Today, just 65 percent of pilots are deciding to extend their service past their 11th year, when they choose whether to stay for an additional five years. That’s compared with 80 percent in 1993.
Air Force pilots typically earn about $90,000 by the time they complete their 11th year. The median annual wage of airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers is $103,210, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest numbers.
There has been fighter pilot shortages in the past, but the competition promises to be fierce in the years to come as airlines hunt for young talent because of a surge in retirements.
Last year, passenger jet maker Boeing Co. released a report that estimated a global need for 460,000 new commercial pilots over the next two decades. There are currently more than 71,000 active airline pilots in the United States.
Neither US Airways nor American Airlines, which are in the middle of merging, has hired pilots in more than a decade, and are now beginning a large-scale recruiting effort to fill spots.
US Airways and American are anticipating the retirement of more than 2,100 pilots within the next five years because of the mandatory retirement age of 65.
“The airlines are going to have more money to pay for pilots than the government,” said Rob Streble, 52, secretary and treasurer for the US Airline Pilots Association, a labor union that represents US Airways pilots.
Streble knows firsthand, having left the Air Force as a pilot in the early 1990s for US Airways.
“The military is difficult on the family with all the moving around,” he said. “I added more stability by joining the airline.”
Another reason military pilots will be hotly sought after is a new Federal Aviation Administration rule that substantially raises the qualification requirements for first officers who fly for U.S. passenger and cargo airlines.