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U.S. airlines are running out of pilots

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A combination of new federal regulations and a surge of pilots reaching their mandatory retirement age is causing airlines in the United States to worry of a looming pilot shortage crisis.

Starting next summer, a new federal mandate will require pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight experience before they can be hired. That's six times more than the current minimum. Additionally, in 2014, pilots on U.S. airlines will be required to get more daily rest time. This new safety regulation means that airlines will have to increase the number of pilots they employ by at least 5 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Estimates differ on the problem's magnitude. Airlines for America, a trade group of the largest carriers that collectively employ 50,800 pilots now, cites a study by the University of North Dakota's aviation department that indicates major airlines will need to hire 60,000 pilots by 2025 to replace departures and cover expansion.

[Kit] Darby's [consulting] firm calculates that all U.S. airlines, including cargo, charter and regional carriers, together employ nearly 96,000 pilots, and will need to find more than 65,000 over the next eight years.

It may seem doable but when you consider that more than half of all pilots working for U.S. airlines are over 50 (and are required to retire at 65) and that only 36,000 pilots passed the Air Transport Pilot exam -- which all pilots must pass -- in the last eight years, then you start to see the problem.

One that will disproportionally impact regional airports and lead to major cuts or no service to smaller cities unless a good solution emerges from the horizon.

Airlines Face Acute Shortage of Pilots [Wall Street Journal]

Photo: Flickr/Fly For Fun

— By on November 12, 2012, 9:28 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure