“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” -Mark Twain
When Congress deregulated the airline industry in 1978, it was the first time an American industry had undergone deregulation. The result was transformative. Suddenly airlines became competitive by setting their own prices, and everyone and his next-door neighbor could afford to fly. And fly we did!
Americans are pros at flight shopping now, and what used to be a rich man’s mode of transportation is now the norm for families. All that will soon change, however, unless Congress once again steps in.
The United States is facing an historic pilot shortage, and without immediate action, the number of available commercial flights will be cut back, resulting in reduced availability of flights at much higher prices. That’s right. Flying will once again only be available to the wealthiest Americans. According to Boeing, 87 new commercial pilots are needed daily over the next 20 years.
This story has been in the news for the past three years, but nothing is being done. The pilot shortage is not the only looming crisis. Technical skills training - what was once commonly called “vo-tech” - is also in trouble. Within eight years, two million U.S. technical jobs will be unfilled, due solely to a shortage of skilled labor.
Although air traffic is increasing globally, the United States is especially at risk due to the large number of retiring pilots compared to the small number of student pilots embarking on professional pilot careers. Flight schools around the country cite one reason for the disparity: lack of student loan funding for those pursuing a career in aviation. Some schools have even felt the impact in recruiting flight instructors, forcing them to innovate. While colleges and universities fill seats with Title IV student loans, students at flight schools and vo-tech schools are forced to look for funding elsewhere.
Can Congress prevent the coming pilot shortage and skilled labor shortage?
Yes. Regional airlines have proposed common sense solutions, but they will require Congressional action. Senators John Thune (R-SD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced S.1405, a bill to amend Title 49 and authorize appropriations for the Federal Aviation Administration. What the bill does not do is address the coming pilot shortage. One single action is all that’s needed: Congress must act to authorize traditional student loan funding for flight school students and other skilled technical training.
How can you help?
Ask Congress to intervene. Click here to find your members of Congress using your zip code. Send all three representatives a message asking them to ensure a steady supply of qualified pilots to keep our commercial airlines stable and competitive by treating pilot training . They need to take action to provide student loan funding for those attending flight school. Currently, flight school students only receive traditional student loans if they are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in addition to their professional pilot certification. This makes no sense.
Pilot training is serious business, and Congress should be taking the pilot shortage seriously. They delivered air travel to the common citizen years ago through deregulation. Now they need to preserve it. After all, travel really is fatal to prejudice, and we need it now more than ever.