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Why is there a pilot shortage? Flight instructor explains how difficult, time consuming, and expensive it is to join the field

Flight instructor Guenter Trautmann with Alpha One Air Services in Concord said many pilots were laid off during the pandemic, and others are older and retiring.

CONCORD, N.C. — United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said dozens of planes have been grounded due to a pilot shortage. It’s a shortage that’s being felt across the entire industry.

"It's not something that’s really new or something that’s been driven by the pandemic, it's something that has been emerging for a while and has been exacerbated by the pandemic," Nicole Carriere with United Airlines said.

Flight instructor Guenter Trautmann with Alpha One Air Services in Concord said many pilots were laid off during the pandemic, and others are older and retiring.

“Those ones are basically falling through the roster,” Trautmann said. 

Trautmann said the real problem, though, is that they’re not easy to replace. That is in part because of the required minimum of 1,500 flight hours.

“It takes you probably about 2--2.5 years really to start from scratch,” Trautmann said. 

Trautmann said it’s also more challenging than some bargain for.

“Yeah, that is something a lot of people underestimate," Trautmann said. "They do not see all the theory and studying behind it.” 

If the time and difficulty isn’t a deal-breaker, Trautmann said the financial burden could be. He said aspiring pilots like him have to finance their own training.

“Me personally, it's about $85-90,000 which I had to basically put out of my own pocket into pilot training," Trautmann said.

Trautmann said the payoff in salary isn’t immediate.

“I think it starts around in the $50s," Trautmann said, "$50,000 a year for the first two years. I think the big chunk of money going into the six figures, really you can achieve after six, seven, eight years.” 

Carriere said their company has joined other airlines offering pilot training programs that assist prospective pilots with the costs.

“There could be so many more people who would be interested in it if just given the opportunity," Carriere said.

Carriere said their program will focus on attracting women and people of color, whom she said are underrepresented in the pilot field.

Boeing expects the demand for airline pilots to remain high for years. The aerospace company said in a recent report that an estimated 612,000 new pilots will be needed worldwide over the next two decades. 

Carriere said United is committed to training more than 5,000 pilots by the end of the decade.

Contact Lana Harris at lharris@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and on Instagram.