Interview: Oliver Wyman on the Looming Pilot Shortage

Interview: Oliver Wyman on the Looming Pilot Shortage

two pilots sitting inside plane

DALLAS — Last month, Airways and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) had a discussion over the pilot shortage affecting the industry. We continue the discussion with Barry Kendrick from the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Coalition and with an interview with Geoff Murray, a partner at Oliver Wyman’s global aerospace sector team.

ALPA, which is the largest airline pilot union in the world and represents more than 69,000 pilots at 39 U.S. and Canadian airlines, told Airways that the pilot shortage was not a real thing. The Let Experienced Pilots Fly Coalition, however, has spoken out and asserted that the pilot shortage is genuine and cannot be discounted.

According to the coalition, the pilot shortage is industry-wide and affects major commercial airlines, commuter airlines, and vital cargo operations – including operations not affiliated with ALPA. This is not a short-term problem, and it will worsen in the coming years unless aggressive steps are taken to mitigate it.

Barry Kendrick, a pilot and one of the coalition’s leaders, when interviewed by Airways, stated that ALPA was using the pilot retirement age limit and prior pandemic difficulties as a cover-up for the pilot shortage.

The coalition believes that ALPA has made the ageist claim that raising the pilot age would compromise safety as a result of cognitive decline and health challenges that increase with age. And that while health conditions do increase with age, these studies generally involve subjects from the general population that are well above age 67.

Graph: Oliver Wyman

Let Experienced Pilots Fly Coalition also believes that addressing the pilot shortage will likely require a multi-pronged approach and that however, raising the pilot age limit is the ONLY solution that will have an immediate impact on reducing the pilot shortage. Kendrick added, “It is also the ONLY option that is supported by a significant portion of pilots who belong to ALPA and other pilot unions”.

As the coalition advocates for legislation that would increase the airline pilot retirement age, it states that every meltdown that has occurred in the past several months, whether related to weather or equipment failure, has been made worse by the pilot shortage. As pilots wait around for planes to arrive or weather to clear, they time out, and because of the pilot shortage, there is no one behind them. This is when flights get canceled and travelers get hurt.

For the past decade, the FAA has issued an average of 5,800 to 6,400 ATP certificates annually. In 2020 and 2021, this number was dramatically reduced due to training disruptions related to the pandemic. In 2022, this training resumed and are incorporated into the cumulative certificates.

Graph: Oliver Wyman

In the end, it’s all about the data. The FAA estimates a current shortfall of 8,000 pilots, and aviation consulting firm Oliver Wyman estimates the U.S. pilot shortfall may reach as high as 30,000 globally by 2025.

According to Oliver Wyman, recent forecasting indicates that the global pilot shortage is “here to stay for the next decade and starting to emerge in regions that have so far been spared.”

The consulting firm adds that the influx of new pilots and high turnover rates across the industry are forcing training and safety departments to consider new approaches to flight training and operations.

Photo: United Aviate Academy

Oliver Wyman Interview

Winifred Itungu: Last month, we had an interaction with ALPA and the union denied claims of there being a pilot shortage. According to Oliver Wyman, is it true that there’s a pilot shortage?

Geoff Murray: I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s a pilot shortage. We can send you information we shared a week ago at a conference called the World Airline Summit, the WATS conference, and we presented on the pilot shortage. We have documented the shortage very well.

The big difference between our estimates and the ALPA estimates is that we look at the entire community where pilots can be employed. And one of those areas, and it’s actually the most rapidly growing area in North America, is business aviation.

So what we do is we look at the pilot supply number that ALPA has, roughly 9,800 over the last 12 months. Historically anywhere from 25-35% of those pilots elect to fly in the general and business aviation sectors and not for the airlines.

Graph: Oliver Wyman

A commercial airline pilot requires a certificate called an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. And what ALPA looks at, is all of the ATP issuances, how many new ATP certificates are out there and they believe that every single ATP wants to be an airline pilot.

To fly corporate aircraft and have insurance on those aircraft, many insurers require an ATP certificate. To do about 135 charter operations, the insurers require a 135 certificate. So the numbers that ALPA has, which are the same numbers that we work off of, don’t compensate for these other segments of the industry where an ATP certificate is still desired.

Lufthansa Airbus A380 Flight Simulator. Image: Lufthansa Aviation Training

Speaking of certificates and training, when we spoke to Barry Kendrick of Let Experienced Pilots Fly Coalition, he told us that most of the issues stem from the early retirement and age limit that ALPA is trying to advocate for, and yet passengers would feel more comfortable flying with an experienced pilot with more flight hours. What’s your take on the matter?

GM: I think the position there, to earn an ATP certificate, a pilot has to have 1,500 flight hours, which is a lot of flight time. Interestingly in other parts of the globe including Africa, to be an airline pilot you only need about 350 flight hours. So the U.S. is the only region that has that kind of requirement.

The early retirements that you’re talking about are captured in a data graph. It looks at total pilot retirements over the next few years and also new pilots entering the industry. We also have a large number of retirements captured.

We also have growth on top of that because the airlines are growing and simply stated; retirements in addition to the required pilots for growth, are more than the number of new pilots entering the business.

Graph: Oliver Wyman

Does this mean that new pilots are needed because it seems the younger generation is hesitant in joining commercial aviation? Could it be that training is costly?

GM: It is very expensive. It could be US$80,000 to US$120,000 to earn a pilot certificate. But I think what we’ve seen is interest in the industry remains high. There are a lot of individuals interested in becoming a pilot but it’s expensive to earn the certificate and the cost considerations discourage many individuals.

Republic Airways made a petition to the FAA for what was called a restricted ATP, a RATP. And they submitted a filing to the DOT and to the FAA about a year ago and that also talked about the number of individuals who have expressed interest in learning to fly.

Should the airlines take it upon themselves to train and retain the pilots to curb the shortage?

Some airlines around the world, already do that. British Airways has an academy program, and EasyJet has a program with CAE. KLM in the Netherlands has the world’s oldest pilot training academy.

And in North America, airlines like United Airlines have built the Aviate program. Republic Airways has built the LIFT program for primary training and Delta Air Lines has a program called Propel. 

Graph: Oliver Wyman

Is there a chance that the pilot shortage will have a long-term effect on commercial aviation worldwide, or is it only affecting high-capacity regions?

GM: It’s all continents at different times. Right now, it’s already happening in North America. In Europe, we are anticipating it will start towards the end of 2024 into 2025. It’s already taking place in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific will really start around 2028-2029.

One of the big long-term impacts, and we are already seeing this in North America, is the reduction of service. We are seeing fewer flights and they are particularly impacting secondary destinations like Des Moines in Iowa, Erie Pennsylvania, and the smaller cities in North America but we are already seeing that happening.

Photo: British Airways

There are many technological advancements on the fore, such as autonomous aircraft. Do you think that could potentially address the pilot shortage as well?

GM: I think in the long term as autonomous flight is adopted, maybe in cargo operations it could potentially alleviate some of it but there’s been a considerable amount of research done on passengers’ willingness to fly in an aircraft without a pilot and those surveys have indicated that the likelihood of widespread adoption was low. 

In short, how can the pilot shortage be curbed?

GM: we have a perspective on the interest in training, and airlines’ ability to provide academy settings, and many airlines are doing that now.

Should the standard be lowered to accommodate other pilots to join the industry?

GM: We don’t have a perspective on the standards. They’ve been in place for decades and I see the standards as very thoughtful, thorough, deliberate, and very well-established. 

Thank you so much.

GM: Thank you too for your time.

Featured image: Photo by Rafael Cosquiere on

A proficient writer, social media manager, and educator having expertise in a variety of disciplines. She's based in Kampala, Uganda. Follow her on Twitter @WinifredItungu. Email:

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