United Needs 10,000 New Pilots To Combat Shortage

With a large amount of United Airlines pilots nearing mandatory retirement age, the Chicago based airline says it needs to hire 10,000 new pilots over the next ten years. Approximately 50% of its veteran aviators are nearing the federally mandated retirement age of 65, and the nation’s second-largest airline says it is trying to recruit pilots while they are still early in their training.

United Airlines 787-9pg
Half of United’s pilots will retire in the next 10 years. Photo: United Airlines

In a press release put out by United last Thursday, the airline said it was willing to offer conditional jobs to candidates who apply to a special program while they build up their experience working for regional carriers.

The “Friendly Skies” airline estimates that roughly half of their 12,500 pilots will retire over the next decade and that they will need to hire 10,000 new pilots to replace them while also continuing to grow.


American plane maker Boeing has done its research and says that airlines will need to hire 645,000 pilots between now and 2038. 212,000 of those new pilots will be needed in North America.


Delta Airlines is also worried about having enough pilots

It is not only United who is worrying about where their new pilots are going to come from, with airlines around the world ramping up recruitment. Atlanta based Delta Airlines launched a program last year to encourage non-pilots who were working for the airline to take unpaid leave and go to flight school. The also made conditional job offers to college students in an effort not to run out of qualified personnel.

United is worried about pilot shortages
Flight school can cost 80,000. Photo: United Airlines

A major hurdle in hiring American pilots is the amount of money it costs to become a commercial pilot. Business news outlet CNBC claims it can cost as much as $80,000.


To work for an airline as a pilot in the United States you must first have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time. Some exceptions are made for military personnel and college students.

You need two years’ experience before you can fly for United

To ensure they have the required number of to fly their aircraft, United Airlines is looking at things like loan forgiveness and job guarantees.

United needs to hire more pilots
United is considering incentives for new pilots. Photo: United Airlines

When speaking about some of the initiatives in the United Airlines press release United’s senior vice president of flight operations Bryan Quigley said:

“One of the biggest barriers to getting into the profession is the cost of getting their certification.” “Regional carriers that serve airlines’ shorter routes have had to increase bonuses to new pilots to entice applicants.”

Now could be a good time to become a pilot

For a long time, pilots flying for small airlines were vastly underpaid but that is now hurting regional airlines as a shortage of trained pilots is forcing them to offer better pay and conditions.

United dad and son pilots
You need a minimum of 2,000 hours of flight time to fly for United. Photo: United Airlines

United looks to hire pilots from smaller airlines by offering them a better deal, but in order for them to work for United Airlines, they still need to have worked for a regional carrier for two years and have a minimum of 2,000 hours of flight time.

There has probably never been a better time to be a pilot. With the predicted shortage of pilots coming, going to flight school now might not be such a bad idea.


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Mark, please do not regurgitate the recruitment messages of airlines and flight school equivalents of diploma mills.

The pilot shortage is not what you expect. Messages like this are stuffing pilot mills with hopeful students.

The shortage isn’t with good pay in the majors. Its with crap pay in the regionals. A pilot coming fresh out of a 4 year university will have considerably less pay starting than his/her friends who picked up comp science, nursing, finance/business, etc.


The article fails to mention that regional carriers, the step stone to the majors, require the exact same amount of experience to fly for them, starting in the right seat (that’s the First Officer, or co-pilot)! Not only is that the case with regionals but with all “building block” jobs where pilots go to grind out enough experience to qualify for airline-level experience. This creates a massive barrier wall to new pilots, who acquire all necessary licensing within around 250-350 flight hours only to discover that entry-level positions flying small aircraft require the same experience you would need to qualify… Read more »


I don’t think that your worst case scenario will come true with Chinese carriers supplanting the US domestic operators – especially with how gung ho many influential people in America are to being wary about China. What I think will happen is we’ll have these pipelines you speak of, but for foreign pilots. Bring in and/or train new pilots from third world countries who are willing to work for less pay than US domestic pilots and will not unionize.