All That's Trucking

We're not the only industry facing a recruiting and training crisis

November 13, 2012

It's a job once viewed as glamorous, but these days, not so much. It involves a lot of time away from home. And it takes a lot of time and money to get the needed training to get a license and a job -- but the pay's not all that great.

Sound familiar? I could easily be talking about trucking, but in this case, I'm referring to an article in the Wall Street Journal about the "pilot crisis."

I was struck by the similarities between trucking's driver shortage and the airlines' pilot crisis.

Last week, the paper reports, more than a dozen major airlines and commuter carriers participated in a meeting to discuss potential solutions dubbed the "Pilot Supply Summit."

"Enrollment has been declining for years in private flight schools, where students can spend up to $150,000 to train to the point where they become eligible for commercial flying jobs. ... Yet they know that once they get their first airline job, starting pay often is under $25,000 a year," says the paper.

Some are proposing low-interest loans or other federal subsidies. Others suggest scholarships or loan guarantees provided by prospective employers.

Randy Babbitt, a former FAA administrator, pilot-union chief and commercial pilot, said a confluence of factors is "really putting pressure on the industry," the WSJ reported, predicting that for the first time in this country, "you're going to see some partnership between agencies and the private sector" to train new co-pilots, possibly by providing tax credits to carriers.

However, the paper notes, the FAA hasn't officials blessed any proposals and the White House hasn't earmarked dollars to expand pilot training options.

Meanwhile, the federal government has been cutting funding for truck driver training.

Grow Your Own

Some aviation experts believe U.S. carriers should follow the lead of European and Asian countries in training future pilots from the start. Germany's Lufthansa, for instance, "runs its own basic training program, turning candidates without any flying experience into newly minted co-pilots in less than two years."

Carriers, however, are reluctant to invest in training pilots. The airlines are only marginally profitable, says the paper, and already spend a lot training and retraining existing pilots.

Then there's the regulatory situation. The WSJ reports that according to acting FAA chief Michael Huerta, the agency already is working on "the most significant overhaul of crew training" since the early 1990s.

In its "State of Freight" conference call last week, trucking industry analysts at FTR Associates predicted that driver training requirements expected in the 2014 time frame could worsen the driver shortage by about 200,000 drivers.

Related Stories:

10/11/2012 Back to the Future: The Current and Coming Driver Shortage

2/3/2012 What trucking can learn from the airlines