Nationwide pilot shortage affecting more than commercial flights

Colorado aviation experts discuss problem

BROOMFIELD, Colo. -– Aviation experts said they are looking to link interest with opportunity when it comes to the U.S. pilot shortage.

“I think we’re kind of on the cusp of a lot of people recognizing what a special industry this is,” the CEO and president of the National Business Aviation Association, Ed Bolen, told Denver7.

The once looming pilot shortage is now here and Bolen said we’re sure to see effects across the board.

“The generation before me was World War II,” said Bob Stedman, a pilot school owner and pilot since 1969. “Pilots were heroes and they were saving us.”

When the war ended, many wanted to be just like those heroes. World War II veterans inspired people like Stedman. He owns Independence Aviation in Broomfield.

Now, more than 70 years after World War II, the aviation industry is hitting some turbulence of its own.

“It has always been right around the corner,” Bolen said. He described seeing a pool of hirable commercial pilots between 20 and 59-years-old decrease by 17 percent since 2009. “That’s over 900 pilots a month,” he added.

Now, many who went into commercial piloting after the war are nearing the retirement age of 65.

“They are retiring a captain once every 18-hours. So there’s a tremendous void being build [sic],” Stedman said.

Besides aging pilots, industry expert say millennial applicants aren’t recognizing the opportunity in the sky.

“People are more interested in computer games than they are going to the airport,” Stedman said. Bolen added, “It doesn’t really connect people to people, and that’s what I think is the magic of aviation.”

While the men and women who flew during wartime inspired a generation of pilots, both Bolen and Stedman remind us it only takes an introduction.

“Take the kids to the airport -- have breakfast looking over the ramp and seeing the airplanes take off and land,” Stedman said.

The shortage means more than just crowded or canceled commercial flights. Air ambulance or Life Flight pilots, crop dusting, banner towing and much more are also affected.

The FAA found Colorado had more than 17,300 FAA certificated pilots last year. However, the state’s Aviation Business Association said that number does not reflect the pilots who are no longer active.

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