The results of a study forecasting the U.S. supply of rotorcraft pilots and mechanics over the next 18 years has been released, confirming what many in our industry suspected: unless there are some fundamental changes in policy, outreach, scholarships, and access to financing, the helicopter industry faces large-scale deficits in the amount of available and qualified licensed and certificated pilots and mechanics.
The study projects a shortage of 7,469 helicopter pilots in the United States between 2018 and 2036. For maintenance technicians, the numbers are even more concerning. Our industry is projected to be short 40,613 certificated aviation mechanics in the United States between 2018 and 2036.
The study results, commissioned by Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) and conducted by the University of North Dakota (UND), were released on Feb. 28 at a press conference at HAI Heli-Expo 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Allison McKay, HFI vice president, introduced the study, and two UND researchers, Dr. Elizabeth Bjerke and Kent W. Lovelace, reported the results. Recognizing the importance of this information, HFI is making available both the study results and an executive summary.
In addition to documenting the projected shortage, the study gathered information on how it is already changing operations. For example, more than 50 percent of surveyed operators said that the shortage of pilots and mechanics would definitely or probably interfere with their operation’s ability to grow over the next five years. Regional airlines are actively recruiting helicopter pilots — more than 500 transferred to fixed-wing operations in 2017 alone.
This shortage is an industry-wide problem, and fixing it will require efforts from many sectors, including government, industry, military, finance, insurance, and education. In the coming months, HFI and Helicopter Association International (HAI) will be recruiting stakeholders to collaboratively work on defining concrete next steps to combat the problem. If you would be interested in participating in this effort, please contact Allison McKay.
“Our industry needs to take a hard look at how we do things,” says Matt Zuccaro, HAI president and CEO. “We really don’t have a choice. These numbers show a future where the growth of our industry will be curtailed because operators won’t have the workforce they need. But we have the option to change that future by acting proactively now to recruit the next generation of pilots and maintainers.”
HFI vice president McKay agrees. “The study results are certainly bad news for our industry. But the good news is that now we know the numbers — and now we can take steps to ensure the sustainability of our industry.”