The ongoing pilot shortage has already wreaked havoc on summer vacation travel in the United States — and it's only the beginning. With too few pilots to meet demand, the industry is likely to be in store for even higher airfares, more reductions in schedules and routes, and a contraction of the nation's regional airline network. And these disruptions could persist for a decade.
Based on data from Oliver Wyman's fleet forecast and our models for industry growth, we anticipate a shortage of almost 30,000 pilots in North America by 2032 if the industry fails to address its staffing problems. That's almost four times higher than this year's anticipated gap of 8,000 pilots, which has already proven to be problematic, even with demand still below where it was before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Behind the pilot shortage is a confluence of trends, including the retirement of aging Baby Boomers and significantly fewer job candidates coming from the military, as the use of unmanned drones steadily increased and there were fewer deployments. Covid-19 exacerbated the shortfall, with airlines offering pilots early retirement at the height of the pandemic. When travel demand surged in 2021, the pilot shortfall was so dramatic that it hampered the airlines' ability to ramp back up, leading to flight delays and cancellations.