Shortage of airline pilots could hurt ETexas fliers

Published on Saturday, 8 February 2014 00:22 - Written by By Jimmy Isaac KYTX CBS 19

LAKEPORT — A growing shortage of airline pilots could affect the future of air travel for East Texas consumers.

A study in 2013 showed that 45,000 pilots will retire in the next 20 years. If major airlines continue to hire pilots from regional carriers like American Eagle Airlines, which serves Tyler Pounds Regional Airport and the East Texas Regional Airport, the pilot pool could dry up in 10 years.

East Texans say they’re seeing the effects already.

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing estimates the world will need about 480,000 new pilots during the next two decades — 70,000 here in North America alone. LeTourneau University and other schools of aeronautical science are working to try to meet that demand.

Nick Vogelgesang is one of five LeTourneau students scheduled to interview with American Eagle Airlines on Monday in Longview.

It’s part of a first-year agreement between the university and airline, to groom aeronautical school graduates into entry-level corporate pilots.

Aeronautical dean Fred Ritchey says young pilots typically earn nearly $20,000 in their first year, but that can double in five years.

Higher wages are likely, as the pilot shortage is already taking its toll on air travel for consumers.

“What will happen is flights will start being canceled, and that’s already happening now,” Ritchey said. “There’s some news just this week about two airlines, regional airlines, that have had to cancel some flights because they didn’t have flight crews.”

“I think that’s good news for me,” Vogelgesang said.

LeTourneau University has more than 200 students in its School of Aeronautical Science, but fewer than 70 percent of graduates are expected to pursue a career in corporate piloting.