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School Counselor Pilot Career FAQ's

1) Q: I heard drones would be replacing many of the pilot jobs. Is that true?

A: Drones are also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). UAV operator employment is increasing rapidly, and they are now being used in many sectors of aviation, including aerial mapping, agricultural applications, law enforcement, military and lower altitude delivery of certain goods. Boeing produces an annual 20-year forecast for commercial airline pilot demand and has not indicated any impact by UAVs on pilot employment in the next 20 years. Large air freight operations using UAVs might exist in the distant future, but we don't expect UAV use in airline passenger operations in the next 20 years. The 2016 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook prediction for commercial airline pilot demand from 2016-2035 is shown below.

2) Q: What courses in middle and high school do they need to take?

A: Students with an interest and competence in courses in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are most likely to excel as professional pilots. However, commercial airline pilots have education and degrees ranging from music to philosophy. Some advisors recommend a diverse educational and training background as a backup since pilots must maintain “first-class” physical standards overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is possible that a pilot might lose medical certification and be prohibited from flying. More on this in question 4.

3) Q: Are the medical requirements stringent? I heard corrective lenses are not allowed.

A: Corrective lenses for vision are allowed. Pilots' physical exams must be administered by Aviation Medical Examiners (AME), which comprise a specialized medical field requiring specific training and medical devices. In the past, the airlines required physical exams that were very stringent and exceeded FAA standards, but that has changed in the last 20 years. Most airlines accept pilots with a FAA defined “first-class” physical without any additional medical examinations. It is a good idea to consult an AME prior to beginning flight training if the student has a questionable condition.

4. Q: Do future pilots need a four-year degree?

Only two major airlines require a four-year college degree. It is highly preferred by all other major airlines. It is not a requirement at any of the smaller regional airlines, and might be an advantage since the regional recruiters would perceive the applicant would stay at their carrier longer as he works on his degree. Some pilots choose to obtain their flight ratings prior to college with the plan to obtain their college degree later.

5. Q: How much does an aviation college cost?

The cost of a four-year degree at an aviation university with all flight ratings ranges from $103,000 to $260,000 depending upon public or private and in-state or out-of-state residency.

6. Q: Is it true there are thousands of airline pilots laid off?

Between 2001 and 2009, there were thousands of pilots furloughed (laid off) from the airlines due to several factors. All the furloughed pilots were recalled beginning in 2010 and the industry enjoyed unprecedented pilot hiring and advancement until March of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced another downturn in pilot hiring. There are currently several thousand pilots furloughed from passenger airlines, though some have already been recalled. Pilot hiring is still strong in the air freight and business jet sector.

7. Q: Do future pilots need to become a military pilot to work for the airlines?

At one time, the major airlines hired 80% of their new pilots from applicants separating from the military branches. That has changed, and now approximately 80% of the new pilots for the major airlines will progress through the civilian ranks.

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