that broke our hearts, and also monetarily devastating for my wife and I,” McBride said.

McBride looked into becoming a pilot after speaking to an airline captain about the job.

“He believed because of COVID, it was going to be one of the best times because he saw a lot of older captains being furloughed and because of that he believed there was going to be a huge pilot shortage. And now we know, two years later, that that’s becoming true,” McBride said.

According to the Regional Airline Association, nearly 50% of today’s qualified pilots must retire in the next 15 years, creating a high demand for pilots.

McBride recently graduated from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College’s aviation program. He’s now in flight school with Western North Carolina Aviation at the Asheville Regional Airport, where he’s a pilot cadet for PSA Airlines.

“I currently have about 200 hours. So I still have a long way to go, about 1,050 hours to go and my plan would be, hopefully by 2025, to be at the airlines,” McBride said.

Western North Carolina has a focus on resources for those wanting to go into the airline industry. However, the cost is high.

“It is very expensive. Depending on where you fly, it could cost you anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 before you get to the airlines. Finding funding for that, can sometimes be challenging,” McBride said.

Although changing career paths can be expensive, there are scholarships available.

“I just feel so much more confident flying the plane. I feel so much more safe and just excited to be a part of the aviation community at large,” McBride said.

McBride recently received a $3,500 Mal Beckham Jr. Memorial Grant, which is the first of its kind.

The grant is named after the late Malachy Beckham Jr., a local pilot to Western North Carolina.