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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 2021 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook prediction for commercial airline pilot demand from 2021-2039 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 such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will likely 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?

A: There are only two major airlines remaining that require a four-year college degree, but it is highly preferred by the others. It is not a requirement at any of the smaller regional airlines, but will set the applicant apart from the pack during times when recruiters can be more selective. 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?

A: 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?

A: 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 aviation recruiting departments enjoyed unprecedented pilot hiring and advancement until March of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced another downturn. Pilot hiring remained strong throughout the pandemic in the air freight, business jet and charter sector. Beginning in early 2021, furloughed pilots started to get recalled by their carriers and, at this time, the overwhelming majority – if not all – of furloughed pilots have returned to the cockpit. In recent months, pilot recruiting at both the regional and major airlines has picked back up with hiring projections pointing at a return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.

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

A: 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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