Loath to Project Trends, Cohen Breaks with Form on Pilot Shortage

AIN News Live » Regional Airline Association Convention » 2013
RAA president Roger Cohen warns that a failure to invest in “human capital” would devastate air service to small communities.
RAA president Roger Cohen warns that a failure to invest in “human capital” would devastate air service to small communities.
April 30, 2013, 12:10 PM

Regional Airline Association president Roger Cohen knows better than to predict what direction the industry he has watched evolve over his seven-year tenure at the RAA might take next. So when asked to talk about further structural changes his group’s 30 or so airline members might see in the coming months and years, he offered a direct retort.

“I think anyone who tries to make broad projections going forward just hasn’t spent any time looking at the airline business,” said Cohen in the weeks leading up to this year’s convention. “We’ve seen consolidation but then just when you think things are consolidating, they change back again…The one thing I’ve learned in seven years is there’s no trend.”

Still, the RAA and its members can’t afford a less-than-proactive response to what more and more industry leaders have become convinced will play out as a pilot shortage.

“That absolutely remains a high priority both in the short term and long term and we’re encouraged that RAA’s leadership, in shining a spotlight on this issue, has broadened the discussion to where it is now a topic not only inside the industry but one on which there is widespread consensus among airlines, labor, academics and the government,” said Cohen.

Questions about the extent of the situation’s potential effect on regional airlines remain, however. Estimates vary over how much influence the new flight- and duty-time rule, due to take effect in January, will exert, as do projections over the effects of a new rule that will require first officers to carry an ATP certificate starting in August. Meanwhile, an expected increase in pilot retirements stands to further siphon the regional airline industry’s talent pool. In short, more than one circumstance appears likely to contribute to the problem, thereby calling for a multi-faceted solution.

“There is no one magic bullet,” said Cohen. “But I think it’s distressing to see that in so many of these aviation universities, there’s a sizable number of foreign students whose educations are being paid for by their governments. So I think it’s important that the government recognizes that if aviation is one of those cornerstone fundamental industries of this country, then it must continue to invest in the next generation of aviators, in human capital.”

For its part, the industry itself must help convince prospective pilots that the profession remains, as Cohen put it, “a damned good job and a damned good career.” Unfortunately, no longer do many young people perceive an aviation job as a glamorous occupation, thanks in part to horror stories of pilots qualifying for food stamps and cases of flight crews pooling their meager resources to pay for communal “crash pads.”

Now, prospective pilots must navigate a training environment in which regulators have, in Cohen’s words, “moved the goal posts” by requiring them to accumulate 1,500 hours of flight time and gain an aircraft type rating before becoming first officers.

The rule, warned Cohen, could disenfranchise almost an entire generation of young people. “People considering an education [in aviation] even when they’re twelve or fourteen thought that if they did the following things they’d be looking at an airline career when they got out of a university,” said Cohen. “That just changed dramatically on them.”

Ultimately, though, the communities that depend on regional airlines for their access to the country’s air transport network will bear the brunt of the rule’s cost, he lamented. “It doesn’t matter if there’s airplanes or passengers, if you don’t have the pilots to fly the aircraft, communities will lose service,” concluded Cohen.

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matt
on May 1, 2013 - 10:55pm

No magic "bullet"??? Baloney!!!!!! All it takes is money. To quote Mr Cohen, "a damned good job and damned good career". Not at the slave wages regionals pay. When the pay levels become much more reasonable regionals and pt135 operators will have no problem finding pilots. Students looking for a well paying career are just finally getting smart about how they spend their education dollars. There have recently been several articles including one on Avweb where the author has pretty much said the pilot shortage is a myth in the US. I am still waiting for great hiring binge that the major airlines are supposed to need to replace all the retiring pilots that have past their 65th birthday.

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Geo
on May 2, 2013 - 8:15am

Never spend one dime of your own money for flight training. Not one. If you can't get a pilot training slot in the military find something else to do with your college education. If you do get a slot stay in for 20 for the retirement and then go directly to the majors.

Get your degree in an employable major from your local state university. It is insane to spend upwards of $30,000 a year at a private "aviation" university when you could get a more respected degree in your own state for the cost of one year at the private school.

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Dave
on June 6, 2013 - 5:04am

When and if the US regionals are required to spend more money on pilot training, then pilots may want to avoid paying this themselves. Past history has shown that regionals will shift this cost to the employee. If there is truly ant shortage of pilots,then now is a good time to stop paying for this yourself.

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Johnson
on July 17, 2013 - 8:08pm

For the wages they pay new pilots, the regional airlines deserve a shortage.

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kimnam
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