Reports have long warned that America's airlines were on the verge of a pilot shortage, but the Wall Street Journal proclaims that it has arrived "sooner and more severely than expected." Regional carriers are canceling flights—last week, for example, Great Lakes Aviation said that "due to the severe industry-wide pilot shortage" it was suspending flights to six small cities that it alone services. That's hurting their bigger partners, who are feeling the pinch themselves; United and Delta are both recalling furloughed pilots.
The crisis is being blamed in part on new FAA rules requiring pilots to have 1,500 hours of experience (a 1,250-hour increase), another mandating more rest between flights, and thousands of pilots hitting the mandatory retirement age of 65. The 1,500-hour requirement in particular has proved challenging; it forces students graduating from aviation colleges to "spend the next two years flying around in circles," the president of the Regional Airline Association complains. Low pay doesn't help either: That training can cost as much as $150,000, but starting pay at regional airlines is typically $16,000 to $25,000 a year.