Airplane pilots shortage in the US benefits pilots from overseas

During a Senate hearing on the oversight of the US airline industry on December 15th, the CEO of United Airline told senators that 100 of the company’s planes are grounded due to a shortage of airplane pilots.

“There has been a looming pilot shortage for the last decade in the United States, and going through Covid it became an actual pilot shortage”, Scott Kirby said in the hearing, which was attended by other major airlines top executives, including American Airlines’ CEO, Doug Parker; Southwest Airlines’ CEO, Gary Kelly; and Delta Air Lines’ Executive Vice President, John Laughter.

“There’s not enough pilots to fly them”, added Kirby.

How big is this airplane pilots shortage?

In the United States, commercial airline pilots receive an average salary of USD 130,000 per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, although the amount can easily reach USD 180,000 to USD 350,000 on major airlines, depending on how many years of experience the pilot has.

According to Boeing’s most recent estimates, the aviation market would need to train 612,000 new pilots to maintain global commercial aircraft fleet over the next 20 years – 412,000 only in America. Also, Oliver Wyman, a management consulting firm, forecasts that the shortage will reach 12,000 pilots by 2023 in the US. If nothing is done, more and more planes will have to stay grounded.

“Regarding magnitude, in our most likely scenarios, there is a global gap of 34,000 pilots by 2025. This could be as high as 50,000 in the most extreme scenarios. Eventually, the impact of furloughs, retirements, and defections will create very real challenges for even some of the biggest carriers”, says Oliver Wyman’s analysis.

Why there is a shortage of airplane pilots?

Today there are few young Americans interested in the pilot career, mainly due to the high academic and licensing costs involved. This lack of renewal of professionals is made even worse when taken into account that many pilots in the U.S. will retire in the next few years. In 2017, Cowen & Company estimated that 42% of active U.S. airline pilots at the biggest carriers would retire until 2026.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the aviation industry faced one of its biggest crisis, in which thousands of pilots were laid off or decided to retire. Also, in the US the age for mandatory retirement for commercial pilots is 65 years, according to FAA regulations.

In a poll from January 2021, GOOSE Recruitment and FlightGlobal identified that 17% of commercial pilots had been furloughed. Many are coming back to work, but others are not, seeking a less cyclical career.

How can I work in the US as an airplane pilot?

Self-Sponsored Green Cards

A pilot with an excellent professional profile may be eligible to self-petition for a green card through the EB NIW or EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa categories.

The majority of pilots who self-petition will do so for the EB-2 National Interest Waiver category.  Our firm recommend the following qualifications minimum qualifications:

  • 10,000 flight hours/10 year of experience;
  • A wage above 50% percentile in your country of employment, among pilots working the same sector;
  • An official academic record showing a degree, diploma, certificate, or similar award from an institution of learning in the field of aviation;
  • An FAA license (or at least substantial steps towards the FAA license);
  • Membership in pilot’s associations

Factors that can greatly strengthen a case in the EB-2 NIW context include, but are not limited to:

  • 15,000+ hours / 15+ years of experience
  • A salary which is significantly higher (ideally 75%+);
  • Prizes, awards or other forms of recognition for achievements;
  • Contributions to the aviation industry besides working as a pilot, such as designing new methods, ideas, innovations or protocols, especially if they were implemented by companies operating in the aviation field;
  • A leadership role in aviation or pilot organizations;
  • Publications about you in the news, websites, articles or books;
  • Writing or publishing any aviation related articles books or professional publications

A small number of pilots may qualify for the EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa, which requires an individual to meet at least 3 of 10 specific requirements.  This visa is generally speaking, much more difficult to obtain, but for those who qualify, has the advantage of premium processing.  Premium Processing allows for an approval in only 15 days 

Employer Sponsored Green Cards

Pilots who have a job offer from a US employer may be eligible for the EB-2 or EB-3 labor certification process, which requires a US employer to first attempt a recruitment campaign in the United States.  If the employer is unable to find a qualified and willing candidate on the US job market, they can make a permanent job offer to a foreign pilot.

Given the shortage of pilots in the US, this is an excellent option for pilots who have found an employer willing to hire them.

If you are a US airline looking to hire foreign pilots, or a pilot with a job offer from a US employer, the EB-2 or EB-3 labor certification is an excellent option.