ATP applicants need to have 1500 hours of flight experience—hence "1500 hour rule"—though there are exceptions if you've attended specific approved aeronautical schools or have military experience. Commercial applicants need only 250 hours. (Here too there are exceptions for certain training programs.) The standards on the flight tests are tighter for ATPs and the written exams are worlds apart.
As an instructor I can tell you the difference between a 250-hour pilot and a 1500-hour pilot can be enormous. Not always—some pilots have 1500 hours, and others have the same hour, 1500 times in a row—but there can be a huge difference.
This rule has been controversial though, not least of all because both pilots in the Colgan crash already had more than 1500 hours. And the FAA made so many changes after Colgan that it's been hard to tell which of those changes actually made the difference, and which, if any, were simply no-ops. Critics of the rule have especially focused on how many flight tests the Colgan captain failed, and how the response by the pilots to an aerodynamic stall was completely backwards. Aerodynamic stalls are something you learn in your first ten hours of training as a private pilot and drill constantly throughout your career, so to get that wrong at the air carrier level speaks to an incredible failure in training and evaluation.
There's limited jobs with which a commercial licensed pilot can gain hours (e.g. crop dusting, sky jumpers, instructors, etc) but the number of people trying to attain ATP/jobs requiring ATPs well outstrip the number of jobs to support those people getting to 1500 hours.
As you said, previously some airlines would take the pressure off by hiring commercial pilots and getting them hours as copilots. With the new rules they need 1500 before day one, so that has to come from somewhere and it isn't clear where.
This is one reason airlines are struggling to find pilots.
But low-pay + labor shortage is seems to be a common thing.
I would speculate it's driven by the production of a very price sensitive commodity. Lots of people choose the cheapest flights possible regardless of other considerations so a significant rise in pilot pay might make a given airline unprofitable since they can't raise prices to compensate.
So airlines feel strong pressure to keep wages down.
And really, you could say a "labor shortage" is what every high volume, low margin operation complains about but the reality is basically "we pay low wages so it's hard to get enough people to work for our low wages". (Obviously, with airline pilots, it's low wage relative to the cost of gaining the skills etc). We can see similar language with H1b visa proponents and even fast food restaurant operators use it periodically.
"Labor shortage" is just a tactic to get someone else to help with the problem in a way that doesn't require increasing pay. It's the hiring equivalent of "don't miss this exclusive sale!"
Just to play with some numbers, let's consider a pilot with a salary of an astronomical $1,000,000/yr who flies transatlantic flights on wide-body jets (300 or so passengers). She is limited to 1,000 flight hours/yr, so each hour costs the airline $1,000. For an 8 hour flight, $8,000 split between 300 passengers is about $26 per person. Given that these flights come in around $150 at the cheapest, often going up to $1,000 at peak times, this (quite high) wage estimate doesn't translate into a huge price for the consumer (especially since you could shift more of the cost towards the first- and business-class passengers).
I think the numbers work out similarly for regional flights which have fewer passengers but shorter time in the air. These pilots start with base salaries in the $30,000 range; if that were raised to $100,000 for flying (for example) 3 hour flights with 50 passengers, that's only ~$4 extra per passenger per flight.
There might be other factors I'm missing - do these pilots actually fly significantly less than 1,000 hrs/yr?
You would be pretty surprised how many costs airlines have to pay. An extra $4/passenger/flight would eat significantly into their bottom line. This is especially true for budget airlines, which often already make less than this per passenger already (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=069y1MpOkQY)
"You cheap bastards could easily afford XXX" misses the point. A large company runs on general principle, and company that's producing at minimal cost is going to run on the principle of saving money everywhere.
In addition, certain airlines have the backing of massive nation state funds or are otherwise simply enormous - just like cheap venture capital, they can simply drown smaller competitors, buy their slots and airliners for a penny on the dollar and then jack up the prices. Lufthansa and AirBerlin are a perfect example.
It seems from upthread comments that the institutions to train prospective doctors are somewhat better-developed than the institutions to train prospective commercial pilots. (My understanding is that this used to be primarily military, but now pilots are coming in through a greater range of paths.) If people think they want to be doctors, they can apply to certain schools, get certain loans, participate in an established process to find internships (which their schools will guide them through), and so on. I don't know that there are really institutions to help the pilots this way.
That doesn't mean that supply and demand somehow don't apply or don't influence people's behavior, but a need for massive amounts of training and credentialing (literally years' worth that themselves come at a high financial cost) surely slow down the response.
The average age of airline pilots is going up very quickly though, so these terrible practices will eventually illicit a market response, since nobody (or very few people) actually wants to do this.
Completely off-topic and unrelated, but on the small chance that this helps you (or anyone else reading): illicit is something forbidden or illegal, while elicit is to evoke a particular response.
1. Airline companies are few and far between, it's basically an oligopoly and getting black listed by one company might impact your job prospects in another
2. Pilots invest a lot of time into qualifying for their jobs and the sunk cost fallacy traps them into looking for jobs flying planes.
Also, there might be some strong self-motivated reasons, not wanting airplanes to go without pilots due to altruism, just generally enjoying flying... These aren't IMO strong financial drivers so they seem like weaker points, but they may provide some influence.
It's also worth noting that this is largely a US-only phenomenon. It has led to a lot of junior US pilots heading overseas to fly with other carriers, most notably in the Gulf, although that party is slowly starting to wind down.
There isn't really a pilot shortage. Merely a shortage of pilots willing to work for slave wages. There are US pilots flying all over the world because they don't get paid what they're worth in the US.
It sounds like regional airline pilots may have surprisingly low wages given how highly-skilled their jobs are. "Low wages" is a good term for this.
Reason? Pilots have to make flight hours in the plane they’re licensed for to keep their license.
So, you are, say, $100,000 in debt to get a license to fly a 737, and you need a few hours in it this month to keep that license. Renting said plane for a few hours is very expensive. That makes an $0 an hour ‘job’ flying for a few hours look mightily attractive.
There is a boon to unemployed, retired US military pilots. There are tons of them, even here in China.
Do copilot hours really count? I thought you had to be pilot in command?
On the other hand, I usually try to talk people out of becoming a professional pilot: one health hiccup and your medical certificate is in jeopardy.
Is there insurance coverage for this? Something akin to disability insurance for this specific scenario?
This is an excellent statement emphasizing the importance of concepts like deliberate practice and a varied curriculum/experiences. I think this idea applies to all learning.
In reality I think most developers have careers that look like:
* 2-3 years of explosive growth and exposure
* 5-10 years of slower growth and increased mastery
* then diverge to shorter periods of stair-stepping (new technologies / faster mastery), coast on what they already know well or move out of active development
> Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Of course "perfect practice" is an ideal, and you can't achieve it yourself without having someone or something assist to evaluate in most cases. But repeating the same mistakes for 1500 hours just makes you really good at making those mistakes.
They were hopelessly tired and distracted. The captain apparently ignored both the stick shaker and the stick pusher (when the aircraft is trying to get the pilots attention). Sometimes experience helps with self-evaluation but more often it does not, depends on the person. They should not have been flying that night (the first officer had not slept for 36 hours).
Is there a term for this: reactive legislation that wouldn't have covered the incident it was in response to?
The term "magical thinking" is a broad label that could apply.
You misspelled "elevator operator"
I used to work at an airport that had a skydive operation, we jokingly called them elevator pilots (because they just go up and down all day). They used to only pump a the required amount of fuel to get the aircraft to altitude and idle back because carrying more fuel up and down is a waste of fuel. Occasionally they would run out of fuel and glide in. One time they ran out of fuel really short and landed in the pond.
Also, is the influx of commercial pilots into the western markets from other countries analogous to the software development "We can't find enough good developers / You don't want to pay what they demand" trends we see in tech?
If by "western markets" you mean the US, it is probably the other way around. There is a shortage of pilots in the US because their citizens are flying in other parts of the world where they get paid much more than they would in the US. And unlike in tech, when a pilot changes employers he starts again at the bottom of the seniority list which means lower pay, the worst routes, last pick of vacation days, etc.
Also, as others have noted, both pilots of 3407 we well above 1500 hours
“Foreign Airline Safety versus U.S. Major Airlines” (2009, updated 2011.)
The problem is pulling up in case of a stall is the natural, intuitive thing to do. In a high stress situation, one is liable to revert to it. This behavior is the cause of many, many crashes.
In fact the CFI who taught my introductory flight demonstrated a stall and recovery.